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Twelve-and-a-half years ago, the Los Angeles Clippers hired Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to aid in their development of then-rookie Michael Olowokandi. 'Kandi had gone from relative unknown to the top pick in the 1998 draft in just a few months, but because the NBA locked out its players right after that draft he lost crucial development time and fell out of shape even while spending part of the lockout playing professionally in Italy.
For Kareem, it was a frustrating few years. Though Olowokandi was probably overrated at the time of his top selection -- he was a project, no doubt, but also 23 when he finished his senior season at Pacific -- he did boast significant gifts that could have made him an All-Star at some point. But despite his age (for comparison's sake, Andrew Bynum, the more malleable Kareem student, is about to enter his seventh NBA season, and he's 23 as well), he was far from a willing pupil.
Abdul-Jabbar mentioned as much in a column he penned for ESPN.com Tuesday:
I have seen this process firsthand. When I coached for the Clippers, I had to deal with Michael Olowokandi, a player who perfectly fit the description "talented but uncoachable." At practice, I would attempt to point out Mr. Olowokandi's faults to him, ones he constantly repeated and resulted in lost possessions for the team or personal fouls that sent him to the bench. His reaction to my attempts to correct his bad habits was to take my input as a personal insult and embarrassment. He told me point-blank that he would not be criticized in front of the team. He stuck to his word and, as a result, had very few successful moments on the court playing the way he wanted to play. He took his place on the list of athletically gifted washouts who have been in and out of the league in the past 10 years.
This is not the crux of Kareem's column, but an aside in a well-reasoned piece that, as I did Tuesday morning, points to the fact that the NBA's owners have to decide how they're going to settle their revenue-sharing issues in-house before they can demand massive "piece-of-the-pie" cutbacks for the players who have earned those record revenues and inspired those increased ratings.
Abdul-Jabbar, though, is still smarting. He's long been known as someone who can keep a grudge with the best of them, and in 'Kandi (pictured above with former Clippers coach Chris Ford) not only did Kareem see a project with potential that he could claim his own, but also a possible entryway into the world of NBA head coaching. To be charged with, almost singularly, changing the fortunes of one player and then watching as that player continually tunes you out? I'd be ticked, too.
If Kareem does need a soothing balm after his ill-fated time with The 'Kandi Man, he can take comfort in the fact that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gets to wake up every morning as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Olowokandi's name will be brought up only when discussions arise about the worst busts in NBA history.