MTV's Rock and Jock Basketball is pretty much the most 1990s thing ever. Just one look at a clip from the event on YouTube takes you all the way back to Bill Clinton's first term as president, what with all the Dan Cortese, East Bay Funk Dunks, Michael Rapaport, and Cranberries bumper music. Nothing but good times can come from a bit of Rock and Jock, right?
Well, not to Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament. He was a famed Rock and Jock vet entering his third year on the program, but when MTV brought in Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to man the Violator sidelines in 1994, the notoriously aloof former Lakers center rubbed Ament the wrong way. Ament, who grew up idolizing Kareem and was anxious to meet his basketball idol, took out his frustrations in song, namely the tune "Sweet Lew" that eventually showed up on Pearl Jam's 2003 rarities album, "Lost Dogs." In it, Ament chides Kareem for his apparent stake in a failed chain of hotels built solely for tall people. It's an urban legend that sounds a little too hilarious to be true.
Because it isn't true, though it's no less hilarious. Brian Cronin of Sports Legends Revealed, writing for the Los Angeles Times, debunks the legend in a crafty and well-written piece posted on Wednesday. Here's a snippet:
During the early 1980s, Collins formed an investment group called All-Pro Enterprises Inc. with Abdul-Jabbar the most famous name involved, but also including such famous NBA Players as Ralph Sampson, Terry Cummings and Alex English (among others). The group spent most of its money on real estate. They bought the Balboa Inn in Los Angeles for $4.2 million, the Inn of Laguna in Los Angeles for $4 million, the Belmont Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama (I am unsure how much it cost), a $1.4 million Newport Beach restaurant and a $22 million Los Angeles health club. Here, by the way, is where the "building hotels for tall people" came into being. Presumably as part of the deal when they purchased the Balboa Inn (but possibly it was something done even before the group bought the hotel), one of the suites in the hotel was built especially for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, complete with nine-foot high doors.
Cronin goes on to detail that Kareem's stake in the hotels cost him quite a bit of coin, not because he demanded the rooms meet his 7-2 dimensions, but because his financial advisor at the time was doing some very ill-advised things with Abdul-Jabbar's money. It wasn't because average-sized boarders couldn't reach the shower head.
Spurned and unaware at the time, this bit of news would have been some help to Ament as he cobbled together the lyrics to "Sweet Lew":
I grew up trying to copy you, Bruce Lee, and a kung-fu
Act a jazzman, yogi too
Little did i know, a loose screw
But you had your own shoe
Build him high, build him tall, a taiku with a basketball
Tear 'em down, one and all
7'2" is a long way to fall
Sweet lew, how's the view?
Sweet lew, how could you?
Even if the story isn't true, how could you?