November 15, 2012

By Kenneth Miller

LA Watts Times


To this very day it is a real head scratcher as to why the man who is statistically the greatest basketball player to ever live has been punished for what absolutely has nothing to do with the game of basketball.

The Lakers will unveil a statue of Kareem Abdul Jabbar on Nov. 16 in front of Star Plaza at Staples Center, roughly 23 years to the day he played his last basketball game for the team.

By the time they erect his signature skyhook on Friday there will be more statues in front of the building than cars in the Petersen Automobile Museum.

Let’s see there is Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky, Chick Hearn and Oscar De La Hoya. Did I miss anyone?

Perhaps someone will think of a reason to add another one before ‘The Captain’ as Hearn aptly described him gets his ceremony.

Some may scoff, what’s the big deal at least he’s getting one!

No slight to Magic, whom we all love and West an all time favorite, but we are only talking about a man who is the all time NBA scoring leader with 38,387 points, six regular season MVPs, holds records for games played, minutes played, field goals made and attempted, blocked shots and defensive rebounds.

This elegant royal knight for the game of basketball who appeared on no less than 25 covers of Sports Illustrated magazine, played in a record 19 NBA All Star Games, but could not get a sniff for a head coaching job after his playing career was over, and literarily had to bend his 7-foot-2 frame to secure a measly special assistant or scout position, and was subsequently regulated to coaching an obscure high school team on an Indian reservation. Are you kidding me!

No one ever said that life would be kind, but for a man who came west from Manhattan NY after leading his high school team to a 79-2 record at Power Memorial, led UCLA to consecutive NCAA titles from 1967-1969 as a three time first team all American---basketball life has been cruel to him.

Jabbar, who changed his name in 1968 from Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor when he joined the Nation of Islam, was the only child of a department store checker and a father who was a transit police officer and jazz musician.

I am not attempting to apologize for the greatest player to ever live, I am merely writing the facts.

This is a man who lists Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman and Alexander Hamilton among his heroes.

He was castigated, judged and evaluated through every human microscope imaginable.

Magic Johnson penned that Kareem refused to sign an autograph for him as a child, reporters who begged to get a closer introspective roused that he was distant and uncooperative.

They clamored to shake hands and hug him after a hard fought basketball game, Kareem wanted to shower and go home.

This is a man who was far more intelligent than your avid jock. He read books and studied the history of such men as Wild Bill Hickock, Thelonious Monk all while absorbing musicians such as Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn.

His game trumpeted over all others as his trademark sky hook played out in a symphonic rhythm that gracefully carried teams in Milwaukee and Los Angeles to NBA championships.

Kareem was the centerpiece to it all. The mastery of Oscar Roberson with the Bucks and then Magic Johnson of the ‘Showtime’ Lakers were glue sticks.

Magic was a wide-eyed freak point guard at 6’8 and Kareem who undoubtedly only found peace when the lights were lit at the Great Western Forum, was a sight to behold.

Pat Riley emerged from the broadcast booth and rode those giant shoulders to a Hall of Fame coaching career.

Magic, or Buck as he was called then gave ‘The Big Fella” a reason to smile, albeit reluctantly.

Through the aperture of his eyes through sweat-fogged goggles, Kareem saw the world and America for what it was, unapologetic to his kind, but instead of fighting it, he studied.

While Malcolm X was being gunned down by one of his own, Kareem prayed. When Dr. King was being hosed and jailed, he solemnly prayed.

Kareem refused to subject himself as a basketball lab rat that would be queried by white journalists who later aspired to be his friend.

What others say made him aloof and distant also made him great.

This week his bronze statue comes during a time when he is so removed from the game of basketball as a Cultural Ambassador to the United States.

Then on Saturday he will be celebrated in a roast that will benefit his Skyhook Foundation at the Ritz Carlton. Funnyman George Lopez will host the all-star gala and Magic will be among the guests.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s legacy was secure a long time ago before his famed number 33 was retired to the rafters at Staples.

Photo Credit: AP Photo

Category: Sports