Los Angeles is a city divided. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came out this week and complained about the Staples Center in L.A. not having a statue of him in front of the arena. Half of Angelinos think it’s appalling that Jabbar has no statue. The other half think of Kareem as an an ingrate.
Sure, there’s a Magic Johnson statue in front of Staples.. There’s also one of “The Logo,” Jerry West, and even one of longtime team announcer Chick Hearn. There is NOT one of Jabbar who whined to The Sporting News about not being immortalized. It would be pretty hard to make the case for a guy who won six Championship rings, not to mention three college championships IN LOS ANGELES not being honored. Particularly while he has cancer! (which Jabbar says is in remission.)
Yet, acerbic L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers hammers Jabbar today in a piece calling him “a monument to entitlement.” Simers spends the whole article slamming Abdul-Jabbar for his lack of character, sense of entitlement and laziness. Ordinarily, I would side with the most talented basketball player who ever lived verf the dickish sports columnist. Unfortunately, in this case, I have to side with Simers.
I am a Southern California native, born in Los Angeles County. My earliest sports memories are of Lew Alcindor/Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar. When I was a young child, Abdul-Jabbar (then Alcindor) was a God. His freshman basketball team outdrew the multi-champion, John Wooden-coached varsity team at the then-new Poly Pavilion. Kareem won three NCAA Championships at UCLA in three years of eligibility. He then won six NBA Championships and finished as the league’s all-time leading scorer. He was the greatest college basketball player in history. Probably the best high school player too. At Powers Memorial, his team won 72 straight games. As a pro, he won six rings and scored more than anyone who ever palyed the game. Watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play basketball was a joy. Nobody in the history of American sports ever combined intelligence grace and fluid athleticism like he did. To watch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shoot a skyhook was like watching Brando act or Einstein solve math problems on a chalkboard. Nobody in my lifetime was better at what they did than Jabbar was at basketball. Understand, I WANT to love Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I don’t. In fact, Jabbar’s attitude made me root for the freakin’ Celtics in the ’80s. It was all because of the attitude and “entitlement” that Simers describes in his article. Kareem keeps talking about wanting “respect,” yet he never showed the game that same respect. Despite the fact that he’s the most talented basketball player who ever lived and all of his accomplishments, you can make the argument that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a career underachiever. In fact, I will. Kareem could have scored 50 points in every game he evr played. He was that talented. Wlt Chamberlain AVERAGED 50 a game for an entire season. Jabbar was even better.The truth is the reason Kareem didn’t is that he simply didn’t care.
Here’s the most damning thing you can say about Kareem-the defining moment of his life occurs in the movie “Airplane!” It happens in a scene when an eight-year-old kid on screen and in character tells Kareem,
“I think you’re the greatest but my dad says you don’t work hard enough on defense. And he says that lots of times you don’t even run down court and that you don’t really try except during the playoffs.”
That fictional moment actually sums up Kareem’s career and life. More Kareem moments that pissed me off:
* Play number seven on this highlight reel. In Magic Johnson’s first ever professional basketball game, he feeds Kareem for a last-second, game-winning sky hook. An elated Magic runs across the length of the court and leaps into Kareem’s arm. Kareem notes in his own biography that he couldn’t give a shit about about Game One of an 82-game schedule. He literally thought that Johnson’s joy and love of the game made him nuts.
* There were actually hundreds of things Kareem Abdul-Jabbar cared about more than basketball. In that same autobiography, entitled “Giant Steps,” Jabbar talks about how he worked harder at learning Arabic and acting than he ever did at basketball. He also talked about shooting heroin a couple of times out of his sheer boredom with basketball. So, according to Jabbar himself, he worked harder at being the 4 billionth best Arab language speaker than he did at being he did at being the greatest basketball player who ever lived. Terrific.
* Although Kareem won six NBA rings, he won one of those while literally lying in bed in another city. Jabbar missed the series-clinching Lakers victory over Philadelphia with a sprained ankle. Any other big-time athlete in the history of sports would not have missed that game with so minor an injury. Jabbar not only missed the game but didn’t even bother to show up at the arena. The Lakers shifted their point guard, Magic Johnson, to center. He responded with 42 points and a championship-winning performance.
* Even in the last basketball game of his life against the Detroit Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals, a 42-year-old Jabbar was STILL the best player on the team for an undermanned, injury-ravaged Lakers team. Yet, there was a point in the final game of the series where Jabbar just gave up. Knowing he would never play again. I remember watching the game thinking, “WTF is he saving it for?”
* Kareem was a great athlete. Muhammad Ali was a great man. Read Ali’s life story.That man faced real prejudice and religious discrimination in his life. He changed his name and religion at a time when men like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were being killed. Ali faced not only death threats but the loss of his boxing career and going to prison simply for standing up for his beliefs. Meanwhile, Abdul-Jabbar led a life of luxory and entitlement in sunny California since the age of 17, getting bags of free booster money and abortions from famed UCLA booster Sam Gilbert. Yet, it was Jabbar, not Ali, who constantly played the race and religion cards.
* For a guy who whines about being persecuted for being a Muslim, he isn’t a very good one. I don’t know if this is covered in the Koran, but Kareem’s lifelong hobby is collecting wine. Again, I’m no religious scholar, but I’m pretty sure Mohammed would be against signing an endorsement contract with Coors Light. That’s the first thing Jabbar did after going bankrupt after his agent stole all his money. In fact, the fact that he was broke (not his love of the game) is the sole reason Kareem continued to play hoops til the age of 42.
* Again, as Simers wrote, Jabbar demands “respect.” Yet, he treated is own father like crap. Kareem disowned and ostracized his own hard working, blue-collar, father because he referred to his own son by his given “slave name”of “Lewis.”
* Following his basketball playing days, Abdul-Jabbar has had failed careers both as an announcer and an assistant coach. As an alum of the University of Idaho, I was unfortunate enough to witness the entire broadcasting “career”of Jabbar. It lasted all of one game. He was so unprepared and unprofessional that he was dropped after ONE game. Kareem spent his only game doing color by saying “number 21 there is a pretty good player…he throws it in to number seven.” He literally didn’t know or even bother to learn the names of a single player on either team. For a guy of his intelligence (the man speaks seven languages), basketball knowledge and experience it was a complete disgrace.
* Jabbar worked no harder as a professional assistant coach. With the Clippers, he’s the guy who taught Keith Closs everything he knows. Closs was one of the “50 Worst” players in NBA history who once got beat up by a girl in an L.A. bar. As a Lakers assistant coach, he’s been so bad that the Lakers cut his pay. Deservedly so since his whole job has been to mentor Andrew Bynum. After six years of Jabbar’s tutelage, Bynum is STILL an immature, unnderachieiving, sucker-punching, lazy malcontent. Nice effort, Kareem!
Jabbar, who has spent his entire life shunning the and ducking the media, made the rounds Thursday and it wasn’t very impressive. In an interview with “Petros and Money” on Fox Sports Radio, he whined about the Lakers not paying him enough, not giving him enough perks and giving him “Z list”free tickets to basketball games.
Kareem was also ripped by former UCLA All-American Don MacLean who now has a media gig as a basketball announcer. MacLean pointed out that even though he’s walked by Jabbar “1,000 times,” his fellow UCLA great has never said “hi”to him. MacLean was actually the Pac-10’s all-time leading scorer. MacLean also slammed Kareem by pointing out how many little kids he’s refused to sign autographs for over the years and makes the case that there is no Kareem statue because the guy is such an ass.