Kareem’s Statue

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave a lot to the Los Angeles Lakers. 5 of his 6 championships, 3 of his 6 MVP awards, and a whole mess of All-Star and NBA First Team selections were captured in LA. He Sky-Hooked his way to mountains of points, more than any other player in the history of the league, and helped pilot the team to countless winning seasons and title shots. So perhaps his recent tantrum over not being given a statue outside Staples Centre is understandable. He is one of the all time greats, not just in Lakers history, but in the history of the NBA.

On the other hand, Los Angeles has a rich and diverse sporting history. A statue in Star Plaza puts you in rare and royal company. Does Abdul-Jabbar legitimately deserve such an honour? Let’s take a look at the few to whom it has already been given.

At the moment, there are five statues standing outside the arena. For the sake of not crossing inter-sport boundaries, I’ll look most closely at the two basketball players amongst the five, and assume that Wayne Gretzky, the greatest player the game of hockey has ever known, legendary LA-born boxer Oscar De La Hoya, and long time Lakers play-by-play man Chick Hearn have all earned their respective places.

Amongst Lakers, the first to be immortalized was Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and one would have to be very brave to argue against his right to the honour. While the mid-1970s addition of Kareem turned the Lakers into contenders, it was Magic’s arrival a few years later that pushed them over the edge. Magic transformed the team from “the Lakers” to “the Showtime Lakers.” He had great players around him, Kareem being perhaps the greatest of them all, but without Magic the championships would never have been as plentiful, or as beautiful to watch. He is the franchise’s greatest hero, and as such, his place in Star Plaza is not only deserved, but necessary.

In February, Jerry West became the second Laker to be honoured with a statue, and it is safe to say that Kareem feels he’s been over-looked.

In this belief he is only somewhat justified. As players, the two are simply not on equal footing. Great though West was, he won but a single championship as a Laker, and was simply not as dominant as Kareem in his prime. But despite Abdul-Jabbar’s longer list of accomplishments on the hardwood, it was in the front office where West truly staked a claim to greatness. Often regarded as one of the greatest GMs in the league’s history, West assembled teams that would eventually bring seven championships to Los Angeles. As both a scout and GM, he helped to build the Showtime Lakers, and then, after a dry spell in the 90s, he brought both Kobe and Shaq into the fold, beginning dynastic conquests anew.

Having said all that, I believe that Kareem really does deserve the statue he seems to want so badly. Even if both West and Johnson are at least as deserving, Kareem’s ridiculously successful career and prolific statistics should make him a shoo-in for the honour at some point.

So why the sudden outburst? Why now, when the team has just suffered an unprecedented four game beating at the hands of the Mavericks and recently lost possibly the greatest coach in NBA history to retirement? Is he afraid that current turmoil will somehow overshadow his accomplishments of old? Are the memories of Chamberlain and O’Neal making his past feats seem somewhat pedestrian? If they are not deserving of a statue, why he? Or perhaps the looming silhouette of Kobe Bryant, currently engaged in a multi-generational battle with Magic for the title of “Greatest Laker Ever,” threatens to supplant him as next in line for the coveted spot in Star Plaza.

As far as I’m concerned, any roadblocks to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s bronze immortalization lie within his own psyche. His outbursts are a testament to the fact that even legendary athletes are not unhindered by self-doubt and worry. So be patient, Kareem, let this whole fiasco blow over, and quietly hope that Andrew Bynum doesn’t suddenly develop into a perennial MVP candidate.

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