LOS ANGELES-It’s about time. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer finally got his just due in the form of recognition when a statue of his likeness was unveiled to the public in front of Staples Center, a place he helped made possible by leading the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships. Why it took so long borders on the ridiculousness and absurd.
Jabbar deserves better than this. After seeing the erected memorials dedicated to hockey icon Wayne Gretzky, local boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya, longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn and former teammate Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the statue honoring Jabbar is about 10 years late in coming to fruition. And that is an understatement. This moment should have happened a long time ago.
Everyone loves Magic Johnson and the way he orchestrated the Lakers famed “Showtime” era. But without Jabbar helping to close the deal on each of those five NBA titles, Johnson and the rest of the Lakers would be where Charles Barkley is today: without a championship ring.
Just like during his NBA Hall of Fame career, Jabbar has been vastly underappreciated for his impact on the game of basketball, which has carried over off the court. The man with the most potent shot ever, the player who you couldn’t defend, can’t even get a sniff of a head coaching job in the NBA.
Yet, it is befuddling and confounding to hear so many people (league executives and players) talk about and discuss “The Captain” as the most intellectual person they have ever been around. I don’t get it. Neither do Jabbar, who scored 38, 387 points (24.6 points per game), pulled down 17,440 rebounds (11.2 rebounds per game) and handed out 5, 660 assists (3.6 assists per game) during his illustrious NBA career.
People have slept on Jabbar. They fell asleep on his 19-time NBA All-Star appearances. They took a nap on his six-time NBA regular season MVP seasons. They laid their heads down while forgetting about the six NBA championships (one with Milwaukee Bucks) he won. And they ignore the fact that Jabbar lead the league in scoring twice and was named to the NBA’s all-defensive team 11 times (five times to the first squad; six times to the second team).
The unique thing about the greatness of Jabbar was that you knew he would be there at the end to be counted. He was always around to anchor the fort. Johnson represented the flash and dash of Hollywood, whereas Jabbar was the team’s rock, the foundation in which the Lakers held together to get them over the hump against the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons and their archrival the Boston Celtics.
Sure, it was Johnson who won three NBA Finals most valuable player awards during those championship runs with his showmanship flair and basketball whiz in leading the Lakers’ seemingly unstoppable fast break.
It was Jabbar, however, who cemented the Lakers as a dynasty with his sweeping and majestic skyhook to help put a halt to the title bids of the Pistons, Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers during the team’s resurrected dominance. For all the running and gunning that Johnson and his teammates did-when it came down to crunch time-they went down low to Jabbar to handle his business.
You knew the game was on the line when Johnson and the rest of the Lakers would throw up a pump fist in the air, signaling it was time to get the ball to Jabbar. People have a lot of things about Jabbar, some good, others not so good. But the one thing that stands is the fact that Jabbar has to be considered the most unique talent and the greatest scorer the NBA has ever seen.