Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Shouldn't Want a Statue
Kareem's demands for a statue were out of step with his legacy and lifestyle.
By Sandy Dover December 05, 2012, 08:53 AM EST
If I do what my doctors tell me to do — get my blood checked regularly, take my meds and consult with my doctor and follow any additional instructions he might make — I will be able to maintain my good health and live my life with a minimum of disruptions to my lifestyle.
Leukemia to be exact, but cancer nonetheless. The world was atwitter with words and worry. He himself was optimistic, to the degree of almost being dismissive of the disease, but he was afflicted, still.
After witnessing Earvin “Magic” Johnson live with the life-threatening HIV virus and Jerry West spill his guts out about his lifelong depression , seeing another icon, another giant, another god-like figure be weakened by another outside force greater than himself was another blow to the heart of the Forum Blue and Gold nation.
He has since prevailed and has done well with himself in his recovery since his diagnosis.
In November, Abdul-Jabbar received his very own statue , modeled in his trademark on-court pose – shooting a hook shot, made complete with his signature goggles and home Lakers gold uniform, and deservingly so. Abdul-Jabbar made the center position look like painted art on canvas, and he blessed the hearts, minds, and eyes of passionate basketball aficionados for over 20 years throughout his collegiate and professional career. His career appropriately brought about conversations of awards, legacies and a statue, the latter of which was led by Abdul-Jabbar himself. But who on Earth has ever felt it necessary to be groan with indignation over the lack of a statue?
Mr. Abdul-Jabbar did just that.
“I'm retired now. I can be a cranky or happy old man, and I'm very happy right now," Abdul-Jabbar explained to ESPN.
Ask and ye shall receive, says the Holy Bible, and in this case, the skyhook savant got exactly what he asked for. Nobody has or likely does object to his receiving a statue. But it wasn’t the right thing to do. Not in the way that he did it.
Let me make absolutely clear that he deserved a statue to be erected. I don’t think anyone who understands Abdul-Jabbar as a legendary figure in basketball – perhaps the greatest center to have ever played basketball – objects to the idea of the 7’2” giant being deserving of a memorial artifact symbolic of his Hall of Fame career – but he went about it the wrong way.
Said Abdul-Jabbar to Sporting News (as reported by ESPN Los Angeles):
"I am highly offended by the total lack of acknowledgement of my contribution to Laker success. I guess being the linchpin for five world championships is not considered significant enough in terms of being part of Laker history."
All of which are more-than-understandable reasons for the former Power Memorial High prodigy. No one – NO ONE – has ever done what Abdul-Jabbar has done in basketball , let alone the NBA. He was an All-Star for nearly every season of his 20-year professional career; he played 20 full seasons while rarely missing significant time, and he’s the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. Tack on the five titles he won as a Laker (and his first as a Milwaukee Buck with Oscar Robertson), and various other statistical achievements, and Abdul-Jabbar was a shoo-in for some kind of tribute from the Lakers organization.
However, Abdul-Jabbar was a purple and gold man. He never looked quite right in green, and whether he was envious or jealous or simply hurt, it doesn’t take away the fact that pouting through the media was petty. Not only that, but Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t the most media-friendly guy to begin with, so complaining about not getting a statue of himself after career Hall of Fame/longtime front office executives like Magic and West first did, is a shallow glance at what Abdul-Jabbar perceived as maltreatment on his part.
And his legacy could be tainted from it.
Now, maybe he has a point if he used his then-bemoaning about not having a statue as a way to vent about what he felt was mistreatment from the Lakers. It remains to be seen whether the Busses are as kind about executives and coaches as they are about their players, but that’s beside the point. If Abdul-Jabbar had an issue with the Lakers’ perceived mistreatment toward him concerning his title positions with the team, then he could’ve been more direct, but complaining over not receiving a statue seemed a bit like a king complaining that his chalice handler wasn’t bringing him his wine in time.
Also consider this tidbit – the world-beating UCLA Bruin alum is a Muslim. Muslims, who strictly adhere to the Quran, are not to seek self-serving interests that elevate their image, as it is considered putting self over Allah (God). A great example of this very belief put into action is the case of Hakeem Olajuwon.
In 2008, Olajuwon, a two-time world champion Hall of Fame center with the Houston Rockets, was honored by the organization for his outstanding NBA achievements . When asked about his specific thoughts concerning receiving a statue as a tribute to his career and community works by the Rockets, Olajuwon shot down their initial offering. Insistent in paying homage to the Lagos, Nigeria native, asked how else they could honor the center; Olajuwon, in turn, suggested that the organization could honor him with a kind of monument, which displayed his trademark No. 34 jersey, serving as a kind of testament to his legendary role with the Rockets organization. In this case, the monument abided by Islamic tradition and belief and while it did not showcase Olajuwon’s actual human likeness, it did make known that he was clearly being honored in a special way.
Now, this isn’t to say that all Muslims should think or act or even abide in the same way (nor do they), but like many other faith systems, there are certain tenets that are unique and universal to all interpretations of said respective faiths. In the case of Islam as a whole, it is a universal belief among worshippers that displaying self-images and likenesses in self-glorification in any way, regardless of the positivity of the context, is forbidden.
But whether Abdul-Jabbar is practicing or not, why would someone so great care about a hunk of metal representing his legacy? How many great people in the world don’t have a statue? More than who do, that’s for sure.
I do hope that the New York City native enjoys his bronzed honor after all, because it’s likely that after his failed stints as a Laker coach, consultant, and otherwise, he’ll likely never receive any other recognition by the team again.
And maybe that’s OK with him, because as Abdul-Jabbar once said, “Don't hold your breath. Lakers don't care about me.”