Over the past few days Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been making the rounds accusing the Lakers of treating him poorly over the years. He also made headlines by complaining that he didn’t have a statue outside Staples Center like Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Chick Hearn. Geez, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar soup would taste bitter indeed.
He has gone on to claim that when he expressed interest in going into coaching, the Lakers didn’t immediately offer an opportunity. He only became a “special assistant” for the team because young center Andrew Bynum suggested to general manager Mitch Kupchak that he could learn from Jabbar. Kupchak suggested such an arrangement to then-head coach Phil Jackson and Jackson agreed. Since that time Jabbar has not been giving a bigger role with the team and he has not been elevated to a full-time assistant coach.
Now I understand Kareem feels slighted, and it has to be hard for him to see a former teammate like Johnson so celebrated by the Lakers while he has been seemingly passed over. But there is something that Jabbar has overlooked: he’s not Magic Johnson or Jerry West.
While he is likely one of the top two or three centers in NBA history, Kareem has always lacked something that came easily to West and Johnson: charisma. He’s an incredibly intelligent person, and based on his pedigree – he played for John Wooden and Pat Riley – he might be an excellent X’s and O’s guy. But he has always had one major problem, and this latest outburst has shown it once again. He’s not good at managing personal relationships. And, frankly, the most difficult task for a coach in any sport is creating a great, trusting relationship with his or her players.
When Jabbar announced he wanted to be a coach, it’s not like every franchise in the NBA jumped at giving him an opportunity and the Lakers passed. No one called. Not even his alma mater UCLA picked up the phone. There’s a reason.
And let’s be clear, the Lakers were not obligated to further Jabbar’s career. They also aren’t obligated to give him a statue. It’s not like he hasn’t had his number retired, or been honored countless times by the franchise. The Lakers even told Jabbar years ago that his statue would be the next one erected. Apparently, that’s not good enough for him.
For some reason, Jabbar just doesn’t understand that franchises aren’t obligated to further the ambitions of their former players. The Chicago Bulls didn’t make Michael Jordan and executive after he retired…numerous times. Jordan had to go to Washington and then Charlotte to get that kind of treatment. The Lakers have Johnson around because he has been a part owner of the team and is the ultimate spokesman for the franchise. He’s always on television touting it as the greatest organization in sports. Jabbar doesn’t do that.
Heck, the Lakers even made Johnson the head coach for 16 games at the end of the 1993-94 season, then realized their mistake and gently told him to step down. Has Johnson ever complained about not getting a fair shot from the team? Nope.
Look, I feel awful for Kareem, I really do. He’s fought a heroic battle with leukemia and won, and is an all-time great in basketball. It seems that all he wants is to be a coach in the NBA and he feels the Lakers owe him an opportunity because he helped them win five NBA titles. He’s a 64-year-old man and his window for becoming a successful NBA coach is rapidly disappearing. It’s sad that he may never get to fulfill a dream he has obviously had.
That said, his recent media blitz and Twitter blasts are simply beneath a player and person of his stature. It is conduct unbecoming of a Hall of Famer. His whole “the Lakers don’t care about me” take sounds like something a high schooler would say. I almost feel like the next line will be, “I hate you guys, I wish I was dead!”
Here’s hoping Kareem comes to his senses and repairs his relationship with the Lakers. It would be good for both parties and good for the NBA.