For the first time in almost two years, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had double figures in rebounds in three straight games, all played last week.
This could only mean:
(a) Michael Jordan sent Kareem a pair of Air Jordans, complete with booster rockets, for his 39th birthday.
(b) Kareem took lessons in levitation from Doug Henning this summer.
(c) Kareem thinks he's Akeem.
(d) Kareem built his own health club, pumped iron all summer and began this season as strong as he's ever been in his 18th season in the NBA.
Try (d). Working out with a female body-builder friend this summer, Abdul-Jabbar gained 13 pounds while dropping 5% of his body fat. Abdul-Jabbar, who played in the 240- to 250-pound range for most of his career, now tips the scales at close to 270.
Now, don't come to the Forum expecting to see Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"My physique is so long and narrow that it looks the same to everybody," Abdul-Jabbar said. "But the people who know me real well can tell a difference."
So can the Laker coaches.
"It's obvious," Laker assistant Bill Bertka said. "He's positioning himself around the defensive and offensive boards with much more force and stability than he has in the past."
Abdul-Jabbar has followed a variety of conditioning programs in the past: swimming, biking and, in the last couple of years, yoga. This, however, was the first time he ever used free weights.
"My game has always been agility and speed and quickness," he said. "Now that I'm a lot heavier, getting up and down the court requires more effort. But holding my position under the basket takes less effort. It's a trade-off."
It may have been a trade-off born of necessity. Abdul-Jabbar was buffeted between Houston's Twin Towers in the Lakers' playoff ouster last spring.
"This is something I was trying to do, to become more of a factor in there," Abdul-Jabbar said.
That's just the way the game is evolving, according to Bertka.
"Before, Kareem was able to get by without the physical strength," he said. "But there are many more big people now. Think of all the 7-footers there are in the league now."
There were 37 7-footers on NBA rosters at the start of the season.
Storm before the storm? Isiah Thomas, the Pistons' All-Star guard, recently flashed some uncharacteristic temper. Thomas had run-ins with rookie Mike Brown of the Chicago Bulls and guard Dudley Bradley of the Milwaukee Bucks, and reportedly told Bradley: "Meet me at the motel." Apparently, he wasn't inviting Bradley for a cup of coffee.
He also threw a ball at Celtic guard Jerry Sichting and reportedly engaged in a fistfight with teammate Tony Campbell during practice.
Thomas, who last season was so distressed about the team's losing ways that he voiced some thoughts about quitting, is leading the Pistons in scoring but is shooting only 43% and averaging 6.1 assists.
After watching former Spur Wes Matthews carve up San Antonio last week, Spur Coach Bob Weiss was asked why seemingly marginal players like Matthews can thrive in a different setting.
"Everybody plays better with a better team," Weiss told Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Light.
"Look at Robert Parish," Weiss said, referring to the Boston center. "His stats are the same now as they were in Golden State five years ago, but now everybody thinks he's better. I think he's the same."
Although Houston has locked up Akeem Olajuwon almost to the next century--his $20-million, eight-year contract extension expires in 1998--the Rocket center will be only 35, which is younger than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Artis Gilmore are now. They are 39 and 37, respectively.
Rocket forward Ralph Sampson, whose contract expires at the end of this season, wouldn't mind some of the same security as Olajuwon--and would like the Rockets to start talking money now.
"If we've got a situation where it's 'Boom-boom, let's get it done,' then I'm willing to listen to that," Sampson said. "But I'm not going to BS around for two months in the middle of the season. The Rockets have to answer.
"If they want to sign me, they have the opportunity. I've told them I like Houston and will play here the rest of my career if I'm wanted."
And does he feel wanted? "Right now," he said, "I only feel wanted by my family."
Add Sampson: After missing the first six games with a sprained left ankle, Sampson agreed to return to the lineup after a meeting with Coach Bill Fitch. He then proceeded to sprain his other ankle.
"I should have known better," Sampson said. "I'm madder at myself than anybody else. . . . I don't think it could have happened if the left ankle had been healthy."
Milwaukee Bucks Coach Don Nelson was hardly bestirred at the prospect of achieving his 500th win as coach. "I used to run into players who said they used to watch me play," the former Boston Celtics forward said. "Now they say, 'My dad used to watch you.' "
Add Nelson: Commenting on the slow start of new Buck center Jack Sikma, Nelson said:
"It just might be that Jack's summers aren't going to be as comfortable as they were in the past. . . . Jack's at an age where he needs more exercise besides playing golf."