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A Record the Fans Wouldn't Sit Still for : With Crowd's Urging, Abdul-Jabbar Returns to Set an All-Star Scoring Mark

February 08, 1988|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Rickety, old Chicago Stadium started to shake as if it were directly over the San Andreas Fault with 52 seconds left in Sunday's National Basketball Assn. All-Star game.

Michael Jordan and the Eastern Conference All-Stars had wrapped up a 138-133 victory, however, the standing-room-only crowd of 18,403 was yelling so loud that it could have drowned out a heavy-metal rock band.

"We want Jabbar! We want Jabbar!"

The fans, who had given Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a standing ovation when he was introduced before the game, wanted to sit in on history. They wanted to see the Lakers' elder statesman break the All-Star game career scoring record. And he needed only two points to do it.

"I thought they were yelling for Mark Aguirre, (a local hero who starred at DePaul University before going to the Dallas Mavericks). I wasn't going to get all crazy if I didn't get back into the game and get a shot at the record," said Abdul-Jabbar, who sat out the first 11 minutes of the final quarter. "I was prepared not to go back in. But the fans didn't want it that way. The fans here have always given me respect. I think it's great to be appreciated like that."

The Lakers' Pat Riley, coach of the Western Conference team, finally gave in.

Riley called time and inserted Abdul-Jabbar into the game, designing a play to get the ball to him.

Strangely, the public-address announcer misidentified Abdul-Jabbar when he entered the game, perhaps confusing him with Houston center Akeem Olajuwon: " Akeem Abdul-Jabbar checks into the game."

Riley diagrammed a play that has become a Laker mainstay--five down--in which Magic Johnson sets up Abdul-Jabbar for a sky hook.

The play worked as smooth as silk.

Kareem took the pass from Magic, who had 19 assists, faked to his left, rolled right and launched a 10-foot skyhook over center Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks with 44 seconds left.

The ball hit nothing but net, and the crowd was delirious after watching Kareem add another NBA record to his collection.

"Kareem's face just lit up after he made the shot," Magic said. "I've never seen him like that. He was still smiling when we got to the locker room. It was a special moment for him.

"I didn't know about the record, but I'm sure he wants to accomplish as much as he can before he retires. It was really nice to hear the crowd chant for him to come in."

Abdul-Jabbar, who finished with 10 points in 14 minutes off the bench Sunday, has scored 247 points in 17 All-Star appearances, surpassing Oscar Robertson's former mark of 246 points in 12 games.

Abdul-Jabbar, who has lost count of the records he has set during his 19-year pro career, took his latest mark in stride.

"I haven't really had a chance to line up all my milestones," Abdul-Jabbar said. "But this one was nice because of the way the fans responded to it. I didn't even know I had a shot at breaking it until (Laker publicist) Josh Rosenfeld told me yesterday that I needed 10 points to break it. If it wasn't for Josh, I'd be in the woods.

"I've had a rough time in some of these All-Star games, so it's nice to leave my mark in some way. I fouled out of the first All-Star game I played in 1970. In 1971, I had a great last quarter in the All-Star game which helped us win the game, but they stopped voting after the third quarter so I didn't win the MVP."

In this game, it appeared Abdul-Jabbar had broken the record at the end of the third quarter when he was credited with a three-point shot. He got high-fives from his teammates when he went to the bench.

The celebration, however, was short-lived.

Referee Jake O'Donnell, who had initially given the basket to Abdul-Jabbar because of goaltending, changed the ruling when he realized it was Abdul-Jabbar's teammate, Xavier McDaniel, who had grabbed the rim.

So Abdul-Jabbar had to work overtime to get the record.

"I thought it would have gone in if it hadn't been touched," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I thought it was one of our guys (McDaniel) who tapped it away, but I guess Jake was blocked out on the play."

Said McDaniel: "I didn't think he (Abdul-Jabbar) could make a three-pointer, so I was just trying to tip it in. But I never touched the ball at all."

Abdul-Jabbar, at 40, was old enough to play in Saturday's NBA Legends game. In fact, he was older than six of the old-timers who played in the old-timers game.

"I can't watch the Legends game because half of the people in the Legends game are younger than me," Abdul-Jabbar said. "It's not depressing. It tells me that I've done quite a remarkable job staying healthy. They don't look healthy and it bothers me to see it.

"I put a lot of (conditioning) work in for 12 months a year, taking yoga classes and stretching. If Muhammad Ali didn't mind training, he would still be a champion.

"I don't feel like an elder statesman, but I'm definitely an old-timer."

The other NBA All-Stars still marvel at Abdul-Jabbar who has set NBA career records for points scored, field goals made and attempted, games and minutes played and blocked shots.

"Kareem may be 40, but he's unbelievable," said Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics.

Said Jordan, who scored 40 points en route to being voted the game's MVP: "If I'm playing when I'm 40, it will be because of my love for the game. Kareem's love for the game is unbelievable."

Aguirre said of Abdul-Jabbar: "There's no limit to what the man can do. He could play 10 more years."

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