PHOENIX — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar faces possible assault charges and a civil lawsuit after an incident in a shopping mall here Thursday involving an Italian tourist who alleges that he was struck by the Laker center while taping him with a video camera.
Police were continuing their investigation of the incident, which occurred between 12:30 and 1 p.m. Thursday in a mall adjacent to the hotel where the Lakers were staying before their game against the Phoenix Suns Friday night. Abdul-Jabbar flew back to Los Angeles Thursday night and did not return for the game.
According to police Sgt. Andrew Anderson, if the investigation determines there is sufficient evidence for assault charges, the matter will be turned over to the city attorney's office.
Police have a videotape of the incident, shot by the tourist, Fernando Nicolia, 39, president of the Italian branch of Inlingua Schools of Language.
Nicolia, whose brother, Giacomo, lives in Phoenix, showed reporters a copy of the videotape in the office of his attorney, Steven Leshner. The tape shows Abdul-Jabbar, dressed in T-shirt, sweat pants and sneakers, strolling through the mall while Nicolia filmed him from a distance that appeared to be at least 20 feet.
The tape shows Abdul-Jabbar starting to enter a department store, then turning around and heading back in the direction of Nicolia. The tape then shows Abdul-Jabbar, without breaking stride, veering directly toward Nicolia and using his left hand to cover the camera lens and pushing it.
"You can see where Kareem strides very purposefully toward Mr. Nicolia and just slams him," Leshner said.
Nicolia, who stands 5 feet 8 inches, subsequently filed a report with the police, and an investigation was undertaken by Detective Mac Rafferty of the assault detail.
"We still have a few more witnesses to talk to," said Anderson, adding that police had not contacted the 7-2 Abdul-Jabbar.
Nicolia, who had a slight bruise under his right eye, bruises on his right eyelid, and a cut on his right ear, said he had seen a doctor Thursday. His attorney, Leshner, said that he planned to determine the extent of damages before deciding whether to proceed with a civil suit.
"This is not a case anyone is going to get rich on," Leshner said, adding that he was trying to contact Abdul-Jabbar's attorney, Leonard Armato, and Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers' assistant general manager.
But a financial counselor for Giacomo Nicolia, Richard Harold, who was fielding phone calls at the Nicolia home, asked a reporter how much money could be involved in such a case.
Fernando Nicolia said he had gone to the mall, accompanied by his nephew, Joseph, to shop for a gift for his 14-year-old son, David.
"I was there looking for an official Laker uniform," Nicolia said. "David is a basketball player, and in Italy, there is a private (TV) channel that shows NBA games. He loves the Lakers and he asked me for (a uniform)."
Nicolia, struck by what he called the beauty of the mall, was filming the interior when Abdul-Jabbar walked in. Nicolia said he had not recognized the player but that his nephew had.
"I don't like baskets," Nicolia said. "I like to sit, smoke a pipe, and read a book.
"I just saw these two long legs, peering through the camera."
Nicolia said that neither he nor his nephew spoke to Abdul-Jabbar, and the player never said anything to them. The videotape would appear to support that contention.
Abdul-Jabbar, reached at his home in Bel Air, referred any questions about the incident to his attorney, Armato.
"He's going to handle it all until the air clears," Abdul-Jabbar said.
Armato said Abdul-Jabbar had tried to leave the mall gracefully.
"There was no intent to injure anybody," Armato said. "All it was, basically, was a defense reaction on his part to try and go on about his business, to just say, 'Leave me alone.' "
Armato said he has had no contact with Nicolia or anyone representing him.
"The whole thing has been blown drastically out of proportion," Armato said. "What I hope happens next is that everybody forgets about it."
After the incident, Abdul-Jabbar returned to the team's hotel, chatted briefly with a reporter at poolside, then later attended a late-afternoon movie.
Laker officials--including owner Jerry Buss, team attorney Jerry Fine, General Manager Jerry West and coach Pat Riley--as well as Armato, conferred Thursday night after being alerted to the incident by calls from Phoenix newspapers.
It was decided to have Abdul-Jabbar return to Los Angeles. "We didn't want to have Kareem in handcuffs at half-court," Riley told reporters.
The Lakers released a statement Thursday night, saying that Abdul-Jabbar was returning after the "uncalled for intrusion into his privacy."
Times staff writer Thomas Bonk contributed to this story in Los Angeles.