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A Fitting Farewell to Kareem : Lakers Beat Seattle in Center's Goodby

April 24, 1989|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

You might remember Sunday, the finale of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's regular-season farewell tour, for the Rolls-Royce and other lavish gifts he was presented, the heartfelt speeches, or simply the touching sight of his Laker teammates gently rocking him in a rocking chair during a musical interlude.

It all was so memorable, such a fitting and emotional tribute to the retiring Laker center by his teammates, family and friends, coaches and management, as well as the 17,505 Forum fans to whom Abdul-Jabbar was the sole object of affection on this day.

But remember this, too: It was not Abdul-Jabbar's final National Basketball Assn. game. That day will come sometime later this spring in the playoffs, when the Lakers will try to give Abdul-Jabbar another gift in the form of a seventh championship ring.

This disclaimer was duly noted by most of the speakers at Sunday's ceremony, including Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and even broadcaster Chick Hearn.

And, as Abdul-Jabbar later said in a news conference: "This one, we knew was coming, formally. The next goodby (will be) over and out. But it was nice to have this day."

The Lakers, though their attention was diverted by the ceremony, certainly made the most of it. They defeated the Seattle SuperSonics, 121-117, to finish the season with 57 victories and make Abdul-Jabbar's day all the more memorable.

And in his 1,560th, and last, regular-season game, Abdul-Jabbar played 26 minutes, scored 10 points and had six rebounds. His last points came on a dunk off a Johnson pass with 2:14 to play. Thus, his NBA-record point total rests at 38,387.

Johnson, noticeably inspired by the day's events--"I was not about to let him lose on his day," he said--had 29 points, 21 assists and nine rebounds.

But, from a Laker viewpoint, this game was not about facts and figures, or even trying to go into Thursday night's playoff opener against Portland in the Forum with a five-game winning streak.

The purpose was to salute Abdul-Jabbar's 20 seasons in the NBA before Laker thoughts become preoccupied with the playoffs, to present the emotional culmination of a season of goodby ceremonies.

Abdul-Jabbar, who has received a lot of gifts in recent months, was given a 1989 Rolls-Royce "Silver Spirit" from his teammates, a lighted tennis court to be installed at his home in Hawaii from Laker owner Jerry Buss, and various other mementos and keepsakes from well-wishers.

Though unaccustomed to public displays of affection, Abdul-Jabbar seemed genuinely moved by the 45-minute pregame ceremony. His emotional layers were peeled away.

It began promptly at 11:45 a.m., when the lights dimmed and a spotlight focused on a roped-off area near the south basket, where a a podium and a rocking chair were placed.

After Hearn introduced Al and Cora Alcindor, Abdul-Jabbar's parents, and Kareem's four children, the spotlight followed Abdul-Jabbar through a tunnel and onto the court.

Abdul-Jabbar raised his hands in acknowledgment, then sat in the rocking chair. The initial standing ovation lasted more than three minutes, Abdul-Jabbar shaking his head, smiling, looking up at the lights and making a brief swipe of his eyes with his right forearm.

Hearn finally muffled the roar by exclaiming, "Remember, we got a playoff game Thursday . . . "

That was followed by a rendition of the National Anthem, sung by Abdul-Jabbar's 8-year-old son, Amir. Later, Abdul-Jabbar would say that Amir surprised him a few days before by asking whether they'd let him sing.

Hearn read a telegram by President George Bush, lauding Abdul-Jabbar's accomplishments and his dedication in promoting literacy programs for youth.

Gifts from the Lakers' radio network--first-class, round-trip tickets to Hawaii for Abdul-Jabbar's parents--and television network--a vacation in Orlando, Fla., for Abdul-Jabbar, a guest and his parents--were announced.

Laker Coach Pat Riley then talked about Abdul-Jabbar's impact on the team, about how he has served as a role model to Laker players and coaches on and off the court. He read an open letter from the team to Abdul-Jabbar.

"He is our mentor," Riley said.

Then, as the players left the bench and circled the rocking chair, the song, "That's What Friends Are For," was played. While teammates tipped the rocking chair, Kareem took in the scene around him.

Near the end of the song, Abdul-Jabbar stood and was led by Johnson to a white Rolls-Royce towed onto the court during the song. After hugging his teammates, Abdul-Jabbar opened the door and slipped behind the wheel.

Johnson then gave a simple but poignant tribute to Abdul-Jabbar. Pointing to the Rolls-Royce, Johnson began:

"It's definitely not enough. We should give you more than that. You've meant so much to all of us. . . . I've been fortunate to play 10 years with you. God has blessed me with the chance to get to know you, not only as a player but as a friend.

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