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Kareem Hopes to Teach Young Laker a Lesson

Hall of Famer overcomes his image problem and returns to the organization, primarily to work with teenager Bynum.

September 07, 2005|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was back among the Lakers on Tuesday, for the first time in more than a decade.

On a day he and others thought might never come, the 58-year-old Hall of Fame center put 17-year-old draft pick Andrew Bynum through an informal workout at the team's El Segundo headquarters.

A few hours later, a beaming Abdul-Jabbar met with reporters for the first time since he was hired last week as a special assistant to Coach Phil Jackson.

"I just want to say, it's a real pleasure for me to be back in the Laker family," said the NBA's all-time scoring leader, often so sullen and introverted as a player that many doubted he would ever be hired as a coach. "It's been a long time, and a whole lot has happened.

"It's really a pleasure and a great opportunity for me to be back with the Lakers ... to help them get back on the winning track. I'm thrilled to be here."

Added Abdul-Jabbar: "I think I had to overcome a few problems I had with regard to my image and the way I conducted myself as a player. I avoided the press and didn't have too much to say, and when you don't have too much to say, people think you can't communicate.

"That's something that I had to prove that I could do, and that I could teach. I've worked on that, and I think people have seen that."

One of those people was Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak. He and Jackson reached out to Abdul-Jabbar, a six-time most valuable player who helped the Lakers win five NBA championships in the 1980s.

"I was kind of shocked," said Abdul-Jabbar, who will accompany the Lakers to Hawaii for training camp in October and will work with the team at home during the season, mostly tutoring Bynum.

"But I think the timing was right because they have the type of player that can benefit the most from what I know. We have the same type of physique, and he's a bright kid who's willing to learn, so it should be a good fit. So far, from my experience today, it feels like a good fit."

After a workout in which Kobe Bryant and other Lakers also participated, Abdul-Jabbar said of Bynum, "He's not a raw kind of talent. He's got some sophistication to his basketball game, and I think he will progress quickly."

Abdul-Jabbar's return, meanwhile, progressed in fits and starts. Considering his accomplishments -- he scored 38,387 points in 20 NBA seasons before retiring in 1989 -- he might have presumed he'd be given greater opportunities in the game.

But his reputation preceded him and he has had only minimal involvement in the NBA since he began lobbying for a return 10 years ago.

He worked briefly as an assistant coach with the Clippers in 2000, tutoring Michael Olowokandi, and later with the Seattle SuperSonics, mentoring Jerome James. After a failed bid to coach at Columbia University two years ago, he was hired as a West Coast scout by the New York Knicks in March of last year.

He is better-suited to coaching now, he said, "just [from] understanding what I have to offer and what the young generation of players needs. That's a pretty good fit. I know a lot; they need to learn a lot. So if we get together, maybe we can transfer some knowledge here and have some fun and win some games.

"That's what it should be about."

*

Former Laker assistant Tex Winter will return as a consultant, helping to teach and implement the triangle offense, the team announced.... The Lakers signed free agent Devin Green, a 6-foot-7 guard from Hampton University who averaged 14.1 points as a senior.

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