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T.J. SIMERS

This seems pretty small of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

No question Kareem was a great player, but he has kept most people at a distance throughout his career and after. He should regret his comments of the last few days about the Lakers and a statue outside Staples Center.

May 19, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks to the media at TD Garden when he was an assistant with the Lakers during the NBA Finals.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks to the media at TD Garden when he was an assistant… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

They can't erect a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar statue fast enough, a monument, if you will to every athlete who feels a sense of entitlement.

It's not about a statue outside Staples Center, as Kareem was telling everyone Thursday. But of course it is, just like it's never about the money when an athlete asks for a new contract but wants only respect.

"It's how I was treated during my stay with the Lakers," says Kareem, while blasting an organization that paid him millions as a player and hired him as a special assistant when no one else would.

Kareem has talked in the past about being more than just a basketball player, and yet it sounds as if he still wants the Lakers beholden to him because of what he did as a basketball player.

When does he stand on his own?

"When I first set out to be a coach, I got no help from them," Kareem says.

More than 15 years is a long time to carry around such resentment.

Were the Lakers obligated to hire him as a coach, knowing his communication limitations, his inexperience and the head coach's desire to most likely assemble his own staff?

Kareem said it took Andrew Bynum to say something, and then a nod of approval from Phil Jackson to get a job. Good for him for using his contacts.

But he now complains the Lakers asked him to take a pay cut, suggesting it just wasn't fair. I know a whole lot of really good people who have been laid off who might struggle to sympathize.

"At the same time they were telling me I had to take a cut, they were paying the head coach $10 to $12 million a year," Kareem said.

What does one have to do with the other? When an employee looks around the room and starts to compare what he makes with someone else, the conclusion is almost always a bitter one.

Kareem says he considers himself an "outsider" now when it comes to the Lakers. The description is also apropos of how he has carried himself for decades.

"They don't really value my presence there like they value other people," Kareem says. I wonder what he thought when he heard Jackson say he hasn't spoken to Jim Buss in a year.

Kareem shrinks in size when he starts talking about how underappreciated he felt with the Lakers. He said he couldn't sit on the team plane where he wanted. And, "Geez, I couldn't even get a playoff share. That makes me sore. I regret I have to say that."

He should regret everything he has said the past few days. For many years he made it tough on everyone to get close to him, and now he's appalled because he hasn't been embraced more?

"It's like it is with most employees," he says. "If not shown appreciation, it gets to you."

He didn't say it, but isn't this about failing to become a head coach or key assistant?

And whose fault is that?

Is there any other way for the Lakers to show him the appreciation he wants so badly than making him a full-time coach?

Kareem had his exit interview with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak on Monday. It's a good guess Kareem knows now he has no future as a coach. Rejection doesn't go down well for someone 64 years old with nowhere else to go to realize such an ambition.

It's the only way to explain the last 48 embarrassing hours, and his "don't you know who I am" tantrum.

It has to be hard on fans who have loved him so while playing with the Bruins and Lakers. He was the best college/professional package of talent and championships that Los Angeles has ever known, statue or no statue.

But over time, I wonder if most have come to feel sorry for "the big guy" more than anything.

How often did Kareem appear on the overhead scoreboard in Staples, sitting on a folding chair — removed from everyone else?

There has always been this awkward feeling he doesn't really fit in. It's a tough question of who was more uncomfortable: Kareem or the person trying to talk to him?

He wonders now why Jerry Buss did what he did for Magic, and what he didn't do for Kareem.

"A big disparity there," he said.

What has Magic done since playing to enhance the Lakers' brand? What has Kareem done?

The Lakers are taking heat for this, but the statues in front of Staples Center have more to do with AEG's Tim Leiweke.

Oscar De La Hoya went outside Staples shortly after becoming a business partner with AEG. Wayne Gretzky went up before Kareem because AEG owns the Kings and Leiweke is a rabid hockey fan. Magic was an owner of the Lakers at the time just like AEG, and Chick Hearn was the voice of the paying customers.

There's no argument Kareem deserves a statue, but how petty and unbecoming is it to have the model for such a statue arguing what's the delay?

What would John Wooden have said — the question submitted to a friend?

"Goodness gracious, sakes alive, Lewis, be humble," came the email reply, a quick check to make sure it wasn't being sent from heaven.com.

"Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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