Former Lakers center Andrew Bynum rejected Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Nearly 3,000 miles away, Andrew Bynum seems set on a new beginning.
Just before his introductory news conference with the Philadelphia 76ers, fans greeted him by shouting his name and chanting, "Beat L.A." After acquiring Bynum last week in a four-team, 12-player trade that sent Dwight Howard from Orlando to the Lakers, Sixers officials tabbed Bynum as their future franchise player. And Bynum shared his intentions to stay with Philadelphia after his $16.1-million contract ends after the 2012-13 season.
“To be honest, man, my first experience here has been so great I’m really leaning toward making this my home,” Bynum said, prompting the Sixers fans to cheer loudly. “I’m really leaning to making this my home.”
But his Lakers' past didn't entirely escape him. A reporter asked Bynum about the comments Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made to The Times that questioned Bynum's focus during his seven years with the Lakers.
"I don't know. I was definitely focused," Bynum said. "I worked with Kareem for, I believe, my first two or three years. Later on, it became more of sort of a mentor [role]. He would just give me little tips here or there. I wasn't able to master the sky hook, but outside of that he showed me a lot of great things. Footwork, rebounding, how to cut the lane off. Just a bunch a things. I learned a lot from him and I enjoyed my time with him."
Abdul-Jabbar worked with Bynum as a special assistant coach from 2005 until November 2009, when he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Bynum faced different challenges at the beginning. He was the youngest player ever to make his NBA debut (18 years, six days) and he had never finished a full season at St. Joseph High in Metuchen, N.J. Some lauded the Lakers for a forward-thinking approach in taking a raw center to mold into their own. Some wondered why they would waste their time when they were trying to rebuild in the post-Shaquille O'Neal era.
Either way, Abdul-Jabbar got involved in the effort early. He showed Bynum a video titled "Block Art," which Abdul-Jabbar said showed Celtics legend Bill Russell "terrorizing everybody" so the Lakers center would understand the need to jump. Abdul-Jabbar taught Bynum post moves so he'd give the coaching staff enough confidence to play him. In a nationally televised game against Miami, Bynum performed Abdul-Jabbar's spin move past O'Neal for a baseline dunk moments after the O'Neal used him as a pogo stick to throw in an offensive putback.
At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, Abdul-Jabbar said Bynum told the Lakers' coaching staff headed by Phil Jackson that he lost interest in working with the legendary center.
"When I first started working with him, he was eager to learn," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He appreciated me shortening the learning curve. Once he figured he did everything he wanted to do in terms of learning, he didn't want me to bother him constantly going over the fundamentals."
This issue goes beyond Abdul-Jabbar taking possible offense into having a reduced role or his own assessment on Bynum. Bynum's exit interview in May with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Mike Brown lasted 90 minutes, as they stressed the need for Bynum to stay "mentally strong."
Bynum was benched during a game last season for launching a three-pointer, and professed afterward he'd take more of them. He admitted staying out of team huddles. The Lakers fined him, partly for skipping a meeting with Kupchak. Bynum was ejected from games twice within a two-week span. He sometimes acknowledged lacking in effort.
Those incidents soured an otherwise breakout season. Bynum posted career highs in points (18.7) and rebounds (11.8) and made his first All-Star team. He went through his seventh NBA season without experiencing a major injury. He joined Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor as the fifth player in Lakers history to grab 30 rebounds in a game.
"It's just part of maturing and over stretches I've been able to do it," Bynum said in his exit interview with the media. "Sometimes it's tough to lock in. For the most part, I did a pretty good job this year. ... It’s hard for anybody, I think, to focus at all times. That’s what makes people get to that superstar status when they’re able to do that four out of five games. That’s the difference. That’s the next step for me."