Kareem statue part of a complicated legacy

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
11:28
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
This is the year Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among the most successful and elegant athletes in modern sports history, will receive a statue outside Staples Center, according to reports.

The date of the official unveiling will be announced at some point relatively soon.

The path to this moment hasn't exactly been smooth. Despite not having full control over the bronze-out-front process, the Los Angeles Lakers have said for a while Kareem would eventually be honored. Still, it didn't stop him from complaining about it on Twitter or to The Sporting News in 2011 that Jerry West's statue came first. "I don't understand [it]. It's either an oversight or they're taking me for granted," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I'm not going to try to read people's minds, but it doesn't make me happy. It's definitely a slight. I feel slighted."

I don't care how many points a man has scored, how many rings he has won or how totally deserving of the honor he might be. Questioning why you have not yet been immortalized outside one of the country's premier sports and entertainment venues requires a certain chutzpah, and it's impossible to do without sounding petty. Particularly when the only three Lakers with statues before you are West, Magic Johnson and Chick Hearn. It's not as though Kareem was skipped over for Mike Penberthy.

The multi-talented, intellectual Kareem has always been a tricky personality, considered aloof while he played and never chummy with the media. His relationship with the Lakers (and the larger world of basketball) in retirement hasn't been easy, either. And, unfortunately, Abdul-Jabbar's earlier complaints have become part of the context of this honor.

It wasn't a good moment.

His contributions are indeed monumental, but it's naive to believe the unveiling of a statue will fully repair the relationship between Kareem and the Lakers, or allow Abdul-Jabbar to permanently set aside the ways in which he has felt slighted by the team and the game. But for one day, at least, the focus will land squarely on Kareem's incredible career.

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