LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers paid tribute to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Friday, unveiling a statue of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in his trademark sky-hook pose outside their Staples Center arena.
Abdul-Jabbar became the sixth Los Angeles sports figure memorialized with a statue outside the downtown arena, joining fellow NBA greats Magic Johnson and Jerry West, the NHL’s “Great One” Wayne Gretzky, boxer Oscar de la Hoya and longtime Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn.
“I’m very glad we got here before the pigeons got to it,” quipped Abdul-Jabbar after he pulled the cord to unveil the nearly 16-foot (4.9m) tall likeness.
“You should have had the first statue,” said Johnson, who was on hand for the unveiling along with Pat Riley, who coached both Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar on the “Showtime” era Lakers who won five titles in the 1980s.
“It was on your back that we’re here at Staples Center,” Johnson said.
Abdul-Jabbar, a towering 2.18m center who changed his name from Lew Alcindor after leading Milwaukee to the 1971 NBA title, scored 38,387 points in 1,560 games over a 20-year NBA career and was named the NBA Most Valuable Player six times.
Since retiring from the NBA in 1989, he has focused on raising awareness of African-American history and campaigning for socio-economic justice.
Civil rights activist Richard Lapchick, whose father, Joe, coached the New York Knicks, congratulated Abdul-Jabbar “not only for the statue but for a life well-lived.”
While the ceremony prior to the Lakers’ game against the Phoenix Suns recalled some of the Lakers’ greatest glory days, Abdul-Jabbar voiced the hope that Los Angeles’ current star-studded but struggling lineup could emerge from the turmoil of a controversial coaching change and establish themselves as title contenders.
The crowd cheered as he urged the Lakers to beat the Suns. Kobe Bryant and company then obliged, capping Abdul-Jabbar’s big night with a 114-102 victory.