Let’s be clear: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been honored for his record-setting NBA career before. The star formerly known as Lew Alcindor had his Lakers jersey retired in 1989. Four years later his No. 33 was sent to the rafters in Milwaukee, where he played his first six seasons. In 2011, however, Abdul-Jabbar made it clear that it was the degree of reverence around his six NBA titles and record 38,387 points that wasn’t up to his liking in Los Angeles. Magic Johnson, broadcaster Chick Hearn and Jerry West all have statues outside Staples Center. The Lakers contended they did want to honor him with one; Abdul-Jabbar countered with, why haven’t you yet? That animosity is all set to change this season.
The Los Angeles Times learned today that Abdul-Jabbar will get a statue erected sometime during this season outside Staples Center, a decision that apparently has as much to do with the arena’s owner, AEG, as the Buss family. In the story, the Lakers have said there is no set-in-stone criteria for earning such a statue, though statue criteria has been known to vary widely outside the NBA — just look at Stephon Marbury‘s instant bronzing in China.
There’s little point to debating how high the bar should be set for an honor like this; rooting a player’s likeness into the ground will obviously be taken with utmost caution. It links the two in both logistics and legacy. Teams can disassociate with a former legend gone awry, but the worst-case-scenario of having to remove their statue, as in the case of Joe Paterno, leaves a literal hole in both’s reputation. When Karl Malone, who has been honored with a Jazz statue in Salt Lake City, and Utah owner Greg Miller sniped at each other very publicly last April the level of discord between team and star was noticeable; Abdul-Jabbar’s irksome comments last year likely didn’t help his statue’s timeline, either. I understand his comments and insular personality haven’t meshed with Lakers’ brass at all times but this is an honor long past due.
Now with a fourth statue set to go up outside Staples, is it only a matter of when, not if, Kobe Bryant becomes the fifth upon his retirement? Bryant needs 8,903 points and one championship to match the inventor of the “Skyhook” but, next to Magic, it’s hard to come up with a more popular Laker. He is one of a handful of current NBA stars who could conceivably get their own life-size honor. Two years ago, Dime wrote about this very topic for current players in the game. At the top of the list? Kobe.
Should he have had a statue earlier?
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