Plutarch wrote that “when Alexander (the Great) saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn’t exactly weeping about unconquered territory, but the NBA all-time leading scorer is definitely lamenting the absence of an accolade he has yet to receive—the erection of a statue of himself outside the Staples Center, in Los Angeles. Five people, including three associated with the Lakers (former players Magic Johnson and Jerry West, and game announcer Chick Hearn), have already been honored with statues outside the Lakers’ home stadium. And Kareem is wondering why he hasn’t been bestowed a similar lifetime achievement award.
“I don’t understand (it). It’s either an oversight or they’re taking me for granted. 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,” he told The Sporting News. “I am highly offended by the total lack of acknowledgement of my contribution to Laker success. I guess being the lynchpin for five world championships is not considered significant enough in terms of being part of Laker history.”
The Lakers, for their part, say Abdul-Jabbar is in line to get the next statue outside the stadium.
“We’ve been at Staples Center 11 years and have two ex-players who have statues now. It’s not like we do it every year; we have no timetable,” said Lakers spokesman John Black. “Whenever we do the next statue of the third Los Angeles Lakers player, it (will be) Kareem—and he has been told that. Again, we didn’t say when that was going to be. It could be next year, the year after or several years from now.”
So Abdul-Jabbar knows he’s getting a statue, yet still he’s dissatisfied. And why is that? The Sporting News article says the newsstand issue of the magazine will go into greater detail about his misgivings, but I think we can hazard some armchair psychology: Kareem, who made millions of dollars in the NBA, won five NBA titles, six Most Valuable Player awards, and was elected to the Hall of Fame, proves that some men will never be satisfied so long as they know that someone else has something they want—and moreover, something they feel they deserve.
Does Kareem deserve a statue outside Staples Center? Absolutely. Is he going to get one? Yes. Will he receive it before he dies? One could hope. (Jabbar is 64 and has battled cancer in recent years; in February he said the cancer was now at an “absolute minimum.”)
But when you think about it, what will that statue ceremony now be like? It’s one thing to unveil a statue of a revered player who earned the adulation of fans; it’s quite another to unveil a statue of a revered player who whined because he feels he wasn’t revered enough.
I understand his frustration, because it’s human nature to be frazzled when you feel you’re not being accorded the level of respect you deserve. But it’s also human nature to recoil when someone as feted as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar complains about not being feted even more.
Hopefully when Alexander the Great started weeping, one of his buddies had the good sense to console him by saying, “Don’t worry, A-man, we’ll go back and erect a statue of you outside every city you conquered.”
That might have kept him happy—for a little while, anyway.
If Kareem gets a statue, he’ll he happy, too. Unless, of course, the Lakers erect a bigger one of Kobe Bryant someday. That’s just the nature of things when you invest a lot of your happiness in obtaining what you think you deserve.