Lakers respond to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's contention that the organization hasn't treated him with enough respect
In a Q&A with former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar published Thursday morning on this blog, he talked about his "fractured" relationship with the organization, suggesting as he did in a recent Sporting News interview that a symbol of this is the lack of a statue honoring the Lakers star outside Staples Center.
I passed the interview along to Lakers spokesman John Black to give the team the opportunity to comment on it, along with three specific questions that came out of Abdul-Jabbar's interview. Since he spoke with the Sporting News in a report focusing on how he felt slighted at not having a statue, Abdul-Jabbar said that Linda Rambis, the Lakers’ manager of special projects, had told his publicist, Deborah Morales, that he would be the next Laker to have a statue but didn’t specify when.
"Linda Rambis did place a call to Deborah Morales yesterday due to the puzzling comments that have come out the past few days," Black wrote in an email. "However, Deborah has been made aware, as has Kareem, for quite a while that we plan on putting up a statue of Kareem, and that it would be the next statue erected, so to say that her call yesterday was to inform about this would be incorrect."
As a Lakers special assistant coach for the last six seasons, working with center Andrew Bynum, Abdul-Jabbar said he had to take an unspecified paycut in 2009, which he described as “drastic," even though he said his role wasn't reduced. He said he was only willing to stay because he was diagnosed in November 2009 with a rare form of leukemia and needed the health insurance.
"When Kareem was initially hired six years ago as a Special Assistant Coach," Black wrote, "he worked regularly at practices and before games in a mentoring role with Andrew Bynum. After a few years, Andrew no longer needed such a time-consuming effort with Kareem, so the amount of work needed was lessened, therefore Kareem’s schedule and workload was lessened. In reflecting the lesser work and hours, Kareem’s salary was adjusted. However, as with all employees here, we do not discuss compensation or contract issues, therefore will not go into details regarding Kareem’s pay."
Lastly, even if Abdul-Jabbar were to receive a statue, it might not make much difference in the state of his relationship with the Lakers. He expressed disinterest in remaining on the Lakers’ staff, referring to himself an "outsider," and argued, "They don’t really value my presence there like they value other people.”
"It's hard to define what the 'relationship' with Kareem is, as with any individuals, relationships vary," Black wrote after I asked him how the Lakers would characterize their relationship with Abdul-Jabbar. "Speaking personally, since I was an intern in 1982, Kareem has been very friendly to me, even having dinner with me, which is a great memory of mine. Although various other people referred to him as surly and such, my personal dealings with him have never been such, and I have always enjoyed the conversations with him on topics such as books, music and things other than basketball, and I would consider our relationship to be very friendly.
"Beyond that, since we hired him, I have also always enjoyed my direct dealings with him in terms of arranging interviews and other aspects relating to Kareem doing PR for the Lakers," Black continued. "I would like to consider my personal relationship with him to be excellent. As for others in our organization who I’ve spoken to, I have not found one person who doesn’t like Kareem. Overall, I’d say the Lakers have been pleased to have him back in our organization the last several years, and we are proud of having him as part of the Lakers legacy."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 2009. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times