Magic Johnson, Chick Hearn and Jerry West statue inductions filled with emotion and humility
Here is the ironic part about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's frustration over not having a statue: Magic Johnson tweeted Abdul-Jabbar deserved one "before me," Jerry West expressed embarrassment during his statue unveiling and argued others, including Abdul-Jabbar, were more deserving and the Lakers had long maintained Abdul-Jabbar soon would have one.
I can't properly describe the setting to Johnson's statue ceremony during All-Star weekend in 2004 because I wasn't there, but his public sentiments before and after reflected a much more thankful and humble outlook than Abdul-Jabbar's sentiments that his delayed statue induction symbolized one of many examples of what he called a "fractured" relationship with the Lakers.
A humble, reflective and appreciative atmosphere took place at both statue unveilings for the late legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn and Jerry West, the former Laker who brought the organization's first NBA championship in 1972 and later seven more as a general manager. One can only imagine what Hearn would've said about his own statue unveiling April 19, 2010, hours before a Lakers' playoff game at Staples Center, but there were plenty -- including his wife, Marge, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, former Lakers James Worthy and Byron Scott, Lakers broadcaster Stu Lantz and Kings play-by-play announcer Bob Miller -- who filled in the details by offering endless stories about how Hearn's telecasts united the Lakers organization and fans.
And though West predicted no one would show up to his statue unveiling during All-Star weekend in February, the likes of Johnson, Elgin Baylor, David Stern, Jerry Buss, Jeanie Buss, Kupchak, Worthy, Pat Riley, Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy and Abdul-Jabbar attended.
The media accounts of Johnson's induction ceremony mentioned how the event provided a perfect celebration for a man who many thought would soon pass after he announced in 1991 that he contracted HIV. When Hearn's bronze statue was unveiled, showcasing the man who called 3,338 consecutive Lakers games wearing a headset and appearing as if he's in midsentence while calling a game, Marge sat next to the statue, kissed her right hand and then placed it on the cheek of her husband's statue. "This is as good as it gets, to have this in your life," she said. "Fabulous day. Just fabulous." And when West pulled the rope to uncover his statue, suddenly his never-ending anxiety over losses and other teammates not getting a similar honor temporarily went away. "To think of a little boy who had an opportunity to live his dream, and maybe to exceed it, that is very special," West said, fighting back tears.
Whether you view Abdul-Jabbar's public outcry over the statue as petty or believe the Lakers are at fault, it's likely both sides would agree that the setting surrounding Abdul-Jabbar's induction ceremony won't have the same feel. Sure, plenty in the organization will come out. Sure, plenty likely will share memorable stories about Abdul-Jabbar. And perhaps it'll help patch up things regarding Abdul-Jabbar's relationship with the Lakers, one he believes won't ever be salvaged. Regardless, the setting likely will feel more like a surprise party the host put on himself, meaning the spontaneity and raw emotion will feel forced and less uniting as it was during the other three statue inductions.
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Photo: Magic Johnson's statue near Staples Center might be joined by one of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the not-so-distant future. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times