Kareem Abdul-Jabbar praises Andrew Bynum's willingness to learn
Even through his storied legacy includes collecting five of his six NBA titles with the Lakers, establishing himself (in the opinion of many) as the best center of all time and finishing as the league's all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has lately made public gripes about his former employer.
He's argued that the Lakers' failure to erect a statue in his honor symbolizes the organization's slighting of him. He felt offended he was never offered a significant coaching position beyond being a part-time special assistant coach. And he believed that his introverted -- and to many -- off-putting personality made him a distant figure in the organization. At the time, I expressed the opinion that some of his grievances were exaggerated, but that was how he felt. But there's at least one memory with the Lakers that hasn't soured Abdul-Jabbar: having the opportunity to coach Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
In a column for ESPN.com, Abdul-Jabbar argued that part of the NBA's current labor problems stem from the fact that more and more college basketball players are entering the pro ranks too early, with many undeveloped and immature players sapping team finances. He held up Bynum as one of the exceptions, showing a willingness to immediately correct his mistakes.
"While helping with the Lakers, I had the opportunity to work with Andrew Bynum, who wanted to learn and gained the knowledge he needed to be an important player for his team," Abdul-Jabbar wrote. "Andrew was able to use some of the fundamental moves I showed him as a foundation for his game. Before he got to the Lakers, he hadn't played many games. At 17 years of age, he had played in only two high school seasons, and both of those seasons were shortened by injuries. However, Andrew worked hard to master a basic repertoire of skills at both ends of the court. As he gained confidence in his ability to get things done, he became a reliable factor for the Lakers' success. Andrew got there, but it took three years for it to come together."
Abdul-Jabbar's column included his overall take on the NBA lockout, and puts most the blame on team owners for "spending too much money on marginal talent." He also took a swipe at former Clippers center Michael Olowokandi, recalling that when he was a Clippers assistant coach, he considered Olowokandi to be what many thought of him: "talented but uncoachable." But Bynum? He apparently was all eyes and all ears.
Some may wonder how this image of Bynum correlates to the one who illegally parked in handicapped spaces and laid out a few cheap shots this past season. It's fascinating because, on one hand, Bynum displays unusual maturity for a 23-year-old. He's intellectually curious and often reads books before games and during down moments in his hotel room. He loves to work on gadgets, whether it's building a computer, fixing his car engine or, as Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins recently reported, breaking open a telephone to see how it worked. He's embraced mind-building exercises, such as meditating, reading self-help books and eating a healthier diet.
But on the other hand, Bynum displays an aloofness and detachment from everything surrounding him. According to his Twitter account, he viewed the handicapped-parking incident this way: "There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from." Bynum saw nothing wrong with leveling J.J. Barea until two days after the fact, arguing that he needed to watch the tape before fully realizing how badly he hit the Dallas guard. And regardless of where you stand on his controversial decision to delay surgery on his right knee last offseason, Bynum's prolonged rehab and matter-of-fact nature about it frustrated many of his teammates.
Those arguing that such actions reflect a character flaw that the Lakers can't tolerate are taking a huge leap, however. Even if his previous actions aren't justifiable, he's quickly learning that growth goes beyond his own self-development and involves other people. As indicated by his interactions with Abdul-Jabbar, Bynum may be slowly coming to that realization.
-- Mark Medina
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