HANG TIME, Texas — Would there be any way in the world it would seem right if our nation’s capital was named for anyone but George Washington?
Fillmore, D.C.? Polk, D.C.? Nixon, D.C.?
Thus, it was equally preposterous that the array of statues outside Staples Center should for all these years have been missing the most logical and deserving subject:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — first in goggles, first in skyhooks, first on the all-time NBA scoring list with 38,387 points.
The egregious omission was finally rectified on when a 16-foot, 1,500-pound statue in the classic skyhook pose was unveiled on Friday night.
Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times was on hand to describe the occasion:
“I’m glad we got here before the pigeons got to it,” he said, drawing laughter from an array of former NBA players, executives, family and friends.
“I don’t know if you remember, but I had a little too much to say that it hadn’t happened right away. But they were patient with me,” he said after pulling a gold tassel that removed a curtain and unveiled the statue created by sculptors/artists Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany.
Abdul-Jabbar became the sixth Los Angeles sports figure to be remembered with a statue outside the arena, joining hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, boxer Oscar De La Hoya, basketball Hall of Famers Jerry West and Magic Johnson, and longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn.
Johnson was among the speakers during a ceremony that featured key figures from Abdul-Jabbar’s childhood, his days in Milwaukee, and his Lakers years. All of them emphasized Abdul-Jabbar’s leadership, great athletic skills and intellectual curiosity.
“You should have had the first statue,” Johnson told the crowd. “It was on your back that we’re here at Staples Center.”
Yes, it is true that Abdul-Jabbar could be prickly and downright aloof at times during his long playing career in Milwaukee and L.A. But he is the only six-time winner of the MVP award in NBA history and also set records at the time for games played, total minutes, field goals, blocked shots, defensive rebounds and fouls.
While the Lakers did not finally leap up to become the league’s most prominent franchise until the arrival of Magic in the 1979-80 season, it was always Abdul-Jabbar providing the tent post in the middle that held up the “Showtime” circus that won five championships in the 1980s.
It is not in any way to discredit the likes of Johnson, West, Hearn, Gretzky or De La Hoya, who had all previously been honored with their own statues.
But it is finally fit that the man who literally stands taller than them all has at last been rightfully placed on his own pedestal.