LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook has been captured in bronze for future generations of basketball fans.
Staples Center unveiled a nearly 16-foot-tall statue of the top scorer in NBA history Friday night, immortalizing Jabbar’s famed hook shot alongside statues of fellow Los Angeles Lakers greats Magic Johnson and Jerry West.
The 65-year-old Abdul-Jabbar pronounced himself humbled and grateful during a ceremony attended by numerous NBA greats ranging from Johnson and West to Pat Riley and Elgin Baylor – and even Lakers superfan Jack Nicholson.
“Having lived my life and had the experiences I’ve had, I can understand now what a man like Lou Gehrig means when he considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
Abdul-Jabbar is depicted in his signature goggles, wristbands and the standard 1980s short-shorts below his No. 33 jersey. The 7-foot-2 center pulled a braided cord to drop a curtain revealing the statue to hundreds of cheering fans, who gathered under threatening clouds for the ceremony.
“I’m glad we got here before the pigeons got to it,” Abdul-Jabbar said with a smile.
By any measure, Abdul-Jabbar is among the most significant figures in basketball history. His 38,387 points are the most in NBA history, and he spent two decades in the league with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers, winning a record six MVP awards while setting records at the time for games played, total minutes, field goals, blocked shots, defensive rebounds and fouls.
The former Lew Alcindor arrived at UCLA in 1965 from his native New York City’s Power Memorial High School. He won three NCAA titles with coach John Wooden, who received special mention while Abdul-Jabbar thanked the biggest figures in his basketball life.
“You never understand how important these people are until they’re not with you,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “With coach Wooden, I understood immediately.”
The No. 1 pick in the 1969 draft won an NBA title with Oscar Robertson and the Bucks, who traded him to Los Angeles in 1975. The Lakers didn’t break through until Johnson arrived in 1979, immediately teaming up for the first of five championships in nine seasons with the advent of Showtime.
“Thank you for taking us on a ride with you,” Johnson said. “It was all because of your great leadership.”
Riley recalled his first conversation with Abdul-Jabbar after he became the Lakers’ coach.
“He said, `Pat, you won’t have to worry about me,'” Riley said. “He was great, and he has been there for us his whole career. He was our protector, and he was the one who carried us.”
Abdul-Jabbar did much of his scoring with the famed shot depicted in his statue – including the basket with which he passed Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s career scoring leader on April 5, 1984, in Las Vegas. Former Milwaukee radio play-by-play announcer Eddie Doucette attended the statue unveiling and recounted the night he coined the term “skyhook” while Abdul-Jabbar played for the Bucks.
Abdul-Jabbar also received praise from several speakers for his humanitarian work and dedication to education in his post-basketball life. He also has written books and worked on documentary films.
And though the Lakers insist there are no hard feelings with their sometimes-prickly ex-superstar, Abdul-Jabbar ruefully recalled a minor ruckus he started a few years ago by complaining that Johnson and West had been honored with Staples Center statues before him.
“I had a little too much to say about it not happening right away,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “But they were patient with me.”
Julius Erving, Bill Walton, Bill Sharman, Jamaal Wilkes, Kurt Rambis, A.C. Green and James Worthy also attended the ceremony. NBA Commissioner David Stern, former President Bill Clinton and Abdul-Jabbar’s son, Amir, sent congratulatory videos.
“Kareem was the most selfless super player that I’ve ever seen in my life,” West said.