LOS ANGELES -- On the same night the Los Angeles Lakers hoped to begin a new "Showtime" era, the team paid homage to the captain of the original one.
"Lou Gehrig spoke about being the luckiest man in the world, and as a young person at that time I didn't know what that meant," Abdul-Jabbar said. "But having lived my life and having had the wonderful experiences that I've had in basketball, I can understand now what a man like Lou Gehrig meant. I get it. When you're fortunate enough to be honored in this way, it's a very humbling experience."
Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer and won six NBA championships, including five with the Lakers. He is a six-time NBA MVP, a 10-time All-NBA first-team member and a 19-time All-Star.
Former teammates and coaches Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Michael Cooper, Norm Nixon, Kurt Rambis and A.C. Green attended the ceremony. Also in attendance were Julius Erving, Bill Walton, Bill Sharman, Louis Gossett, Jr. and Jack Nicholson.
The statue, created by sculptors Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany, joins the statues of Johnson, West, Wayne Gretzky, Chick Hearn and Oscar De La Hoya at Star Plaza in front of the Staples Center. Some, including Abdul-Jabbar himself, felt he should have had a statue before some of the others who were given the honor during the past decade.
"You really should have had the first statue because you built the Staples Center," Johnson said. "It was on your back that we're now here at the Staples Center because if the Lakers don't win, there's no Staples Center. It's here because of the tradition."
Abdul-Jabbar's statue, or lack thereof, was a topic of controversy last season after the Hall of Fame center complained about not having one erected in his honor. Abdul-Jabbar referenced his comments in his speech after the unveiling when he singled out Mitch Kupchak, Jeanie Buss, Jerry Buss and AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke.
"I don't know if you remember I had a little bit too much to say about the fact that it hadn't happened right away and it got testy but they were patient with me," Abdul-Jabbar said. "They understood what was going on. ... About three or four years ago, Tim made me a promise that this statue would be here and sure enough, he kept his word."
In August, the Lakers announced Abdul-Jabbar finally would get his statue this season.
Abdul-Jabbar's relationship with the Lakers had become strained in the years before the statue announcement. Abdul-Jabbar had worked with former Lakers center Andrew Bynum as a special assistant coach from 2005-09. The two fell out of favor in 2009, when Bynum reportedly told Phil Jackson and the Lakers' coaching staff that he no longer wanted to work with the NBA's all-time scoring leader.
Abdul-Jabbar's contract as a special assistant for the Lakers expired in 2011 and was not renewed. Shortly afterward, he publicly criticized the team for asking him to take a pay cut and not awarding him playoff shares as a coach due to his reduced role.
Those days seem like a distant memory now for Abdul-Jabbar. Not only does he now have a statue but he has a much better relationship with the Lakers' new center, Dwight Howard, who embraced Abdul-Jabbar during the offseason when the two tweeted at each other and subsequently met.
"I just recall sitting down and talking to him and him telling me, 'All the hard work you put in the last eight years is going to pay off and just remain the same way. Don't change for anybody,'" Howard said Friday. "He liked that I'm out there smiling and I bring a joy to the game."
Abdul-Jabbar will have plenty to smile about, as well, when he comes to Lakers games and walks by his statue on his way to Staples Center.
"I'm glad we got here before the pigeons got to it," Abdul-Jabbar said, already smiling as he looked up at the statue.