LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was honored by the Los Angeles Lakers in a moving and often emotional ceremony on Friday when a bronze statue of the Hall of Famer was unveiled outside the Staples Center.
Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, joins fellow sports greats Wayne Gretzky, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Jerry West and Oscar De La Hoya in a group of iconic sculptures in the Star Plaza at the home of the Lakers.
Loud cheers rang out from the fans when the imposing statue was revealed, an almost 16-foot-tall image of Jabbar with his right arm pulled back, basketball in hand, poised for his trademark skyhook shot.
Confetti in the Lakers colors of purple and gold enveloped a stage where, moments earlier, Abdul-Jabbar had listened to fellow NBA greats Johnson, West, Pat Riley and James Worthy pay him homage with glowing tributes.
”I want to thank you fine gentlemen for helping me through this tonight,“ said the 65-year-old Jabbar, his voice cracking with emotion. ”My stomach, it’s full of butterflies.
”It didn’t happen during a game. It never happened during a game but dealing with people is a different issue, so hopefully I will get through this.
“I want to thank all of you for coming here to share this evening with me tonight. It really means a lot to me. I can’t begin to convey what it means.”
Jabbar related a story about New York Yankees baseball great Lou Gehrig, who played 17 seasons in the majors before succumbing to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - now widely known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“When I was a kid growing up in New York, very often they would show film of the great Lou Gehrig in his last speech before he had to retire,” said Jabbar.
”And he always spoke about being the luckiest man in the world.
”As a young person at that time, I didn’t understand what that meant. But having lived my life and having had the wonderful experiences I’ve had in basketball, I can understand now what a man like Lou Gehrig would mean when he said that.
“When you’re fortunate enough to be honored in this way, it’s a very humbling experience. The first thing I thought about was the fact that I could not have made it to this point without a lot of help.”
Jabbar, a seven-foot, two-inch center, was a 19-time All-Star and six-time Most Valuable Player during 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers.
Five of his NBA championships came in Los Angeles where he and fellow Hall of Famer Johnson spearheaded the Lakers in the fabled “Showtime” era from 1979-1989.
”Kareem, thank you for taking us on a ride with you,“ Johnson said during his tribute. ”Nine times to the finals in 12 years, five championships. It was all because of your great leadership, and not just on the court.
“You also taught us how to be a man in the profession, to go about our job in a professional manner. And you didn’t have to say no words. You just was it. We saw you live it and we wanted to be like you.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Mulvenney