- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar elaborated on his fractured relationship with the Los Angeles Lakers, saying Thursday he's been mistreated and the franchise no longer appreciates him.
During an in-studio interview with ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning," Abdul-Jabbar explained and then expanded on his comments made to The Sporting News this week in which he said he felt "slighted" that the Lakers have not erected a statue of him outside Staples Center.
"It's about a whole lot of smaller incidents that as they pile up on you, you get the feeling that you don't mean anything to them," Abdul-Jabbar said Thursday. A day earlier, he voiced his complaints through a series of tweets on his Twitter account. "I think in my tweets I said, 'What am I, chopped liver?' It's frustrating.
"For example, I had to take a cut in salary," said the six-time world champion, who over the past several years worked in many capacities with the Lakers, including as an assistant coach and consultant.
"At the same time they tell me I had to take a cut in salary they're paying the (head) coach $10 million-$12 million a year," he continued. "You wonder how much you count when they tell you stuff like that. We were flying on a plane back from Orlando two years ago (after the NBA Finals) and they put me in a tiny little seat that I couldn't be comfortable in and there were empty seats up there where coaches sat, which is where I usually flew with the team. It was little things like that, just little things that started to wear on me and make me feel like I wasn't appreciated and I certainly wasn't being treated like family."
Abdul-Jabbar said he didn't voice his frustrations about the way he felt he was treated at the time and only recently decided he should make his feelings public.
"My tendency is to grin and bear it because I figured there must be something happening that I don't understand and this is being done out of necessity," said Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time scoring leader. "Once I get the idea that that wasn't the case and it wasn't, I figured maybe it was time for me to speak out. I've never been this vocal about anything. I've always tried to stay out of the fray and not be an object of controversy. It doesn't suit me, but something needed to be said."
Initially, Abdul-Jabbar's complaints about the Lakers stemmed from the fact he does not have a statue in front of Staples Center. The five statues outside the arena recognize Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Chick Hearn, Wayne Gretzky and Oscar De La Hoya.
"I don't understand. It's either an oversight or they're taking me for granted," Abdul-Jabbar told The Sporting News in a recent interview. "I'm not going to try to read people's minds, but it doesn't make me happy. It's definitely a slight. I feel slighted."
Abdul-Jabbar again voiced his frustration on the matter on "Mike & Mike in the Morning," adding he wasn't trying to disparage those who were recognized with a statue before him. Posted on Johnson's Twitter feed on Thursday was this tweet: "@kaj33 deserves and has earned a statue, even before me."
"At one point (AEG president and CEO and Lakers director) Tim Leiweke told me, 'Hey, your statue is next,'" Abdul-Jabbar said. "Chick Hearn died unexpectedly and they wanted to honor him. I didn't have any problem with that. Chick has been with the team since 1960 and is part and parcel of what the Lakers are all about. I don't have any problem with any of the people who got their statues up there, they absolutely earned it. I just kept dealing with me being put on the backburner when it didn't seem I was even on the stove at that point."
A source within the Lakers organization said, in response to Abdul-Jabbar's claim, the team notified him months ago they were going to erect a statue for him next season.
"I don't get what he is doing," the source said to ESPNLosAngeles.com.
The relationship between the Lakers and Abdul-Jabbar has been uneasy seemingly since the six-time NBA MVP retired in 1989. While former players such as Johnson have been given a stake in the team, front-office positions and head-coaching opportunities, Abdul-Jabbar said he didn't receive much help from the team after he retired.
"When you look at what (owner Jerry Buss) did for Earvin and what he did for me, big disparity there," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I just think that it's a mindset that's taken over in the organization that I'm of minimal value to the organization and they're doing other things. ... They just don't seem to want to include me in the way they have included other people."
Although Abdul-Jabbar has been a special assistant coach for the Lakers the past six seasons, he said the team didn't help him when he initially expressed interest in becoming a coach. Before being hired as a special assistant for the Lakers in 2005, Abdul-Jabbar worked as an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Seattle SuperSonics, was a head coach for the Oklahoma Storm of the United States Basketball League in 2002 and worked as a scout for the New York Knicks.
"When I first announced that I had aspirations to be a coach, I got no help from them," Abdul-Jabbar said. "There have been other incidents, little things, but there's the story of the straw that broke the camel's back. When you keep seeing it again and again it kind of poisons the relationship."
While the relationship is far from being mended, Abdul-Jabbar said he believes it can be fixed in time and has already talked to the Lakers about patching things up.
"The relationship absolutely can be repaired," he said. "I got a call from Laker management, from Linda Rambis, saying that they're going to take care of it. So things will absolutely work themselves out. The poor communication has gone both ways at times and that makes things very difficult."
John Black, Lakers vice president of public relations, told Mason & Ireland on 710 ESPN on Thursday that the team had no conflict with Abdul-Jabbar.
"We were very surprised, we found it to be puzzling," Black said of Abdul-Jabbar's comments. "The last couple of days, last three days, we've been reading about it and seeing it continue to grow and we are surprised and puzzled about what it's all about and where it's coming from."
Black said "I really have no idea" what sparked the comments, adding "we don't know, can't figure it out."
Abdul-Jabbar mentored Andrew Bynum in his early days as a Laker, Black said, "but as the years went on ... that became less and less needed by Andrew" and the Lakers "kind of adjusted and found other things for him to do. ... His job has changed some over the years."
Jabbar's contract expires in August, Black said, and the Lakers' coaching staff will be decided by the new head coach.
As for the statue, Black said there really was no set process for how the honor is handed out but "we've known for a long time that someday there was going to be a Kareem statue."
Black called Johnson, West and Abdul-Jabbar all equally deserving of statues.
"Had we known that Kareem was going to feel slighted in any way or take it the way he has, maybe looking back on it now maybe we should have done Kareem's before Jerry's. I don't know. But like I say all three of those guys are extremely deserving. ... We've always planned on eventually having statues of all three of them, as well as other people we've discussed, and it's just a timing thing."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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