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Kobe factor aside, Kareem notices centers' progress

LOS ANGELES -- When young Andrew Bynum wheeled around
Shaquille O'Neal and dunked in a recent game, the disbelieving fans
at Staples Center went wild with joy.
It was a wonderful moment for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as well.
Abdul-Jabbar, leading scorer in NBA history, was hired last
summer by the Los Angeles Lakers as a special assistant to work
with Bynum and the team's other big men.
"They're learning from the master, and I think they appreciate
that," fellow assistant Frank Hamblen said. "I think he's doing a
real good job with them."
That might not translate to the court, since Kobe Bryant is the
dominant figure for the Lakers and he's a perimeter player.
But a coach can only do so much.
Bynum, the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft last summer, seems
to have unlimited potential, but he's just 18.
Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown, the team's other big men, were
first-round selections of other teams who haven't lived up to that
billing.
While he's painfully honest in his assessment, Abdul-Jabbar
feels good about the direction of all three.
"Chris Mihm, I've seen him progress," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He
gets the ball in there sometimes and puts it on the ground and
wants to go around people. That's not how you play in the paint.
"He's shooting the ball with either hand now. He listens. Nice
kid, great attitude. I root for Chris. I'd like to see the refs get
off his case."
Early foul trouble has been Mihm's biggest problem.
"Kwame has so much talent," Abdul-Jabbar said. "That's a guy
who suffered from not going to college. He's a physical specimen
and a hardworking guy who's making progress. He's getting a lot of
offensive rebounds, keeping the other big guys off the boards,
doing the little things.
"When I saw him, I thought, Karl Malone II. He hasn't gotten
there. I hope he does."
Abdul-Jabbar said he believes Bynum would have been better off
at college as well.
"He's a bright young man. He would have done well in the
college environment," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He's learning what the
professional life is all about. I expect him to do well. His body
hasn't even matured. He has a great attitude."
Bynum, who's played in 22 of the Lakers' 41 games, made his
biggest impact Jan. 16 against O'Neal and the Miami Heat in a brief
stint late in the second quarter.
O'Neal dunked over Bynum, knocking the rookie to the floor. But
Bynum made his spin move and dunk on the ensuing possession before
bounding upcourt in delight and throwing an elbow O'Neal's way.
O'Neal responded with a forearm shove to Bynum's chest. A
double-technical was called.
"I had a moment like that with Wilt [Chamberlain],"
Abdul-Jabbar recalled. "He knocked me out of bounds, I came back
and faked him, came across the middle and dunked on him."
That took place in a charity game in 1969, after Abdul-Jabbar's
senior year at UCLA.
"Andrew got right on it -- he used some techniques I showed him.
Shaq bit on the fake," Abdul-Jabbar said with a hearty laugh.
"He'll have that experience with him the rest of his career. He
knows he can compete."
Bynum said Abdul-Jabbar has been a great friend and teacher.
"I can talk to him about anything," Bynum said. "I'm trying
to learn as much as I can from him, trying to soak everything up
like a sponge. He's teaching me everything from black history to
post moves, footwork, how to play defense.
"I've matured a lot as a basketball player just by working with
him. Blocking shots, jump-hooks, free-throw stroke -- he's taught me
all that stuff."
Regarding the exchange with O'Neal, a Lakers star from
1996-2004, Bynum said: "It meant a lot. It's something that will
stick with me. It was pretty exciting, I was able to make a big
move on a very, very good center in the NBA. I kind of became an
overnight celebrity."
The 58-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, who starred for the Lakers from
1975-89, knows about celebrity, and admittedly didn't handle it
very well.
He realizes that's had an impact where coaching is concerned.
"I didn't do myself any favors by not being the best
communicator as a player," he said. "I just wanted to play the
game and go home. I didn't realize I couldn't do that. I had to
learn.
"I think I'm handling it a lot better. I just want to see
things work with the Lakers. If that happens, I'll be a happy
guy."
One of the few coaching jobs Abdul-Jabbar has held was with the
Clippers for the last half of the 1999-2000 season. He has
unpleasant memories of working with then-Clippers center Michael
Olowokandi, the first overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft.
"He resented having to learn something," Abdul-Jabbar said.
"We had one episode in practice when he told me he didn't want me
to correct him in front of the other players.
"When he told me that, I knew I didn't have a job. He was
physically gifted -- he was three-quarters of the way there. The
most crucial aspect is learning the game. He wasn't into it."
Now playing for Minnesota, Olowokandi has a different memory of
that time.
"When he was there, I had a great season," Olowokandi said.
"Obviously, he's entitled to his opinion. He's very
well-accomplished, and that's within his right. I wouldn't
characterize his being there as really working with me. He was
there with the team."