Kobe factor aside, Kareem notices centers' progress

Updated: January 26, 2006, 11:48 AM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press