He's a member of the Hall of Fame. His No. 33 jersey hangs in the rafters of Pauley Pavilion, Staples Center and Bradley Center in Milwaukee. He shared a cockpit with Peter Graves in "Airplane," put his size 16 shoe print on the chest of Bruce Lee in "Game of Death" and was on every 1980s television sitcom worth its "Dy-No-Mite!"
But now we find out that, somehow, amid the millions of dollars and standing ovations, life has failed to deliver what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar truly deserves. Now 64 years old and more than two decades removed from his last sky hook, Jabbar feels slighted, underappreciated and cheated by the sport he loves and the organization he helped to five championships.
He's been slighted by the Los Angeles Lakers, kept from a coaching life that he sees himself a natural for. And with ally Phil Jackson heading for the Montana mountains and the sunset, he knows his services as a part-time assistant coach - aka baby-sitting the soon-to-be-departing Andrew Bynum - will no longer be required by the next regime. He's not going to get any money and even when he was getting some, it wasn't enough.
He had to sit in the smaller seats on chartered jets. As a part-time assistant, he didn't receive playoff shares. And as the statues to the greatest of the great pile up outside Staples, he's yet to see one that looks anything like him.
And while Jackson was making $10 million a year, Jabbar was asked to take a pay cut - ironically, at the same time he spent less time with the team coaching.
I mean, how does the guy even get up and put on his goggles in the morning?
Come on Kareem. You don't hear James Worthy, the second-best player on your championship teams, whining about his missing statue. You don't see Wilt Chamberlain's likeness out there.
Good grief, Elgin Baylor was one of the greatest Lakers ever, and he wound up having to work for the Clippers for 22 years! Let's see: A little less leg room, or taking marching orders from Donald Sterling ... you decide.
As for coaching, not everyone who can put a ball through the hoop can get through to players. Jabbar isn't the world's best communicator. He's got a lot of John Wooden in him - and Wooden never even thought about coaching in the NBA, for good reason. It worked in Westwood, but wouldn't work any better with the Lakers than Paul Westhead.
Once again, Kareem's in good company. Babe Ruth thought he would make an excellent manager. Ted Williams was a failure. Wayne Gretzky fancied himself a great NHL coach. Anybody remember Mike Singletary's stint as head coach of the 49ers? Great players usually don't make great coaches and managers. The Lakers went down that road with Jerry West and Magic Johnson. Kareem should consider it good fortune to avoid the embarrassment.
Now, there is the statue thing. I agree with Jabbar on this one, although the list of current honorees (Magic, Gretzky, West, Oscar De La Hoya and Chick Hearn) doesn't include any sullen superstars who spent their career keeping the public at arm's length.
Magic and Oscar have the smile and the vibe. Chick had the voice. West and Gretzky were the face and silhouette of their respective leagues. Kareem couldn't be bothered to smile, talk or pose when he was a player, and I can tell you from personal experience that he couldn't be bothered as a coach - er, special assistant - either. He always acted like he had better things to do, although now we know that wasn't exactly the case.
But he is the all-time leading scorer of the league. He was the captain of "Showtime." And if there are any future plans to make room for a Kobe Bryant statue (preferably one with him spewing a slur at an offending official), the Lakers should immortalize Kareem first, if nothing else than to establish a natural erosion in the popularity standard for the honor.
• Am I on the only one who winces every time Josh Collmenter lets a pitch go? The Diamondbacks need a feel-good story and they sure need a pitcher or two at the back end of the rotation. But even after he blanked the Braves on Thursday, the name "Mark Fidrych" keeps popping into my head.
• Kirk Gibson was right to remove Collmenter after six innings, even with his pitch count at 76. The kid leaves the game feeling good, the bullpen has been lights-out for the last month and the Diamondbacks need to seize whatever momentum this winning streak can provide. With four months left and the rest of the division at least as lousy as advertised, an opportunity to be valedictorian of summer school is still there.
• A moment of silence for Randy "Macho Man" Savage, who died at 58 on Friday. As a cub reporter for the old Gazette in the mid-80s, I thumb-wrestled Savage in front of a Circle K and found him an engaging, smart guy who played the game as well as anyone. And yes Randy, I know you let me win.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org