Lakers legend on coaching aspirations, latest cause
Posted: Wednesday December 13, 2006 9:26PM; Updated: Thursday December 14, 2006 1:24PM
The Post Whisperer: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been spending a lot of time working with Lakers big man Andrew Bynum.
John W. McDonough/SI
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Word to the wise: if you ever see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar loping down the street in your neighborhood, approach with caution, as intruding on the Hall of Famer's personal space remains a risky endeavor. It's a lesson I learned firsthand while awaiting the Hall of Famer -- in New York this week to promote prostate cancer awareness -- inside the lobby at NBA HQ in Midtown.
When he finally arrived, causing me to spring from my seat to greet him with an arm extended and a toothy grin, there was a good half second there (before I was able to get my name and affiliation out) where he looked down at me as one might a cockroach about to be smashed. For all of his offensive prowess as a player, Kareem, now 59, remains a guarded personality -- but he's working on it, or so he told me on Wednesday afternoon when I had the chance to talk to him about his star pupil, his coaching aspirations and why athletes just don't get together the way they used to.
SI.com: There's a 19-year-old kid on the Lakers -- [Andrew] Bynum I think it is -- who's averaging 7, 5 and 1. People say he takes after you. Seen much of him?
Kareem: I think he's doing well. I think he's learning. Right now, the challenge for him is to figure out what he needs to be doing and try to apply himself -- but I think he's done a very good job.
SI.com: Whose idea was it for the two of you to work together?
Kareem: I believe Phil Jackson might've been the one to come up with that idea. Summer of 2005, when they asked Andrew how he wanted to play the game, he mentioned my name and they figured the best person to train him in that respect would be me.
SI.com: How eager a pupil is he?
Kareem: Let me put it like this: he's a serious pupil, but it's not easy taking him through all the steps because even though he's got a great attitude and he's willing to learn, he still wants to do it his way. But that's the nature of the game. But I haven't had any problems with him. He shows me respect. He tries some of the things I show him, and when they work for him he tries to [keep using] them.
SI.com: How different is his demeanor from other posts you've worked with, like Jerome James and Michael Olowokandi?
Kareem: I would say that in terms of him being humble, I think that's [Bynum's] biggest asset because he did not think that he knew everything, which is really a key. I've been in situations where they just didn't want to learn because they were getting paid very well, and if they learned or didn't learn it really didn't matter. It didn't affect their bottom line. Andrew's approach is different, and I think he's going to do a lot better in the long run.
SI.com: What's the back-and-forth like between you two during the season?
Kareem: I'm watching all of his home games. Game's pretty simple. I'm just trying to show him the easiest way to do it in the most efficient manner. And he's starting to get it.
SI.com: Think the job you've done with Bynum -- as well as your budding reputation as a "Post Whisperer" -- will have GMs rethinking the idea of you as a head coach in this league?
Kareem: I don't know; you'd have to ask them. I hope that it would show them that I do have some capabilities as a coach. I don't know what should be made of that, but I believe I do. And I hope that ability is conveyed to the people that count.
SI.com: Is coaching in the NBA still a goal of yours?
Kareem: Yeah, it's still a goal. But because I haven't seen any evidence that I'm going to get a chance, I'm trying to be realistic about it. I always felt that I could do that job and do a good job.