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"We don't have anybody who's a regular center," he snapped. "What are we supposed to do? I think all the guys should be commended for busting their butts to win without a real center. We can't play any harder than we've been playing.
None too soon, Abdul-Jabbar returned. "We knew the hand would heal," said Bates. "Bones mend, no matter what. It was the eye we were worried about. And so was he. The doctor said there was some scarring already in the white of the eyeball because of repeated injuries. Between us, we decided he should wear protective goggles."
The goggles are made of shatter-proof Plexiglas, and the first pair have proved less than satisfactory. Not wide enough, they block the big center's peripheral vision. New ones, with harder-coated lenses and three inches wider, have been ordered.
On the road trip during which he was supposed to return to action, Abdul-Jab-bar got as far as Kansas City and discovered that he had forgotten to pack the goggles. Back in Milwaukee, Bucks public-relations director John Steinmiller was dispatched to the center's apartment to find them. A building superintendent let Steinmiller into Abdul-Jabbar's apartment. No glasses. Steinmiller called the press table at the arena in Kansas City and asked for Bates.
"Is this a joke? We're playing a game," said Bates after being called to the phone.
"Hell, no," said Steinmiller. "It's me—John. I'm in Kareem's apartment. Hey, does he have any dogs in here?"
"Has anything bitten you?"
"Then there aren't any dogs. What's up?"
Steinmiller said he couldn't find the goggles. "Hey, Kareem," Bates yelled down to the bench, "where did you leave the goggles?" Abdul-Jabbar hollered back helpful advice. The coffee table? No. The couch? No. The closet? No. His bedroom? No. Finally Abdul-Jabbar got on the phone himself and eventually Steinmiller located the goggles in the center's black Mercedes. "It was unreal," said Bates. "Here a game is going on and we're yelling back and forth for a full quarter trying to find the goggles."