Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, was honored Friday with a statue more than twice his legendary size outside of Staples Center in downtown L.A.
The 16-foot bronze statue immortalizes Abdul-Jabbar's iconic skyhook, naturally, and greets fans as they enter the main entrance near Chick Hearn Drive and Figueroa Street. It was placed close to former teammate Magic Johnson's statue.
As other NBA greats and celebrities looked on, Abdul-Jabbar, 65, gave a heartfelt and at times emotional speech where he expressed gratitude for a career that included six titles with the Milwaukee Bucks and the L.A. Lakers.
"Having lived my life and had the experiences I've had, I can understand now what a man like Lou Gehrig means when he considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," the 7-foot-2 center, nicknamed "The Captain", said to the crowd outside of the stadium before the Lakers squared off against the Phoenix Suns.
The unveiling came almost exactly 18 months after the Hall of Famer complained that he felt slighted that the team hadn't already celebrated him with such a tribute.
"An insult is an insult," Abdul-Jabbar wrote in a now-deleted tweet. "If I didn't speak up no one would know how I feel about this." Later he added in another deleted tweet, “It's not about a getting a statue because I'm over it - it's about RESPECT! Lakers have given me the absolute minimum of respect.”
Now a year and a half later, Abdul-Jabbar seemed pleased with the towering mass showing a graceful giant sporting goggles, wristbands, and short shorts.
"I had a little too much to say about it not happening right away," Abdul-Jabbar admitted Friday. "But they were patient with me."
No one ever doubted that The Captain deserved the honor. His record 38,387 points was a mark not even Michael Jordan could touch. The UCLA graduate earned a record six NBA MVP awards and set records for games played, total minutes, field goals, blocked shots, and defensive rebounds.
The former Lew Alcindor was recruited by UCLA in 1965 from his native New York City's Power Memorial High School. He won three NCAA titles with coach John Wooden, who received special mention last night.
"You never understand how important these people are until they're not with you," Abdul-Jabbar said, showing a trace of emotion. "With Coach Wooden, I understood immediately."
In attendance were teammates and rivals, including Julius "Dr. J." Erving, Bill Walton, Bill Sharman, Jamaal Wilkes, Kurt Rambis, A.C. Green, and Johnson.
Former Laker coach Pat Riley took the mic and told the crowd about the first time he met the man who would be his center.
"He said, 'Pat, you won't have to worry about me,'" Riley said. "He was great, and he has been there for us his whole career. He was our protector, and he was the one who carried us."
Looking up and smiling at his likeness, Abdul-Jabbar said of the statue, "I'm glad we got here before the pigeons got to it."