Greatest basketball player ever? Really, it should not even be an issue. Yet when the topic comes up, few blurt out to the name "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar".
He is the greatest scorer in NBA history, yes. His velvet skyhook remains the most unstoppable shot the game has known.
He won six NBA championships, after winning three national collegiate championships at UCLA. And yet, he is more respected than beloved. He is seen as aloof, mechanical, uncomfortable. It always has been that way.
Abdul-Jabbar went through the NBA as a bitter island, a contradiction of blistering intelligence and insecurity. I have known him for more than 30 years, and I don't need all the fingers on one hand to count the times I saw him smile or when he looked someone in the eye. He stood out in a crowd wherever he was yet always seemed searching for a shadow.
Yet never has this giant of a man seemed so small as right now.
Outside Staples Center, the arena where the Los Angeles Lakers and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings play, statues of famous Los Angeles sports figures are being erected. And Abdul-Jabbar just spent a very busy, odd, embarrassing week complaining that his statue is not yet up. He felt slighted. Taken for granted. Treated like a second-class citizen.
He has been told his statue is next, yet he ranted publicly about respect instead of privately voicing his concerns to the powers that be. His sense of entitlement seems more suited to a petulant child than a 64-year-old man.