Like Magic Johnson or Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has long been held in the highest esteem by the Lakers organization, celebrated as one of the greatest players in the game’s history, and as a critical piece of the franchise’s championship legacy.
Team spokesman John Black told Lakers.com that the franchise was very surprised to hear of Abdul-Jabbar’s comments in the past few days, which emphasized his feeling of being slighted in part for not yet receiving a statue at STAPLES Center, and also addressed his current relationship with the organization.
Black said that the Lakers have, for a while, relayed to Abdul-Jabbar that the next statue to be erected would be of Kareem. Furthermore, Black said if the Lakers had thought Abdul-Jabbar would have felt slighted in any way, perhaps they would have done his statue before that of West, which occurred on Feb. 17. In other words, to the Lakers, there’s no way to separate the greatness of Magic, West or Kareem.
“Those three guys are all on the highest level you could get,” Black explained. “But somebody had to be first, someone had to be second and someone third.”
Black concluded that the team has nothing but positive things to say about the league’s all-time leading scorer, and are hopeful to move past any issues Abdul-Jabbar may harbor.
Lakers second round picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, along with late-season acquisition Trey Johnson, went through their respective exit interviews on Tuesday afternoon.
Ebanks appeared in 20 games to average 3.1 points and 1.4 rebounds before hurting his foot in February; Caracter saw some early-season minutes with Andrew Bynum recovering from injury, averaging 5.2 minutes per game towards 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds; Johnson joined the team prior to the final regular season game, playing 13 minutes to score six points against Sacramento.
Below is a summary of their exit interviews:
DEVIN EBANKS On the stress fracture of his left tibia: I actually have a couple more weeks left to keep rehabbing and resting it, and we’ll get another MRI and see where we’ll take it from there. Hopefully then I can start summer work outs and get ready.” Ebanks suffered a set back in his initial rehab, as he was originally supposed to be out about three weeks from March 4.
- Among the things GM Mitch Kupchak would like Ebanks to improve upon is his shooting, as if he were able to improve significantly from the perimeter, he’d have a better chance of playing at the 2 or 3 in the NBA. They’d also like him to get stronger, and particularly like his athletic ability.
- On what he learned from Phil Jackson: “Just mind preparation, the things you have to know on and off the court. It’s crazy. It’s much more in depth than college was. He just taught me about the game and how to play it.”
- Among several interesting stories on this Lakers team was that Ebanks happened to grow up just a few blocks away from both Ron Artest and Lamar Odom in Queens. “It was a good experience especially my first year looking up to those guys. They definitely looked out for me the whole year, and (hopefully) for years to come.”
- Ebanks pointed out how beneficial it was for him to speak with Kobe Bryant, especially early in the season, about offense and where he likes to score within the offense. On defense, he spent the most time talking to Ron Artest, whom Ebanks said looked out the most for him and Caracter during games.
Ebanks on being fellow rookies with Derrick Caracter on a veteran team: “It was great. Just being great teammates for our vets out there. We’re about to be sophomores next year, and ready to play.”
DERRICK CARACTER - What he got out of his meeting: “Basically that I just need to work, stay in shape, be ready. Just some fine tuning, being confident out there, being myself, playing my game. With the amount of weight that I lost, playing with this new body.” Caracter dropped between 30 and 40 pounds from college, getting down to about 280 pounds, and wants to continue to eat healthy, boost up his cardio, and perhaps start some boxing and ballet to work on his flexibility. He said he wished he could have made a bigger impact.
- What he took out of his rookie season: “Just knowing what it takes to come in day in and day out and work hard, be able to perform at the same time … There’s a lot of things I felt I could have done a lot better. Just being prepared earlier in the season when I had those early opportunities, but that’s just something I have to get better at, locking in mentally and being able to perform like I know I can.” Among the things he’d like to do better: finish strong at the rim.
- On learning from Phil Jackson: “Just what it takes to be a champion, really. Everything he does, gets the team ready, is just one of a kind. I’ve never seen it, and the way he does it is amazing. A lot of things that we may think or want to say, sometimes he just says it. It benefits most of the guys on the team, and allows a player to develop.”
- Finally, Caracter said he expects to have to earn his way back onto the team by showing he’s improved his body and his game; he beat Ebanks more often in 1-on-1 contests; and he cited Derek Fisher’s in-game leadership and Lamar Odom’s key role in keeping the players loose.
TREY JOHNSON - Reflecting on the sudden end to the season: The experience for me personally was definitely a blessing and well worth it, but of course you would have liked to end on a higher note. To start here in the preseason and come back, it was bittersweet the way it ended.
- Johnson said Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson said they were appreciative of what he brought to the team this year when called upon late, but was given no indication of whether he’ll have a chance to make the team for next season. Nonetheless, he felt that for the two-time defending champs to say “We can use him” legitimized Johnson to other teams. He’s looking for a commitment to be a full member of a team, as has been his dream and goal.
- On what he learned basketball wise: “Oh a lot. The preparation level is tremendous, especially dealing with Phil. I really, really enjoyed the way he prepares, not just himself but the entire staff and the players for a game. That’s something I’ll probably take with me for the rest of my playing career, and my coaching career. I’d love to get into coaching after basketball, and I like the approach to the game.” Johnson would love to play for another 10 years if he can, before getting into coaching.
- Perhaps the biggest thing Johnson wants to work on is to become a more consistent three-point shooter.
- The highlight of Johnson’s time with the Lakers was having his family drive over to both New Orleans and Dallas from their home in Jackson, MS, in the playoffs to see him in person. “My family got a chance to share this with me, and I think that was great for them. It really brought us together in a sense, of being able to enjoy something that I’ve always dreamed of, so I think that’s probably what I remember the most.”
In 1972, Bill Sharman coached the Lakers to their first championship in Los Angeles after a then-record 69-win season in which L.A. ran off a standing-record 33 straight victories.
The year before, Sharman had coached the Utah Stars to the American Basketball Association Championship, but never received his ring for that title.
A founder of the ABA named Dennis Murphy learned of the oversight in recent days and took it upon himself to create a championship ring for Sharman that will be presented at center court of L.A.’s Round 2 opener against the Dallas Mavericks.
Sharman, a Hall of Famer as a player and a coach, spent five years as coach of the Lakers, went 246-164, also winning 60 games in the 1972-73.
In his 11-year playing career mostly with the Boston Celtics, Sharman teamed with Bob Cousy in the backcourt to help the Celtics to four championships. Sharman made the All-NBA First or Second Team seven times, and played in eight NBA All-Star Games.
Perhaps the greatest shooter of his era, Sharman was one of the first NBA guards to finish a season with a field goal percentage over .400 (.436 in 1952-53) and still ranks among the top foul shooters of all time with a .883 career percentage as he led the league in free-throw shooting for a record seven seasons.
On Wednesday morning, Trey Johnson was of the mind that he’d be playing a playoff game for the Bakersfield Jam of the D-League when he got a call from agent Brad Ames.
Johnson, taking a nap at the time of the call, assumed there must have been some sort of interest from a European team or an opportunity to make some more money after the D-League season, and begrudgingly answered his phone.
Much to Johnson’s surprise, Ames told him the Lakers wanted to sign him for the remainder of the playoffs, and somewhat facetiously asked Johnson if he were interested.
“I was like, ‘Heck yeah!’,” said Johnson. “We started laughing, and he told me I had to get outta there pretty quick. I called my mom right away … she and my dad have been extremely supportive, and they were both just very thankful.”
A few hours later, there was Johnson, waiting for the rest of the Lakers on the team plane destined for Sacramento.
Johnson says he understands the gravity of the situation he’s entering, with Phil Jackson going for his fourth three-peat, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher seeking title No. 6 and so on. But he said his sole focus is to find a way to contribute, and not think too much about history.
“I’m extremely confident in what I can bring to the table,” he said. “For me to go to camp with the Lakers and come back now, it’s just perfect timing.”
For the past four seasons, Johnson has been one of the best players in the D-League, this season ranking second league-wide in scoring at 25.5 points per game, plus 4.5 assists in 35.9 minutes. For his D-League career, he has averaged 20.7 points, 4.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 36.0 minutes.
A 6-5 guard out of Jackson State, Johnson spent the preseason with the Lakers, playing well in pockets before being waived on October 21. He signed two 10-day contracts with Toronto, playing in seven games and averaging 4.0 points, 1.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 11.6 minutes.
Kobe’s For Free!
While we talked, Johnson was lacing up a new pair of Kobe Bryant VI’s, much to his delight. You see, after going through the few pairs he kept from the Raptors, Johnson had to buy his own Kobe’s to use while playing for the Jam. Now, he’s got all the Kobe’s he can handle.
The Human Rights Campaign Released a Statement after president Joe Solmonese spoke with Kobe Bryant on the phone on Wednesday evening:
Washington – In a pre-game phone call to HRC president Joe Solmonese just moments ago, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant apologized for using a homophobic slur. Bryant expressed understanding and regret for how his words were hurtful and could be used by some to discriminate.
The following is a statement from HRC’s Solmonese:
“I applaud Kobe Bryant for his swift apology. We had a very sincere conversation in which he expressed his heartfelt regret for the hurt that his words caused. He told me that it’s never ok to degrade or tease, and that he understands how his words could unfortunately give the wrong impression that this is appropriate conduct. At the end of a difficult day, I applaud Kobe for coming forward and taking responsibility for his actions.”
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.
Since Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol represented L.A. on February 17-21, the Lakers have won 13 of the 14 games they’ve played, including six on the road and all seven at STAPLES Center, a winning rate of .928.
They’ve done it primarily with excellent defense, allowing 100+ points only twice, both times in overtime games at Portland (106-101) and in the triple OT offensive thriller against Phoenix on Tuesday night (139-137).
With 11 more games to play, L.A. has a chance to improve upon the 30-4 mark established by Phil Jackson’s Lakers in his first season in Los Angeles. That .882 success rate is the highest of Jackson’s tenure:
In Jackson’s first five seasons, with Shaquille O’Neal in the middle, L.A.’s win percentage improved notably after the break, and also in 2005-06. But since then, only 2007-08 has seen a better record after the break. In 2008-09 and 2009-10, the Lakers stormed out of the gates, winning 80.8 percent and 75.9 percent of their pre-break games, before falling off to 76.7 and 57.1 percent, respectively, coasting into the playoffs with big leads in the Western Conference.
But this season, L.A. went 38-19 prior to the break (.667), with the San Antonio Spurs (now 57-13) opening a big lead of their own. The one-loss record for the Lakers has them still seven games back in the loss column and 6.5 overall to the Spurs, who lost Tim Duncan for at least a few games due to a sprained ankle just before hitting one of their toughest stretches of the season (@ DEN, @ POR, @ MEM, vs. POR, vs. BOS, @ HOU, vs. PHO, @ ATL).
Even with that schedule, it’s unlikely that the Spurs would lose enough games for L.A. to even have a chance of catching them, since they’d need to drop seven of 12 games with the Lakers running the table just for a tie. But what the Lakers have done with their recent success is pass Dallas (49-21) and catch up to the Eastern Conference leaders like Chicago (51-19), Boston (50-19) and Miami (48-22) in a race for the No. 2 overall seed in the league.
Up next for the Lakers in a light end-of-month schedule is a Friday tilt against the Clippers, as Andrew Bynum returns from a two-game suspension. Then a Sunday hosting of potential first round opponent New Orleans (40-31), and next Thursday’s showdown with Dallas.
Five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher and two-time NBA champion Shannon Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers team up on NBC’s “Minute To Win It” to win money for their respective charities — the University of Arkansas Foundation Inc., and the Shannon Brown Foundation.
Fisher and Brown begin the episode with “Nice Build” where they must work together to build a three level pyramid of 15 paper reams on a table. Other games include: Whippersnapper, Speed Eraser, Cantenna, Gettin Juggy With It, Knock It Off, Ball Cap. Guy Fieri hosts.
There aren’t many people who could assemble a group of NBA legends including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Elgin Baylor up on a stage, let alone listen as the best players in basketball history offer effusive praise.
Jerry West is one of those people.
The man that has perhaps meant more to the history of the Lakers both as a Hall of Fame player and, in Johnson’s words, the best executive in NBA history, sat on a stage outside STAPLES Center alongside the aforementioned players — not to mention Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and owner Dr. Jerry Buss, former Lakers coach and Heat executive Pat Riley, NBA Commissioner David Stern, AEG CEO Tim Leiweke, Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol and so on — for the unveiling of a statue in his likeness.
It was a touching ceremony, featuring speeches that universally praised West for his excellence on the court, humility off of it and his trust and loyalty as a friend. One after one, some of basketball’s greatest names strode up to the podium to offer their thoughts about Mr. Clutch:
“I never played the game with anyone who played as hard,” said Baylor, whom West holds in the highest regard. “He carries his heart and soul on his sleeve and he says what he believes. I love Jerry, and this honor that he’s getting is well deserved.”
“I don’t know anyone who has dedicated more to this game,” offered Stern.
“If Jerry West hadn’t played basketball for the Lakers, would the Forum have been built?” wondered Kupchak, who said the same for STAPLES Center had West not built the teams of the Showtime and Kobe-Shaq eras.
“Jerry West’s name is synonymous with basketball in the world,” revealed Dr. Buss. “His courage was really inspirational to everybody. To this day Jerry remains, most importantly of all, my friend.”
“Here’s a guy whose statue should have been out there before mine,” said Magic. “We all really, really, truly love you. Congratulations.”
“He taught me about what greatness was,” said Riley, crediting West with giving him his start as a coach but first knew him as a teammate. “I could see this pressure and will to perform night in and night old.”
Russell, always an admirer of West’s even while defeating him year after year in the NBA Finals, went so far as to change the green shirt he had on in the morning to blue, so as not to bring the Celtics color into West’s ceremony. Russell even revealed that he had always wanted to be a Laker, since his hero growing up, George Mikan of Minneapolis Lakers fame, suggested as much when the two met while Russell was in high school.
Kareem spoke fondly of the time in 1961 when he and West first met, and marveled at the time that had gone by.
Finally, West came up to address the large gathering, with fans chanting “Jerry! Jerry!” in the background. West, always humble and never easily accepting of praise as his own harshest critic, admitted to being a bit uncomfortable in receiving so much praise. But he was also extremely thankful.
“This will be a night I’ll never forget,” he said, calling his sons and wife up onto the stage. “Thank you for making this a very special evening by attending … To think of a little boy who had a chance to live his dreams and maybe succeed them: it’s very special.”
Perhaps Dr. Buss best summed up the night.
“How many people have a statue named after them?” concluded L.A.’s owner. “One in a million? Well, Jerry is certainly one of those.”
For the past few days, Jerry West’s name has come up quite a few times around the Lakers’ practice facility and at Staples Center, as media members sought out reactions to comments West made as the keynote speaker during the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association luncheon last Friday, as reported by the Orange County Register.
On Tuesday afternoon, West offered an explanation of his remarks to Lakers.com after we chatted with him about the unveiling of a statue in his likeness outside of Staples Center.
“I think it’s kind of funny because it was in jest,” West said of his comments. “A few weeks ago, (media members) asked Phil (Jackson) what’s wrong, and he said, ‘We’re just not defending well.’ And I just said there’s something about when you get older you don’t defend as well. I think comments like that, and I was laughing while I said them, get blown completely out of proportion.”
To West, the Lakers only struggle defensively while getting caught in transition, due primarily to the fact that they have seven footers starting at the power forward and center positions. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are of course a huge — literally and figuratively — collective reason why the Lakers have won two straight championships, their length too much to overcome in combination with the rest of what L.A. can do. But it can be difficult for one big man and especially two to get back on defense when the ball is turned over. At least in the regular season…
“When I look at this team, the regular season and the playoffs are different,” West explained. “Every game in the regular season you don’t have as much of a chance to prepare, but the thing that you really see is when the Lakers get in their half court offense, if they turn the ball over or take shots out of their offense, that’s when they’re vulnerable (in transition) because big guys get trapped in the paint. But in the playoffs, they’re going to be fine.”
In the playoffs, West contended, the game slows down as execution on offense becomes more important, and teams have far fewer transition opportunities as a result, minimizing the potential negative impact of being a bigger team like the Lakers or Celtics that may not always show up in the regular season.
That’s a big reason why West said he expects the Lakers and Celtics to meet in the Finals once again. He thinks the Celtics are the only team that has the size to really challenge the Lakers.
“The thing that defines championship teams is how you play together,” West concluded. “I think the Lakers have four All-Stars on the team and are certainly capable of winning the championship again.”
The Lakers have traded guard Sasha Vujacic and their 2011 first round pick to New Jersey for Joe Smith, Golden State’s second round pick in 2011, Chicago’s second round pick in 2012 and the rights to Ukraine’s Sergei Lishouk.
The deal is contingent on both Vujacic and Smith passing physicals. Lakers team spokesman John Black said that the team plans to put Smith through a physical in Philadelphia in advance of L.A.’s Friday evening game against the 76ers, and if he passes, he’ll be eligible to play in that contest.
The trade was finalized early on Wednesday morning, since Dec. 15 was the first day offseason signees like Smith could be traded. Houston was also involved in the three team trade, and principally received Terrence Williams from the Nets.
Vujacic, drafted by the Lakers back in 2004 out of his native Slovenia, won two championships with the Lakers and had his best season in 2007-08, when he played 17.8 minutes per game to score 8.8 points while shooting a still-team-record 43.7 percent from three-point territory.
Vujacic said he was given a heads up about the potential trade after L.A.’s Tuesday night victory in Washington, but said he “did not know what to say at the moment” as nothing was yet official. He had been playing only 4.9 minutes per game in the 10 games in which he appeared this season, lost in the guard rotation behind starters Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher and subs Steve Blake and Shannon Brown. Vujacic will join fellow former Laker Jordan Farmar with the Nets.
Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft, will be joining the 13th team of his 16-year career. He appeared in four games this season for New Jersey, playing a total of 24 minutes to score two points with three rebounds, and is considered a strong locker room presence.
Lishouk, 28, was originally selected with the 44th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, and his rights were traded to Houston on February 21, 2008. A 6-11.5 center, Lishouk is currently playing for Valencia in Spain.
Per Lakers team policy, the terms of the trade were not disclosed.