LA Lakers to honor Kareem, Shaq, and Silk this season

August 31, 2012

Better late than never.

In several ceremonies many would say have been long overdue, the Los Angeles Lakers will honor three of their all-time great players during the 2012-13 season.

The first ceremony will be on Friday November 16,  when the Lakers will unveil a statue of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Star Plaza outside STAPLES Center. Kareem’s statue will join those of former Lakers Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Jerry West, former Kings hockey great Wayne Gretzky, boxer Oscar De La Hoya and former Lakers broadcaster Francis “Chick” Hearn.

No honoree is more deserving of such a tribute than the purple-and-gold's classy and beloved "Captain," who many feel should be considered the sport's greatest player of all time.

Just a hunch, but it's a safe bet the statute will depict Kareem "swinging left and shooting right" with his unstoppable Skyhook.

Abdul-Jabbar was a member of the Lakers from 1975-1989. He finished his career as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,287 points -- a record that still stands today. His accolades include six NBA Championships; six MVP's; 10 All-NBA First Team honors; five All-Defensive first team honors; six All-Defensive second team honors; and nineteen All-Star selections. Abdul-Jabbar was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.

On Friday, December 28, in a half-time ceremony, the Lakers will retire jersey #52 in honor of Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes. On Tuesday, April 2, the team will retire jersey #34 in honor of Shaquille O’Neal.

O'Neal's jersey retirement is long overdue as well, and is worthy of the legendary names and dominant line of big men that adorn the wall of the Staples Center.

More importantly, the ceremony should secure O'Neal's true place in Lakers lore, as he was, without question, the driving force and best player on the Lakers -- and the entire NBA, for that matter -- during the team's three-title run with coach Phil Jackson.

On those title teams, Kobe Bryant was instrumental to the team's success, but clearly was the number two option, and it was not even close. After all, there was a reason why Shaq won the Finals MVP award three times. Moreover, it was often Shaq, contrary to his free throw-bricking reputation, who often delivered in the clutch for LA come playoff time.

Although ego, injuries, and age led to a somewhat ugly exit for O'Neal, his contribution in leading the Lakers back to glory cannot be overstated.

O’Neal was a member of the Lakers for eight seasons (1996-2004). During his career in Los Angeles, O’Neal was named NBA Most Valuable Player once, Finals Most Valuable Player three times, All-NBA First Team on six occasions, and NBA All-Star seven times. As a Laker, O’Neal posted averages of 27.0 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.49 blocked shots while winning three NBA Championships. He is the NBA’s sixth leading scorer of all-time (28,596).

As for Wilkes, his silky smooth, behind-the-head "twenty-foot layup" jumpers were poetry in motion. Few -- perhaps Lester Hayes with "stickum" -- could match his soft hands, as nobody caught Magic Johnson's bullet-passes down the lane better than Silk.

Wilkes was a member of the Lakers from 1977-1985. Wilkes finished his NBA career as a four-time NBA Champion; three-time NBA All-Star; and Rookie of the Year (1975). On April 2, 2012, Wilkes was announced as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction class of 2012.

In terms of his place in Laker history, Silk was an outstanding player and a key scorer for the team, but closer to Goodrich in the Lakers' retired jersey hierarchy than Baylor, West, Magic, Worthy, Chamberlain, or Kareem.

The decision to honor Silk signals perhaps an ever-so-slight loosening of the franchise's standards for whose jersey may be retired, and provides hope that in the future we may see #21 or #4 up on the walls for Michael Cooper and Byron Scott, respectively.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor of The Daily Sports Herald

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