At the unveiling of a Koreatown mural commissioned by the Lakers featuring LeBron James and him, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said James should be the only one in control of his future after hinting at retirement following the Lakers’ elimination from the playoffs.
“At the end of the year, after all that, LeBron and most of the guys looked like they’d been through two seasons, you know? But they still gave it an awesome effort,” Abdul-Jabbar said Monday. “I think it’s up to him. Certainly doesn’t have to prove anything. And it’s just what he wants to do at this point.”
James passed Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer on Feb. 8 earlier this year. The two have never had much of a relationship, though Abdul-Jabbar expressed tremendous respect on Monday.
“I’ve never had a chance to talk to LeBron other than two or three minutes,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “There’s no animosity or resentment there at all. He’s done remarkable things. He deserves all the accolades, whatever it is, that he’s accomplished. … We might get the chance [to speak]. I certainly wouldn’t be against it. As far as where his heart is and the things that he does, I’ve got nothing but admiration for him.”
The Lakers rallied from a 2-10 start this season to reach the Western Conference finals with Abdul-Jabbar frequently attending games.
“I felt that if they hadn’t started out so bad that they could’ve done a lot better. They seemed like at the end of the season, they were kinda gassed, you know?” Abdul-Jabbar said. “But they really did a great job of finding a new identity and going out and doing very well. They just missed making it to the Finals. They should be proud of that. I think it’s a really neat achievement.”
Abdul-Jabbar, along with other former Lakers James Worthy, Robert Horry and A.C. Green, attended the unveiling of muralist Jonas Never’s piece off Vermont Avenue and 7th Street on Monday. The team and bibigo foods, the Lakers’ jersey sponsor, also provided a grant to the Koreatown Youth + Community Center.
Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Anthony Davis and James are featured in the mural.
James is more than 3,000 minutes behind Abdul-Jabbar for most in league history. Abdul-Jabbar retired after his 20th season in the NBA in 1989. He joked that once he started failing the “ice test” (the postgame icing started to become necessary), he knew he had to retire.
“My next-to-last season, the ice started to feel good,” he said. “I knew it was time to get out of there.”
He played his final season receiving tributes in one arena after another, the kind of farewell tour some have assumed James will one day want. For Abdul-Jabbar, though, it was an important, if not perfect, ending to his career.
“It was hard to deal with all the tributes. It was kind of a distraction,” he said. “But it also was people that might’ve always wanted to boo me try and show their appreciation. I really felt that I had to return that. It was a good experience even though it, at times, kind of wore on me.”
This story originally appeared on LA Times