These two towering giants once greeted each other with affection and praise.
Lately, though, both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dwight Howard are taking issue with each other’s public comments.
Abdul-Jabbar, the former Lakers center who won five of his six NBA titles during the Showtime Era, appeared earlier this month on ESPN’s First Take, pointing out that Howard’s “basketball IQ is not up to speed.” Howard scoffed at the criticism to reporters, arguing some of it roots in leaving the Lakers this offseason to the Houston Rockets. He also argued, “You can’t win three Defensive Player of the Year trophies and be stupid.”
And at this point, Abdul-Jabbar actually agrees. Well, kind of.
“I absolutely do not think he is a stupid young man,” Abdul-Jabbar said in an interview with this newspaper to promote his new book, “Sasquatch in the Paint.” “He’s not stupid. I don’t know how to speak Chinese. But that doesn’t make me stupid. But in that particular area, though, I’m ignorant. I know very little Chinese. In the area of playing basketball at the highest level, Dwight has things to learn. I’m sorry that I have to say it in those terms. But he has things to learn. He’s not stupid. If the way he played last season is what we have to judge him by, he still has a number of things to learn about the game. That’s it. I wasn’t trying to put him down. He’s a bright young man and a tremendously gifted athlete.”
That hardly translated in Howard’s lone season with the Lakers. He still averaged 17 points on 57.8 percent shooting and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds per game. But those marked his lowest numbers he posted since the 2006-07 season, a product both of a diminished role and season-long issues with his surgically repaired back and torn labrum in his right shoulder. Howard also experienced adversity through his annoyance with Kobe Bryant’s leadership style, how Mike D’Antoni’s offense featured him, his belief that few helped him out enough on defense and his 49 percent free-throw shooting.
Howard epitomized those frustrations in various ways. During his testy exchanges with Steve Nash. When the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter limited Howard, whose 17 points on 61.9 percent shooting and 10.8 rebounds mirrored his season average despite an increased role. When Howard was ejected in his final game as a Laker.
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer saw all that, and juxtaposed it with Memphis Grizzlies center, Marc Gasol, the brother of Lakers forward Pau Gasol.
“He consistently makes plays on both ends of the court that enable to help his team to win basketball games,” said Abdul-Jabbar about Gasol, who won last year’s NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. “He knows what to do and when to do it. That’s what I call high basketball IQ and he has skills. He can pass the ball, make free throws,box out and rebound. He can do all the things you need to do to give your team the greatest chance to win. That’s who I want as a center on my team if I’m a GM. Dwight was lacking. I’m sorry.”
Except that he wasn’t.
“He shouldn’t have taken it that way,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It definitely was not a personal attack. I don’t have any personal animosity toward him.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org