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A Tough Act to Follow / Kareem Jr. struggles on road to NBA

One way or another, he grabs your attention. Sporting a big

Afro and standing 6-5 is enough to turn heads. He looks a lot like Kareem

Abdul-Jabbar, too. One can't help but wonder if he is related to the former NBA

great.

Then you find out his name is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Jr. And as expected, his

father's legacy has followed him throughout his career.

"When people ask me my name, they usually don't get it," Abdul-Jabbar Jr.

said. "They say, 'Your name is just like the basketball player.' Lately, people

have been saying, 'You kind of look like that guy.' It's inevitable."

Abdul-Jabbar Jr. wants to get back to the NBA. This time around, the

25-year-old wants to go as a player, rather than as the kid hanging out with

his dad and his Los Angeles Lakers teammates at practice, as he did as a

youngster.

"At first I had to prove to myself that I was good enough to play in the

NBA," Abdul-Jabbar Jr. said. "I think I have. People who have played in the NBA

have told me I have the talent level and knowledge to play in the NBA. Making

the NBA is my No. 1 goal. That would be the thing I would be most proud of. Not

a day goes by where the thought of playing in the NBA doesn't cross my mind."

But there also have been a few thoughts of giving up professional

basketball altogether. The road to where he is now has been anything but smooth

for the son of the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

After Abdul-Jabbar Jr. tried out for the St. Louis Sky Hawks and the

Brooklyn Kings of the USBL in March, he elected to play with St. Louis. He was

familiar with the city, because he played and won a championship with the St.

Louis Swarm of the IBL after his college career.

The Sky Hawks wanted him to work on the basketball operations side,

however, or possibly train players as an assistant coach. That's when he

thought it might be time to give up basketball, but he didn't let being cut

ruin his dreams.

"That's not something I wanted to do," he said. "At times I thought about

doing something else or maybe it's time to give it a rest. As long as you have

a passion about something, you just got to go for it."

And that's what he is doing. After things didn't work out with St. Louis,

Abdul-Jabbar Jr. called Brooklyn general manager and coach Kenny Charles to ask

him if he could return.

"I was more than happy he called," Charles said. "I respected him because

he called after he got cut. His ego didn't get in the way. He doesn't ask for

preferential treatment. He's just a regular guy."

The Kings signed Abdul-Jabbar to a contract May 2. He has played in 14

games, starting eight, and is averaging 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in 29.5

minutes.

"He's always a play ahead," Charles said. "He always knows what's going on."

As did his father, who is the coach of the USBL's Oklahoma Storm and

looking for his own road back to the NBA, this time as a coach. The Storm faced

Brooklyn last night in a game at LIU, the first time Senior has seen Junior

play in person since college.

Abdul-Jabbar Jr. didn't grow close to his father until his teen years. His

parents divorced when he was young, and he spent most of his youth living with

his mother, Habiba. At age 15, he moved in with his dad because the school he

transferred to was closer to Abdul-Jabbar Sr.'s home.

"It was awkward at first," Abdul-Jabbar Jr. said. "As time goes on, we've

been getting closer and closer."

Unlike his 7-2 father, who was a force inside and utilized a potent sky

hook en route to scoring 38,387 points and winning six NBA titles during a

20-year career with the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar Jr. is mainly

a threat from the outside. He also is versatile, having played every position

with the Kings.

Abdul-Jabbar Jr. grew up in Los Angeles, played high school ball at

Brentwood Academy and attended Valparaiso, Santa Monica Junior College and

Western Kentucky.

Injuries and playing the role of a big man hindered his college career. "He

didn't get a lot of recognition because he was playing out of position," the

elder Abdul-Jabbar said. "He was playing power forward and he's more of a two

or three."

Abdul-Jabbar Jr. graduated from Western Kentucky, though, with a degree in

psychology, winning the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar award in his senior year

with a 3.5 GPA.

"I was thrilled," Abdul-Jabbar said of his son winning the award. "That

showed he's ready for life. That's the most important thing."

Although the NBA didn't come calling for Abdul-Jabbar Jr., he still yearned

to play professional basketball. For the past three summers, he has played in

the Los Angeles Summer Pro League, and last year he was the third-leading

scorer at 30 points per game, trailing only Baron Davis of the Charlotte

Hornets and Jeff McInnis of the Los Angeles Clippers.

His agent has been contacted by several NBA teams, but he hasn't received

an invitation to work out for one yet. He is cognizant that many teams will

undergo major changes in the summer, and he believes he can be a bargain for a

team that is searching for a low-cost player.

"If I can get the right opportunity, I can definitely help a team out," he

said. "If I keep improving and showing coaches I'm serious about this, an

opportunity will come up sooner or later."

If his NBA aspirations don't come to fruition, Abdul-Jabbar Jr. hopes to

earn his master's degree and do commentary on basketball games. He will play in

the L.A. summer league again beginning July 6.

"No matter who you are or what your goals are, there's going to be some

obstacles or things you have to deal with," Abdul-Jabbar Jr. said. "Sometimes

there's nothing you can do but keep smiling and keep going after your goal. If

my opportunity for the NBA doesn't come, I still had fun."

New York Sports