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Return Of A Native Shut out of the NBA for years, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finally comes home

Of all the basketball games in his memory, the NBA's alltime
scoring leader has a soft spot for one in which he didn't play at
all. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recalls sitting in the stands of Madison
Square Garden as a knobby-kneed seventh-grader, mouth agape as he
watched Bill Russell and the Celtics outmaneuver his beloved
Knicks. "I wasn't sure I'd ever be good enough to be a Celtic,"
says Abdul-Jabbar, 56. "But as for my Knicks, well, they could
use some help."

With four decades and a 1,560-game career behind him,
Abdul-Jabbar is getting an opportunity to contribute to his
original favorite team. A chance meeting with New York G.M. Isiah
Thomas at a party during All-Star weekend in L.A. has led to
Abdul-Jabbar's taking a job that will most likely include
evaluating talent for the Knicks and coaching the team's
punchless post players. "We were hanging out when Isiah said,
'You could really help us out,'" says Abdul-Jabbar. "It was music
to my ears."

For years Abdul-Jabbar tried to land a job with an NBA team, but
his standoffish, sometimes temperamental nature worked against
him (SI, Nov. 30, 1998). In October a league exec told SI, "His
personality has been a problem. All that s---'s coming back to
him." In the past six years Abdul-Jabbar has had anger-management
counseling (after a run-in with a motorist) and coached in high
school and the USBL--where he won a title with the Oklahoma
Storm. His NBA experience has been limited to half a season as a
Clippers assistant and some consulting work with the Pacers when
Thomas was coach. Last year he applied for the Columbia job and
sent resumes to every NBA team, but in most cases he didn't get a
call back. "I can see if people talked to me and felt I didn't
have anything to offer," Abdul-Jabbar said. "But to not even talk
to me? It's tough to deal with."

Thomas believes in Abdul-Jabbar's mentoring skills, and the
master of the skyhook was hands-on at Knicks practice last
Thursday, at one point taking forward Mike Sweetney aside to
demonstrate drop steps. Says Sweetney, 21, "When I first saw him,
it shocked me. I said, 'Wow.' I think it makes you want to work
harder, when an organization brings in a guy like that."

Until he works out the details of his contract, Abdul-Jabbar will
remain in L.A. and travel to see the Knicks regularly as a
consultant. "Isiah told me to have my bags packed and ready to
go," says Abdul-Jabbar. "I can't imagine a better

--Kelley King

COLOR PHOTO: JOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (ABDUL-JABBAR COACHING) TALL ORDERS After giving some All-Star guidance Kareem hooked onwith New York.