During the 2011 NBA All-Star Weekend, a statue of Jerry West was unveiled outside the Staples Center. That no doubt made the statue of Magic Johnson feel less lonely, but it irked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“I feel slighted,” he told reporters.
But the NBA’s career scoring leader need sulk no more. The Lakers have made plans for his likeness — more or less — to join those of West and Johnson.
If you accept the proposition that it’s right and proper for athletes to be cast in metal for eternity, or at least until the waters rise and cover the arenas before which their images loom, the arguments in favor of Johnson, West and Abdul-Jabbar are irrefutable.
The same can be said of the statue of Al Kaline making a great catch outside the Tigers’ ballpark in Detroit, and the one of Bobby Orr sailing through the air in front of an imaginary goal outside the home of the Boston Bruins.
Willie Mays, Michael Jordan and Warren Spahn are also among the sports luminaries whose likenesses have been preserved for generations of fans who will one day ask their fathers and mothers “Who’s that guy?”
But when it comes to immortalizing folks outside athletic venues, there are risks. The recent removal of the statue of Joe Paterno leading an anonymous team into battle at Penn State was especially well-publicized, but other monuments to the allegedly monumental have also provoked controversy. Visitors to Yankee Stadium have been heard to mutter about the monument to former owner George Steinbrenner, which is much bigger than the ones commemorating the people who actually played baseball there.
Then on another level entirely there is perhaps the weirdest statue to grace a sports venue. A spooky and glittering Michael Jackson sings silently outside Craven Cottage, the stadium in which Fulham Football Club plays the game U.S. citizens call soccer. It wears a silver jacket, this statue does, and white socks and a single glove. It bears no discernible relationship to what goes on inside the stadium, and when the statue was unveiled a little over a year ago, a Fulham fan named Steven Ward called it “tacky,” and another named Joe Roberts labeled it “one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”
Those comments and others failed to dismay the fellow responsible for the statue, club owner Mohamed Al Fayed, who said, “If some stupid fans don’t understand and appreciate such a gift, they can go to hell.”