9.04.2008

When the Bucks Dealt Jabbar (Part III)

The trade that brought Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers was unique, complicated, innovative and also essential to the franchises of the Lakers and Bucks. It also changed the lives of the six players involved in what Cooke called "that dizzy trade."

It caused one city to look at itself and another one to close its eyes, pinch itself and wonder how it could be so lucky. And the whole thing began on a Thursday night in October, 12 years, two months and 22 days ago. For those who were involved, it doesn't seem so very long ago.

The telephone rang in the office of Wayne Embry, general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks. Sam Gilbert was calling. Gilbert was a UCLA basketball booster and an adviser to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among a number of other current and former Bruins.

Gilbert requested a meeting. The subject? Abdul-Jabbar.

"When he said he wanted to talk about Kareem's future, I didn't know what the hell to expect," Embry said. "I sensed that there was something that wasn't right."

The problem wasn't with the Bucks. The problem was Milwaukee. Abdul-Jabbar didn't want to be there anymore. William Alverson, the team's president, had already masterminded a three-year contract extension of Abdul-Jabbar's original 1969 deal that went into effect Nov. 1, 1972.

"Everything was fine for a while," said Alverson, then and now a partner in a Milwaukee law firm.

That renegotiated contract listed Abdul-Jabbar's salary at $350,004 for the 1972-73 season and $378,000 for 1973-74. Abdul-Jabbar would earn $399,996 for the 1974-75 season, but he made it clear that he wanted his next contract to be written someplace besides Milwaukee.

Gilbert and Abdul-Jabbar showed up to meet Embry, Alverson and board chairman Wes Pavalon. First they ate, then Embry waited for Gilbert to get down to business.

"Finally, Sam dropped the bomb," Embry said. "Kareem wanted to be traded. Of course, it took us by surprise, even though I was somewhat suspicious. Sam further said Kareem wanted to be traded to New York. His second preference was Washington and his third preference LA.

"We asked Kareem if there was dissatisfaction with us and he said, no, he just wanted to be traded from Milwaukee," Embry said. "He said his lifestyle and the lifestyle in Milwaukee were not compatible."

Such an admission should not have caught the Bucks by surprise. Two years before, Abdul-Jabbar had told an interviewer that he and Milwaukee were running on two different tracks.

Alverson's recollection of the Gilbert meeting is that Gilbert did more of the talking than Abdul-Jabbar.

"He told us that Kareem had given it another shot," Alverson said. "What had been fine since the new contract, Sam told us wasn't fine anymore. Milwaukee just wasn't where a big-city boy could be comfortable, he said. In essence, it was a foreign culture to Kareem. He wanted out, he would be out, one way or another. The implication was that if he had to sit out a year, he would. We believed him."

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