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Me, Myself and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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Me, Myself and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

On Jan. 30, 2011, around 8:30 p.m. I had an encounter with one of my favourite basketball players of all-time—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It didn’t go so well. So I am doing what people do now—vent about it publicly. Call it “Hentley Small’s Revenge” though this is not meant as an attack.

I “met” him at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in baggage claim on the way back from a sales meeting. I initially walked past him at about 20 feet as he stood, leaning on a wall waiting, for his bags I assume. I gave him the hard stare, something I usually do to anyone significantly taller than my 6’4”, puzzled at what I thought I was seeing.

Then I caught up with my workmates at our baggage claim and quickly asked which one of them was familiar with basketball. Then I pointed out Kareem and the fact he was by the Los Angeles baggage claim. We all concurred it was very likely him and I was more than willing to leave it at, “Hey, I once saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Pearson.”

My boss was not. He encouraged me to go up to him, so after some gentle coercing I went with a co-worker who happened to have his camera. I politely asked the Lakers’ legend if it indeed was him; he hesitantly confirmed.

I asked if I could take a picture with him; he quietly declined. I reiterated; he again declined. I left with a, “Cool, thanks,” and walked away. Back to my workmates with my tail between my legs like I just suffered a shotgun rejection from some hottie in a nightclub.

But like trying to chat up a lady in a club, I felt much better for attempting and failing. No wondering, “What if?” or thinking, “I shoulda, coulda...” Instead, I at least got some kind of weird closure and validation. Or maybe that is what I need to tell myself to not feel so scorned.

I didn’t really want much of his time. I just saw a potential opportunity. He didn’t even have to move. Just continue posting up on the wall while I simply slide in on the side, get the pic, move on. No harm, no foul.

Unless he is there to meet (a real meeting, with actual word exchange) with Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo about becoming the team’s new coach or something else, therefore he couldn’t have any pictures pop up on Facebook or Twitter or the jig would be up.

That is how they do it when it comes to covert affairs. Stay incognito. Or maybe I am merely trying to placate my crushed ego.

Obviously, I am not the first, and I certainly will not be the last to ask for a picture with the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. I imagine somewhere along the way some of those people will get the photo op they desire. I just wish I could have been one of them.

Oh well, there is no bitterness. I do still want to know why he is there. The Lakers already played in Toronto this season in December. Hmm...

Anyway, it was an appropriate end to a bad day, but overall, it was still good to “talk” to him. And even though I now look at him in a different light, I would do it over again if there is ever another superstar athlete encounter. But I won’t be holding my breath...

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