Many people consider the Twins season a failure and by any statistical or intangible measure it most certainly was. Yet the Minnesota Nine did prevail in one key area: The franchise gave Mariano Rivera the coolest retirement present.
Every Major League city the great Yankees closer visited gave him a going-away gift, something to say thanks and goodbye. The Twins brought out a rocking chair made of the bats Rivera broke with his devastating cutter, which is the actual two-word phrase for his signature pitch. It was original, thoughtful, creative and fun.
Rivera might be the last great professional athlete to get these type of ceremonial gifts but he wasn’t the first. In the 1980s Julius Erving received them during his final year and in 1989 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said farewell to a league he dominated from the moment he stepped on the court during the 1969-70 season. Kareem had hardly been beloved up to that point — but then again, neither had Rivera for much of his career as he shut the door on team after team for the bullying Yankees. Still, Kareem possessed an aloofness not found in Rivera. He kept his distance, and occasionally tussled with the media when he wasn’t shutting them out. He punched opposing players. He was not the guy you’d think would receive a farewell tour upon his retirement but he was so good for so long, it seemed like the right thing to do, even if his final year was nothing like all the ones that came before.
Kareem got rugs and jerseys on his farewell tour. A boat and a car.
And he got some lovely gifts courtesy of the New Jersey Nets.
The video below comes courtesy of non-player zealot, who runs one of the coolest YouTube channels. I say it’s the best but I understand not everyone would agree, since it is a Lakers-centric channel. But he has the best collection of Lakers videos you could ever dream of owning. I’ve exchanged emails with him over the years and I still have hopes that one day he’ll participate in a Fury Files here. In the meantime, I’m simply thankful for his old VCR and coding skills.
Now this had to be one of the most awkward gift-giving ceremonies Kareem had on his tour through the league. It’s quite strange, and not just because it’s 2013 and we’re watching something from December 1988. And not just because it’s the Nets, the perennially woeful Nets.
First he gets something for being “the best basketball player in the world,” which…obviously in 1989 was not the case. Kareem last made a first-team All-NBA squad in 1986, a remarkable achievement for a 39-year-old, one of the great achievements actually in NBA history. But in 1989…no longer the best in the world. A nice gesture, though.
My favorite gift? The Zenith VCR, brought out by a former Nets player, accompanied, like all the dignitaries, by leggy Nets cheerleaders. The Nets gave the gift so the Captain could watch his 20 years of highlights, but surely he popped in Airplane during quiet nights at home.
Kareem gets a bowl, and then some cool Jazz CDs, presented by Buck Williams and John Bagley. Finally Willis Reed comes out to give Kareem a commissioned drawing of “Kareem shooting his famous skyhook.” It’s a…nice drawing, even if it looks like something a family from Iowa might get during a midnight stroll through Times Square. Later in the evening Kareem probably haggled over the price with the artist. The festivities end with Whitney Houston performing the National Anthem, two years before her iconic performance at the Super Bowl. I’m only surprised the Nets didn’t commission Whitney to write and perform a special song in Kareem’s honor.
That night the Lakers actually lost to the Nets, 118-113 in overtime, part of a horrific stretch of road games that year for LA. Kareem — a legend but no longer the best in the world — went 1-for-7 from the field and had a mere five points and two rebounds.
It’s doubtful he replayed that game on his Zenith VCR.