THE LAST CLASS Teaching the Children Well

A Hall-of-Fame Hookup

Lakers assistant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar watches Andrew Bynum take free throws.
Lakers assistant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar watches Andrew Bynum take free throws. "He's still very much an adolescent," Abdul-Jabbar said. (By Reed Saxon -- Associated Press)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006

As Los Angeles Lakers rookie Andrew Bynum strolled into the shower after a game in November, veteran guard Aaron McKie looked down at Bynum's feet and noticed that the 7-foot center was wearing calf-high tube socks. McKie didn't think anything of it until the next game, when he shook his head in disbelief as Bynum did it again.

"I'm like, 'Why do you keep wearing your socks in the shower?' He said, 'I don't have any shower shoes,' " McKie recalled with a laugh. "I'm like, 'Are you going to wash your feet?' "

Bynum later explained that the Lakers hadn't ordered any shower shoes to fit his size 18 feet, leaving him with "wet socks all the time." When Bynum finally got a pair of shower shoes a few weeks later, he quickly showed them to McKie, who smiled and gave him an approving nod.

By then, however, Bynum already had been tagged with a new nickname: "Socks."

Bynum hasn't heard that name in a while, as most of his teammates have decided to call him "Big Baby," a moniker Bynum affectionately received from Hall of Fame center and Lakers special assistant coach Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because he's big -- Bynum already has grown an inch since he was drafted, and the Lakers expect him to grow to 7-2 -- and he's incredibly young.

Bynum, who turned 18 in October, is the youngest player ever drafted (17 years, 8 months and 2 days) and to ever play in an NBA game (18 years, six days).

He takes pride in the fact that this record may never change because of the 19-year-old age minimum established under the league's new collective bargaining agreement.

"It's good to be the youngest player ever. It also helps me because people realize that, and they give me room to grow. With some teams, people want them to perform right away and when they don't, they say bad things about them. That hasn't happened to me."

Unlike the other seven players selected directly out of high school in the 2005 NBA draft, Bynum is surrounded by unusually qualified instructors. He said he feels fortunate to be in a position unlike any other player who skipped college.

Bynum is playing for Coach Phil Jackson, who has won nine championship rings. He is playing with Kobe Bryant, the only player in the past 10 years to jump from high school and make a significant contribution to a championship team. And he receives daily tutorials from Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer and owner of six championship rings.

"Phil and Kobe, the best coach and the best player, it's the best situation right now. Kareem is a great guy. He's a legend. I figured I could learn from this guy," said Bynum, who passed up a scholarship to Connecticut for the NBA.

Abdul-Jabbar, 58, retired less than two years after Bynum was born, but Bynum said he is aware of his career accomplishments. "I saw him on old TV shows," Bynum said. "He's a real cool dude. He's the best teacher I ever had as far as basketball."

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