Tonight -- and don't mention this to the Big Fella, it's supposed to be a surprise -- they're going to have a special ceremony for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before the Washington Bullets play the Los Angeles Lakers at Capital Centre at 7:30. He's going to get a jukebox filled with 45s to help replace his music collection that was destroyed in the 1982 fire along with his Bel Air home.

It will be pleasant, for sure, but probably not as special as the motorcycle he got in Milwaukee last week, or the piece of parquet floor the Celtics gave him at Boston Garden Friday. And it likely won't compare with whatever it is they're planning at the Great Western Forum when he comes home one last time. But this has to be done, for this, after all, is Abdul-Jabbar's last run through this league's arenas and this, barring a Washington Miracle and a Bullets appearance in the NBA finals, will be Abdul-Jabbar's last appearance at Capital Centre.

For so long, there has been Kareem, as in, "well, the Lakers have Kareem, so they're in the hunt." Or, "Milwaukee's got Kareem, they're a favorite." He's a one-name wonder, like his past (Wilt, Earl the Pearl) and his present (Magic, Isiah and Akeem). Now, after 20 seasons and thousands of sky hooks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 41 and still sky hooking, is retiring, getting tributes in cities great and small for two decades of brilliant basketball.

There could have been even more.

The Lakers wanted him around for another couple of seasons. Just couldn't let the 7-foot-2, six-time league MVP go.

"They wanted me to sign for a little more {through the 1990 season}," he said this season. "I didn't want to do that. I didn't want just to be hanging around, have people feeling sorry for me, wondering why I didn't quit. It worked out fine. The Lakers felt that if I stayed around, played to the best of my ability, that I might not be up to the standards I set, but I would be filling in the position well enough to win world championships. And they were right."

If you happen to be in the crowd tonight, or watch at home, use this as a primer. This is how it has gone in eight cities so far and how it will be in 15 more before the regular season ends. That doesn't count the newly named Great Western Forum, which Lakers forward Mychal Thompson suggested be called "Kareem's Kastle" or "Abdul Arena" in tribute.

Still more tribute. Here is but one city on the Kareem Over America tour. Philadelphia

This was stop three. There were no T-shirts, just Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sans hair but otherwise much the same physically as he was 20 years ago. There were no revelations this evening, just Abdul-Jabbar answering the same questions and getting presents he probably already owns.

This evening, he quoted Duke Ellington -- "I love you madly," he told the Spectrum crowd -- and pulled down his 10,000th rebound as a Laker, more than half a board for each of the 18,168 here. Before the game, the crowd, mostly white, rose as one and stood and applauded. Truly, this man who was vilified has come full circle, from the days when he was cursed for not participating in the 1968 Olympics and eventually changed his name from the placid Lew Alcindor to the foreboding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Of course, that villainous name roughly translates into "generous, powerful servant for Allah."

"Whether I liked it or not," he said, "I was in a position where I could educate the public. And they had to see somebody who believes in black pride and took advantage of the great rights that we have in this country, {like} freedom of religion.

"I made the choice to change my religion. And people, at first thought that was un-American. And that's not what I'm about, and it's taken them a while maybe to understand that. Even somebody like me can be all-American and now people have become very comfortable with that."

One hour before the game was scheduled to begin, the Spectrum is empty. In the visitors' locker room, there is very little banter. The Lakers, already off to an 8-3 start then and now 16-6 and comfortably in first place in the Pacific Division -- again -- are already in uniform. Magic Johnson is getting his chronically bad knee treated.

Everyone else is looking at 76ers game films. It is silent. Abdul-Jabbar, who may, in all honesty, be the third or fourth offensive option these days, is sandwiched among six or seven Lakers.

It's early in the tour yet, so the Lakers say they haven't tired of the speeches and presentations.

"There are two ways of doing this," said Lakers Coach Pat Riley. "If you say it's going to be a distraction, you can do it that way. But if you will celebrate with this man, with everybody else, not only can it be a meaningful experience for him, but also one for the team."

The Lakers asked if teams would limit ceremonies to brief halftime ones lasting no more than 10 minutes. That doesn't happen often, and it doesn't happen this evening. Tonight, the 76ers bring out Julius Erving to introduce Abdul-Jabbar, which guarantees anything but brevity when the fans see the Doctor.

When Erving came through Los Angeles for the final time, Abdul-Jabbar was the host. Tonight, Charles Barkley represents the Philadelphia players, but there will be no rocking chair given as a gag gift, as the Lakers gave to Erving.

"I haven't really spoken to him since then," Abdul-Jabbar said the day before of the Erving ceremony. "I didn't give him a rocking chair. We gave him a television. The chair was just a joke; everybody seems to think that that's all we gave him. The chair was just a prop. All everybody remembers is that all we gave him was a rocking chair."

After the national anthem is played by Grover Washington Jr., Erving introduces Abdul-Jabbar as one who showed style and perseverance, "a man who won gold rings, a man who won banners, a man who won the hearts of many and the admiration of many." Erving also calls Abdul-Jabbar the greatest ever to have played the game, conveniently forgetting a Philadelphia native named Wilt Chamberlain.

His first ovation of the night lasts 55 seconds. The vanquishing warrior is then given the town's plunder. Or, as he got here, a portable telephone, a CD player and some CDs.

Philly's short on plunder these days.

He is grateful, as he was in arenas with real memories and will be in places where he will have to be a little creative, like Miami, Sacramento and Charlotte. ("And I want to thank all you Hornets fans for 48 minutes of great memories.") They are getting just a fleeting glimpse of the man who holds the NBA records for points scored, games, minutes, field goals, field goals attempted, blocked shots and fouls. He's also sixth on the all-time list in assists, perhaps a tribute more to longevity than anything else.

Oh, yeah. And six championship rings.

"I'll never forget the first time I played against him down in Atlanta," Cleveland center Tree Rollins said earlier this season. "I was your typical rookie, all hyped up, and like everybody else, I wanted to block that sky hook. And I blocked the sky hook. I finally got it. And then he politely threw in seven in a row. Yes, he did. And I said, 'Well, that's the last time I try to block the sky hook.' " The Game

This evening, the Lakers jump out quickly, really without Abdul-Jabbar. Of course, it's been that way for a long time. They don't like to talk about "phasing out" in Los Angeles, but the truth is the Lakers will look for Magic, James Worthy, or Byron Scott on the wings or in the corners before they take Abdul-Jabbar as the third or fourth option offensively. That has made them a better team, but do they owe their big guy anything other than this?

"I know the question you're going to ask," Riley says, "because I've been asked that all the time. There has not been any kind of conscious conversation about that {phasing out} happening. I don't have any plans to phase him out . . . I don't think our players have any conscious behavior patterns of doing that either. I think we have to really work to maintain Kareem.

"We have to watch, make sure during the course of the game that he's not playing fatigued. It's my responsibility as a coach to see how to best utilize him this year. He can still produce. He can still be part of a championship team. But I don't think it could be under the terms of just {playing} 38 minutes. I think we have to be realistic here."

Late in the game, Abdul-Jabbar goes down in a heap when his and A.C. Green's knees crunch into each other. He is all right now, but will miss a handful of subsequent games with a sore knee. This evening, Magic will take control of the game after the 76ers fight and scratch to take the lead. He winds up with a triple double after scoring 12 of 16 down the stretch and the Lakers win.

Abdul-Jabbar is brought in after the game. He says he is fine, he is asked about his career and the times when his major goals were to play for a dozen years and put a million in the bank.

He has put several times that away, but has lost many times that through problems with the management of his funds and through that fire that destroyed his record collection. He says he plays because he still enjoys it, just as he's enjoying these tributes. There are still emotional stops left. There will, of course, be one last game in Los Angeles; and he said goodbye to Milwaukee last week, even though the Bucks' arena is brand spanking new. But, he figures, basketball will continue without him.

"Somebody else will figure it out," he says of his sky hook. "I don't think it's my particular thing."

And he is off to another arena and another goodbye.

The Lakers have a new motto -- "Threepeat" -- in hopes they will win one more title for a man who already has five with Los Angeles. But that is down the line. That will be decided much later along the road. Right now, Magic Johnson is just tired. He isn't smiling. But he accommodates. "We'd like to definitely do it," he says. "That would make it three in a row."

Magic Johnson is this generation's Great Player, who has impacted the game today like the seven-footers used to. He might just be talking about the team's winning three titles in a row, but he understands history and knows how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar should go out.

And, ever so briefly, there is the smile.

And you know how Magic gets when he wants something.