From Boston, Via Washington, With Trophy : ‘America’s Champions’ Honored at White House
In a sunny Rose Garden ceremony Monday honoring his team’s championship season, Laker star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar presented President Reagan a Laker jersey bearing Reagan’s name and the numeral 1.
“I was telling the President I’m not a Republican,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “But I am one of his constituents. So I thought we should suit him up the right way.”
Reagan, accepting the jersey, declared: “I’m proud to have this.”
On an afternoon when Reagan announced that he would continue to adhere to the provisions of the unratified second strategic arms limitation treaty, a decidedly different undertaking found him pouring praise on the National Basketball Assn. champions, calling them an inspiration.
“You showed the American people what pride, determination and guts can accomplish,” the President told the Lakers, who flew to Washington from Boston, where Sunday they had beaten the Boston Celtics for the championship, 111-100.
When reporters tried to question Reagan on why he had reversed his position on SALT II, which he once called “fatally flawed,” the President said firmly, “I’m not here to talk about treaties. There’s a statement on that. I’m here to talk about basketball.”
The Lakers, some of them wearing open-collared sports shirts, also gave the President a Laker cap, a T-shirt, and an autographed basketball.
The President, who wore a suit and tie, did indeed talk about basketball. He praised Abdul-Jabbar’s play, particularly his skyhook. “It was truly a thing of beauty,” the President said. “We’re all looking forward to seeing you defend the championship next year.”
Guard Magic Johnson was lauded for breaking the six-game championship assist record “by an awesome 24.”
Added the President: “Does America believe in Magic? You bet we do,” drawing applause from Lakers, family members and White House aides who had gathered to watch the ceremony.
Reagan said he would like the aggressive James Worthy to lobby for him on Capitol Hill. And he said that Kurt Rambis, who got into some scuffles during the playoffs, “ought to win the etiquette award for best manners. It’s not everyone who knows what to say after diving into a lady’s lap.”
The President also paid tribute to the teamwork engineered by Pat Riley, “your great coach,” and to the Lakers’ wives.
“The Laker families have been an example on and off the court. The wives have made drug abuse their special project,” Reagan said. “And I want you to know how grateful Nancy and I are for your work in this important field. You are no longer Los Angeles’ heroes. You’re America’s champions. Congratulations for a job well done. God bless you all.”
Abdul-Jabbar later told a reporter that he did not mean to imply that he was a Democrat when he told Reagan he was not a Republican. “I’m independent,” he said. “I’m not registered with either party. I’m registered. That’s all.”
After the ceremony, Abdul-Jabbar said that he was savoring the championship. “It’s really nice to be in this position after working so hard,” he said. “The feeling comes back at you from hidden places.”