They say you should never meet your heroes, but that saying couldn’t be more wrong.

Ever since I can remember, I have been obsessed with everything about the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe it was the bright lights and stars of the Lake Show or the 16 NBA championships. I have idolized all the great Lakers players — Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant. Since elementary school, I taught myself everything there is to learn about the Lakers.

So when I heard about Abdul-Jabbar coming to Yakima, I jumped on the opportunity to make my childhood dream come true. I always dreamed about meeting and interviewing Lakers greats. Even now, as I aspire to be a sports journalist and broadcaster, that dream continues.

I had no idea what to expect from the May 25 news conference at The Capitol Theatre with Abdul-Jabbar. I was told that I’d maybe get one question. However, I still prepared six. My goals were to ask about Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, the skyhook and the Lakers organization, and to get a picture and autograph from Kareem.

Even though I didn’t get the picture or autograph, I got to ask three of my six questions and achieved three of those five goals.

As I entered the news conference room, I immediately ran to the closest seat from the chair where Abdul-Jabbar would be sitting. I was about a body length away from that chair, and I couldn’t have been more nervous. When Abdul-Jabbar walked in and sat down, my stomach started to roar and my legs were bouncing up and down during the whole Q&A. It took me a while to ask a question but, when I asked my first question, it got me rolling.

Selfishly, I asked about everything basketball. My first question was: “As a center, how essential was a good point guard? How much credit do you give players like Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson for your success?”

Abdul-Jabbar answered: “I have to give them a lot of credit. If the ball-handler is making turnovers and doesn’t know how to pass, it inhibits my game and makes it impossible for me to do all the things that I can do to help the team. When you have competence at the guard position, all those problems are eliminated. I was just fortunate to play with Magic Johnson and before that Oscar Robertson.”

My nerves started to settle and I knew that I had to ask Abdul-Jabbar as many questions as I could.

My next goal was to ask about my idol, Kobe Bryant. So, I raised my hand: “I want to know about when you first met Kobe, and when did you know that he was going to be great?”

“Kobe’s dad (1975-83 NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant) used to bring him around practice,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “So I knew Kobe when he was just a baby. You never know what’s going to happen, but Kobe learned a lot from his dad and put it to use. You saw what he did.”

My final question was about the skyhook and which player was the hardest match-up for him. Abdul-Jabbar said there was no hard match-up for him and then told a story from his rookie year when Nate Thurmond, center for the Gold State Warriors, held him to five points and five rebounds. Kareem noted that he proceeded to dominate Thurmond the following year.

When the news conference was over I was at a loss for words. Talking to one of my heroes and achieving my lifelong dream at the same moment was overwhelming.

However, I kept my cool on the outside and stayed strictly professional. And even though I didn’t ask about everything I wanted to, and I didn’t get that autograph, I have a feeling this won’t be my last opportunity to do so.

J.J. Montelongo is a senior at Sunnyside High School.

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