LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers' star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, described as being in 'quiet shock' over the loss of his mansion and most of its contents in a $2.5 million fire, decided Tuesday to return to the team immediately and will play Wednesday night.
Abdul-Jabbar will rejoin the Lakers in Dallas and will play against the Mavericks. Lakers' coach Pat Riley had told the 7-foot-2 center to take as much time away from the team as he needed, but the six-time NBA Most Valuable Player decided to make an immediate return.
Abdul-Jabbar was in Boston with the Lakers Monday when the fast-moving fire gutted his Bel-Air manion, sending his girlfriend and young son and several other people fleeing into the pre-dawn darkness.
He returned later Monday and viewed the devastation caused by a fire that caused the biggest monetary loss in a single-family house in city history.
'He came right up after I met him at the airport,' said Tom Collins, Abdul-Jabbar's business manager. 'We spent about an hour up there. His only words to me were, 'I've never seen anything like it.'
'He wasn't distraught. I'd say it was just quiet shock. Most everything Kareem does, he takes in stride. He never lets you know what's going on inside. But like any normal, natural human being who comes home and finds everything he treasured in a lifetime in one big ash, he had to be upset.'
Ironically, it was 10 years ago, in January of 1973, that seven persons, including five children ranging in age from nine days to 11 years, were murdered in a Washington, D.C. home that Abdul-Jabbar had purchased for them. They were all involved in the Muslim religion, which Abdul-Jabbar had joined a few years earlier, changing his name from Lew Alcindor.,
Monday's fire caused $1.5 million damage to his sprawling, 7,000-square foot ranch-style mansion with another $1 million in loss of its contents. Gone were 3,000 jazz albums, some irreplaceable, most of his collection of expensive Persian rugs and dozens of trophies, plaques, milestone basketballs, photographs and paintings, memorabilia of a brilliant college and professional basketball career.
'He's devastated,' Riley said before Abdul-Jabbar made his decision. 'He's got to take care of his family first. I'll leave it up to him (when he wants to return to the team).
'It's really a shame when everything you own is gone.'
In the home at the time of the fire was Abdul-Jabbar's girlfriend, Cheryl Pistono, their 2-year-old son, Amir, and her two brothers, Jeff and Jimmy Pistono. Also staying in the home were Miss Pistono's friend, Nadera Santiago and her infant daughter, Sean.
All escaped without injury.
'The amazing thing to me is that there were no smoke detectors in the house,' said City Fire Department Battalion Chief Richard Elias.
Fire officials said Tuesday an electrical problem in the home's music room was responsible for the blaze. Miss Pistono was awakened by the smell of smoke about 2 a.m. and instead of calling the fire department, she telephoned a building contractor who had recently installed a fireproof roof on the structure.
'He assured her everything was OK,' Elias said. 'The smoke dissipated, then she went back to sleep.'
When she awoke again about an hour later, flames were visible in the house. It is believed all the occupants were forced to escape through windows.