Kareem, Can I Buy You Dinner?

I stood in a moonlight parking lot and shouted something that I've regretted for 38 years. I missed an opportunity to bring value to an NBA legend.

Kareem, Can I Buy You Dinner?

I stood in a moonlight parking lot, and shouted something that I’ve regretted for 38 years.

It was Monday night, a little past 9:00. I was setting table 22 near the front of the restaurant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar walked into Gulliver’s House of Prime Rib in Marina Del Rey. It shocked me to see him in street clothes.I always thought of him and his patented skyhook with 33 emblazoned on his Laker jersey. I was even more shocked that a legend walked into my arena, a restaurant where I spent much of my high school years.

Kareem and Shirley, the restaurant manager, were talking. I walked to the foot of the steps and stood behind Shirley to listen. She said, “I’m sorry sir, the kitchen is closed.” Kareem shrugged and walked away. I turned and saw the cooks on the line breaking down their stations. It had been a quiet night.

I paused. What should I do?

I followed Kareem into the parking lot—I looked ridiculous.

My cheap squire uniform was out of place in the parking lot—blue knickerbockers with high socks, a white puffy shirt with a real leather lace, a vinyl apron, and a silly squire cap.

Kareem was was getting into his car. I shouted, “Kareem, can I have your autograph?” He stared at me, exhaled, and got into his car.

I regret that I didn’t ask, “Kareem, what can I bring you for dinner?” Instead of asking for something, I could have served him. Instead of seeing him as a celebrity, I could have seen him as a hungry man. Kareem had brought me joy over the years. I could have given him something back. Magic fed him the ball night after night. I could have fed Kareem dinner. I missed my magic moment.

I still imagine that 17-year-old boy driving down court and dishing Kareem a bag of bread and a plate of food.

I’d like to make it right. Kareem, can I buy you dinner?