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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Agreed To Do Airplane! Under One Condition

The summer of 1980 brought us a genre-defining movie in the slapstick laugh-fest "Airplane!," written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker. Spoofing the wave of disaster films from the '70s, "Airplane!" hurled jokes and visual gags at such a fast clip that audiences didn't know what hit them. The irreverent humor struck a chord and spawned decades of similar spoofs — including "Airplane 2: The Sequel," which was almost the exact same movie with different jokes — although it did add William Shatner, who was a perfect fit. But the original "Airplane!" was a massive hit, flying in some $83 million in ticket sales (a lot for 1980), per Box Office Mojo. It also currently sits at 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so it was a critical smash as well.

Starring Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty as a dysfunctional couple on a flight that loses its crew (because someone thought fish was a good idea for dinner), tormented former war pilot Ted Striker (Hays) has to step in and fly the commercial airliner to safety, despite a host of impediments, including a drinking problem where he spills beverages on his own face. The casting choices overall are inspired, with the likes of Leslie Nielsen ("The Naked Gun") and Peter Graves ("Mission: Impossible"), but the kicker has to be basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pretending to be the co-pilot, Roger Murdock.

The idea that Abdul-Jabbar would play the co-pilot is funny enough, but when he is exposed in the film as actually being Abdul-Jabbar the whole time, it goes to another level. Not exactly known for his sense of humor, one has to wonder how the opinionated Abdul-Jabbar ever agreed to be in this movie in the first place. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted a rug

As it turned out, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was totally on board for a gig in the silly (and oddly PG-rated) "Airplane!," making only one simple financial demand. According to an interview with the filmmakers in The A.V. Club, they offered him $30,000 to do the movie but Abdul-Jabbar insisted on $35,000 "because that's how much this rug cost that Kareem wanted to buy." It wasn't a practical rug, mind you, it was merely decorative. And it cost $35,000. The filmmakers thought Abdul-Jabbar's agent was just finding a creative way to ask for more money — until they saw a published picture of the Los Angeles Laker star with his new $35,000 rug. And that's why Hall-of-Famer Abdul-Jabbar is in the movie "Airplane!"

It almost sounds like something his character would do in the film. It's that random. It fits right in with the on-screen Abdul-Jabbar insisting that he's actually airline pilot Roger Murdock, even though we are never given any hint as to why he even wants to be! The truth only surfaces when a little boy badgers him to the point where he breaks character to defend his effort in the NBA regular season. Then, as he's dragged away after passing out from his food-poisoned fish meal, he is seen wearing his Laker uniform from the waist down. Not that anyone on the plane notices or cares, as really, it's the least of their problems.

Abdul-Jabbar has popped up in dozens of projects over the years (frequently playing himself), with over 50 acting credits to his name, per IMDb. But it's hard to imagine any of them being funnier or more memorable than that time he did "Airplane!" for a carpet.