Are the Nuggets Back on Track?
Say this for the Denver Nuggets: They can mea culpa with anyone. After a 1990-91 season that was an embarrassment both on and off the court, management was sorrier by a mile—and said so in a 10-minute videotape mailed to all season-ticket holders.
"We have learned from our mistakes, and we further realize a perception of instability has been created in our marketplace," managing general partner Peter C.B. Bynoe told his audience. "We apologize for the turmoil." General partner Robert Wussler, the other owner closely involved with team affairs, also appeared on the tape and spoke in similarly conciliatory terms.
It was a perspicacious move. But can the Nuggets live up to their promises? Off the court, things are much better. Former co-managing general partner Bertram Lee, who last season embarrassed the franchise when he was evicted from his downtown Denver apartment for nonpayment of rent, is no longer active with the team. The revolving door to the general manager's office has apparently stopped with Bernie Bicker-staff in place. And the addition last spring of Tim Leiweke as senior vice-president for business operations has been a success. His work with the community has drawn plaudits even from the organizers of Denver United for Nuggets Credibility (DUNC), an organization of disgruntled season-ticket holders that was formed near the end of last season.
But the Nuggets' success on the court is much iffier. They won only 20 games last season, a league low, and in giving up point guard Michael Adams (to Washington), sometimes explosive forward Orlando Woolridge (to Detroit) and steady frontcourtman Blair Rasmussen (to Atlanta) in trades, the Nuggets lost an average of 64 points per game. And guard Chris Jackson, who took the Islamic name of Mahmoud Abdul Rauf over the summer but will go by his old name on the court, was as uninspired in exhibition play as he was as a rookie last season. Furthermore, Temple's Mark Macon, one of the other backcourt young bloods Denver is counting on, was a holdout and missed the exhibition season. The best thing to happen to the Nuggets in a long time, though, was the drafting of center Dikembe Mutombo of Georgetown, who looks to be better than advertised, particularly on offense—he had 27 points last Saturday night in the Nuggets' 109-101 home court victory over the Rockets. But Mutombo's thin supporting cast is questionable.
In short, Denver coach Paul West-head will have a tough time meeting fan expectations. He says that he has received neither a vote of confidence nor a win-this-many-by-this-date ultimatum from Bickerstaff.
"I don't have a guarantee, either," says Bickerstaff. "There are no guarantees in this business."
With 4:52 remaining in the second quarter of last Friday night's opener at Detroit, Bucks center Moses Malone converted the 8,000th free throw of his 15-year NBA career. Consider: Moses has made more free throws than any other active player has even attempted. Going into this season, for example, Magic Johnson had shot 5,649 free throws (making 4,788 for an .848 percentage), and Larry Bird 4,309 (making 3,810 for an .884 percentage). Malone has tried 10,416 for a career percentage of .769, an excellent mark for a hardworking, rebounding center.
Just as amazing is the fact that Moses has committed an average of only 2.5 personal fouls per game and has fouled out of just five games, all of them in his first two seasons.
Conclusion? This man should not be allowed to even look at an official to protest a call.
For those of you in need of your weekly NBA Summer Olympics fix, here are the jersey numbers that have been assigned to the U.S. team that will compete in Barcelona:
David Robinson, 5
Patrick Ewing, 6
Larry Bird, 7
Scottie Pippen, 8
Michael Jordan, 9
Karl Malone, 11
John Stockton, 12
Chris Mullin, 13
Charles Barkley, 14
Magic Johnson, 15
Because Olympic teams use numbers between 4 and 15 and because the other players wear higher numbers during the NBA season, only Stockton has his regular jersey number.
Magic, incidentally, is not only the team's probable on-the-floor leader and designated smiler, but also one of the official USA Basketball T-shirt suppliers. Johnson's company, Magic Johnson T's, has purchased from USA Basketball, the U.S. governing body for international basketball, the rights to market T-shirts that carry the logo USA BASKETBALL. The company does not own rights to market official Olympic products (Johnson is working on that for the '96 Games in Atlanta), and so it cannot use the Olympic rings on the shirts. But the phrase "USA Basketball" sounds official, and most consumers won't realize that it technically refers to the governing body, not to the team. Magic's people have already produced a few of the T-shirts, one of which carries likenesses of Magic and Jordan.
When Karl Malone posed for his Olympic photo session with NBA photographer Andrew Bernstein a few weeks ago, he shook his head upon being told that the USA Basketball T-shirt he was wearing was part of Magic's line.
"You mean I'm actually making that guy even more money?" said Malone.
Several NBA officials hold certification from FIBA, basketball's international governing body, which means that they are eligible to officiate in the Olympics. They include veteran Dick Bavetta, as well as a few of the league's newer refs, such as Joe Forte (who refereed in the '88 Games in Seoul), George Toliver, Nolan Fine and Ron Olesiak. When you consider that one of the U.S.'s greatest fears in international competition is uneven officiating, it is a comfort to the NBA players that one of their zebras might be in Barcelona, right?
Actually, it won't make any difference to the team. Even if an NBA referee is chosen as the U.S.'s one representative, no referee can work an Olympic game that involves his own country.
After the magic drafted Stanley Roberts, the 7-foot former LSU center whose weight has ballooned as high as 315 pounds, Pat Williams, the Orlando president, had a field day telling jokes about him:
"Stanley thinks a balanced meal is a Big Mac in each hand."
"We got him started eating the seven basic food groups, and now there are only three left."
"There's a thin man inside of Stanley—he's ordering a hot fudge sundae."
"Stanley's Florida driver's license says, 'Photo continued on other side.' "
"Whoever said no man is an island never saw Stanley in a swimming pool."
"Stanley's chosen his burial site—Montana."
"We told Stanley to go on a water diet, and Lake Superior disappeared."
"Stanley says his two favorite things are eating and watching TV. So we decided to combine the two, and now he's eating out of his satellite dish."
"We have Stanley into heavy lifting, so now he takes his lunch to work."
Williams made so many of these jokes that Roberts got annoyed. So when he signed, he received a verbal agreement from Williams that he wouldn't tell any more. Last week Stanley announced that he was at 299 pounds. Upon which, Williams started telling Stanley Roberts thin jokes:
"He's so thin now his pajamas have only one stripe."
"He can't go to the movies because his seat won't stay down."
"He looks like he forgot to say 'when' at the blood bank."