The NBA

March 09, 1992

What's Up, Doc?

For whatever else Julius Erving wanted to accomplish with his sponsorship of last Friday night's one-on-one basketball show in Atlantic City, he did not want to look like the reincarnation of World B. Free. Nevertheless....

Hey, Doc, nine of 44 from the field?

Well, that's what happens when you're forced to shoot jump shots over a 7'2" monument and you were never a jump-shooter even in your prime. And that's what happened at the first—and perhaps last—"Clash of the Legends" as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar swamped Erving 41-23. Viewership figures for the pay-per-view spectacle were not available as of Sunday night, but there are early indications that America was not exactly agog over the concept. Nor were many in attendance. The appearance of Magic Johnson at a courtside seat did more to excite the crowd, announced at 4,200, than anything Kareem or Doc pulled off on the court.

To answer the most obvious question: Yes, it appears that the 44-year-old Abdul-Jabbar could still be a serviceable backup center in the NBA. His strength enabled him to penetrate almost at will against Erving, and his skills helped him score on short hooks and finger rolls with either hand—he made 16 of his 31 shots. But after the competition Abdul-Jabbar reiterated that he had abandoned thoughts of an NBA comeback and would not be playing in any future one-on-one contests, either.

Ditto for Erving. "There will be no rematch," he said.

That is good to hear. Most of the pregame curiosity centered on whether or not the 42-year-old Erving could display his past magic, a swooping baseline drive, perhaps, or an acrobatic jam. But only once could Doc find enough space to dunk—the rest of the time he spent throwing up errant jump shots, including half a dozen or so air balls. Kareem got to the basket consistently, but he accomplished it with bull-like charges rather than with grace and finesse. One had to admire the man, but it did not make for great theater.

The event was sponsored by Erving's company, The DJ Group Inc., in association with the Trump Taj Mahal and Showtime Entertainment Television. Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Magic Johnson Foundation, but—make no mistake—Erving created the concept as a money-making venture. In fact, there was no three-second violation rule, but the "lane" was sold to Coca-Cola. And the prematch press releases included this breathless news: KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR CHOOSES DURASPUN SOCKS. Hey, maybe that was the difference.

Mail It In

Charles Barkley of the 76ers and Karl Malone of the Jazz have all but redefined the forward position in the NBA. Their strength and bulk make them unstoppable in a half-court offense, yet they run the floor like sprinters. Barkley starts at small forward and Malone at power forward, but it really doesn't matter—they're just forwards, possibly the best two in the game. It will be a treat to see them on the court together in Barcelona in the Summer Olympics because both have a way of swallowing up the court. Which one will demand the ball on the low post? Which one will get out quicker on the break? Now, there's a dilemma for an Olympic point guard—the Mailman's in the right lane wanting the ball, and Barkley is on the left calling for it. Whom do you give it to? And where do you hide when the other comes looking for you?

And if you were starting a team and could take either one, which would you prefer? That was the question posed in this week's SI poll of coaches and general managers. The winner was Malone, 15-7. (Three teams didn't respond, and the votes of Utah and Philadelphia didn't count.)

There were common threads in the voting. Malone's supporters invariably mentioned his loyal-soldier qualities and contrasted them with Bark-ley's penchant for controversy (page 186). But Barkley's backers felt that there was no substitute for talent and that he achieved more with less, having no John Stockton to deliver him the ball.

"If it was just basketball you were talking about, I'd go with Barkley," said one Western Conference executive who voted for Malone. "But it's gotten so bad this year with the off-court distractions and his unhappiness with being on the Sixers that it finally has had an effect on his play. He hasn't been as consistent. With the Mailman, you know he's going to play hard every night, and you don't have the worries of what might happen after the game." Said another Malone backer, a Western Conference head coach: "This isn't to say Charles is a bad guy, because he isn't. But the off-court baggage detracts from his game and, more important, is a constant distraction to the team." An Eastern head coach agreed: "Charles is better when he wants [to play hard], but you never know when that's going to be. I'll take Karl." And an executive in the West actually had a basketball reason for taking Malone—he feels that the Mailman's game, at least in the low post, is more varied and potent than Barkley's.

But a Barkley voter, an Eastern Conference head coach, said: "I like Charles's heart, the way he overcomes the size disadvantage, the way he takes over a game all by himself." Other Barkley supporters mentioned his versatility and the fact that he puts the ball on the floor much better than Malone. And, finally, one Eastern Conference head coach had this unique reason for choosing Barkley: "I want to write my own book someday, and he'd make it more interesting."

The Early Lottery Line

The words lottery pick are a major cause of indigestion among NBA front-office types. As soon as a college player hears the magic L-phrase ascribed to him, the chance that he will appear in the postseason all-star tournaments grows slim (particularly if he has already hired an agent). If the player doesn't show, a big opportunity to evaluate his talent goes poof.

Therefore, despite being quietly optimistic about this year's college talent, pro scouts, general managers and player-personnel directors have a smaller-than-usual list of surefire lottery picks. One scout who tagged player after player as "borderline lottery" finally paused and said, "Well, we've gotta have 11 players in this thing, don't we?"

Yes, that's the way it will operate on June 24 in Portland, the site of this year's draft. Three of those lottery names will be Jimmy Jackson of Ohio State, Harold Miner of USC and Shaquille O'Neal of LSU—if those heralded juniors decide to enter the draft. "And if they come out, a good draft becomes a great draft," says Seattle general manager Bob Whitsitt. Despite reports to the contrary, no one can say for sure whether any of the three has really decided what he'll do.

O'Neal is No. 1 in any scenario if he comes out, but no one is counting on that, so the top-pick derby currently centers on two other big men, Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning and Duke's Christian Laettner, both of whom are seniors. Mourning's appeal has climbed considerably this season, and most scouts rate Mourning's pro potential as slightly higher than Laettner's. But a number of teams would take Laettner just as quickly.

"I've heard a lot of nonsense about neither being a true center," says one NBA scout. "All I know is that if you don't have a center, you'd be crazy not to take one of these guys."

No one even pretends that Mourning and Laettner are not lottery material, but some general manager or player-personnel guy can find a reason to exclude everyone else. But, hey, you gotta have 11 names. Excluding the three juniors, here is SI's early line on the nine players who will follow Mourning and Laettner, in no particular order.

•St. John's Malik Sealy. At 6'8" he's a proven scorer who was born to play the three-spot (small forward) in the NBA.

•UCLA's Don MacLean. Some teams are afraid of his temper and his reputation for selfishness. Others question his quickness and the release on his jumper. But he's 6'10", and the ball frequently goes into the basket when he shoots it. No one questions that.

•Oklahoma State's Byron Houston. Some think his size (6'7") will keep him from being a truly great power forward, his natural position. But he also has more skills than most power forwards.

•Arkansas's Todd Day. He has had several off-the-court scrapes, including his involvement in an alleged sexual assault in a dormitory last February. The charges were dismissed by police, but Day was suspended from the team for a month. There's no doubt that NBA teams pay more attention to those things than they used to. But at 6'8" Day is as good an all-around player as there is in the country.

•Stanford's Adam Keefe. He has the physical attributes (6'9", 230) to be an outstanding power forward.

•North Carolina State's Tom Gugliotta. There's some resistance to this guy because he came so far so fast. But he's a 6'10" rebounder with perimeter skills, and his versatility makes him attractive.

•Notre Dame's LaPhonso Ellis. A 6'9" forward, Ellis has improved dramatically. And what he has shown since former NBA coach John MacLeod arrived as coach is that he is likely to be an even better pro than collegian.

•Maryland's Walt Williams. There's a lot of head-shaking that Williams, like so many point guards in this class (Arkansas's Lee Mayberry, UConn's Chris Smith, Georgia's Litterial Green), lacks the ability to penetrate. But Williams is 6'8", and some see at least Steve Smith of the Heat in this Terrapin, if not Magic Johnson.

•Southern Mississippi's Clarence Weatherspoon. Opponents are keying on this 6'7", 240-pound Wes Unseld type, and his rebounding numbers are down though his scoring is up. A few teams have crossed him off their lottery lists; others have not.

Robert Horry, a 6'9" small forward from Alabama, and Murray State's Ronald (Popeye) Jones, a 6'8" rebounder, are the best bets to supplant one of the above. And Missouri's Anthony Peeler, a 6'4" shooting guard, Virginia's 6'5" forward Bryant Stith and Arkansas's 6'2" May-berry are also on the lottery borderline.

The best lottery long shot? Tony Bennett of Wisconsin-Green Bay, who is smart, tough and, at 6 feet, that elusive true point guard.

The best player you've never heard of? Could be Chaminade's George Gilmore, a 6-foot point guard who burned Arkansas and North Carolina State with 38 and 37 points, respectively. If Gilmore scores like that in the postseason tournaments, he could sneak into the first round.

The Suns Begin to Shine

The Yakima (Wash.) Sun Kings have been making a lot of news in the CBA this season. They got off to a 1-7 start that led to the firing of head coach Dean Nicholson. He was replaced by Bill Klucas, who didn't exactly turn things around—the Sun Kings lost 18 in a row before Klucas got his notice. The current king of the Sun Kings is none other than Robert Reid, the former NBA forward who took a position as player-assistant with the Tri-City Chinook at the beginning of the season so he could learn the coaching ropes. He found himself with a head job much sooner than he expected. Yakima is a respectable 11-14 under Reid, though it still occupies the basement in the National Conference.

Yakima's top player was former Celtic Conner Henry, but he recently decided to bolt Yakima in favor of a professional team in France. Nevertheless, the Kings plugged away. And last week they were involved in one of the most remarkable games in league history—a quadruple-overtime marathon against the Albany Patroons. Sun Kings forward Lee Campbell, a second-year player from Southwest Missouri State, was the hero of this one, playing 66 of the 68 minutes and finishing with 39 points and 25 rebounds in Yakima's 166-160 victory.

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERThe clash of Kareem (left) and Dr. J was less than legendary. PHOTODAVID LIAM KYLESI's poll says the Mailman delivers more than Barkley—because he carries less baggage. PHOTODOUG HOKEHouston could get lucky in the lottery despite some reservations about his lack of size.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)