April 15, 1996
April 15, 1996

Table of Contents
April 15, 1996



WHEN INDIANA coach Bob Knight took command of the U.S.
basketball team at the 1979 Pan American Games, he quickly
singled out two whipping boys: Isiah Thomas and Kevin McHale.
"We shared the same doghouse," says Thomas. "Me because I was a
high school kid committed to Indiana, and Kevin because he was

This is an article from the April 15, 1996 issue Original Layout

McHale was a gangly forward at Minnesota with a barrel chest and
a loose tongue. He spent most of his spare time trying to
convince Thomas that Knight was a tyrant and that Thomas should
immediately transfer to Minnesota. That didn't happen, but the
relationship the two players forged more than 17 years ago
survived heated Big Ten battles and then Hall of Fame NBA
careers that pitted McHale's Celtics teams against Thomas's
Pistons teams in one of the bitterest rivalries of the '80s. At
the height of the NBA rivalry, both men admit, they tried to
keep their friendship a secret. And yet when the Celtics beat
the Lakers in Game 7 of the '84 NBA Finals, there was Thomas--as
McHale's guest--standing in the Boston locker room, watching the
winners swig champagne. In 1988, when the Pistons finally
knocked off the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, McHale
ran across the court, embraced Thomas and implored him to beat

When Thomas retired in 1994 and assumed control of the Toronto
Raptors, his first phone call was to McHale, then an assistant
general manager with the Timberwolves. Thomas asked McHale to be
his coach. McHale declined, and one year later he was named vice
president of operations for Minnesota. So the two men remain
opponents, only this time they are linked as former hotshot
players who made the leap into management, a development that
has generated a mix of envy and disdain from rival general
managers. "I assure you," says McHale, "there are lots of guys
hoping we fall flat on our faces."

It hasn't happened yet. Despite their paltry win totals this
season (Minnesota had 25 victories through Sunday, Toronto 19),
both men have impressed their peers with their guts. Thomas has
drawn praise for choosing point guard and likely Rookie of the
Year Damon Stoudamire with last year's seventh pick and for
resurrecting the career of veteran 2 guard Alvin Robertson, whom
Thomas signed after playing pickup ball with him last summer.

McHale chose high school phenom Kevin Garnett with the fifth
pick and has successfully guided the 19-year-old through his
first NBA season. McHale also has helped the difficult but
talented J.R. Rider, who has averaged a solid 19.8 points and
generally stayed out of trouble.

Both men know their hardest work is ahead of them, but neither
will be bashful about making tough decisions. Thomas, sources
say, will look for a new coach because he has been displeased
with Brendan Malone for not giving his bench players the minutes
they need so they can be evaluated for next season. McHale,
meanwhile, has already changed coaches, replacing Bill Blair
with Flip Saunders in December after the team got off to a 6-14
start. The Wolves have gone 19-36 under Saunders. Now McHale is
searching for a point guard, and he has zeroed in again on Rod
Strickland, whom he nearly acquired in February. Could be that
he learned the importance of a good point guard by watching his
old pal Isiah.


No one ever said being a Clipper was easy. Brent Barry stole the
show on All-Star weekend in San Antonio with his no-look dishes
in the rookie game and with the high-flying jams that won him
the slam-dunk contest, but all of that failed to generate a
single endorsement dollar for him. "I might have drawn more
attention if I played for Phoenix or Chicago or Orlando," says
the reserve guard, "but I don't mind. I'd hate to think winning
the slam-dunk competition will be the pinnacle of my career."

It's doubtful it will be. Barry has averaged 10.0 points and 2.9
assists in 23.7 minutes a game for the Clippers and has been one
of the top rookies this season. But that hasn't stopped coach
Bill Fitch from continuing to push him. While others lauded
Barry's skills in San Antonio, Fitch reminded his player that it
was his turnover that cost the West the rookie game.

Fitch was all over Barry again last week. At a team shootaround
in Toronto, Barry admonished teammate Brian Williams during a
foul-shooting drill for hitting only four free throws instead of
the required five. When Barry persisted by asking other players
how many Williams had made, Fitch walked over to his rookie,
pushed him and then complained loudly that Barry's head had
swelled since his All-Star success. "It wasn't a big deal,"
Barry insisted afterward, even though sources say he was upset
by the incident and informed his agent, Arn Tellem, that he was
weary of Fitch's browbeating.

"I wasn't delivering any message other than to tell him to shut
up and get on with the drill," says Fitch. "I'm not playing any
head games with Brent. I jump on all these guys once in a while
so they'll keep hating me."


The talent was lean at last week's Portsmouth Invitational
Tournament (a.k.a. the Pit), where players who are long shots
for selection in the first round of the draft hope to improve
their standing. Among those who succeeded were Mark Pope, the
6'10" Kentucky center, who showed scouts some surprising
athleticism in both his offensive moves and his shot blocking;
Moochie Norris, the 6'1" point guard from West Florida (and
previously from Auburn), who showed such speed, quickness and
creativity off the dribble that one scout likened him to Joe
Dumars; Bernard Hopkins, a rugged 6'7" small forward from
Virginia Commonwealth, who proved he could play outside the
post; and Donta Bright, the 6'6" UMass forward, who can take it
to the hole, but who also displayed some NBA three-point range,
which was one of the big question marks about him.


The final two spots on Dream Team III will be filled on April
14, and sources on the selection committee say the top
candidates are Shawn Kemp, Mitch Richmond and Jason Kidd. The
volatile Gary Payton is considered a long shot because of his
reputation for trash-talking, even though some committee members
admit Payton is a better player than Kidd. The committee's
greatest regret is the premature selection last year of Bucks
forward Glenn Robinson. Most observers believe that, with Vin
Baker playing so well, Robinson isn't even the best player on
his own NBA team.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Barry's stock soared at the slam-dunk contest, but his life as a Clipper hasn't improved since. [Brent Barry during NBA slam-dunk contest]