The son of an Indianapolis cardiologist, forward Alan Henderson
earned a degree in biology at Indiana and has aspirations of
also becoming a doctor. But all of the family's scientific
expertise did him little good last November, when he spent 10
days in an Atlanta hospital with a mysterious illness whose
symptoms included fever, diarrhea, vomiting and severe stomach
pain. After losing 20 pounds, the 6'9" Henderson was flown to
the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for further evaluation.
Doctors there confirmed that he had acute viral pancreatitis.
After a promising rookie season in which he averaged 6.4 points
and 4.5 rebounds off the Hawks' bench, Henderson had been
counted on as a key reserve. But in late November he was
convalescing in Indianapolis, and he wasn't strong enough to be
activated until Feb. 15. He got off to a fast start, scoring a
total of 24 points off the bench in his first two games, but
coach Lenny Wilkens felt he was struggling. Henderson, still
under his 235-pound playing weight of 1995-96, appeared
sporadically down the stretch and could muster only 5.8 points
and 3.3 rebounds a game during the playoffs, from which the
Hawks were eliminated by the Bulls in the second round.
This year Atlanta will have former or current All-Stars at three
starting positions: Dikembe Mutombo at center, Christian
Laettner at power forward and Mookie Blaylock at the point as
well as Steve Smith at shooting guard. Veteran Tyrone Corbin
again will hold down the small forward spot only because the
team failed to sign Chris Mills or Rick Fox during the
off-season. But it's a healthy Henderson who may hold the key to
the season as Atlanta's sixth man. "Nobody's happy coming off
the bench," Henderson says, "but we've got All-Stars at the four
and five spots [Laettner and Mutombo, respectively]. I just have
to learn and keep working and hope I get my chance to start."
Over the summer Henderson hit the weights hard and is back up to
235 pounds. He'll mainly spell Laettner at power forward, though
he also can fill in at center or at small forward if necessary.
There will be times, too, when Henderson will play alongside
Laettner up front with Smith at small forward, making the Hawks
a lot less intimidating but quicker and more versatile. "Alan
just knows how to play," says Blaylock, "and he's real active."
Henderson ripped the Raptors for 21 points and eight rebounds
during an exhibition game on Oct. 16 and seems ready for an
expanded role. He'll need to play a lot of minutes to cover for
a weak second unit, which includes well-traveled frontcourt
players Chucky Brown and Greg Anderson, and 6'3", 210-pound
rookie guard Ed Gray out of California, whom Wilkens doesn't
expect to make an impact until midseason.
Atlanta will play its home games in the Georgia Dome and at
Georgia Tech while its new downtown arena is under construction.
The dome, which seats 21,570 for most games but can be expanded
to 34,821 for big draws like the Bulls, is likely to feel
desolate: The Hawks averaged 14,288 a game at the Omni last
season, third worst in the league, even though they were well
worth watching with the shot-swatting Mutombo in the middle.
Stifled in the offensive scheme at Denver for five years, he has
improved his post-up moves dramatically. "Last year I was a
total player again, involved in the offense, not a stick of
furniture," Mutombo says. "I worked on my game so my hook shot
is better, and so is my jump shot--if Lenny will let me shoot it."
Smith, always a dangerous shooter, has bulked up and should be
able to go to the hoop more effectively. "Watch out now," he
says. Laettner, who wore down badly last season and failed to do
much over the summer to increase his upper-body strength, should
benefit the most from Henderson's full recovery. Says Wilkens,
"No question in my mind we're a better team, and one of the
reasons is that Alan Henderson is healthy."
Henderson feels that the Hawks can contend with anyone,
including those guys in Chicago. "Last year was the first year
for all of us together," he says. "We got a taste of success,
and now we want to take it over the hump."