PREOCCUPATIONS

November 10, 1997

For Bailey Howell it meant brewing a cup of tea and then
sipping--pinkie extended--until the cup was empty. For Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar it meant sitting by his locker and reading a book,
often in the buff. For Larry Bird it meant locking his eyes on
the retired number 4 jersey of Boston Bruins hero Bobby Orr
hanging from the Boston Garden rafters while the national anthem
played.

It is the pregame ritual, which for some NBA players is merely a
way to pass the time and burn off nervous energy but for others
is something sacred.

Cavaliers forward Danny Ferry has confounded his teammates for
years by bringing to the locker room a number of books and then
retreating, fully clothed, to the shower room with one of them.
According to a former teammate, Ferry mutters passages from the
book to himself and sometimes writes various odd symbols on his
wrists and on his shoes. He emerges from the shower room 15
minutes later, without explanation.

Rockets swingman Mario Elie, whose nickname is Junkyard Dog,
wants to make sure he is juiced up before each game, so he has
instructed equipment manager David Nordstrom to approach him and
curse him out.

Knicks forward Charles Oakley has established a pregame ritual
with filmmaker Spike Lee, who has front-row seats at Madison
Square Garden. As Oakley runs onto the court for warmup drills,
he throws a ball crosscourt to Lee, who, in turn, rolls the ball
back. "It started as a joke," Oakley says. "Before every game,
Spike would yell, 'Throw me the ball.' So one night, I did."
Oakley says it doesn't disrupt his concentration if Lee is out
of town working on a film and can't attend the game. "I'm not
doing it because I'm superstitious," the Oak Man explains. "I'm
doing it because it's fun."

Oakley's teammate Patrick Ewing requires that his shoes and
socks be lined up in front of his locker in the same manner
every night. The Knicks center ices both knees and insists on
having the ice in a particular kind of resealable bag. As game
time approaches, he sits in his locker and dribbles a ball,
using the same cadence, over and over again. "Once, I thought it
would be funny to knock the ball away," reports a teammate who
wishes not to be identified. "Believe me, Patrick wasn't amused."

Magic guard Derek Harper has for several years followed an
elaborate routine that begins several hours before a game, a
regimen that he firmly believes has enabled him to continue
playing at age 36. Harper's preparation includes a whirlpool, a
body massage, a nap, a spin on a stationary bike, the
application of heat packs, and stretching. He brings his own
nutritional supplements, herbs and a special (and secret)
mixture of fluids to the arena and puts it in his own water
bottle, which he entrusts to a ball boy.

Harper's teammate guard Penny Hardaway insists on changing
anything that becomes sweaty during warmups. Bulls forward
Dennis Rodman retreats into his headphones and refuses to take
the court in mid-song.

Kevin Johnson's pregame ritual goes back to real basics. The
Suns guard makes sure he does two things: go to chapel and brush
his teeth.

--J.M.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAVID COWLES BEFORE A GAME, KJ BRUSHES AND PRAYS [Painting of Kevin Johnson praying]

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)