The Art of the Steal Mookie Blaylock, Atlanta's master thief, reveals his secrets

February 09, 1998

When it comes to stealing the basketball, no NBA player has
stickier fingers than Hawks point guard Daron Oshay (Mookie)
Blaylock. He's had 200 or more steals in each of the past five
seasons, including a league-best 212 in 1996-97, his ninth year
in the league.

Blaylock, who still holds NCAA Division I records for most
steals in a game (13) and a season (150) from his days at
Oklahoma, has been studying the art of the steal for years.
"Some guys get a lot of steals off pure quickness," Blaylock
says. "You take a kid like Brevin Knight"--the Cavaliers 5'10"
rookie, who at week's end was leading the NBA with 2.79 steals
per game--"he's so short and so quick that he's going to get a
lot of steals off the dribble. I get some off the dribble, like
when a guy turns his back to me and shows me a piece of the
ball, but mostly I get them by anticipating the pass." Blaylock
won't say which NBA players are the easiest for him to steal
from, but he admits he loves facing tall guards with high
dribbles. "All you do is put pressure on them and jump at the
ball," he says. "They're going to give it up eventually."

Blaylock, who stands 6'1", has a far more difficult time
defending shorter players. "The real little guys like [5'10"
Raptors guard] Damon Stoudamire and Knight, I can't steal from
them," he admits. "I just can't get under them [to stab at the
ball]."

Earlier in his career, Blaylock says, he would watch film of
opposing players to pick up tendencies. But now, he says, "I've
been around long enough now that I don't need to watch film. I
know which guys I can pressure and which guys I have to sit back
on."

For Blaylock, the key to being an effective ball thief is to
make the heist while meeting the demands of the team's defense.
The real masters--such as the Sonics' Gary Payton, the Jazz's
John Stockton and the Bulls' Scottie Pippen--don't leave their
teammates vulnerable. "You can't just run out there and leave
your man to try for a steal," Blaylock says. "You've got to make
sure that it's the right time, like when your guy has his back
turned."

For much of this season Blaylock has been nagged by a groin
injury that has hindered his ability to make steals. At week's
end he was ranked eighth in the NBA, with 2.22 per game. Still,
he expects to be closer to the top by the end of the season--and
he backed up that prediction last week with five against the
Sixers.

"Some people think steals are overrated," Blaylock says, "but I
disagree. When you get a steal and an easy basket, it gives you
and your teammates a boost. It's very important." The Hawks
apparently think so, too. Partly because of his ball-hawking
acumen, Blaylock was given a four-year, $18 million contract
extension in the off-season. Who says crime doesn't pay?

--Marty Burns

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK ANTICIPATION Blaylock (10) keeps an eye on the passing lanes. [Mookie Blaylock in game]
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)