Search

Inside The NBA

Feb. 16, 1998
Feb. 16, 1998

Table of Contents
Feb. 16, 1998

Pro Basketball

Inside The NBA

No VIP Treatment for an MVP
STAR-CROSSED

This is an article from the Feb. 16, 1998 issue Original Layout

Karl Malone surveyed the fleet of stretch limousines and
Lincoln Town cars idling at New York's LaGuardia Airport late
last Thursday night. The NBA's reigning MVP knew better than to
look for his name on the placards held by drivers awaiting their
passengers. Instead he hailed a cab, threw his and his wife's
bags in the trunk and headed to the New York Hilton, where his
room, he says, "was so small I could turn the TV on with my
toes."

Thus began a weekend of perceived insults to Malone, who would
score only four points in the West's 135-114 loss in Sunday's
All-Star Game. "I come because I am proud to represent the Utah
Jazz," Malone says, "but I can't say I enjoy it like I used to.
This is no longer a basketball game. It's a celebrity
tournament, and that's not me."

The NBA says limos and luxury suites are extras that players pay
for for themselves during All-Star weekend, but Malone has
doubts about that claim. He does know that after he was awakened
by the sound of a jackhammer at 7 a.m. on Friday, the league
refused his request for help in finding more peaceful--and
roomy--accommodations. The Malones wound up at a $2,500-a-night
suite at Trump Towers.

"I can take care of myself," Malone says. "I guess I'm not crazy
enough or bad enough or controversial enough to make a fuss
over." He does think, though, that the league might take better
care of a power forward who is once again putting up MVP
numbers: 25.8 points a game (second to Michael Jordan's 28.9),
10.0 rebounds and 52.9% shooting.

Like Jordan, the Mailman has tied his future to that of his
coach, although Malone's stance has not received as much
attention as MJ's. Jazz owner Larry Miller has not granted Jerry
Sloan his usual one-year extension, saying he wants to see how
the season goes. If Miller fails to give such an extension, the
contracts of Malone, John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek and Sloan will
all be up in the summer of 1999.

To Malone that is no coincidence. "Lately all you hear about in
Utah is building for the future," he says. "That's all well and
good, but the fact is, I ain't washed up yet. And I know it
sounds corny, but I love my coach, and I will not play in Utah
if Coach Sloan is not my coach."

Malone is convinced that he and Jordan are the last superstars
inclined to fight for their respective coaches instead of
against them. "Guys are worrying only about themselves now," he
says. "I went to the All-Star players' meeting on Friday, and
the first thing I noticed was that the camaraderie is gone. We
used to all sit together in those meetings, but now it's by team
or by what sneaker you wear."

For a league that needs to develop a new group of responsible
stars, the image of Malone sitting alone should be disturbing.
"It's kind of like when your kids get to be teenagers," Malone
says. "All of a sudden Dad and Mom are too old-fashioned. They'd
rather hang out with their friends."

Midseason Report
THE BEST AND THE BLEAKEST

Biggest rookie surprise: Michael Stewart, Kings. He's a former
Sacramento ball boy who went undrafted out of Cal but has
blossomed into a gifted rebounder and shot blocker at center. He
also lives with his parents. Too good to be true?

Biggest rookie bust: Tony Battie, Nuggets. It seems almost
criminal to pick on a kid who's already been sentenced to
toiling for Denver. But the 6'11", 240-pound Battie has failed
to prove himself at either power forward or center despite ample
playing time. It's a bad sign when you're a top five pick and
can't make the rookie all-star game roster.

Most predictable swoon: The Hawks' 18-20 record after an 11-0
start. "I was angry at the comments made by the media, who said
we would be collapsing very soon," says center Dikembe Mutombo,
"but then we went out and proved them right."

Most sobering reality check: Charles Barkley's being left off
the All-Star team and acknowledging that he didn't deserve a
spot. Maybe Sir Charles should retire after all.

Worst free-agent signing: Nick Anderson, Magic. Orlando believed
that once Anderson's broken left hand healed, he'd recover his
aggressiveness. He hasn't.

Best free-agent signing: Sherman Douglas, Nets. With Cleveland
picking up all of his $4 million salary, New Jersey is paying
only the minimum ($272,500) for this backup point guard. Douglas
saved the day when Sam Cassell was out with a shoulder injury,
and he can play just as effectively alongside Sudden Sam.

Most unwatchable soap opera: As the Sixers Turn. Allen used to
think Larry was god, but that was before Larry made Allen's life
hell and tried to ship him off to Toronto so Larry could convert
Damon instead. But Damon said he wouldn't go where Allen played,
no offense to Larry, and would rather become Rudy's disciple in
Houston. So now Allen wonders how he can ever please Larry. We
knew where this story was headed in November, didn't we?

Letting Fly
BRYANT SHOWS NO RESTRAINT

We always suspected that 19-year-old Lakers star Kobe Bryant had
no fear. We now know he has no conscience. The youngest player
in All-Star history confessed he was a "nervous man" before the
tip-off on Sunday night. Right. He was so jittery that the first
time he touched the ball, he streaked toward the hoop for the
first of his 16 shots, daring Michael Jordan to stop him. "Had
to," Bryant explained afterward, "or he would have killed me.
The only thing he understands is aggressiveness."

Bryant's trigger-happy approach might have prompted his West
teammates to freeze him out, an All-Star tactic used to put
upstarts in their place. But Bryant spent the weekend charming
the old pros with his exuberance and his reverence for the game.
Even Jordan, the game's MVP, spared the kid his legendary
tongue-lashing while burying jumper after jumper. "Michael did
talk to me, actually," Bryant says. "He gave me some helpful
tips."

If NBA veterans resent this teenage superstar, it was hidden on
Sunday. Fellow Laker Shaquille O'Neal, who has yet to have his
own All-Star moment, was prodded time and again by reporters to
say something negative about Bryant's gunning, but Shaq insisted
he was proud of the youngster--and happy for his family, too.

West coach George Karl, who kept Bryant on the bench for the
fourth quarter, said the kid earns respect because he listens
and learns. That acrobatic 360-degree tomahawk dunk didn't hurt
either. Nor does his irrepressibility on the floor. Most
All-Star newcomers would have wilted after Jordan pinned a
turnaround jumper on them, with Steve Smith's exacerbating
Bryant's embarrassment on the next play by forcing a weak
turnover.

So what does Bryant do his next time downcourt? He heads for the
hoop, naturally, then fires a no-look, behind-the-back bullet to
Tim Duncan, who is so startled by the dish that he blows the
easy basket. Bryant's first All-Star stat line: a team-high 18
points in 22 minutes on 7-of-16 shooting, with six rebounds and
one assist. Said Jordan, "I was just trying to fend him off as
much as I could."

Play of the Week
THE DELIVERIN' DUTCHMAN

East center Rik Smits, at 5:57 of the fourth quarter of the
All-Star Game: The 7'4" Smits, barreling down the lane on the
break, hit Nets center Jayson Williams with a textbook
behind-the-back pass for a two-handed slam. As the East bench
exploded, with Pacers coach Larry Bird leading the celebration,
Smits thrust two fists upward. He later said, "I don't imagine
you'll see that again."

For more NBA news from Jackie MacMullan and Phil Taylor, go to
www.cnnsi.com

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION Malone is having a huge year again but felt lost in the All-Star shuffle. [Karl Malone and others in game]COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN AIR APPARENT Undaunted by Jordan, Bryant did a star turn. [Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan in game]

NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Collins's Fast Break

Doug Collins, fired as coach of the Pistons on Feb. 2, is
determined to cut all ties to his former team. Last week he
packed up all his shirts, hats and sweats bearing Detroit's
insignia and donated them to the Salvation Army. He even gave
back a gift from center Brian Williams (page 110): a Lalique
crystal in the shape of a horse that reminded Collins of the
Pistons' logo.

Around The Rim

Question the All-Star selection of center Rik Smits all you want
(and many Alonzo Mourning fans did), but remember this: As of
Sunday, Indiana was 12-0 when Smits led the team in scoring and
13-13 when fellow All-Star Reggie Miller set the pace....

Toronto general manager Glen Grunwald said last weekend that
coach Darrell Walker would not be fired for the rest of the
season. But team sources told SI that when the Raptors were
about to deal Damon Stoudamire to Houston last month, they were
also ready to dump Walker. The plan was to have him "resign" and
receive compensation for the final two years of his contract--a
strategy that may still be enacted this week. Walker has not
endeared himself to ownership by frankly discussing the
shortcomings of the team in public....

Lakers guard Nick Van Exel was the only All-Star who was not a
first-round draft choice....

League sources confirm that the 76ers offered Allen Iverson for
Stoudamire....

Heat point guard Tim Hardaway is eager for the Feb. 19 trading
deadline to pass so that his teammates can get their minds back
on the game. "It's definitely affected Ike [Austin] and Jamal
[Mashburn]," Hardaway says. "You pass them the ball, and they
miss shots they normally make. They fumble the ball on passes
they normally catch. I'm watching all those assists go out the
window." Hardaway hasn't stopped his campaign to get Mitch
Richmond to Miami, but, he admits, "I think our team is going to
end up just like it is."...

Rookie game participant Ron Mercer was destined to play for the
Celtics. His father's name is ML; his mother's is Birdie.

ON TAP

Feb. 17
INDIANA AT CHICAGO
The United Center

Nine days after coaching Michael Jordan in the All-Star Game,
the Pacers' Larry Bird makes his first visit to the House That
Mike Built. In the teams' last meeting, a 94-83 home win for
Indiana on Nov. 28, Reggie Miller twice made driving layups
around You Know Who during a key third-quarter Pacers run. Look
for the revenge-minded MJ to come up with another MVP
performance for Coach Bird.