Inside The NBA

March 23, 1998

THE OFF CENTER

Scores of college players worked as counselors at Red Auerbach's
summer camp in 1991, but Georgia Tech center Matt Geiger clearly
stood out. He was the only one who was accompanied to the gym
every day by his personal trainer--and his mother. "He was a
flake," recalls Chris Ford, who was then coach of the Celtics.
"A good-hearted kid, but way out there. I never thought he'd
have an NBA career. He didn't show anything on the court."

These days Ford coaches the Bucks, and he admits he needs
someone just like the 7-foot, 245-pound Geiger, who in his sixth
NBA season, has carved out a niche as an able--if slightly
off-center--center. He runs the floor, rebounds in traffic and
is capable of clamping down on some of the league's top big men.
Not bad credentials to have in a free-agency year.

Geiger, 28, was a key to Charlotte's recent winning streak,
which reached a franchise record 10 games before an 83-80 loss
to Washington last Saturday. Since starting in place of Vlade
Divac, who had surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee on
Jan. 20, Geiger through week's end had averaged 14.9 points, 9.2
rebounds and 1.5 blocks while shooting 53.0% from the floor.
Although he's rarely the first or second offensive option for
the Hornets, he has a knack for getting open for the dish when
Charlotte's guards penetrate. "He's one of those guys who is
always around the basket," says his coach, Dave Cowens.

The Hornets played so well with Geiger in the lineup that he
remained there after Divac returned to action on Feb. 28.
Geiger's success hardly squares with the image of the gawky
college senior who underwhelmed the Celtics seven years ago. "I
wasn't very aggressive, but I'm just the opposite now," says
Geiger, whom Charlotte acquired from the Heat in the November
1995 deal that sent Alonzo Mourning to Miami. "I got to the
point where I realized if I wanted to play professional
basketball, it couldn't be for the fun of it. It had to be my
job."

He gets support, in abundance, from his parents, Kay and
Richard, who live in Clearwater, Fla., but frequently travel the
country trailing the Hornets. The Charlotte players have dubbed
the elder Geigers their official team chaperones. Kay gives them
postgame hugs, while Richard joins them in the hotel bar for a
brew or two. It perplexes Matt that people find his folks'
devotion unusual. "My family is part of me," he says.

In 1992, when Matt's twin brother, Mark, lost his hair while
undergoing chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin's disease, Matt shaved
his head as a show of solidarity. Mark has been in remission for
five years, but Matt keeps his pate bald as a tribute to his
brother, whose illness has persuaded him to make the most of
life. He had the words carpe diem tattooed on his ankle in '93
and has seized each game since with a sense of urgency.

Yet Geiger is hardly the sole reason Charlotte, which through
Sunday's games was 40-24 and ranked fourth in the Eastern
Conference, is flourishing. Sweet-shooting guard Dell Curry, who
missed 29 games with a strained calf, is healthy again, and the
backcourt of David Wesley and Bobby Phills, who both came to the
Hornets as free agents this season, has finally gelled since
Phills' return from a groin injury on Feb. 20. "He plays both
ends of the floor so hard," says general manager Bob Bass of
Phills, who was sidelined for 14 games. "He really slows down
two guards."

All-Star Glen Rice remains one of the league's most lethal
shooters, and when Anthony Mason sticks to his gritty low-post
game instead of grumbling about his shots or minutes, he's
invaluable. "Early in the season Mase would get the rebound and
then dribble down himself," says Wesley. "Now he's throwing a
great outlet pass. He's listening to the play calls. That gets
everyone involved."

Divac, like Geiger, will be a free agent this summer, and each
will look for a monster deal. (Does Bryant Reeves and $11
million a year ring a bell?) While Bass hopes to re-sign both
his big men, it's unlikely he will. Asked to choose between
them, Cowens wrestles aloud with the decision. He loves Divac's
soft hands, deft passing and experience. He loves Geiger's
physicality, rambunctiousness and live legs.

Best for Cowens not to divulge his preference. No need to risk
upsetting the team chaperones, especially if the rumor's true
that Kay is baking cookies for the next road trip.

Joe Says It Ain't So
DUMARS TO RETURN

When word leaked out last month that Pistons veteran Joe Dumars
was headed for Detroit's front office after the season, his
teammates suddenly developed manners. How's the family, Joe? Can
I get you anything, Joe? "Stick with Dumars," said backup center
Rick Mahorn, who might well become a Pistons assistant coach in
'98-99. "He's got the power."

Not so fast. While Dumars will ultimately join management in
some capacity, he says he has changed his mind about retiring.
After speaking with Pistons owner Bill Davidson, he has
committed to playing at least one more year. The change of heart
came six weeks after the dismissal of coach Doug Collins, whose
frenetic style left Detroit frayed. "Earlier in the season
basketball was no longer fun," says Dumars. "For the first time
in my career, I didn't feel like getting up and doing it anymore."

While Grant Hill has been blamed for (or should it be credited
with?) having Collins removed, he wasn't the only player who
expressed reservations about Collins. Before the firing, Dumars
discussed the future of the franchise with both Davidson and
Hill. His advice to Hill: Speak your mind. "I told him he can't
be the smiling Grant drinking Sprite his whole life," says
Dumars. "It was time for him to step up. And he did that. He
showed toughness and leadership."

Yet Dumars says Hill isn't the only reason Collins is gone.
"Pointing to the players is the easy way out," he says. "If the
Magic loved Brian Hill, they wouldn't have fired him. Sure,
Penny Hardaway might have had some input, but if the Magic felt
comfortable with the coach, they never would have let him go.
The same was true here."

Asked if he has any desire to coach, Dumars is quick to respond.
"Absolutely none," he says, "and nothing will ever change my
mind." Management has told him that interim coach Alvin Gentry
will have a fair shot at keeping the top job. It all depends on
how Gentry handles the Pistons in their final 18 games. (He was
8-11 at week's end.) Former Detroit star Bill Laimbeer has also
expressed interest in the position.

"I never pictured Bill as a coach," Dumars says, "but maybe he
knows something about himself I don't. I never pictured Danny
Ainge coaching either. When I used to match up against him, he
was just a bratty kid. Yet he's been great for Phoenix."

Dumars believes Gentry has done as well as could be expected
given the team's fragile condition after the ouster of Collins,
and he says he would be amenable to having Gentry return. "Phil
Jackson wasn't the Phil Jackson we know now when he took over
Chicago," Dumars says. "Same with Pat Riley when he got the
Lakers job. Some guys just need a chance. But it won't matter
who the coach is if we don't get some players. The team we have
now isn't good enough to win anything."

Spur to Education
ROBINSON'S HELPING HAND

David Robinson never doubted that he would go to college. He
did, after all, take apart television sets and reassemble
them--just for fun--as a teenager, and his family was
financially secure. It wasn't until he joined the Spurs and
began speaking to kids in inner-city neighborhoods around the
country that he realized the obstacles many teenagers face in
trying to go beyond high school. "I knew I couldn't change
everything," says Robinson, "but I wanted to change something."

Seven years ago he made a pact with 91 fifth-grade students at
Gates Elementary in San Antonio: If they got their high school
diplomas, he would donate $2,000 toward furthering their
education, whether at college or hairdressing school. This year
those students are seniors. It's unclear how many of them will
cash in on the Admiral's promise, but 45 attend monthly meetings
set up by the David Robinson Foundation, at which they can
arrange to receive tutoring, financial-aid information and
assistance in filling out college applications.

Some students attend the sessions sporadically; others, like one
learning-disabled girl, have never missed one. "She would have
fallen through the cracks without this program," says Cara
Smith, the special projects manager for Robinson's foundation.

Because the students have scattered to various high schools,
keeping track of them isn't easy. One member moved to Alaska but
mails his report cards to Smith. Another dropped out after
having a baby and called to have her named removed from the
mailing list. Instead, Smith persuaded her to take the GED exam.
She passed and will use her $2,000 grant to study nursing.

Tomasha Morris, a senior at Sam Houston High in San Antonio,
calls the program "the coolest thing." She will graduate in June
and use Robinson's gift toward her tuition at Fisk University in
Nashville. "He gave us something to hope for," she says of the
Admiral. "I wouldn't have done this without him."

Line of the Week
SABONIS IS A 20-20 VISION

Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis, March 12, versus the
Timberwolves: 37 minutes, 9-13 FG, 10-11 FT, 28 points, 20
rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals. Sabonis not only put up stunning
numbers but also made a putback that clinched Portland's 95-92
win.

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

COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER POWER PLAYERS Along with Mason, Geiger (right) helped the Hornets snatch 10 straight victories. [Anthony Mason and Matt Geiger in game] COLOR PHOTO: FRANK MCGRATH/NBA PHOTOS HE'LL BE BACK Despite reports that he'd retire, Dumars will shoot for at least one more season. [Joe Dumars and others in game]

NOTE FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Toronto's Fine Mess

When Darrell Walker coached the Raptors, he felt his players
lacked professionalism, so he fined them $500 for such
transgressions as forgetting a play or failing to execute one
after a timeout. Before being dealt to the Trail Blazers on Feb.
13, Damon Stoudamire and Walt Williams had each been fined by
Walker several times this season. Now, according to Raptors
general manager Glen Grunwald, the players' agents have called
to try to retrieve the money that was deducted from their
paychecks--some $2,000 in Stoudamire's case--even though both
had agreed to be subject to Walker's fines.

AROUND THE RIM

Won't anything go right for the Nuggets? They have a promotion
in conjunction with the Colorado lottery that awards a $1
scratch-off ticket to each fan in a preselected section of seats
whenever Denver scores 50 points by halftime. Through Sunday the
Nuggets had reached that mark only seven times at home this
season. They racked up 56 against the Clippers on March 8,
making everyone in Section 14 a winner. The catch: No fans were
sitting in those upper-deck seats.... Add the Mavericks to the
growing list of teams that have publicly expressed interest in
Latrell Sprewell.... Disconsolate Grizzlies point guard Antonio
Daniels, the No. 4 pick in the 1997 draft, logged his first
DNP-CD on March 8 against the Raptors. Daniels, who has had
difficulty hitting jumpers and taking care of the ball, has seen
his minutes taken by recently acquired Bobby Hurley.... The
Warriors have hired a public relations firm to help them
accentuate the positives of their franchise.... Clyde Drexler
has reportedly had contact with his alma mater, Houston, about
the Cougars' coaching job. The 35-year-old Drexler, who will
become a free agent this summer, isn't likely to be re-signed by
the Rockets and has been contemplating retirement.... While the
Bulls were blowing a 19-point fourth-quarter lead in a 104-97
overtime loss at Dallas on March 12, coach Phil Jackson was seen
trimming his fingernails on the Chicago bench.

ON TAP

March 22
WASHINGTON AT NEW JERSEY
Continental Airlines Arena

On the eve of the Oscars, point guards Rod Strickland of the
Wizards and Sam Cassell of the Nets headline this matchup of
Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls. Strickland, who was leading
the NBA in assists with 10.8 a game at week's end, is a lock for
best supporting actor, but Cassell's team-high 19.4 scoring
average also has box office appeal. If New Jersey center Rony
Seikaly, out since March 6 with a bone bruise in his right foot,
doesn't make at least a cameo for the injury-ravaged Nets, their
hopes for a victory--and a postseason berth--might sink like the
Titanic.

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)