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Inside The NBA

April 20, 1998
April 20, 1998

Table of Contents
April 20, 1998

Golf Plus

Inside The NBA

TURNING THE PAGE

This is an article from the April 20, 1998 issue Original Layout

Shawn Kemp still studies the Seattle box scores. He's not yet
ready to dismiss the team that drafted him out of junior college
nine years ago and then made him a star before trading him to
the Cavaliers in a three-way deal last September. "They have a
real good chance of winning the championship," Kemp says of the
Sonics. "That's tough to think about. It's like, now it can
happen because I'm gone--like I was the problem."

It's undeniable that the Sonics have had better chemistry since
Vin Baker replaced Kemp at power forward. Kemp must live with
that. He must also live with the wrath of many fans, especially
in Seattle, who see him as the symbol of what's wrong with pro
sports. He began earning that distinction by staying away from
training camp in October 1996, shortly after untested free-agent
center Jim McIlvaine signed a seven-year, $35 million contract
with the Sonics. Though he was earning $3.7 million, Kemp griped
throughout the year, was rumored to have undefined personal
problems and after the season proclaimed that he wouldn't play
for Seattle again.

Only now is the criticism of Kemp waning. Only now, as he leads
Cleveland to the playoffs in what was supposed to be a
rebuilding year, are his basketball skills coming back into
focus. "That black cloud was just stuck there," says Kemp, 28, a
five-time All-Star. "And I felt it, too. When people get booed
or named the villain, like I did, they say it doesn't bother
them. It bothered me."

Shortly after acquiring him, the Cavaliers tore up Kemp's
contract and signed him for $107 million over seven years. (The
Sonics, who were over the salary cap, were limited in how they
could rework his deal.) Since then, he has been the epitome of
professionalism. "He's the first one to say in the huddle, 'That
was my fault. I'll do better,'" says Cleveland coach Mike
Fratello. "When the whole package is going, when he's putting it
on the floor and passing, Shawn's close to unstoppable."

Just as he did in Seattle, though, the immensely talented Kemp
continues to reveal raw edges. While he led Cleveland in scoring
(18.0 points) and rebounding (9.2) through Sunday, he also had a
league-high 15 disqualifications and was turning the ball over a
woeful 3.3 times per game. Still, says Fratello, "The bottom
line is, we wouldn't be in the playoffs without him."

Kemp has assumed the role of elder statesman on the Cavs, who
give significant minutes to four rookies. "I try to talk to the
young guys and relax them," Kemp says, "but I don't try to
separate myself from them because of my age. I want us to all
have the same identity."

That would have been impossible in Seattle, where coach George
Karl and guard Gary Payton grew tired of Kemp's divisive effect
on the team. By the time Kemp left, he and Payton were no longer
on speaking terms. "From the first day I met Gary, I could yell
at him and he could yell at me, and we wouldn't get mad," says
Kemp. "The worst part was how that changed. I saw Gary at the
All-Star Game, and we talked it all out. It was me, Gary and
Vinny. We're cool now, and I'm glad about that."

Kemp's new teammates, most of whom knew him only by his press
clippings, understand they'll go only as far as he can take
them. "After everything you've heard, you expect this selfish
guy, but he's all team," says veteran guard Scott Brooks. "In
fact, he passes a little too much for my taste."

End-of-Season Awards
THE ENVELOPES, PLEASE

The regular season ends this Sunday, so it's time for SI's
annual awards and all-league selections. (Note: Ranking the
centers was unusually difficult because of injuries. A subpar
Hakeem Olajuwon makes third team almost by default.) Here are
the winners.

--Most Valuable Player: Michael Jordan, Bulls. Like you need an
explanation. (Runner-up: Karl Malone, Jazz)

--Rookie of the Year: Tim Duncan, Spurs. A double-double vision
almost every night. (Runner-up: Keith Van Horn, Nets)

--Coach of the Year: Larry Bird, Pacers. Players gleefully point
to Larry Legend as proof that you don't have to scream to
succeed. (Runner-up: Jerry Sloan, Jazz)

--Defensive Player of the Year: Dikembe Mutombo, Hawks. The
leading shot blocker made the paint nearly impenetrable.
(Runner-up: Gary Payton, Sonics)

--Sixth Man Award: Danny Manning, Suns. Because of his
versatility in the frontcourt, Phoenix became an impossible
matchup. (Runner-up: Dale Ellis, Sonics)

--Most Improved Player: Alan Henderson, Hawks. He went from a
question mark to an exclamation point at power forward.
(Runner-up: Corliss Williamson, Kings)

--Executive of the Year: Wayne Embry, president of the
Cavaliers. He not only landed Kemp, but he also drafted Brevin
Knight, Derek Anderson and Cedric Henderson. (Runner-up: Nets
general manager John Nash)

All-NBA

First team
G--Michael Jordan, Bulls
G--Gary Payton, Sonics
C--Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers
F--Karl Malone, Jazz
F--Scottie Pippen, Bulls

Second Team
G--Tim Hardaway, Heat
G--Mitch Richmond, Kings
C--David Robinson, Spurs
F--Grant Hill, Pistons
F--Vin Baker, Sonics

Third Team
G--Rod Strickland, Wizards
G--John Stockton, Jazz
C--Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets
F--Tim Duncan, Spurs
F--Shawn Kemp, Cavaliers

The 76ers' Scheme
CROWDS DOWN? CALL RUGRATS

Attendance at NBA games is sagging coast to coast. Because the
Blazers had sold out only eight games this season through last
weekend, owner Paul Allen, miffed at the sight of so many empty
seats, may remove as many as 2,000 of them from the Rose Garden
(capacity: 21,538). The Hornets, meanwhile, had drawn an average
of 23,389 fans, 653 fewer than last season.

One team that's not feeling pinched at the gate
is--surprise!--the 76ers. When their home schedule concludes
this Friday, they will have established records for attendance
in a season (projected to be more than 654,000) as well as
average attendance (slightly more than 15,800 a night), breaking
marks set during the 1982-83 season, when Philadelphia won the
NBA title.

The 1997-98 Sixers, unlike the Blazers and the Hornets, won't
make the playoffs. Instead, they have succeeded at the gate,
largely because of promotional gimmickry that curdles the milk
of old-school types. "It's a disgrace," Celtics patriarch Red
Auerbach sniffs. "It embarrasses the game."

Auerbach was no doubt delighted on March 29, when Boston visited
on Nickelodeon Night at the CoreStates Center. A sellout crowd
of 20,644 was entertained by face painters, clowns, the Easter
Bunny and the Rugrats. (If you don't know who the Rugrats are,
ask your kids. If you don't have kids, ask your neighbors'.) The
Nets were on hand for the Valentine's Day Wedding, in which 76
couples were married or renewed their vows at halftime before a
turnout of 18,404. On April 3, when the Clippers were in town,
the sidewalk on Broad Street was transformed into a motorcycle
parking lot for Harley Night, which attracted 14,240 fans. On
Beanie Baby Night, Jan. 17, the first 5,000 children in the
crowd of 17,016 at the 76ers-Warriors game were given one of
those precious stuffed toys.

"Ten years ago, sports were a pastime, but now they have become
a business," says Sixers vice president of marketing Dave
Coskey. "It's very competitive, and we wanted to appeal to
families and kids. If they have fun, we have a shot at getting
them back here."

But Coskey says the key to the 76ers' healthy attendance is that
coach Larry Brown has the franchise headed in the proper
direction. Through Sunday, Philly was 16-18 since the All-Star
break. "The best marketing of all is a W," Coskey says. "[On
April 8] we had over 19,000 to watch Charlotte, and that was
without any bells or whistles."

Last week Sixers officials were able to guarantee that the
attendance records would be broken, because this Friday's game
was already sold out. For that occasion Philly booked the surest
attraction of all: Michael Jordan.

Line of the Week
DENVER'S NEW SPARKPLUG

Nuggets guard Cory Alexander, April 9, versus the Kings: 40
minutes, 7-13 field goals, 5-6 free throws, 23 points, 11
assists. Alexander helped Denver avoid infamy by winning its
10th game of the season, one more than the record-setting
1972-73 Sixers. At week's end the Nuggets had gone 5-14 since
Alexander was acquired on waivers from the Spurs. Before he
came, Denver was 5-54.

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

COLOR PHOTO: GLENN JAMES/NBA PHOTOS HARD TO HANDLE Kemp, once listless in Seattle, has poured his energy into leading the playoff-bound Cavaliers. [Shawn Kemp and others in game]COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBA PHOTOS QUANTUM LEAP Hawks surprise starter Henderson is the league's most improved player. [Alan Henderson and other in game]

NOTE FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Disaster Planning

The announcement came at 7:50 p.m. on April 7, as the Pacers
were leading the visiting Cavaliers 43-34. A tornado warning was
in effect. The sixth-level concourse of Market Square Arena--the
main entrance level--was being closed to prevent injuries from
flying glass, and the 15,589 fans were advised to remain seated.
Pacers vice president Rick Fuson monitored the storm and
consulted with the police on evacuation scenarios. "Tornadoes
strike so quickly, we never would have been able to get so many
people out in time," Fuson says. If the arena proved to be in
the direct path of the twister, the plan was to move those
seated in the upper level onto the floor. But at 8:07 p.m. the
crowd was notified that the tornado had shifted to the
northwest. That prompted the biggest applause of the night.

AROUND THE RIM

How's this for a second act? Former NBA center Manute Bol is
playing for a prince's team in Qatar.... Count Nets guard Sam
Cassell among those who believe the Rockets blew it when they
dealt him, with Robert Horry and Mark Bryant, to the Suns for
Charles Barkley in August 1996. "They panicked," says Cassell,
who was a member of two title-winning Houston teams. "If they'd
stuck with us, they'd be going for another championship instead
of breaking up an old team. The only thing we were missing was a
big guy, like Kevin Willis, but they shipped us young guys out,
and for what? Charles is a good guy, but you knew he wasn't the
answer."... Rumor had it that Clippers forward Loy Vaught would
be forced to retire after having surgery in December to fuse two
vertebrae. But Vaught, in the last year of his contract, is
doing treadmill and light abdominal work and plans to work out
for teams this summer, provided there's no lockout.... Red
Auerbach on Kenny Anderson: "He reminds me of Tiny [Archibald].
He looks like him, acts like him and plays like him. He wishes
he was as good, but he's close."... These are disappointing days
for the Magic. Chuck Daly is likely to miss the playoffs for the
first time since his 41-game stint as the Cavaliers' interim
coach in 1981-82, and Horace Grant, who has shot 50% or better
in each of his 10 previous seasons, will finish the year well
below that mark. (He was shooting 45.7% through Sunday's games.)

ON TAP

April 19
SEATTLE AT PORTLAND
Rose Garden

The Sonics finish a smashing regular season in the same place
where they began it: 145 miles down I-5, in Portland. Seattle,
the undisputed champ of the Pacific Northwest, beat the Trail
Blazers in the first three games between the teams this year,
outscoring Portland by a total of 21 points in the fourth
quarter. To avoid a sweep, the Blazers need more production from
Arvydas Sabonis, who has averaged a modest 14.0 points and 6.0
rebounds against the Sonics' center by committee.