Inside The NBA

February 15, 1999

STRIKING BACK
Union president Patrick Ewing agrees that he takes too many
shots...from the media

Patrick Ewing isn't looking for a shoulder to cry on, and he
certainly doesn't think you will commiserate with him over what
the last 14 months have wrought: a wrist injury that forced him
to miss most of last season, marital problems that spilled over
into the tabloids and a labor fight that tarred his image.

A new season should mean a clean slate, but Ewing is still in
the news. Every Knicks fan, it seems, worries that the 13-year
veteran won't accept a reduced offensive role now that Latrell
Sprewell has been added to the Knicks roster. "Everybody talks
about my shots," says Ewing, "but they've gone down almost every
year. Of course, that doesn't matter, because people believe
what they want to believe." (The numbers support his contention.
Since the 1995-96 season, when he averaged 19.2 shots a game,
Ewing's field goal attempts dropped to 17.2 two years ago and
15.5 last season.)

Ewing has spent his entire career in New York, watching
teammates come and go, all of them leaving without a ring. He
stays on, playing hard, playing hurt, hoping this year will be
the one. Ewing will be 37 in August, and his knees are creaky.
But he offers none of that as an excuse. He has guaranteed
championships and delivered none, and that is his cross to bear.
He says he does not look back, but surely Game 6 of the 1994
Finals, when the Knicks were up 3-2 over the Houston Rockets and
within one John Starks bomb of winning a championship, must
creep into his dreams. One swish would have changed his legacy.
"I swear that as Starks's shot was in flight, people were
saying, 'Patrick's not a winner, Patrick's not a winner,'" says
exasperated New York coach Jeff Van Gundy. "If it goes in,
Patrick's a champion. But because it doesn't, he's not a winner.
That's preposterous."

Ewing knows that's how it works, especially in a city as
unforgiving as New York. He has stiff-armed the media since he
was a high school sensation in Cambridge, Mass., and he has been
indifferent to public ire since the day he crushed the hopes of
Bostonians by choosing Georgetown over Boston College. His
validation has always come from teammates, who respect his
leadership. "I get tired of the media," Ewing says. "Sometimes I
think they're hypocrites. Like during the lockout--a lot of them
knew the players were giving up a lot, but they wouldn't write
the truth, because they wanted to stay in the good graces of the
NBA."

Ewing knows his disdain for the press has cost him. He has also
paid dearly for his considerable efforts on behalf of the union.
He was chastised for his hard-line stance and ridiculed for some
of his pronouncements. "It was a thankless job," he says. "There
were times I thought, What the hell am I doing? But I fought for
what I believed in."

He does not regret anything he did or said during the lockout,
not even the comment that players were fighting for their
livelihoods. "We were fighting for our lives," he says. "I'm
financially secure, but most players weren't making anywhere
near the money Michael Jordan and I made. This is the
entertainment business, and most guys have very short careers.
If people want to give me grief for it, I don't care. If they
don't like it, that's their problem."

Ewing--and those fickle Knicks fans--may yet regret that union
duties prevented him from maintaining his normal off-season
workout schedule, but he says he still squeezed in almost three
hours of work a day, and he disputes reports that he arrived at
camp 20 pounds overweight. He averaged 20.5 points, 13 rebounds
and 38.5 minutes during the Knicks' 0-2 start, but there were
moments when he appeared to be running in waist-deep water.

The Knicks enter this short season as a work in progress, with
Sprewell, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas still trying to find
their way. With the departure of enforcer Charles Oakley and
amid speculation about Ewing's role, Van Gundy has asked his
center to produce a career year in rebounding. Ewing, in turn,
has his own goal: a long sabbatical from the headlines.

Really Big Country
THROWING FAT IN THE FIRE

Journeyman Tony Massenburg started at center for Vancouver in
its opener on Sunday against Sacramento because Bryant (Big
Country) Reeves, the fourth-year player the Grizzlies had signed
to a six-year, $66 million extension, reported to camp 40 pounds
overweight (page 78). On the surface this sounds like yet
another athlete growing complacent once he gets his payday, but
Vancouver's staff believes Reeves's real problem is his
hometown. "There aren't a whole lot of pro basketball players in
Gans, Oklahoma," explains president and general manager Stu
Jackson.

Hoping to keep Reeves on the straight and relatively narrow, the
Grizzlies decreed that he will be shadowed by an assistant coach
during and after the season. Coaches are thrilled at the
prospect of spending a hot, dry summer in eastern Oklahoma.
"We're through being angry with him," Jackson says. "Now we just
want to help him."

Reeves, who says he was lulled out of his off-season workout
routine by the seemingly endless lockout, doesn't need to be
flogged any further. He is contrite and has embraced his new
salad days. "No excuses," he says. "A screwup is a screwup."

Reeves, who reported to camp at around 318 pounds, is now below
300. He's working hard not only to lose weight but also to
regain the respect of his teammates. "They have a right to be
disappointed," Reeves says. "I haven't said anything to them. I
won't until I'm back in a position where my words mean something."

As the Worm Turns
IS DENNIS THE RODMAN OUT?

Orlando coach Chuck Daly was sitting in Gibsons Steakhouse in
Chicago about four years ago when Dennis Rodman, who had helped
him win two championships with the Pistons, first hinted at his
master plan for world domination. "He said he had won defensive
player of the year, rebounding titles and two championships, and
he had nothing to show for it," Daly said. "He told me, 'Coach,
I think it's time to try something different.'"

Shortly thereafter the shy young player who had celebrated the
Pistons' first title wearing blue jeans and sipping a soda
reinvented himself as the most outrageous athlete in professional
sports, with moods as changeable as his hair color.

Rodman, the last marquee free agent on the board this season,
had a number of teams bitterly split last week over whether to
enlist his services. The Lakers, Magic and Rockets believe his
special rebounding talents could put them over the top, but they
all realize that he could just as easily send them over the cliff.

The Rockets' front office discussed, then ultimately dismissed,
the idea of adding the Worm to Houston's already crowded bench
of big egos, news that left some veterans, among them Eddie
Johnson, bitterly disappointed. Meanwhile, center Hakeem
Olajuwon could barely suppress his joy. In Orlando, Penny
Hardaway voiced his admiration for Rodman even as one of his
teammates, standing just 10 feet away, shook his head and said,
"He has no idea what he's wishing for. Dennis would eat him
alive." Daly campaigned tirelessly for his former player--"I
wanted him because he makes you play as hard as he plays," Daly
says--but Orlando's ownership and upper management remained
queasy. In the end it was a moot point; after trying
unsuccessfully for 48 hours to set up a face-to-face meeting
with Rodman, the Magic moved on.

By week's end Rodman was courting the Lakers. Owner Jerry Buss,
a pal of Rodman's, lusted after him, and while front office head
Jerry West publicly said L.A. was interested, team sources
confirm that West privately voiced strong objections. Shaquille
O'Neal, meanwhile, lobbied hard for Rodman and seemed sanguine
about coach Del Harris's ability to navigate turbulent waters.
Asked about the distractions Rodman might cause, Shaq said,
"That's Del's problem."

There are plenty of reasons for the trepidation about Rodman. He
has undergone psychological counseling in the past, but league
sources say his commitment to that has waned. There are also
questions about his body. Rodman is useless to anyone unless
he's in shape, and by all accounts his partying has left little
time for basketball. Others are nervous about his split with
agent Dwight Manley, who helped create this entertainment
monster but constantly reminded Rodman that it was an act.
Sources say Manley and Rodman argued over, among other things,
Rodman's lavish spending, such as a recent six-day gambling
binge in Las Vegas during which he blew more than $300,000.
Manley's only comment: "It's a healthy thing for me to move on."
SI's efforts to reach Rodman were unsuccessful.

"You know what I wish?" Daly says. "That Dennis would let his
hair go back to its natural color, and he'd finish his career the
way he started--as a great basketball player."

That'll never happen. Rodman may act crazy, but he's not stupid;
he knows that rebounds alone don't get you into the movies.

The Fine Line
JOE SMITH, TIMBERWOLVES

Feb. 5 versus Denver: 26 minutes, 10-11 field goals, 3-3 free
throws, 23 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 turnover. In his
Minnesota debut, a 110-92 win over the Nuggets, Smith made his
new team forget about Tom Gugliotta--for one night, anyway.

For the latest scores and stats, plus Marty Burns' exclusive NBA
team rankings, check out www.cnnsi.com

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Ewing says his union duties didn't prevent him from getting in shape during the lockout. COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

Around The Rim

Sources say the Hornets were ready to send Glen Rice, B.J.
Armstrong and J.R. Reid to L.A. for Eddie Jones and Elden
Campbell. The Lakers reportedly loved that deal but hit two
snags: One, Rice could be out four to six weeks with an elbow
injury; two, he wants the maximum salary allowed under the new
cap (in his case, $86 million over six years). L.A. thinks he's
worth $30 million less, and Rice and his agent, David Falk,
aren't willing to settle for that kind of money. Yet....

Bucks point Terrell Brandon, who steamed former coach Chris Ford
last season by sitting out 32 games with a sprained ankle,
didn't warm the heart of new coach George Karl by missing an
exhibition game with a sore quadriceps and not even showing up
at the arena....

Cleveland really wants to create cap room by moving guard Bobby
Sura, but nobody's biting on a player with a $20 million
contract who has lost confidence and is struggling to shake
ankle problems....

Remember that old softie Eric Williams? Boston exiled him to
Denver before last season because he blew off the conditioning
demands of coach Rick Pitino. In his fourth game for Denver,
Williams tore his ACL, but he spent the last year in the weight
room and now has 6.8% body fat, down from 14.3% a year ago....

Before Portland signed free agent Jimmy Jackson, it proposed a
sign-and-trade for Jackson with Golden State, offering Stacey
Augmon. The Warriors passed, which suggests that they like
nothing better than Augmon.

Torch SONGS

MAVERICKS AT LAKERS
Wednesday, Feb. 17

Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal loves to bounce the Mavericks'
stick-thin 7'6" center, Shawn Bradley, back and forth across the
lane like a Ping-Pong ball. In three meetings with Bradley last
year, Shaq Diesel powered in 38.0 points per game on 74.6%
shooting. (Shaq's season averages were 28.3 points and 58.4%
shooting.) Look for Dallas to get paddled.

The Krispy Kreme Dream Team

Judging by all the stretched jerseys on opening night, dunking
doughnuts was as close to a basketball game as many players got
during the lockout. Here are some of the league's biggest
offenders, with each player's weight from last season and our
best guess at where he tipped the scales when he reported to
training camp in January. Oliver Miller, eat your heart out.
With a side of gravy fries, please.

Bryant Reeves, C, Grizzlies 275/318 Was benched for opener
after steamed teammates demanded their pound of flesh.

Shawn Kemp, F, Cavaliers 256/290 Refuses to discuss his girth,
saying that his optimum playing weight is "20 points and 10
rebounds."

Antonio McDyess, F, Nuggets 220/253 After huffing and puffing
through Denver's first scrimmage, he cheerfully declared, "I'm
fat!"

Dennis Scott, G/F, Knicks 229/250 Says friends tell him he
looks "great" but admits he'll need a couple of weeks of
practice to get ready.

Clarence Weatherspoon, F, Heat 240/265 "Guys with slim
frames can maintain in the off-season, while us thicker guys
might add a pound or two."

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)