Leading With His Mouth A rough NBA initiation left rookie Steve Francis taking stock of himself

November 15, 1999

On Tuesday the Rockets' gifted rookie Steve Francis planned an
initial public offering of stock in himself, with shares to be
traded on the fantasy sports Web site wallstreetsports.com. The
feisty point guard out of Maryland has made a habit of going
public: This summer he lobbied the Bulls to be the first pick in
the 1999 draft, and after Chicago bypassed him in favor of Elton
Brand, he told reporters, "The Bulls have made a big mistake."
When Vancouver picked him second, Francis--chilly toward playing
in Canada--forced a trade to Houston.

Francis knew that after causing so much commotion he'd better pay
quick dividends, but his on-court stock wasn't soaring last week.
As the Rockets stumbled to an 0-3 record and a shocking 22.3
turnovers per game, Francis contributed 3.7 miscues a night and
took a beating on defense. First the Bucks' Sam Cassell torched
him for 35 points on 15-of-20 shooting. Two nights later Jazz
veteran John Stockton took Francis to school, luring him into a
maze of screens and shooting 8 for 8 from the floor. At the end
of Francis's first NBA week, opposing point guards were averaging
22.3 points and making nearly two thirds of their shots against
him. He was averaging 12.3 on 38.2% shooting.

Rookies who start at the point usually get plenty of slack.
Francis forfeited that cushion in the preseason when he
challenged anyone and everyone in his path. In a game against
the Pistons in which he had 11 turnovers, Francis spent so much
time jawing at Jerry Stackhouse that the two nearly came to
blows. "The kid's got a problem," Stackhouse said. "Somewhere
down the line someone's going to wire his mouth shut."

"It's been a real learning experience," says Francis. No one
ever said going public was easy.

--Jackie MacMullan

COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBA PHOTOS

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