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Inside The NBA

Feb. 07, 2000
Feb. 07, 2000

Table of Contents
Feb. 7, 2000

Super Bowl XXXIV
Tennis
  • The world's top-ranked players, Andre Agassi and Martina Hingis, had a chance to escape the heels of their respective nemeses in Australia, but only one of them did

Inside The NBA

Mr. Excitement
Marcus Camby sends a charge through the Knicks and their fans

This is an article from the Feb. 7, 2000 issue Original Layout

The power surge in Madison Square Garden begins when 25-year-old
Knicks forward Marcus Camby pulls off his warmup jersey. When he
jogs to the scorer's table, the executives halt their business
discussions, the diehards pound their chests and the little kids
screech in anticipation of what Camby will do when he steps onto
the court.

On good nights he treats the crowd to an electric slam off a
loose rebound or a breathtaking weakside rejection. On bad ones
Camby's in foul trouble early, drawing one call for going over
the back, another for reaching in. Either way, fans will return
to see Camby try to make something happen. Sports Business Daily
published a list of the 20 best-selling NBA jerseys in the first
half of this season; Camby's number 23 was more popular than
Karl Malone's jersey or Eddie Jones's.

"I can feel the buzz," Camby says of the stir he creates at the
Garden. "It's a lot better than last year, when the boo-birds
were out. I wasn't even getting into the games, and they were
still screaming at me, 'We want Oak! We want Oak!' Man, that was
tough."

The buzz last season centered on Camby as a pawn in a power
struggle between former general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach
Jeff Van Gundy. Grunfeld had traded popular power forward
Charles Oakley to the Raptors for Camby despite the reservations
of his coach. Van Gundy stubbornly benched the slender 6'11"
forward, who in his two seasons in Toronto had been branded an
immature kid who wouldn't play hurt. Van Gundy contends that it
was impossible to develop an immediate feel for a new player
after a prolonged lockout and a shortened preseason.

Camby's vindication came in the playoffs, when his energy fueled
New York's improbable journey to the Finals--and saved Van
Gundy's job. This season Camby is averaging 26.7 minutes, up 6.2
from last year, and there's no longer any question of his
importance in the rotation: He's a favorite for the Sixth Man
Award.

Ask Camby if he's Van Gundy's guy now, and he laughs and says,
"I don't think I'm one of his core guys, guys who've been here,
like Larry Johnson, Allan [Houston] and Pat [Ewing]. But I think
he's my guy. When his job was in jeopardy, I could have gone in
the tank against Miami in the first round, and we wouldn't even
be sitting here. But I played hard for him. I understand his
philosophy now, and he respects me more."

It helps their relationship that Camby doesn't demand shots,
which Van Gundy must delicately distribute among Ewing, Houston
and Latrell Sprewell. The Knicks are a collection of complex
factions. Camby's boys are Sprewell, forward John Wallace and
guard Rick Brunson. The clean-living Houston and point guard
Charlie Ward have been nicknamed the Christian Coalition, while
Ewing, the proud old warrior, stands alone, his friends having
been traded, his skills eroding, his stature on the team
diminished. He doesn't talk much these days, and team officials
wonder how it will end.

"Pat's used to being the Guy in this city," says Camby, who has
taken some of Ewing's minutes. "But I can't worry too much about
him. He's still going to come in and get his number called. Hey,
I don't get any plays called for me. I get my baskets off hustle
plays. The one thing I do feel bad about is the injuries Pat's
had. The Achilles [tendon tear] has set him back two to three
years. His wrist is still messed up. He's playing through a lot
of pain."

Even though New York was tied with Miami atop the Atlantic
Division at 26-16 through Sunday, there are concerns. The Knicks
were 10-8 against the top eight teams in each conference and
10-12 on the road. Sprewell, who demanded a starting role, is
filling the small forward slot though he's better suited to play
the two guard, Houston's position. The strain of being 190
pounds and trying to hold off threes such as 250-pound Juwan
Howard is taking its toll on Sprewell, and Van Gundy frets about
his wearing down.

Camby, meanwhile, must prove he can provide the consistency New
York so desperately needs from him. At week's end he was
averaging 10.2 points on 48.7% shooting, along with 7.9 rebounds
and 2.24 blocks. He still hears whispers that he's not tough
enough, stemming from the stretch earlier in the season when the
team asked him to play through painful tendinitis in his left
knee, and he sat for two games instead. One other thing: Camby
no longer catches opponents by surprise.

"Every time the ball goes up, there are two guys keeping me off
the glass," he says. "One guy is banging me at the three-point
line, then another guy is hitting me at the free throw line.
Then there are teams who send a spy out on me. Like the Pistons.
Every time I check into the game, they send in Jerome Williams
to bother me. That kid, he's crazy."

As the Feb. 24 trading deadline nears, rumors will swirl about
the Knicks' upgrading their two-headed point guard, Ward and
Chris Childs. There will be talk of Ewing's role and questions
about Sprewell's position. There will be updates on the
relationship between Van Gundy and Camby.

New York survived far worse turmoil to reach the Finals last
year. Camby, who found a way to thrive under those conditions,
has a handle on what it will take to get back there. "We don't
all have to be best friends," said Camby, "but we've got to play
like we are."

New Owner in Dallas
Taking a Flier on The Worm

He is a 41-year-old billionaire who races to the top of the
steps of Reunion Arena, sits in the cheap seats and chants for
the Mavericks, the team he is in the process of purchasing for
$280 million. He is the spendthrift who sent limousines to the
homes of coach Don Nelson and his players last Thursday because
there was an ice storm and he didn't want anyone getting injured
driving to the arena. He is the man who is giving Dennis Rodman
another chance.

He is Mark Cuban, a dot-com-era NBA owner who, after a
disheartening Dallas loss at New Jersey on Jan. 22, ordered
every Mavs player and coach to have a massage. "Then I served
them a six-course spread," Cuban says. "You should've seen
Nellie's face."

Innovation is Cuban's speciality. In 1995, frustrated by his
inability to follow his beloved Indiana University basketball
team while living in Dallas, Cuban co-founded AudioNet, a
service that provided radio feeds of sports via the Internet.
The company, later renamed Broadcast.com, was sold to Yahoo last
year for an estimated $6 billion.

Barring some last-minute glitch, Cuban--who is already making
the team's financial decisions though his purchase has yet to be
ratified by the board of governors--hopes to sign Rodman to a
one-year, $475,610 contract this week. Cuban knows he'll be
considered nuts for making this his first transaction, but he
doesn't care. In fact, he was willing to hold off on the deal so
the 39-year-old Rodman could attend a Super Bowl party. "What's
the worst-case scenario?" Cuban says. "I'm called an idiot.
People will say to me, 'You should have known.' In the meantime,
who do the Mavericks turn to when they need a defensive stop?
Nobody. Who do the Mavericks turn to when they absolutely need
that big rebound? Nobody."

Will Rodman, out of basketball for close to a year, deliver
anything more than a little publicity? His brief dalliance with
the Lakers last season was a disaster. "I think the mistake some
organizations made with Dennis was trying to fit him into a
certain mold," says Cuban. "I brought him in here and said,
'Dennis, what does it take to make you successful? You set the
rules. If you do, then there are no misunderstandings.' Dennis
realizes if he doesn't perform on the court, he's not going to
be successful in his other ventures."

Bringing in the Worm is just one of Cuban's attempts to lift his
franchise out of the doldrums. Showing that no detail is too
small--and that former owner Ross Perot Jr.'s bottom-line
approach holds little appeal for him--Cuban is upgrading the
team's hotels on the road. "We've invested more than $40 million
a year on this payroll," Cuban says. "The last thing I want to
hear is, 'God, I didn't sleep well on that Styrofoam pillow.'"

To generate interest in the Mavericks, Cuban replaced the team's
P.A. announcer--"We needed more passion"--and doubled the
promotional budget. To get to know his players, he's playing
cards with them on the bus, and he invited the players and staff
over for a Super Bowl party. Some NBA owners can't fathom such a
relationship with the rank and file, and they're keeping an eye
on this upstart. "I know," Cuban says. "I met some of them, and
they made it very clear I'm still just a prospective owner."

Line of the Week
Stevie Wonder

Rockets guard Steve Francis, Jan. 27 versus the Warriors: 39
minutes, 7-of-20 FG, 10-of-15 FT, 25 points, 14 assists, 17
rebounds, 2 steals. O.K., so he missed some shots, but how many
6'3" point guards could haul in 17 boards?

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Stuck on the bench last season, the explosive Camby is now New York's scintillating sixth man.COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Averaging 22.6 points and 8.3 assists, Marbury makes our cut for the East stars.

Around The Rim

The thinking behind the Raptors' willingness to deal shooting
guard Doug Christie for a point guard is that they can then move
free-agent-to-be Tracy McGrady into Christie's starting spot,
which would make McGrady more likely to re-sign. Yet sources
close to McGrady say he wants to land in a warm-weather city--say,
Orlando, where he's building a home. Warriors playmaker Mookie
Blaylock also abhors the cold, which is why he nixed a swap for
Christie. Toronto may now take another run at the Magic's Darrell
Armstrong....

The practice gym was so cold in Atlanta's Philips Arena last
week that the Hawks wore long sleeves under their jerseys, and
coach Lenny Wilkens, dressed in full warmups, called the session
off early for fear that his players would get injured....

Agent Dwight Manley called the Lakers, hoping to persuade them
to acquire his new client, disgruntled Wizards center Ike
Austin, but Los Angeles wasn't interested in taking on Austin's
contract, which has two years and $11 million remaining....

The Rockets were set to retire Clyde Drexler's number 22 this
Thursday, which makes us wonder, So what are the Trail Blazers
waiting for? True, Drexler never won a championship in Portland,
as he did in Houston, but he was an eight-time All-Star as a
Blazer. Could it be that the team is still fuming over the
parting shots Drexler took at the front office on the way out of
town?

East Is Least Up Front

The fans have voted in their starters for the Feb. 13 All-Star
Game in Oakland. Now it's time to fill out the rosters. After
sizing up its potential reserves, the East should be begging the
West: Hey, brother, can you spare a forward?

EASTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR STARTERS: Raptors forward Vince
Carter, Pistons forward Grant Hill, Heat center Alonzo Mourning,
76ers guard Allen Iverson, Hornets guard Eddie Jones

EAST RESERVES (CHOSEN BY SI)

F Dale Davis, PACERS His toughness and rebounding held Indiana
together when Reggie Miller couldn't find his stroke

F Glenn Robinson, BUCKS Milwaukee's leading scorer has upgraded
his defense and at week's end was hitting 41.5% of his threes

C Dikembe Mutombo, HAWKS Best of the rest of the anemic crop of
pivotmen in the conference

G Allan Houston, KNICKS You could make a case for his evil
twin, Latrell Sprewell, but New York players give Houston the nod

G Stephon Marbury, NETS Explosive, competitive, often
unstoppable and finally getting his props

WILD CARDS: Pacers guard Reggie Miller (still one of the
league's most lethal snipers) and Celtics guard Paul Pierce
(less spectacular than Carter, but their numbers are close)

TOUGHEST OMISSIONS: Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse, Cavaliers
forward Shawn Kemp, Bucs guard Ray Allen

WESTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR STARTERS: Spurs forward Tim Duncan,
Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, Lakers center Shaquille
O'Neal, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Suns guard Jason Kidd

WEST RESERVES (CHOSEN BY SI)

F Chris Webber, KINGS MVP candidate enjoying his finest season
for league's most exciting team

F Karl Malone, JAZZ Hard to imagine him as a reserve, but the
two young studs in front of him earned their votes

C Rasheed Wallace, TRAIL BLAZERS O.K., so he lines up mostly at
forward. Is there another center in the West who's deserving?

G Gary Payton, SUPERSONICS Plays both ends hard and makes
everyone around him better--exactly what a point guard is
supposed to do

G Michael Finley, MAVERICKS League leader in minutes is triple
double waiting to happen every time he suits up

WILD CARDS: Grizzlies forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim (a budding
star) and Blazers forward Scottie Pippen (a fading star whose
game has been rekindled in Portland)

TOUGHEST OMISSIONS: Nuggets forward Antonio McDyess, Suns
forward Cliff Robinson, Jazz guard John Stockton

For the latest scores and stats, plus Phil Taylor's NBA mailbag,
go to cnnsi.com/basketball.