PETUR THE GREAT? : Lakers Find Themselves a 7-2 Ice Man Who Might Just Prove to Be a Big Help in Playoffs

Times Staff Writer

If you search real hard back among his ancestors, Petur Gudmundsson figures, you might be able to find a Viking in his family tree.

All right, that sounds reasonable, but two questions arise:

--What is a Viking doing in a tree?

--Who is Petur Gudmundsson, anyway?

Well, so far, he hasn't exactly been Petur the Great, but you just never know.

After all, when you've got a probable descendant of Vikings who just happens to be only slightly shorter than one of the boats those guys used to sail, it might be wise to ask one more question, especially if you have a basketball team.

Can he run?

The Lakers may find out if a 27-year-old Icelandic center named Petur Gudmundsson, all 7 feet 2 inches and 270 pounds of him, moves with the speed of a glacier or whether he might actually be able to play a little.

That's really all the Lakers want Gudmundsson to do, play a little, and they aren't risking very much to see if he can.

Right now, Gudmundsson is on his second 10-day contract with the Lakers, working for something close to the NBA's minimum wage.

But first things first. The Laker players are sometimes a little stand-offish, the kind of team reluctant to accept teammates from their own continent, much less from someplace like Iceland.

It is nice to report that Gudmundsson seems to have fit in well, so far.

Magic Johnson calls him Pete.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has discussed world history with him.

That taken care of, everything else in the Lakerization of Petur Gudmundsson should follow in quick order. Already, he looks like a quick learner of that finely tuned Laker offense.

Against Seattle, playing in his second game in a Laker uniform, Gudmundsson took a pass in the lane and immediately wheeled around to his right. Problem was, someone else was already standing there.

Gudmundsson slammed his head into Danny Vranes' head, knocking Vranes to the floor. Gudmundsson suffered a cut on his right temple that needed four stitches.

Afterward, Gudmundsson was asked about the attempted decapitation of Vranes.

"Well, you've got to use your head, they tell me," he said, smiling.

So far in Gudmundsson's basketball career, his feet have been equally important.

When the Lakers found Gudmundsson, he was playing center for Kansas City of the Continental Basketball Assn. Coach Bill Ficke decided that the best way to use a 7-2, 270-pound center, was to position him near the top of the circle and make him a passer.

Gudmundsson's skills were not especially noticeable while he was standing 15 feet away from the basket. In 47 CBA games, Gudmundsson averaged 8 points and 5.5 rebounds.

Portland Coach Jack Ramsay, who had Gudmundsson for the 1981-82 season with the Trail Blazers, sent a scout to look at Gudmundsson in Kansas City.

"We looked at him, and nobody came away raving," Ramsay said.

Not everyone felt that way, though. Pat Riley sent assistant coach Bill Bertka to watch Gudmundsson play his last game of the CBA season. Just in case, Gudmundsson already had a plane ticket for a flight back to Reykjavik.

Gudmundsson said he was just being realistic, in case Bertka didn't like what he saw.

"It was my last game, and nothing had been happening up to then," Gudmundsson said. "I was ready to leave the country. I had no choice. Things hadn't been going that great for me. My stats weren't so good. But that's the attitude in the CBA. It's more individualistic, because everybody wants to move up."

Bertka thought enough of Gudmundsson that he gave Riley and General Manager Jerry West a glowing report. Within a week, Gudmundsson was a Laker. In a couple of months if he's lucky, Gudmundsson may be playing for the NBA championship.

"You know, it's kind of hard to believe it's happening," he said. "But I have also worked very hard to get here."

He has also traveled a very long way. Starting with his single season with the Trail Blazers, Gudmundsson has played basketball on three continents with seven teams in five leagues.

After playing high school basketball in Iceland for two years, Gudmundsson spent his senior year at Mercer Island High School just outside Seattle. He played for three years at the University of Washington, then left school before his senior year and played for a team in Buenos Aires.

During his six months in Argentina, Gudmundsson learned to speak Spanish, then decided that he would rather do it in Portland.

Ramsay drafted Gudmundsson in the third round. In 68 games for the Trail Blazers, Gudmundsson averaged 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds, all the while tantalizing Ramsay with his raw potential.

"Petur always showed definite flashes of good things for us," Ramsay said.

"He could shoot the ball well facing the basket and was, surprisingly enough, a pretty decent passer. But the rest of his game needed a lot of work.

"He didn't have good foot movement, and that impeded his ability to defend people, which caused him to be foul-prone," Ramsay said. "But look, the guy is 7-2. With that quality, and the ability to see people when he passes, I always felt that maybe he would make that last step in his development."

Instead, Gudmundsson left the NBA for a four-year jaunt that included stops in Iceland as a player-coach, in England and then on to the CBA.

About the only constant for Gudmundsson in the United States was his struggle to stay in the country on a visitor's pass.

Gudmundsson entered the United States in July on a six-month visitor's permit that expired Jan. 14. He applied for an H-1 work permit with the Department of Labor, which is what Gudmundsson had when he was with Portland.

However, Gudmundsson discovered that the H-1 is only for aliens of distinguished merit. That does not include basketball players in the CBA.

So Gudmundsson extended his visitor's permit again, then once with the Lakers, got his H-1.

"As soon as I got to the NBA, I moved up a class, no problem," Gudmundsson said.

Now, everyone seems happy. For a little while, at least, and maybe longer.

Of course, Riley will be a lot happier if he is proven right about Gudmundsson a little later, possibly against Houston or Boston.

"He could play a vital role for us," Riley said. "He really doesn't have to do much. He has no guarantee that he will even play, but he might help us down the line with his size, and we're going to need that with the Houstons and the Bostons.

"He can throw the outlet pass, he's a smart player and he's got some quickness for somebody 7-2," Riley said. "I know he's not going to win any 100-yard dashes, but he does have some interior quickness."

Maybe the best thing Gudmundsson does is take up space, and that's actually a compliment. Try getting around one of his picks.

Besides Gudmundsson's height, though, there is one other facet of this Icelandic project that Riley likes. "This is probably, in his own mind, his last shot in the NBA," Riley said.

Moving on hasn't ever really bothered Gudmundsson before, but it's a little different now, he said.

"If I had to move on, it was always all right," he said. "But it's gotten to the point where if I could just find a good team, then I wouldn't have to think about leaving. Maybe this is it."

The odds are, though, that Gudmundsson will actually make it with the Lakers. If not, maybe he can try out with the Minnesota Vikings.

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