Clippers : Eager Nixon Returns for New Start

Times Staff Writer

A politician named Nixon would have scoffed at poll results that seem to put him out of the running before the campaign even starts.

But a basketball player named Nixon, moments away from the start of the 1988-89 campaign, merely smiled. No matter that his findings said he should have dropped out of the race long ago.

“There’s no question,” Norm Nixon said Friday afternoon, as the Clippers opened training camp at Cal Poly Pomona. “If you polled everyone, 99% of them would say that. Only 1% would not say it. But those are the 1% who know me.”


Nixon, who last played during the 1985-86 season, is back in Clipper camp, taking on doubters and rookie Gary Grant for the starting point guard spot. The short-term goal is to just make it to the regular season, a seemingly simple accomplishment he was unable to reach in 1986-87 (knee injury while playing softball) and 1987-88 (Achilles’ tendon injury during practice).

“I feel good,” said Nixon, a former star guard on two Laker championship teams. “I spent the entire summer working out, so now I’m going to see what the payback is going to be.

“I went through a lot this summer. I went to the gym a lot, and I didn’t always feel real good working out every day. But the last 3 weeks, I started to feel better. I felt a lot better in my head.

“I hope, and I think, I’m over the physical hurt. Now it’s just a matter of playing.”

It will also be a matter of taking on Grant, 9 years younger than Nixon and the fastbreak-oriented guard Coach Gene Shue likes.

“I don’t worry about that,” Nixon said. “This is a young team and I’m someone who has 9 years in this league to contribute. I know the 5-on-5 NBA situations and I know I can play them well.”

So does Grant, who is aiming for the starting spot but not underestimating his competition.

“I take it like this: Norm is a veteran and I have a lot to learn from him,” said Grant, the Big Ten player of the year and a consensus All-American last season at Michigan. “. . . When I was younger, I heard a lot about him and I saw his fade-away jump shot. It’s like a dream come true coming and playing with a guy like him.

“In this situation, it’s no different if you’re young or old. You’ve still got to play ball.”

That’s exactly what Nixon, who turns 33 Tuesday, wants to do.

“I’m looking forward to playing, period,” he said.

The Indiana Pacers did the Clippers no favor by signing center Rik Smits, the No. 2 pick in the draft, to a 5-year contract worth a reported $1.3 million a year.

Ron Grinker, agent for Danny Manning, No. 1 selection in the draft, saw that and decided his client was worth more than previously asked. Exactly how much Grinker wanted in the first place is not clear because he says he has no set figure and disputes the figure of $2 million a year that had been reported.

“It’s not even in the ballpark,” Grinker said.

Grinker’s implication was that the $2 million is too low.