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The NBA : At 7 Feet 7 Inches, 380 Pounds, Argentine Is Worth a Shot to the Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks, who made it fashionable for National Basketball Assn. teams to hire little guys by signing Spud Webb a few years ago, apparently are at it again.

This time, however, the Hawks have gone to the other extreme, spanning the globe to find what is believed to be the world’s tallest and widest basketball player.

He is Jorge Gonzalez of Argentina’s national team. At 7 feet 7 inches, Gonzalez is the same height as Manute Bol of the Golden State Warriors. But, at 380 pounds, Gonzalez is 160 pounds heavier than Bol.

Last June, the Hawks used the 54th pick in the draft to select Gonzalez, even though only one scout had seen him play in person. Stan Kasten, the Hawks’ general manager, had only seen films of Gonzalez. But he said he was impressed by, well, the guy’s height and weight, which make Manute look minute.

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The Hawks will get a firsthand look at Gonzalez today in private workouts and physical tests for Kasten and other Hawk executives.

Kasten said he is looking at Gonzalez, still is under contract to play for the Argentine national team, as a long-term project. But the experiment worked with Bol, whose skills were as limited as his English when he first took up the game, so it figures to be worth the try with Gonzalez.

“I’ve never even seen him in person,” Kasten said. “If we wanted to sign him, we’d have to work out a deal with his team in Argentina.

“He can play. He has a nice offensive touch. He can score. Obviously, he’s a great target down low. But he does not block shots yet, and he has very poor mobility up and down the court.

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“That may preclude him from ever playing at this level. But if you’re that big and can also score, it’s a nice place to begin. He’s only 22, so I guess we don’t even know if he’s finished growing, right?”

Kasten said that Gonzalez will probably work out in Atlanta, on and off, until April, when basketball season in Argentina resumes. He remained noncommittal about whether the Hawks will try to sign Gonzalez.

“It’s too early to tell,” Kasten said. “Hey, why are you asking? I mean, you guys in L.A. aren’t that hard up for a replacement for Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), are you?”

Charges of domestic assault against Seattle SuperSonics star guard Dale Ellis were dropped last week, a few days after his wife filed a complaint that he struck her.

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That incident may be behind Ellis, the NBA’s third-leading scorer behind Michael Jordan and Karl Malone, but speculative talk about the cause of the latest of several personal problems persists.

In the last 2 years, Ellis has been arrested after a scuffle at a Dallas nightclub--charges were dropped--and has wrecked and abandoned a rental car on a freeway exit ramp. In addition, his wife, Monique, fought outside the locker room with Rene Lister, wife of center Alton Lister, after a game against the Lakers 2 seasons ago.

“I make mistakes like everybody else,” Ellis said. “Everybody just gets carried away with it.”

In an interview Sunday with columnist Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times, Ellis denied that drug use is the cause of his erratic behavior. Ellis said that, before he signed a new contract with Seattle over the summer, he told Coach Bernie Bickerstaff that he would submit to random drug testing whenever the SuperSonics deemed necessary.

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“Bernie and I have a different kind of relationship,” Ellis said. “I can tell him things I can’t tell a lot of people. When we talked last summer, I told him I just wanted to prove it to him. . . . I can’t risk everything I’ve worked on for something as silly as (drugs). The older I get, the more I realize what’s important in life and what’s not.”

Although all parties denied it, there reportedly was some talk last week about a trade in which Indiana Pacers center Herb Williams would come to the Lakers.

According to one report, there were negotiations for a 3-way trade that would send Williams to the Lakers, Orlando Woolridge from the Lakers to the New York Knicks and rookie Rod Strickland from the Knicks to the Pacers.

There are several reasons why a trade bringing Williams to the Lakers seems remote now, biggest among them is the Lakers’ salary cap restrictions, which would not accommodate Williams’ $983,000 salary unless Williams’ contract would be drastically restructured.

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Williams may never be a Laker, but it has been known for years that the Lakers like the 32-year-old center.

“It’s been going on for years with the Lakers and Herb,” said George Andrews, Williams’ Chicago-based agent. “It started about 7 years ago, right before they drafted (James) Worthy, when there was talk that they’d trade Jamaal Wilkes for Herb.

“Then, when Herb was getting close to free agency (1985), there was a lot of talk that he’d be traded to the Lakers before he became a free agent. So, I’m not surprised (the rumor) has surfaced again. But this time, I haven’t heard anything from either team.”

The problem in New York about how to use point guards Mark Jackson, last season’s rookie of the year, and Strickland, the promising rookie, was temporarily solved last Thursday was Coach Rick Pitino finally bowed to public opinion and used both players in the same backcourt.

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In the third quarter of an easy victory over Charlotte, Jackson switched to off-guard while Strickland played point guard. And everyone was happy--except maybe Pitino, who had vowed that he would not make such a change.

“We have to practice it,” Pitino told Newsday. “If we’re going to go with it, we’ve got to be sure. Mark’s probably ready to learn the (off-guard) spot.”

Strickland, unhappy in a minor role behind Jackson, said: “I liked it out there with Mark. I was a little surprised, yeah. But together we can create a lot of easy baskets.”

It is unwise to have Karl Malone, the Utah Jazz’s burly power forward, angry at you. Which is why Charlotte forward Kelly Tripucka tried to defuse what he called a misunderstanding with Malone before it escalated.

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On the morning of the Jazz’s game at Charlotte last week, Malone read a quote in the Charlotte Observer, poking fun at former Utah coach Frank Layden, attributed to Tripucka, who had a falling out with Layden in Utah last season.

The quote: “I heard Frank’s wife made two turkeys for Thanksgiving. I don’t know what the rest of family ate.”

Malone, such a staunch supporter of Layden that he inscribed “Frank” on the back of each shoe with a felt pen, scored 38 points and had 19 rebounds against the Hornets that night and then lashed out at Tripucka.

“You shouldn’t talk about someone who gave so much to the game of basketball,” Malone told Charlotte writers. “That was a low blow. As a professional athlete, we should never rip another team’s coach. That wasn’t nice, and I didn’t appreciate it. Kelly has to come to Utah again, and let’s see what happens to him there.”

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Tripucka pleaded not guilty to Malone’s charges.

“I never told that joke,” he said. “I never said it. And I want to say, man to man, I apologize because that shouldn’t be in paper. Don’t blame that one on me. I hope Karl cools down.”

In that night’s game, Tripucka wrote Dick on the back of his shoes, a show of support for Hornet Coach Dick Harter but perhaps also a jab at Malone.

“It just goes to show I still have sense of humor,” Tripucka said.

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Musician Paul Simon’s video, “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” features Spud Webb as a playground nerd transformed into a dunking machine.

“It was a 9-foot rim,” said the 5-foot 6-inch Webb, who dunks well on a regulation 10-foot basket. “It was real easy.”

The Sacramento Kings have offered forward Jim Petersen, reliable but not exactly a budding star, $6 million over 5 seasons to avoid unrestricted free agency after the season.

“There’s something to be said for security and being signed before the end of the year,” Petersen said. “But there’s a lot of temptation to test the market and find my actual value in a system where there’s no collusion.”

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Don Chaney, coach of the Houston Rockets, has a new hobby--sky diving. It certainly seems a less hazardous proposition than Chaney’s previous hobby in 1986, which was coaching the Clippers.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do for a long time, ever since college,” Chaney told a Houston writer. “It’s got to be a thrill. But I have to admit I’m not sure why I want to do it.”

Maybe it’s post-Clipper stress syndrome.


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