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The NBA / Sam McManis : Like W.C. Fields, 76er Would Rather Be in Philadelphia

Mike Gminski signed a long-term contract with the Philadelphia 76ers last week, but if he hadn’t, he says he could have become a Laker.

Of course, that is of little consolation to the Lakers, who will go on the market for a replacement for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar this summer.

Gminski, the only potential unrestricted free agent center of any real value after the season, signed a reported four-year, $7 million contract extension. “With L.A. in the postion they are in on the West Coast, that was a viable alternative,” Gminski said. “But that would’ve meant a drastic life style change. I’m happy all this is behind me.”

Now, it appears the Lakers will have to trade for a center or decide to use Mychal Thompson at center and spend the $1.5 million (half of Abdul-Jabbar’s salary) the salary cap will let them spend on a non-center.

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Throughout the league, interest is high in the Clippers’ Benoit Benjamin, who will be a restricted free agent. The Lakers reportedly would like to sign Benjamin, but it is likely the Clippers would match any offer sheet to avoid their center moving cross-town.

Gminski is averaging 17 points and 9.5 rebounds a game, ranking him sixth among NBA starting centers. But because he was the only quality free-agent center available with no dominant centers in college eligible for the NBA draft, his market value soared.

“It’s funny, even when I look at game films of myself, it doesn’t look like I’m doing a lot,” Gminski said. “But you pick up box score at end of night, and I’ve got 18 or 19 points, a couple of blocked shots, maybe 12 rebounds, a few assists and I’ve played good defense. I just don’t do things in a flashy manner, that’s my personality. I guess underrated is the best way to describe my game.”

On Monday night, Golden State Warrior Coach Don Nelson returned to Milwaukee, where he coached for 11 seasons, for the first time since his resignation two years ago.

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After arriving Sunday night, friends of Nelson provided a limo to take him to the team’s hotel. Nelson declined and rode on the team bus. Later Sunday night, there was an invitation-only dinner in Nelson’s honor. Still later Sunday night, the Miller Brewing Co. threw a “Welcome Back Don Nelson” party.

Monday afternoon, Nelson spoke to the Wisconsin “Pen and Mike Club.” Then, there was a luncheon in his honor. After the Warriors played the Bucks, another welcome back party was scheduled.

Nelson was involved in charity work in Milwaukee, but current Buck Coach Del Harris, a former Nelson assistant, said Nelson’s popularity came from a more conventional source.

“He won,” Harris said. “If he hadn’t won, he wouldn’t have been popular. What makes you popular is not farm funds and charity golf tournaments and things like that. It’s winning basketball games.”

Said Nelson of his return: “I had a special relationship there that a person doesn’t get back in his lifetime. I had a relationship with the city and state where I always felt we were one. . . . I thought I’d be there the rest of my life. As far as I know, I only have one enemy in Milwaukee, and he just happens to be the owner of the club (Herb Kohl).”

Add Nelson: There was a strange controversy last week involving the Warriors, the Portland Trail Blazers, Bigfoot and Tony Bennett.

It all came about last Tuesday, when the Trail Blazers beat the Warriors in Portland. In that game, Bigfoot, the Trail Blazers’ mascot, brought a model of the Golden Gate bridge to midcourt and, while the public address system played “I left My Heart in San Francisco,” stomped on it with his foot.

The Warriors got their revenge last Tuesday in Oakland, beating Portland, 151-127.

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“That (stunt) didn’t go over with me at all,” Nelson said. “They were 30 points ahead of us, and they poked fun at us. I’ve been waiting for this game. I wanted to have a comeback victory, and the team gave it to me. I wanted to get 150 points on them, and we did.

“You don’t rub stuff like that in on a team that’s getting smoked. I wouldn’t allow it here.”

Two months ago, Philadelphia’s Charles Barkley said the Atlanta Hawks were the league’s most selfish team and that “they’ll never win because the NBA only lets you play with one ball.”

Hawk Coach Mike Fratello was so angered he brought the newspaper article to practice and stomped his foot on it.

But last week, after Atlanta lost seven of 10 games, Fratello stomped all over his team.

“Right now, I think Charles Barkley was right,” Fratello said. “Some of our people don’t want to recognize the problem. They don’t want to submerge their egos.”

Said center Moses Malone: “We got too many individuals on this team. You can’t win if you don’t play as a team. We don’t play as a team. That’s why we lose.

“The coaches prepare us to play a team game. The players don’t do it. I can’t blame the coaches for the way we play. If we keep playing like this, we won’t have home court (advantage) at all in the playoffs. We’ll make it tougher on ourselves. I’m not saying we can’t win. I’m saying we can’t keep playing like this and accomplish anything.

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“You have to take pride in what you do; I don’t see it here. I didn’t come here to lose.”

The self criticism must have helped the Hawks. On Saturday, they handed the New York Knicks only their third home-court loss this season.

NBA Notes

Larry Bird update: Originally, the Boston Celtics hoped for Bird’s return from Achilles’ tendon surgery on March 1. It was amended to March 8, then March 15. Now, the Celtics are saying that Bird will only return if he can help the club during the playoffs. Bird has not practiced with the Celtics since March 10 and Celtic doctors say that his right Achilles is only 70% healed. The Celtics, however, are starting to make a move without Bird. With a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, Boston improved its record to three games over .500 for the first time this season and moved to within 1 1/2 games of Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff spot. . . . Portland Coach Rick Adelman on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls: “They can beat anybody in the playoffs. If they can just keep the games close, they can win. If the game is close at the end, the ball is going to be in (Jordan’s) hands.” . . . The bad timing award of the week goes to Miami Heat center Rony Seikaly, who missed a game last week against the Phoenix Suns after having two wisdom teeth removed. Turns out, the Suns’ promotion that night was Dental Health Night, in which young fans received free tooth brushes. . . . Charles Barkley, one of the most quotable players in the league, was strangely humble (i.e., boring) on Friday night against San Antonio after making all 10 shots he attempted from the field and all nine free-throw attempts. Barkley said, “I played well, but that’s what I get paid for.” Barkley is better when he’s not the subject. When someone recently noted that it looked as if Atlanta’s Moses Malone had lost weight, Barkley replied: “That’s because he’s going bald.”


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