THE NBA : Nets Are More Than Happy Sam Bowie Can Play It Again


The center with a heart of gold and legs of chalk has cemented his future, and in something other than plaster of Paris.

But knock on wood, because what has been learned from the strange odyssey of Sam Bowie is that nothing is certain except today. Tomorrow may bring another broken bone. After all, he has been in more casts than half the Screen Actors Guild. In his first four seasons as a pro, he played in 139 games and missed 319.

Finally, though, Bowie is everything promised. After all the injuries and last June’s surprising trade from Portland to New Jersey, he has emerged, just in time to be in great bargaining position, what with his contract running out after this season.


The former No. 2 overall draft pick, the guy the Trail Blazers took ahead of Michael Jordan is, best of all, playing every day.

“Those who said, ‘Why would the Nets want to get him?’ now understand,” Coach Bill Fitch said.

They understand because Bowie, who played 63 games the last three seasons combined and is already at 57 for 1989-90, was averaging 14.3 points and 10.3 rebounds heading into Monday night’s meeting with Philadelphia. And because he is a 29-year-old, 7-foot-1 center with quickness and a shooting touch and a desire to remain in New Jersey when the current contract expires.

“I anticipate this will be resolved before it ever gets to the point of free agency,” Bowie said.

Meaning negotiations are already progressing. There’s no question the Nets, who sent their one true commodity, Buck Williams, to the Trail Blazers for Bowie and a first-round draft choice that became Mookie Blaylock, want him to stay. So the feeling is mutual.

“It’s been an up-and-down year personally,” said Bowie, one of the few bright spots on a team that went into the 76er game with a 15-49 record and battling Miami to stay out of last place in the Atlantic Division. “It is exciting to play well. On the other hand, we have been struggling. And the way the ball club is struggling is very disappointing.

“I always felt that, when healthy, I could put up good numbers in this league. The funny thing about pro ball is that a lot of the players are the same ones you went against in college. I have always been confident that I could do as good against them here as I did at Kentucky.”

Said Fitch: “He has become, night in and night out, an offensive threat. The thing that hurt him the most in all the time out is that he didn’t get to develop the quickness that great centers have. Slowly but surely, you can see his inside game developing.”

Nominations for bonehead move of the decade are closed. Though veiled in good intentions, Mike Abdenour, the Detroit Pistons’ trainer, put himself in an unbeatable position earlier this month by filing a false 911 emergency call.

It happened March 6, two days after Hank Gathers died in Los Angeles. Abdenour wanted to find out how long it would take for help to reach the Palace of Auburn Hills, so after practice he had a security guard call 911 and say a Piston had collapsed on the court.

When an ambulance, fire truck and two police cars arrived in front of the arena in five minutes, Abdenour was waiting, with the explanation. He also commended the rescue personnel for the immediate response.

They, in turn, filed charges. Last week, Abdenour, calling the escapade a major mistake, pleaded no contest in a Rochester (Mich.) court, was fined $200, put on six months’ probation and ordered to perform community service.

Now that the Portland Trail Blazers have moved up among the NBA’s elite, they’re getting treated better by owner Paul Allen, who has been leasing a private jet for the team since the new year.

They have repaid him by going 12-6 on the road since then, including a recent trip with consecutive victories at New York, Boston and Philadelphia, and by staying close to the Lakers in the Pacific Division.

The biggest benefit is the physical--sometimes getting back home on the night of a road game, avoiding flight delays and standing around air terminals. But the psychological factors aren’t far behind. The plush travel has worked so well that some players have suggested, not necessarily jokingly, that they feel guilty stepping into Blazer I after a loss.

“Having real good players gets you more wins,” said Geoff Petrie, the Blazers’ vice president for business operations. “But I think it has been a factor. There’s no question when the team goes on the court they’re in a better frame of mind. It certainly has been a positive.”

It has to be more than a coincidence that Portland, which was 10-22 away from home at this time last season, has the third-most road victories in the league. The Trail Blazers trail only Detroit and the Lakers, who also travel on their own planes.

The Pistons have bought and the Lakers lease, but, like Portland, all claim spending some extra money in the travel pays off in other ways. This month alone, the Trail Blazers won at Boston and Philadelphia for the first time in the same season, and tonight at Houston they go for a franchise-record sixth straight road victory.

“I think if you took a poll of players and coaches, they’d all say it has been better than they would have expected,” Petrie said. “You really can’t appreciate this until you do it on an ongoing basis.”

Only three teams do, though a couple of others have occasional charters. The BAC 111 the Trail Blazers use is similar to Detroit’s Roundball I, with the original capacity of 80 cut down to 20 for couches, a wet bar and buffet, VCRs and televisions.

Portland leases the plane from Louisiana Pacific Corp., which bought it from a far-more famous individual and immediately removed the round bed from a private compartment. It’s more conservative now.

And why not? The Trail Blazers seem to be having more court success these days than Leona Helmsley.

New York has clearly identified itself as the best team not to look for in the championship round. At least it will take a big turn-around if the Knicks are to advance far in the playoffs, despite what the Atlantic Division standings say.

What the 39-25 record doesn’t show is that they are 5-15 against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better. Or that during one recent 18-day period, they lost to Portland, Detroit and twice to Philadelphia. Or that they have been swept by the Lakers, Blazers and 76ers and are down, 3-0, to the Pistons with one game left.

Get the idea? There’s more.

Against the league’s nine best other teams--Pistons, 76ers, Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Suns and Spurs--New York is 6-17. Even better, the Knicks have not won, nor do they lead, a season series against any of the above.

Though it’s not going to happen as soon as most would have liked, all indications are that the Golden State Warriors are getting a new arena without even asking for one, a sign that Oakland realizes the value of an NBA team.

The Warriors have another year left after this season on the lease at Oakland Coliseum Arena, a 15,025-seat facility without luxury boxes. They also hold a pair of one-year options after that.

Construction on the state-of-the-art arena was supposed to start next October, but the announcement that the Raiders are returning altered everyone’s schedule. Still, the Warriors have been assured that a $70-million arena with a capacity of 19,000-20,000, including 120 luxury boxes, is on the way.

It would be on the same site as the current facility and the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Athletics and, someday, the Raiders. City officials expect to keep all three, using the old arena for ice shows, circuses and the like to avoid conflicts with basketball. To assure enough parking spaces, plans are to create a double-deck lot on site.