THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : No Winners in Standoff at Houston

War of the Rockets: It’s easier to find the good guy in a TV commercial for personal injury lawyers than in this mess.

Did Hakeem Olajuwon fake a hamstring pull to pressure the Houston Rockets to redo his contract?

Or has the Rocket front office gone bonkers?

You can’t dismiss either possibility.


Olajuwon is 29, immensely talented, refreshingly down to earth . . . and yes, a little headstrong.

Despite his $3-million salary, he has a history of agitating for money.

Rocket General Manager Steve Patterson, 33, is an attorney, bright and well-spoken. His meteoric rise is perhaps only partly attributable to being the son of the former team president.

Olajuwon, seeking the now-popular one-year, $15-million extension, was turned down.

Replied Olajuwon, according to Patterson:

“You do what you have to do. I’ll do what I have to do.”

The next night, Olajuwon turned in a characteristic 21-point, 18-rebound performance in a victory over the Clippers.

He came out complaining of a twinge but went back in when it got close, so nobody paid much attention. The Rockets were 11-4 under latest Coach Rudy Tomjanovich and congratulating themselves on once more having surmounted mediocrity.


When Olajuwon sat out the next two games, the Rockets slapped him with a suspension, at $46,800 per game.

Olajuwon filed a grievance, suspending the suspension.

Olajuwon denied the comment attributed to him, adding that he’ll never again talk to Patterson without a witness.

Said Patterson: “If (Olajuwon) wants both of us to take polygraph tests, that’s fine with me.”


Olajuwon said it might be three weeks before his hamstring is ready. The regular season has only three weeks left.

Patterson pleaded his case on national TV, invoking the plight of the little people--such as the equipment manager who would lose a playoff share worth 25% of his income--so fat cat Hakeem could get a raise.

Said Olajuwon’s agent, Leonard Armato: “We’re just waiting for them to launch another Scud missile.”

Talking of missiles, the Rockets went 0-4, dropping like a rock in the standings.


Neither side may have actually wanted this fight, but neither is about to back down.

The Rockets have been annual disappointments since the Twin Tower days, resulting in the departures of Bill Fitch, Ralph Sampson and Don Chaney--all the major actors except Hakeem.

Olajuwon has always been delighted, rather than discomfited, by trade talk.

Insiders say Patterson is only fronting for owner Charlie Thomas, who is fed up with Olajuwon.


However. . . .

The Rockets say they know that Olajuwon is faking, even introducing an magnetic resonance imaging expert to testify that he found no evidence of injury.

A prominent Los Angeles orthopedist said if Olajuwon says he’s in pain, a doctor would be hard-pressed to prove otherwise.

Whether he wins or loses in arbitration, he can probably force a trade to someone who will give him his $15 million.



That roar you hear isn’t the surf, it’s the balance of power shaking.

Think of it, an off-season with Olajuwon and Charles Barkley up for grabs.

Who might be interested in Hakeem?


Just thinking out loud. . . .

Philadelphia--How about your superstar for ours?

Phoenix--The Suns are stuck just beneath elite class. They have a spare center, so they could offer Mark West, Negele Knight, Tom Chambers and Cedric Ceballos just to open talks. They said no when Kevin Johnson’s name came up in last summer’s Patrick Ewing talks, but this is a new year.

Seattle--The SuperSonics can’t be thrilled about that $17.5-million contract they gave Benoit Benjamin and would probably package him and (choose from Derrick McKey, Michael Cage, Dana Barros, Eddie Johnson) without thinking twice. The problem: Getting someone else to make the same mistake.


Golden State--Don Nelson has made a career of competing without a star center, but you don’t get many chances at the great ones. Last summer, there was speculation about a Chris Mullin package for Ewing. How about Mullin and Victor Alexander for Olajuwon?

Clippers--They could trade Charles Smith, Olden Polynice, Bo Kimble and a No. 1 pick or two--and never touch their starters. Donald Sterling is in a superstar frame of mind.

Lakers--With them, megadeals for superstar centers are traditional: Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975. How about Vlade Divac, James Worthy and a No. 1?



Now we know why Michael Jordan couldn’t visit the White House:

He was busy trying to get even.

Yes, that same weekend the Chicago Bulls were in Washington and Jordan said he was spending quality time with his family on Hilton Head Island, S.C., he was allegedly dropping $165,000 in golf, poker and dice bets to an assortment of interesting associates:

--James (Slim) Bouler, a convicted cocaine dealer, found with a $57,000 check from Jordan. Both later said it was a loan so Slim could open a driving range.


--Eddie Dow, a bail bondsman, recently shot to death in front of his Gastonia, N.C., home. He had checks from Jordan for $77,000 and $11,000. Dow’s lawyer said they covered Jordan’s losses to Dow and two other men.

--Dean Chapman, one-time owner of a North Carolina gambling club closed by the local district attorney. In Dow’s lockbox was a $20,000 check from Jordan to Chapman.

Jordan denies nothing, insisting on his right to associate and wager with anyone he chooses.

“The mistake, first of all, was that it got to be a public-knowledge situation,” he said.


“I love to bet. That’s a part of everyone’s competitive attitude.”

Earth to Mike: Come back to us.

NBA Commissioner David Squirm, er Stern, is making no protest, nor are the Bulls, Nike or agent David Falk. Mike is so big, nobody says boo to him, which might be part of the problem.



That’s what I get for doing my own math:

A week ago, I ran the odds on the Lakers drawing the first three picks, assuming they miss the playoffs. However, I got them wrong.

The correct answer requires a series of transactions, and I’m indebted to Don Ylvisaker, professor of math at UCLA.

On drawing the No. 1 pick: 65-1.


On drawing the No. 2: 59-1.

On drawing the No. 3: 52-1.

On drawing one of the three: 19-1.



Seattle Coach George Karl, now 19-11, on losing Benoit Benjamin for the season: “Say what you want about Ben, it takes away rebounding and shot blocking.” . . . Nate McMillan, on the atmosphere under Karl: “It’s hard to describe. If you never had really good chemistry, I guess you don’t understand it until you start to feel it.” . . . Michael Jordan went back to gunning, taking 30 shots in three of four games after the controversy over his checks broke out. When Jordan scored 50 points in a February game, Coach Phil Jackson said: “We can’t win that way.” . . . Said Horace Grant of Jordan’s recent burst: “We can’t get back to that.”

The only problem with Chris Ford’s plan to have Larry Bird shoot less was that the Boston Celtics lost all their games when he did. They started winning when he started firing. . . . “I’m just as confused as everybody else,” Bird said, looking for a middle course. “I don’t know if I should be taking 20 shots or 10 shots. I know I can’t go out there every night and score like I used to, which is probably why they don’t let me.” . . . Forget the rookie-of-the-year race. Larry Johnson is in overdrive, and Dikembe Mutombo is dead in the water. . . . Cleveland’s Mark Price has made 234 of 244 free throws, or 95.9%. Calvin Murphy has the record at 95.8%. Barkley after breaking his nose in a game: “There’s something wrong with my septum. I’ve always been a little deviated.”