THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : A Penny, as in Hardaway, for the Mirror’s Thoughts
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
Uh, can I get back to you on that one, Mike?
Generations collided last week in Orlando, and if the ground didn’t shake, the league did. Time inevitably favors the younger, but the older was represented by Michael Jordan, who hadn’t met his match on a basketball floor for a decade or two until Anfernee Hardaway outgunned him, 36-23, in a Magic victory.
This wasn’t a phony match in which neither player guards the other. Jordan started out on Hardaway until Hardaway charred him, whereupon Bull Coach Phil Jackson switched another perennial all-defensive first teamer, Scottie Pippen, onto the case, then gave up and double-teamed.
In the second half, when the game was decided, it was Hardaway 15, Jordan five.
“For him to outplay both of those guys was just something to watch,” said teammate Jon Koncak. “Right now he’s as good as it gets, and that’s why we are where we are.”
Said Indiana Pacer President Donnie Walsh: “This kid is going to be a great player. He’s the next Michael, Magic, Bird. That’s what I see. He did athletic things there’s nothing you can do about.”
Hardaway’s first two seasons were impressive, but he was under wraps until Shaquille O’Neal was hurt. Now it’s a Penny circus; he began the weekend averaging 28.6 points, 0.4 points behind Jordan for the league lead, and the Magic had the NBA’s best record.
Jordan, meanwhile, is averaging 29 points, shooting 53% and making 45% of his three-point shots but since his return, tends to flame out late in games. Once he scored at will, blowing through double teams, attacking the basket. Now he’s more dependent on his jump shot. Opponents are no longer as intimidated; they have begun attacking him, and he has given up some big numbers: 36 to Hardaway, 29 to Rod Strickland, 22 to Damon Stoudamire.
Will Hardaway be content to go back into his role when O’Neal returns? Human nature is human nature. It took years for Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to get comfortable with each other.
Can Jordan hold back the hands of time? And if not, will he stay around?
One thing is sure: The clock is ticking.
ARMING FOR ANOTHER KIND OF SHAQ ATTAQ
Magic officials are braced for the worst: a Laker raid to try to sign Shaquille O’Neal, who will be a free agent next summer.
The Lakers have the glamour and the salary-cap room (they can get $9.3 million under). O’Neal has said he wants to stay in Orlando, but he loves show biz, of which there is a lot here. Shaq’s agent, Leonard Armato, is here, and O’Neal hung out here the spring before the draft, playing pickup ball with Magic Johnson, going to Laker games. Shaq still garages one of his cars here to have something nice to drive when he’s in town.
You know how those rental places are, you can never be sure they’ll have a Mercedes or a Ferrari when you want one.
ONE STATE ISN’T BIG ENOUGH FOR TWO
Not surprisingly, the Miami Heat got a big, hot Magic welcome last week.
These two cities don’t like each other very much. To Miami, Orlando is a bunch of rubes upstate. To Orlando, Miami is a den of iniquity. Now Miami has Pat Riley and Orlando has Shaq, or did have until one of Riley’s henchmen broke his thumb in an exhibition.
The Magic fans booed their faces red. The game lived up to the ambience, with the Magic winning by a point and charging that Riley had turned the Heat into a street gang.
(In Miami, Riley’s impact has been noted with more admiration. A caller to WQAM said the Dolphins should replace defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti with Riley.) Magic players claimed Miami’s Keith Askins spit at Coach Brian Hill during the game.
“That was uncalled for,” said Magic General Manager Pat Williams. “It has no place in this league. I’m trying to get my 10-year-old not to do that.”
Askins said he didn’t really spit at Hill, only near him.
“If I was trying to spit on their coach, I would have done it,” he said. “I’m pretty accurate when I spit. . . . I didn’t have time to run to the sideline to get a cup. I spit on the sideline because I didn’t want to have anyone slip on the floor.”
That was considerate of him.
‘EASY DAVE,’ WHERE ARE YOU?
Commissioner David Stern joined the negotiations with the referees’ union last week (all together now, “What kept you?”), and went on TV to state his case, suggesting he’s embarrassed and ready to deal.
The way it works, Stern makes underlings stay out front when things are unpleasant, then comes in like Solomon the Wise.
He has plenty to be embarrassed about. The replacements aren’t stiffs, but they have no credibility. Nick Van Exel may disagree with a Joey Crawford call but knows if he protests, Crawford will call a technical before he gets to the predicate of his sentence.
These guys are short-timers, substitute teachers, red meat.
Nov. 9--Indiana Pacer Coach Lary Brown stomps onto the floor in New York, forcing the referees to eject him, then has to be hauled away by his assistants. Fines total $80,000.
Nov. 10--The Pacers and Kings rumble in Indianapolis. A record 16 players are suspended, so both teams play their next two games with eight-man squads. Sacramento goes 0-2, its first losses of the season.
Nov. 12--There are 73 fouls (one every 40 seconds) in the Golden State Warriors’ game at Phoenix. The Suns win, but Charles Barkley kicks the ball into the rafters after the final buzzer.
Nov. 14--Laker Coach Del Harris stomps on the floor during play in Sacramento to show where a King player has lined up illegally (technical foul). Van Exel, bumped on the dribble with no call, slams the ball down in front of the referee (technical). King Coach Garry St. Jean gets two technicals (and is ejected) and the Lakers turn the game around. It’s decided when Mitch Richmond gets two technicals, giving the Lakers a five-point possession in the closing seconds.
Counting exhibitions, the league has suspended 23 players, one coach and assessed $190,000 in fines.
Last season’s totals at this point: no players suspended, $10,000 in fines.
It’s a no-win proposition for Stern unless he plans to hold a company picnic with the money he saves. It’s chump change for a league that grosses $1.2 billion, but negotiations are proceeding slowly, with the league suggesting referee counsel Fred Slaughter is truculent.
Elsewhere, the problem isn’t Slaughter but the slaughter. Said Gary Payton to the regulars: “Please come back, we’re sorry for whatever we did.”
FACES AND FIGURES
Dennis 1, Bulls 0: Guess how that first confrontation between the Bulls and Dennis Rodman turned out? Rodman’s pulled calf muscle is now deemed more serious than the team announced and he’s on the injured list. “We conceded he is 34, it’s a long season and it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Phil Jackson. . . . Jackson, who selects books for players to read (or discard) on West Coast trips, is giving his own “Sacred Hoops” to Rodman. “It’s a way for us to get to know each other without having to communicate,” Jackson said. “Dennis doesn’t like a lot of conversation.” . . . The Shot Doc strikes again: Buzz Braman, whose exhaustive work with Shaquille O’Neal brought his free-throw shooting down several percentage points, is working his magic on the Bullets, now 25th from the line at 70.8%. Last season they were 20th at 72.4%. And that’s with bricklayer Chris Webber out. . . . Aside from that, how’s the deal working out? Mark Price will be gone three months, will be a free agent in the summer and reportedly said, after the Cavaliers traded him to the Bullets: “I’m going from a second-rate organization to a third-rate organization.”
Serious at last: Net forward Jayson Williams is second in rebounds at 12.5 a game--while averaging 25 minutes. The Lakers made a run at him last summer when he was a free agent but couldn’t land him. When he returned to the Nets, he volunteered to have a clause put in his contract, penalizing him for “excessive partying.” . . . When Williams visited the Bulls, he had to take a four-hour psychological exam. The next day the Bulls traded for Rodman. “I might be a little crazy,” said Williams, “but I’m not as crazy as Rodman. Four hours? I take the test and the next day they get Dennis? I wonder how I really did.” . . . Don Nelson returned to Golden State last week. Latrell Sprewell, asked if he’d like to make up with Nelson as Webber did, demurred. “I’m not the type to hold grudges or to hate somebody,” said Sprewell, “but the things he did still weigh heavy on my mind.” . . . Who is this guy, anyway? Under Nelson, Sprewell was a rising star. He quit last season and has revived only sporadically. “I’m just so happy for him,” said teammate Chris Gatling after Sprewell scored 30 points in the home opener. “I’m probably happier than he is. There have been so many negatives attached to him and it was great to see the crowd get charged up behind him.” . . . In the next two games, Sprewell scored a total of nine points, missing 18 of 21 shots. . . . Barkley, making his first visit to Toronto, said he and friends from the Buffalo Bills would be heading to a nearby bar. Said a TV reporter: “But that’s a strip joint!” Said Barkley: “Hey, I’m old enough to go.” . . . Houston’s Sam Cassell, asked what 19-year-old Kevin Garnett brings to the Timberwolves: “Maturity.”