Van Exel Meets the Press Four Hours Late in Denver

From Staff and Wire Reports

Troubled throughout his five-year career with the Lakers, point guard Nick Van Exel was tardy in his first visit to Denver. He spent the rest of Sunday trying to alter his bad-boy image.

Van Exel--who came to the Nuggets in a draft-day deal that sent forward Tony Battie and first-round draft pick Tyronn Lue to the Lakers--was nearly four hours late for Sunday's news conference.

"I missed my flight," Van Exel said. "I was told the flight was delayed and I didn't want it to delay me."

Van Exel missed the flight out of Las Vegas, where he had received a comeback player of the year award.

"I stayed in the casino," he said.

Van Exel, who averaged 13.9 points and 6.9 assists last season, made it to the news conference and was able to later take a team physical only after the Nuggets sent a private jet to Las Vegas.

"Otherwise, we wouldn't have seen Nick this afternoon," Denver General Manager Dan Issel said. "The next flight for Denver didn't leave Las Vegas until 9:40 p.m."

Van Exel, who has one year remaining on a five-year, $10.5 million contract which paid him $1.9 million last season, was said to be balking at coming to the Nuggets.

"I think the perception of Van Exel is that Nick took several days to get here because he didn't want to come to Denver," Issel said. "There is nothing I've heard from Nick or his agent that they were ever indicating they didn't want to come to Denver."

"When I was traded to Denver, I didn't know how to react," Van Exel said. "I wanted to take a couple of drinks and clear my mind and go away and relax a little bit. Now I think being out of L.A. will be great and be a fresh new start for me."

The question for Denver is what player they will be getting. Will it be the one with baggage who argued with Coach Del Harris on the bench in the 1997 playoffs and was suspended for the final seven games of the 1995-96 season for shoving an official in a game in Denver, or the player that was 27 of 42 from three-point range in games played at McNichols Arena?

"People that know me know the kind of person that I am, and I will be all business when I start playing," said Van Exel, who lost his starting job late last season to Derek Fisher. "The last argument I had with Del Harris, I didn't think it was fair. The situation was blown out of proportion and I was not the fault."

There is also the matter of Van Exel's chronically bad knees.

"My knees are fine and are holding up great," Van Exel said. "I have no pain in them and I don't have a problem."

He also set aside concerns about going from a team that won 61 games to one that won 11. He said he went through his first two years in Los Angeles when the Lakers had little talent.

"I enjoyed the role with a lot being expected of me," Van Exel said. "Right now with the return of players that have been hurt, we have a chance to do some things next year and hopefully with the addition of a free agent make some things happen."


Former Boston Celtic great and Indiana Pacers Coach Larry Bird is expected to be voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame today in Springfield, Mass.

A rule that players must be retired five years has kept him out of the Hall of Fame and this year is the first Bird is eligible to win a spot in the basketball shrine.

The Hall of Fame admits at least three nominees each year from the regular category and one each from the women's, veterans' and international categories. A panel of 24 unidentified selectors makes the final picks.

The four first-time nominees among the 11 in the regular category are Bird, Adrian Dantley, Chet Walker and former Harlem Globetrotter Marques Haynes. The other seven are Larry Costello, Artis Gilmore, Gus Johnson, Sidney Moncrief and coaches Alex Hannum, John Thompson and Tex Winter.

Women's Basketball

Bridget Pettis scored 23 points to lead the visiting Phoenix Mercury (6-1) to an 86-69 victory over the Washington Mystics (1-6) before 15,191 as the Mercury took sole possession of first place in the WNBA Western Conference. Muriel Page led Washington with 18 points

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