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Staff Writer Anthony Cotton, whose story on the "work ethic" in the NBA begins on page 46, has been an industrious man himself the past few weeks. While gathering material for the piece on the willing workers, as well as for a profile on Houston Rockets rookie Ralph Sampson (page 38) and for his Pacific Division scouting report, Cotton ended up logging some 14,300 miles flying to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Denver.

One side effect of all of this was a case of what may be called Traveling Journalist's Paranoia, or fear of having left one's notes in the hotel room. "Four or five times I thought, 'I've left them,' and went back to check the hotel room again," Cotton says. He had not left them, of course, and in the meantime he acquired a rainbow of torn baggage tags on the handle of his suitcase and, among other things, a consensus as to which players deserved to make the All-NBA Work-Ethic Team. "Once we decided to develop the idea of a work-ethic team," he says, "I was surprised that there was such general agreement about who should be on it."

As for Sampson, Cotton says, "I've never dealt with a franchise player before, and I was fascinated to see how the city rallied around him. You just say 'Ralph' and everybody knows who you mean. He finds it tough to get his hands on a basketball because there are so many demands on his time. But he told me he'd had a lot of trouble making the transition from high school to Virginia. When he arrived at the university, the sports information office was a small, cramped room, and it suddenly turned into two whole offices just to accommodate the media. Maybe that's why this time he's managing it very well."

Cotton, now 26, is starting his fourth season of handling pro basketball assignments for SI. He served his apprenticeship as a youth by playing in pickup games around his home in Chicago and in intramural games while at Northwestern University. Thanks to Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson, whom Cotton interviewed in connection with the work-ethic article, he will be getting an even more intimate look at the pro game.

"It all started when we were talking about Nellie's notoriously complex coaching strategies," he says. "I finally talked him into letting me see his play-book." Cotton wondered aloud if he could successfully execute the plays, and "Nelson said why not come to his free-agent and rookie camp next September and find out.

"The deal is, I can't just turn up to scrimmage with the players," Cotton says. "I'm going to have to go through all the exercises and suicide drills." Cotton admits he's probably not going to make anyone's team next season, work like a beaver though he may. "I'd love to make a pro team," he says. "But I have to be realistic. I just won't embarrass myself...I hope."