Chuck Person's career is floating somewhere beyond the three-point arc—the old arc. A few steps backward, and his goals will be out of range, even for him. A couple of steps forward, and he could be the Rifleman again. Which way does he think he'll go? That's like asking him what he'll do with an open 20-footer.
"Not only will I take the shot—I'll make it," he says. "I feel I can make every shot."
It's good to see that two poor seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves did nothing to hurt Person's confidence. He's a San Antonio Spur now, he's 30, and he says he will give the Spurs the scoring and long-distance shooting they desperately need off the bench. Having participated in only 15 playoff games in his eight NBA seasons, he signed with San Antonio as a free agent because he felt he could help take the Spurs far in the playoffs.
He's also out to shed the bad-boy label he earned from his trash-talking, finger-pointing style of play. "My high school coach told me my on-court antics took away a lot of All-Star-type years, and I totally agree," Person says. "I've heard it time and time again: I'm the best player in the league who has never made the All-Star team." That image was enhanced last season in Minnesota, to which Person was traded from the Indiana Pacers in 1992. He went to the T-Wolves thinking they were pretty good; instead he found they were awful—and unstable. So he complained, pouted and tangled with teammates. "People didn't come prepared to play every night," Person says. "We didn't know what our roles were."
Now Person is reunited with Spur coach Bob Hill, a former coach with the Pacers, Person's team for his first six NBA seasons. Hill says Person is good for any team. "He's one of the most intelligent players on the court, one of the hungriest and one of the best practice players," Hill says.
Person has always been a terrific shooter. He and Larry Bird used to play one-on-one during the summers in Indiana. Who's better? Person says, "From 15 to 16 feet he's better. From outside the arc there's no question who's better." O.K., who's better: Person or Reggie Miller? "It's about even," Person says. "We'll shoot H-O-R-S-E for an hour, all shots behind the old arc, and we'd make 25, 30, 40 in a row. It would be amazing." Is there a better shooter than Person? "As much as I hate to say this," he I replies, "Wesley is better." Wesley is Chuck's younger brother, a rookie with the Phoenix Suns.
A lot of shooters were better than the Rifleman last year, when he scored 11.6 points a game and shot 42% from the field. His scoring has dropped steadily since he averaged 21.6 points in 1988-89. In Indiana's five-game playoff loss to Bird's Celtics in '91, Person was brilliant, pouring in 26 points a game. It didn't matter that he also shot his mouth off on the court and in the newspapers; he had established himself as one of the game's top players. "I talked trash, I'd tell someone what I was doing to him while I was doing it," Person says. "That's the edge I had. I've got to get that edge back."
Can he? Or will he continue to fade?
"I'm still one of the top players in the league," Person says. "My performance the last two years says I'm not, but I know I am. Call any player in the league, and he'll say he fears Chuck Person."
Shoot it, Chuck. It's the last two minutes of your career.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
A revived Rifleman could provide some pop.