These days, there are only two good places to buy mice in San
Antonio. There once were three, but when the Spurs traded
forward Sean Elliott to the Detroit Pistons two years ago, he
had to sell his Fullcourt Pets, a store that offered mice in
every stage of young mousehood. Now that he's back in town,
Elliott has to drive a long way to purchase lunch for his
finicky pet reptiles. At Aren't They Cute Pets, several miles
from his home, Elliott paid 79 cents for the five
"fuzzies"--week-old mice just sprouting fur--that he is now
feeding to his foot-long mangrove monitor and to a slightly
larger water dragon. "You have to be careful about what you feed
reptiles," says Elliott, whose home menagerie includes lizards,
snakes, fish, two dogs and a ferret. "If a snake is full, it
won't defend itself. If one of my snakes doesn't eat an animal
within five minutes, I take the animal out. I had a friend who
left a rat in with his eight-foot python overnight and in the
morning, he had two four-foot pythons."
Certain that the fuzzies pose no threat to his scaly pets,
Elliott dips a squirming mouse into a tub of gray calcium
powder--builds strong reptilian teeth and bones--and then tosses
the doomed rodent into the monitor's cage. "I know some people
think this is cruel," Elliott says as the devouring commences.
"But it is the law of nature."
In the Darwinian world of professional basketball, Elliott
hasn't conformed so closely to the laws of survival. Isn't it
written somewhere that a player who has gone by the nickname
Silly and whose biggest distraction to his team is an occasional
fit of uncontrollable laughter will wind up as fodder for meaner
beasts? Doesn't theory have it that a guy with enduring respect
and patience for most life-forms--including the media, referees
and Dennis Rodman--will not survive in an environment where
dissing is the lingua franca? Aren't nice guys supposed to
finish last, not become All-Stars?
"Sean Elliott is as sweet a person as you'll meet," says Spur
general manager Gregg Popovich. "But he is also a very good
all-around basketball player. He has a great ability to get by
people and drive to the basket. And he never gets enough credit
for his defense because he doesn't look or act like a great
defender. He is continually underrated by people who have the
misconception that he is 'soft.' He is sensitive, for sure. But
no way is he soft."
"I'm as aggressive as I need to be," says the 6'8", 215-pound
Elliott. "You don't have to yell in someone's face when you dunk
to be aggressive."
Since he was drafted No. 3 overall by the Spurs in 1989 after a
career at Arizona that culminated in consensus National Player
of the Year honors, Elliott has improved his performance every
season he has been in San Antonio. He has progressed from
averaging 10 points a game as a rookie to his best season last
year, when he scored 18.1 points a game and shot a team-leading
81% from the free throw line. "And this year," promises
Popovich, "we're going to stay on him to be a little greedier
and score, score, score."
"Sean's unselfishness is the one thing that's keeping him from
full-blown superstardom," says Tennessee head coach Kevin
O'Neill, an assistant at Arizona during Elliott's career there.
"He wants to please everybody. Of course, that's what makes him
such a great person."
O'Neill doesn't say this lightly: He did, after all, name his
son Sean, now 9, after the Spur forward. Meanwhile, Cholla High
in Tucson, Elliott's alma mater, renamed its gym after him. Most
summers, Elliott holds a basketball camp at Sean Elliott Gym,
where every camper gets to play Sean Elliott one-on-one. "I
think Sean is most comfortable with young people," says
Popovich. "He loves to have fun, and he can be amused by
anything." Thus the juvenile in Elliott delights in pranks such
as calling up his accountant, disguising his voice and claiming
to be from the IRS. "He does things like that to me, too," says
his mother, Odiemae. "He'll have me convinced he's a reporter
from some big paper. He's still a big kid at heart."
Odiemae raised her biggest kid and his two older brothers in the
desert outside Tucson. "Whenever it rained," says Elliott, "I'd
wake up the next morning with something on my doorstep:
tarantula, snake, coyote, lizard, javelina...." Many of these
animals--except for the tarantulas, which still give him the
creeps--became pets. Odiemae will never forget one housewide
search for an escaped Colorado River toad. "It was just a big
toad," she says, "except that it exuded a poison when agitated."
"My mother is an incredibly patient person," says Elliott, whose
parents divorced when he was 10. "She raised three boys working
the graveyard shift as a nurse. But she never complained. So
it's not hard for me to be patient."
Two years ago, though, his patience was tested. In October 1993,
a few weeks after he married Akiko Herron and moved into a new
house in San Antonio, Elliott was traded to the Pistons in the
deal that brought Rodman to San Antonio. Adding to the misery of
a 20-62 season and his lowest scoring output (12.1 points per
game) since his rookie year, Elliott had to deal with a kidney
ailment and the side effects of a cortisone treatment he had
started the summer before. "My skin got all puffy, and I had
major mood swings," says Elliott, who has since found a far
less disruptive medication. Happily, San Antonio reacquired him
in July '94.
"Detroit was a real learning experience for me," says Elliott.
"Now I really appreciate winning." And the only creatures who
don't appreciate having Elliott back in San Antonio are the
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGHAt ease in San Antonio after a Detroit detour, Elliott has resumed his steady climb. [Sean Elliott]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Elliott's drive is deadly; "No one in the league can stop him," says his G.M. [Sean Elliott]