TURNING ON THE WORM
THAT CHORTLING you hear emanating from Texas can be traced
directly to San Antonio. With feelings of vindication and glee,
the Spurs embraced the news that their former teammate, the
Bulls' Dennis Rodman, had been fined $20,000 and suspended for
six games for his histrionics on March 16 against the
Nets--misdeeds that included head-butting referee Ted Bernhardt
and upending a watercooler.
The Spurs are divided on whether the latest Rodman outburst is
an isolated incident or the beginning of his undoing in Chicago.
"I'd say it's split," says veteran San Antonio guard Doc Rivers.
"Some guys are saying, 'I told you so.' Some guys could care
less. And some, like me, are saying, 'Let's wait and see.'"
It's hard to blame the Spurs for reveling in Rodman's misery.
Since being traded to Chicago in October, Rodman has assailed
his former franchise by calling its management liars, its
players wimps and its fans ignorant. In leveling his charges,
Rodman apparently has forgotten that he was the one who
disrupted two consecutive Spurs playoff runs.
Although San Antonio struggled earlier this season to replace
Rodman's rebounding and intimidation, by midseason the Spurs had
toughened themselves. And as of last weekend they were the NBA's
hottest team, having ripped off 13 wins in a row. After Sunday's
100-88 victory at Indiana, their record stood at 49-18--exactly
the same as after 67 games a year ago. And, says Rivers, San
Antonio has finally regained some of the swagger that propelled
it to a league-best 62 wins in 1994-95.
To replace Rodman's 16.8 rebounds a game, which led the league
last season, the Spurs have resorted to a rebound-by-committee
approach, with center David Robinson (12.1 per game through
Sunday), forward Charles Smith (6.8 since arriving from New York
in February) and backup center Will Perdue (6.4) picking up the
slack. But San Antonio's catalyst has been point guard Avery
Johnson, who through Sunday was averaging 13.2 points and 9.5
assists. "AJ's been the difference," says Rivers. "People make
the mistake of underestimating him because he's a Christian. But
he's the first to remind us, 'Don't confuse being a Christian
with being soft.'"
And now the Spurs can observe Rodman's unseemly behavior with
amusement. They view his antics as an annual rite of spring: The
crocuses will bloom, the robins will sing, and the Worm will
unravel. But Rivers says it's a waste of time to draw parallels
between the Rodman of the Spurs and the Rodman of the Bulls.
"What he did in New Jersey was react emotionally to something
that happened on the court," says Rivers. "I can deal with that.
What I couldn't deal with was when he didn't show up for
practice before Game 5 of the Western Conference finals last
year. It's a lot more disruptive when he's directing his anger
at his own team."
SADDER BUT WEALTHIER
Last week Sixers owner Harold Katz did the heretofore
unthinkable: He sold his team. The buyer was Comcast Corp., a
cable giant that also purchased, for an estimated $500 million,
the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, the CoreStates Spectrum and the
new CoreStates Center, which will house both teams next season.
Pat Croce, a former Sixers conditioning coach who became a
health-club mogul, was a partner with Comcast and will be the
Sixers' president. Sources say that his first order of business
will be to replace John Lucas as coach.
Katz, who paid $12 million for the 76ers in 1981, walks away
with more than $125 million and a heavy heart. Through Sunday
the Sixers were 13-55; only the expansion Grizzlies had fewer
victories. A series of poor trades, ill-advised signings and
impulsive personnel decisions had devastated Katz's franchise
and reduced him to a league laughingstock. And yet he never
stopped believing he could right the ship. Team sources say that
if the Sixers had won three in a row last week, Katz would have
called off the deal. "Not true," Katz says. "Five in a row?
A year after he took over the 76ers, Katz brought center Moses
Malone to Philadelphia, and Malone led the Sixers to the 1983
NBA title. But the Katz era also included such memorable
blunders as trading the No. 1 overall draft pick (which turned
out to be future All-Star center Brad Daugherty) to Cleveland
for journeyman forward Roy Hinson in '86; dealing (under duress)
unhappy All-Star forward Charles Barkley to Phoenix for guard
Jeff Hornacek, center Andrew Lang and forward Tim Perry in '92;
and prematurely jettisoning big men Shawn Bradley and Sharone
Wright this season.
"Philly is a tough town," says Katz. "This is no science. Either
you make moves, or you don't. I made moves."
Friends wonder how Katz will survive. "Basketball was his life,"
says Magic general manager Pat Williams, who was the Sixers'
general manager in that championship season. "He was the first
person I knew who had a satellite dish. He'd come into the
office and say, 'Hey, how about that kid at Nevada-Reno last
night?' I knew the game had been on at 3 a.m., and he was the
only guy on the East Coast who saw it, but I'd say, 'Yeah,
Harold, he looks like a player.'"
Around the league Katz's tireless work on expansion and finance
committees was appreciated. "Harold was great for the NBA," says
Suns president Jerry Colangelo. "People question his expertise,
but he delivered for his city one thing I still haven't: a
LINE OF THE WEEK
Magic guard Anthony Bowie, March 19, versus the Pistons: 41 MIN,
8-14 FG, 4-5 FT, 20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists. Bowie was
one assist shy of his first career triple double when he called
a timeout with 2.7 seconds to play and his team in front 111-91.
Orlando coach Brian Hill, visibly angered, handed Bowie his
clipboard and distanced himself from the Magic's huddle. Fuming
Detroit coach Doug Collins waved his team to the side of the
floor and allowed the Magic to inbound the ball to Bowie, who
passed to David Vaughn for a dunk. Collins and his players quit
before time expired, and Hill apologized profusely after the game.
"I'd do it again," said Bowie.
"I'd tell him to do it again," added Shaquille O'Neal.
Collins was fined $5,000 for his actions. Said Bowie, "What do
you think? Should I send him a check?"
AROUND THE RIM
Forward Jerome Kersey is averaging 19.2 minutes a night for the
Warriors, who signed him on Oct. 18 for the league minimum of
$225,000. If Kersey finishes the season averaging 20 minutes or
more, he receives an additional $50,000. He's also being paid
$4.4 million by the Trail Blazers, the team he played for last
season.... In January, when Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich moved
veteran guard Kenny Smith out of the rotation, Smith predicted:
"They'll need me somewhere down the line." Last week, with both
Clyde Drexler and Sam Cassell on the injured list, Smith was
back: In three games he averaged 28.6 minutes, 11.3 points and
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Spurred on by the spirited Johnson, San Antonio has toughened up and taken flight. [Avery Johnson in game against Orlando Magic]