A RAPTOR'S ANGUISH
He rehearsed the false cheeriness out in the hospital hallway
and silently pleaded with himself to be strong. Raptors forward
Carlos Rogers is a big man, 6'11" and 220 pounds, and after less
than three seasons in the NBA he had established a reputation as
a malcontent who reeked of attitude. Tough? Carlos Rogers was
tougher than he needed to be.
Yet every time he opened the door to his sister Adrienne's
hospital room and saw her lying there over the past two months,
trying to manage the weakest of smiles for her baby brother, his
strength abandoned him. "I always cut the visits short," Rogers
said from Toronto last Thursday, shortly before rushing back to
his sister's side at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. "I'd go in
thinking about holding her up, but she'd be grimacing, in so
much pain, and I'd start feeling my own body crumbling. So I'd
leave the room and cry like a baby."
Adrienne, or Rene, as her family always called her, was dying.
In 1992 her kidneys were failing, and Rogers was identified as a
match for a transplant. He offered to donate a kidney, but one
from a cadaver, also a match, was located. The transplant was
initially successful, but two months ago Rene developed a blood
infection that led to the failure of the new kidney.
Last week the plight of Rene and Carlos Rogers became national
news. If Rogers donated a kidney, his basketball career could be
over. But there was never any choice. "Isn't it obvious which is
more important?" Rogers said last Thursday. "If playing my last
pro basketball game is my biggest problem, then I don't have any
The plan, he said, was to fly to Detroit to meet with doctors
after Toronto's home game that night against Miami. But three
hours before tip-off, Raptors executive vice president Isiah
Thomas received an urgent call from the hospital, where Rene was
fading rapidly. Thomas ran the quarter mile from the team's
offices to Rogers's apartment. "Rene isn't going to make it,"
Thomas told him.
Thomas says Rogers hurled a lamp across the room, then dropped
to his knees, sobbing. "I let him cry for about five minutes,"
says Thomas. "Then I said, 'Your sister's not gone yet. Go see
While Rogers changed from his sweat suit into a coat and tie,
Thomas chartered a jet. That evening Rogers sat in Detroit
holding Rene's hand, while his teammates bowed their heads in
silence in Toronto before facing the Heat, praying for her
In the next 24 hours Rogers offered his kidney, again and again,
until finally a doctor pulled him aside and told him there was
nothing he could do. Last Friday, Rene, 29, died of septic shock.
Until last week few of those who follow the NBA knew much about
Rogers other than the vitals: 25 years old, a 10.5 scoring
average for the Raptors. The media guides didn't mention the
horrors of growing up on the unforgiving streets of Detroit,
where Rogers says he survived an abusive father with a drug
habit. His brother Kevin, barely a year older, was gunned down
and killed in 1988. Rogers admits he became numb to the violence
and joined a gang, even though his mother, Jacqueline, abandoned
by her husband and left to raise 12 children, begged him not to.
"Some people find Carlos kind of hard," says Thomas. "I know
where he comes from. If he wasn't that way, he probably would
have been dead at 17."
Basketball was Rogers's salvation. He was at Tennessee State in
1992 when Rene became seriously ill for the first time. Eager to
protect him, his mother withheld the details of his sister's
illness. However, during a visit home, Rogers was lounging on
the couch when his sister called frantically to him. "She
started having a seizure," Rogers says. "God, it was awful. She
was throwing up all this poison. I was so helpless. I couldn't
do anything but stand there and pray she didn't die."
His prayers were answered that day, but his wish for Rene to see
her 30th birthday this April 22 was not. Less than two hours
after her death, Rogers faced the media and wept.
In between his tears Rogers thanked the elderly man who walked
into the Raptors' offices and offered to donate a kidney so
Rogers could continue his career. Rogers promised to use the
knowledge he'd gained about kidney ailments to help other
families. "Everything I do now is for Rene," he said.
His story stunned the NBA. That sullen, troublesome forward
suddenly had a face, a heart and a despair that has shattered
all his defenses. "I hate that this had to happen for people to
realize what type of person Carlos is," says Thomas. "Some of
his reputation was probably deserved, but much was
misunderstood. He carried on to keep people away, so they'd
think he was that badass they had already branded him. In this
league, when you get labeled, it's forever. But Carlos has grown
LEARNING THE HARD WAY
The day after Kobe Bryant received his first extensive playing
time at point guard for the Lakers, contributing 21 points and
five assists in 32 minutes against the Pistons on Jan. 18, Los
Angeles coach Del Harris announced that Bryant would be the new
backup point guard behind Nick Van Exel. It was a pivotal moment
for Bryant, the 18-year-old phenom who jumped from Lower Merion
(Pa.) High to the NBA. His inclusion in the rotation validates
his decision to bypass college. "There hasn't been one minute
I've been sorry I did this," Bryant says.
Portland center Jermaine O'Neal, who jumped to the Trail Blazers
from Eau Claire (S.C.) High, has not been as confident about his
own decision. In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
that appeared on Jan. 8, O'Neal, 18, said if he could do it
over, he'd go to college. "There's a lot of things other than
basketball you have to deal with," O'Neal told the newspaper. "I
think the NBA is a little too much for 17- and 18-year-olds to
deal with.... In high school I was able to do whatever I wanted
to do. There weren't that many big bodies, or guys bigger than
me, to play against. Now I'm up against a lot of bigger,
stronger guys, and I'm lacking that [college] experience."
Shortly after his comments were published, O'Neal recanted
almost everything he'd said. Now he says he doesn't regret his
decision to go pro. "I think I've proved to everyone I can play
in this league," he said last week. O'Neal might have been
buoyed by his performance on Jan. 22 against the SuperSonics,
when he scored a career-high 20 points in 25 minutes, the most
action he had seen as a pro.
Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin
McHale says his 20-year-old forward, Kevin Garnett, experienced
similar peaks and valleys after making the jump from high school
to the NBA last season. "The scariest part for these kids," says
McHale, "is that there's no going back. You can't change your
Like Garnett and Bryant, who followed his performance against
Detroit with six points, one assist and five turnovers against
the Mavericks, O'Neal appears to have a bright future. The Trail
Blazers love his instincts, his footwork and his shot-blocking
ability. Now if they can only work on his interview skills.
AROUND THE RIM
Since Dec. 26, when the Suns traded for point guard Jason Kidd
(sidelined with a fractured collarbone), Kevin Johnson has
played his best basketball in 21/2 years. In his last 12 games
through Sunday, Johnson has averaged 22.8 points, 9.6 assists,
2.0 steals and 40.4 minutes. His numbers in the 12 games before
the trade: 11.8 points, 7.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 29.3
minutes. Despite the entreaties of coach Danny Ainge, who plans
on playing Johnson at shooting guard when Kidd returns, KJ
insists he will still retire at season's end.... The Nuggets,
looking to move point guard Mark Jackson, have interest in Spurs
point man Avery Johnson, but the salaries are a mismatch.
Jackson makes $2.9 million this season; Johnson, $1.23 million.
Also, San Antonio center David Robinson is a big Johnson backer.
COLOR PHOTO: JOE DEVERA/THE DETROIT NEWS/AP Rogers (center) was prepared to give up a kidney--and his playing career--to save his dying sister. [Carlos Rogers with others]
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS The 18-year-old O'Neal is still learning how to cope with the bigger, stronger foes he must face in the pros. [Jermaine O'Neal in game]