If not for that trade the day after the season started, center
Rony Seikaly probably would have his pilot's license by now. He
would be playing lots of tennis and squash--is there another
6'11" man who can beat him?--while pursuing his goal of becoming
a global industrialist. He would have visited his family in
Greece, and he would have traveled to his birthplace, Beirut,
Lebanon, to pay his respects to the many friends he had there
who were killed.
The 31-year-old Seikaly was ready, willing and able to do
anything this season but wear a Warriors uniform. To the rescue
came the Magic, who saved his career and his sanity by acquiring
him from Golden State, along with Cliff Rozier and a
second-round pick, for centers Jon Koncak and Felton Spencer and
forward Donald Royal. In turn, Seikaly has rewarded Orlando with
the best basketball of his nine-year career. At week's end he
was averaging 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds a game and bidding to
earn an unprecedented bookend to his 1989-90 NBA Most Improved
He hasn't quite filled the size-22 shoes of the departed
Shaquille O'Neal, but on a team used to dumping the ball into
the low post, he has provided the necessary finishing touches.
"Our best acquisition ever," says Magic assistant coach Richie
Adubato. "We got a guy who was the 10th- to 15th-best center in
the league; now his numbers are much better than that. We've
seen no flaws. He had something to prove when he came here. He
wanted to prove what happened in Golden State wasn't his fault."
When the Warriors obtained Seikaly from the Heat in November
1994, he was supposed to provide them with the pivot they needed
to contend for a championship. But within three weeks the best
players on the team--Chris Mullin, Chris Webber, Tim Hardaway
and Latrell Sprewell--were injured, traded, at odds with coach
Don Nelson or feuding with each other. "It exploded," Seikaly
said. "The roof caved in. Then the floor collapsed."
Seikaly, who relies on a sweet jump hook and a turnaround jumper
in the post, says he often set up 30 feet from the hoop, "acting
as a traffic cop. Mullin and I got pushed outside. We'd be at
the three-point line doing nothing. He'd look at me and say,
'What are you doing tonight? Want to play cards?' This was
during the game. Then we'd go down and play defense--the rest of
our team didn't play defense--they'd score. We'd come down on
offense, set up in the same place, and Chris would ask me, 'So,
where do you want to eat tonight?'"
Seikaly shakes his black-maned head. "The worst part is, it got
personal," he says. "I'll never forget the day I decided I'd
never go back there. The trading deadline [last February] had
passed. A guy in our organization--I won't say who--sneered at
me. I said, 'What's your problem?' He said, 'You're my problem.'
I said, 'Why didn't you trade me?' He said, 'We're not going to
trade you. We're going to sit you at the end of the bench until
you rot.' This was during a game. I said, 'I don't need you. I
don't need basketball. And don't ever threaten me.'"
Dave Twardzik, the Warriors' general manager, denies that
Seikaly was frozen out of the offense. "That was not a problem,"
he says. "He got his touches. Seik had the same complaint in
Miami and back at Syracuse. He's had problems wherever he has
gone." Asked about Seikaly's claim that a staff member told him
he would "rot" in Golden State, Twardzik says, "I've never heard
of that conversation. I know he had words with one of our
assistant coaches last year in Seattle, but I don't know what
Seikaly refused to report to training camp in October, then,
according to one source, agreed to give up $8.5 million in
guaranteed money to facilitate a trade. As much as he loves
basketball, he doesn't need to play it. His father, Fred, is a
self-made millionaire in the travel and shipping business;
Seikaly was financially set before he reached the NBA. Plus, he
studies business opportunities daily and is fluent in four
languages, English, Greek, Lebanese and French. ("I've heard him
talk in his sleep in all four," says Bucks guard Sherman
Douglas, who was Seikaly's roommate at Syracuse.) Says Seikaly,
"I could easily move into the real world as an entrepreneur."
Seikaly grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, in
which many of his friends died. His family spent one Christmas
in a bunker. A magazine editor in the apartment below theirs was
killed by a bomb. "I spent a lot of days and nights in
unfriendly and frightening surroundings and circumstances," he
says. "You can't imagine how bad it was unless you were a part
of it. It scars you. I didn't think about dying, but if a rocket
came in your living room when you were sitting there.... At the
beach a rocket would land 200 yards away. No one would move.
They would just put on more lotion. It was a way of life."
A horrible way. When Seikaly was 10, his family fled Lebanon for
Greece, where he began to participate in sports--volleyball,
soccer, track and field, and, finally, basketball. "My brother
wanted me to be a professional soccer goalie," Seikaly said. "He
always had me diving for shots on the cement. I didn't like
basketball, but everyone wanted me to play because I was tall.
So I rebelled. I didn't want to be the clumsy guy who had to
play basketball. But once I started playing, it came easy."
Indeed, what sets Seikaly apart from most NBA centers is his
athleticism, his ability to run the floor at his size. "When I
play one of these sports, like tennis or racquetball, people
look at me and think, Oh, he'll be too slow. He's too big," the
253-pound Seikaly says. "But then they see me, and they're a
little surprised." Seikaly is a yoga fanatic; on the court
before games, he contorts his body into positions that seem
almost painful. "He took up boxing in college just to improve
his coordination,'' says Douglas.
Seikaly showed up at a summer basketball camp at Syracuse in
1984, played well enough to earn a tryout for the varsity and
was soon rewarded with a four-year scholarship. He took the
Orangemen to the NCAA finals against Indiana in 1987, then a
year later was the Heat's first pick ever in the college draft.
The trade to title-contender Golden State (for forward Billy
Owens and guard Sasha Danilovic) was expected to benefit him.
Instead, it forced him to walk out. "How could I stay there?" he
said. "They wanted to see me do bad."
In Orlando, Seikaly has been a model of enthusiasm and hustle.
His tenacity in games and in practice has carried over to the
entire team. "Sometimes I'm too competitive. I take it
personally," he says. "I take a loss home with me. That can be a
problem." He is single, so at least he takes that problem to an
empty house. "Thank god,'' he says. "If I was married, my wife
wouldn't be able to handle it. We'd be divorced by now.''
This season he has become a more aggressive offensive rebounder
and has learned to pass more crisply out of the double team.
Seikaly is also attacking the basket instead of fading away. So
far he has 19 double-doubles; he had 15 in all of 1995-96. In
the 13 games he played in January (10 of them Magic wins),
Seikaly averaged 21.0 points and 10.0 rebounds. "He has always
been a talented offensive player," says Milwaukee coach Chris
Ford. "He had good stretches in Miami. He's even better now."
Life is good for Seikaly. He loves being back in Florida, he's
taking flying lessons, and his nine-year, $31 million contract
runs through 2000. Most important for him, he's 2,500 miles and
three months removed from the Warriors. "Coming to Orlando," he
says, "has been a dream come true for me."
For the Magic, too.
COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBA PHOTOS Back under the basket where he belongs, Seikaly is once again a double-double threat. [Rony Seikaly in game against Toronto Raptors]
FOR THE WEEK OF JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 2
Because it worked in Games 4, 5 and 6 of last season's NBA
Finals, Sonics coach George Karl put Gary Payton on Michael
Jordan in Sunday's showdown with the Bulls. The result? Jordan
scored 26 of his game-high 45 points in the first half as
Chicago downed host Seattle 91-84.
By scoring 40 in a 99-93 victory at New York on Sunday,
Charlotte forward Glen Rice raised his average since Jan. 1 to
32.2 points per game. Jordan's average in that span: 30.3.
Will Portland deal forward Cliff Robinson before the Feb. 20
trading deadline? Several teams, including New Jersey, Indiana
and Phoenix, are interested in Robinson, who is in the last year
of his contract. And when center Arvydas Sabonis and forward
Rasheed Wallace return from the injured list later this month,
the Blazers will be overloaded up front.
"It was good to see them celebrating at the end, jumping up and
down after beating us. Can you believe that? Just wait till we
get our team right." --Celtics coach M.L. Carr, after the Knicks
handed Boston its 18th straight loss in their series, 109-107,
on Jan. 28.