What's wrong with the Sonics? This might seem an odd question,
because Seattle checked out at the All-Star break with a 32-15
record. But last season's NBA Finalists were 2 1/2 games behind
the surging Lakers in the Pacific Division, having lost
back-to-back home games to Chicago and Utah. Moreover, the
Sonics had a disconcerting 0-7 record against the Jazz, the
Lakers and the Rockets, their strongest Western Conference
rivals. Coach George Karl blasted his troops after that 99-95
loss to Utah on Feb. 5. "The thing I hate about my basketball
team more than anything else," Karl said after the game, "is
they're not good teammates to one another. I think we have...
too much pointing fingers and not enough camaraderie."
Looking for a translation? Houston's Charles Barkley says
Seattle's biggest problem is obvious: All-Star forward Shawn
Kemp. "I knew the minute he didn't show up on time for the
preseason that they were in for a long, hard year," Barkley
said, referring to Kemp's 26-day training-camp holdout. "They
still might be there at the end, but they've got problems, and
the biggest one is money. Money does two things: It hurts some
guys' desire, and it makes other guys grope around the locker
room. Shawn Kemp is mad because Jim McIlvaine makes more money
than he does. A guy that talented should never come out and
bitch about money. He should go out, play and make sure he gets
what he deserves."
Asked if he knew Kemp well enough to pull him aside and tell him
that, Barkley answered, "No. But he should understand that
someone is always going to make more money than you, and it's
not worth fracturing your team."
McIlvaine, a backup center for the Bullets last season, signed a
seven-year, $35 million contract with the Sonics last summer.
Though Seattle had hoped McIlvaine would shore up the middle, he
has struggled with his new club, and at the All-Star break he
was averaging just 19.0 minutes, 3.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and
2.3 blocks. In 1994 Kemp, a five-time All-Star, signed a
seven-year, $25.4 million extension that took effect after the
When told about Barkley's comments before last Sunday's All-Star
Game in Cleveland, Kemp shook his head emphatically. "That's got
nothing to do with what's wrong with our team," he said. "We've
got no chemistry right now. Anytime a team makes the Finals,
then makes changes, you take a chance. You bring different guys
in, and you have to teach them the way your team plays."
Kemp said he's tired of hearing he's jealous of McIlvaine and
his fat wallet. "There's no dissension between us," Kemp
insisted. "We work out together every day. I am telling you the
truth when I tell you that the [preseason] holdout wasn't just
about money." So what was the source of his unhappiness? "It had
to do with management and a lack of communication," Kemp
answered. "They always knew I'd be there by November 1 [opening
night], but they hinted otherwise. I never asked them for
another dollar. In fact, if they offer me an extension at the
end of the season, I'm not sure I'd sign it. I want to see what
direction this team and this franchise are going in first. They
weren't interested in communicating that with me."
Seattle general manager Wally Walker, contacted in Philadelphia
during the break, said the club couldn't even discuss
restructuring Kemp's contract, which calls for a moratorium on
any restructuring until October 1997. "We can't even imply
intent until that date," Walker said. "It's a frustrating one
Nonetheless, Barkley's comments echo what many other veterans
were saying privately about Kemp during All-Star weekend. Asked
if the whispering upset him, Kemp answered, "It doesn't bother
me, because it's not right."
A MATTER OF RESPECT
Allen Iverson, the 76ers' rookie, hadn't uttered a single word
or taken a single shot. But by Friday of All-Star Weekend he had
been targeted for criticism by some of the NBA's 50 alltime
greatest players, 47 of whom had assembled in Cleveland to
celebrate the league's 50th anniversary and, apparently, to
dissect the game and attitude of Philly's flashy point guard.
Rick Barry questioned Iverson's willingness to play team ball,
and John Havlicek chided Iverson for having told Michael Jordan
earlier this season that he does not have to respect anybody on
the court. But the grenade that hurt the most was tossed by
Elvin Hayes. Said the Big E, "If he doesn't show any respect for
the guys in this room, and for today's top players, then maybe
he should read up on them. His head is in the wrong place."
Against that backdrop Iverson trotted onto the court Saturday
night for the Rookie Game to a smattering of jeers. Then, in
leading his East squad to a 96-91 win over the West, Iverson put
on a scintillating show--19 points, nine assists, three blocks
and three steals--and was named the game's MVP. The reaction of
the crowd at Gund Arena? Boos.
"I wish I wasn't the one singled out," Iverson said afterward.
"The older guys get this idea about me from what they read in
the papers. None of them have ever sat down and talked to me,
and I think that's unfair. I have more love for this game than
almost anyone, and that's the only thing that hurts, that they
think I don't have respect for the game."
On Saturday, Iverson's image also suffered in contrast to that
of his main foil, 18-year-old Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who won
the slam-dunk competition with a between-the-legs jam. Bryant
has dutifully respected and stroked his elders--not to mention
passed them the ball.
But don't weep for Iverson. His new Reebok shoe, called The
Question, went on sale nationwide last week. Iverson's agent,
David Falk, says the advance orders for his client's shoe are
close to a quarter of a million. Falk also insists Iverson's
bad-guy image is inaccurate: "He hasn't missed a bus, a game, a
practice. [Iverson was late to a game in January, for which
Sixers coach Johnny Davis benched him for a few minutes.] He
hasn't kicked anyone or spit at anyone." As for Iverson's cocky
attitude, Falk says, "All he's doing is maintaining his
competitive edge on the basketball court. Every great player
LINE OF THE WEEK
East swingman Glen Rice, Feb. 9, against the West: 25 minutes,
10-24 field goals, 2-2 free throws, 26 points. In winning
All-Star Game MVP honors and leading his team to a 132-120
victory, Rice set All-Star records for points in a quarter (20,
in the third) and points in a half (24). Hal Greer, who formerly
held the record for most points in a quarter (19), and Wilt
Chamberlain, who shared the record for most points in a half
(23) with Tom Chambers, were on hand for the 50-greatest-players
celebration and watched as Rice deleted their names from the
record book. Rice's performance continued his scorching shooting
streak (31.4-point average in the 20 games before the break).
AROUND THE RIM
Raptors point guard Damon Stoudamire did not make many friends
in the players' union by blowing off the player representatives'
meetings in Cleveland. (Teammate Walt Williams took his place.)
Stoudamire's excuse: He needed to fly home to Portland to talk
to a contractor about building a fence around his basketball
court....Commissioner David Stern, attending an All-Star gala at
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was monitored by security men
with walkie-talkies who gave Stern the code name Elvis.
COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER Kemp (40) says he accepts McIlvaine but questions the Sonics' direction. [Shawn Kemp in game]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE With 24 second-half points, including four treys, Rice topped Chamberlain's All-Star record. [Glen Rice and Latrell Sprewell in game]