When the sun was setting in Flint, Mich., and the other kids
were leaving the courts, young Glen Rice would hang around,
taking jump shots in the dying light, straining to see the rim
as the sky grew darker. Gray would fade to black, and still Rice
would shoot, thinking that if he could train his eyes to find
the basket in the night, shooting in decent light would seem
easy by comparison. It may not have been the most scientific
theory, but Rice believed in it, and any shooter can tell you
how important that kind of faith is. Shooting is not just a
matter of release and rotation and follow-through. It's also a
matter of the mind.
Rice's mind has always been strong, his faith in that jump shot
unwavering. The jumper is his signature weapon, the one most
responsible for making him an All-Star shooting guard, and he
knows it will never desert him for long. "The only thing more
consistent than Glen's jumper," says T.R. Dunn, an assistant
coach for Rice's team, the Charlotte Hornets, "is his confidence
in his jumper."
His mind has always been strong, but his heart--that's another
story. It has been broken a time or two: by a failed marriage,
by being separated from his two sons, by a coach who told him he
would not be traded and then reduced him to tears by shipping
him to another team the following day. He has played through the
heartbreak admirably, establishing himself as one of the NBA's
premier shooters. But it's only recently that everything has
come together for Rice, that his heart has become as strong as
his mind and as light as his jump shot. It's as if he has been
playing on those dimly lit courts until now.
It's no longer accurate to say Rice has been on a hot streak.
"Streaks last a week," says Detroit Pistons forward Terry Mills,
one of Rice's college teammates at Michigan. "Glen's been
tearing up the league for more than a month now. That's not a
streak. That's permanent." From Jan. 1 through last weekend Rice
pumped in 30.4 points per game and vaulted from 16th in the NBA
in scoring to sixth, with a 25.1-point average. He was named the
league's player of the week twice in five weeks. When Rice
doesn't reach 30 points in a game these days, it's news: He
scored 30 or more in 10 out of the last 15 games through the
weekend, including a stretch of five in a row. "I've been in
zones before where you feel like anything you put up is going
in," he says. "This feels different. It doesn't feel like
something I'm going to come out of. It feels like this is the
way it's going to be."
As he has raised his level of play, he has lifted the Hornets.
They began the season as a team of near strangers, with a new
coach, Dave Cowens, and a pair of new players acquired in
trades, center Vlade Divac from the Los Angeles Lakers and
forward Anthony Mason from the New York Knicks. The newcomers
have helped make the Hornets surprisingly dangerous. Through
Sunday, Charlotte had the sixth-best record in the Eastern
The 6'8" Rice has been a big contributor to that unexpected
success. Once known strictly as a jump shooter, he has learned
to put the ball on the floor more effectively, thereby earning
more trips to the foul line (from which he was shooting 87.1% at
week's end, ranking him 10th in the league) and keeping
defenders from playing him strictly for the jumper. The
highlight of his string of shining performances came during the
All-Star Game on Feb. 9 in Cleveland, where he scored 26 points
in 25 minutes, including an All-Star record 20 in a single
quarter, and was the MVP.
That All-Star Weekend may be remembered as the one that gave him
new stature, but the Weekend that changed his life came in
Phoenix two years ago, when Rice was still with the Miami Heat,
which had drafted him No. 4 overall in 1989 and for which he
averaged 19.3 points in six seasons. The story begins, as usual,
with Rice's jump shot, which he used to win the three-point
shooting contest. When Rice returned to Miami, teammate Matt
Geiger threw a party to celebrate. It was there that Rice met
Cristina Fernandez, a high school special-education teacher. "I
told the guys she was going to be my girlfriend," Rice says. But
he wasn't nearly as bold around Fernandez. He was so shy that he
had to send teammate Kevin Gamble over to ask, on his behalf, if
Fernandez would like to dance.
She agreed to dance, but she didn't want anything else to do
with Rice, who was separated from his wife and on his way to a
divorce. But after several three- and four-hour phone
conversations, Fernandez agreed to go out with him. On the day
they were to have their first date, Rice scored a career-high 56
points against the Orlando Magic. "I had to do something to
impress her," he says.
Before long Fernandez saw that Rice wasn't the stereotypical
self-absorbed athlete, but surprisingly quiet and conservative.
She introduced him to sushi, Spanish and salsa dancing. And she
consoled him on Nov. 3, 1995--the day after Rice says Heat
president and coach Pat Riley told him not to pay any attention
to trade rumors--when Riley called to inform him that he had
been dealt to Charlotte with Geiger and guard Khalid Reeves for
center Alonzo Mourning and two other players. "I was on my way
to practice when I got the call," Rice says. "I just went back
inside, sat down on my living room floor and cried."
The tears were over moving away from his sons, Glen Jr., now 6,
and G'mitri, 4, of whom his ex-wife, Tracey, has primary
custody. They were over leaving the Miami fans, for whom Rice
felt such affection that he wrote an open letter of thanks to
them, published in The Miami Herald. And they were over leaving
Fernandez. In Charlotte, Rice's play didn't suffer--last season
he averaged 21.6 points and made his first All-Star team--but
his appetite did. His weight dropped from 220 pounds to 205 as
he sat alone in the hotel room in which he lived, playing video
games night after night. "Matt and Khalid would tell me I had to
come to Charlotte, that he wasn't eating, that his new nickname
was Slim," Fernandez says.
She finally moved in with Rice in Charlotte near the middle of
last season--they plan to be married in September in Miami--and
became his strongest supporter and toughest critic. "She may not
know everything about basketball, but she knows me," Rice says.
His scoring surge this season began after Fernandez told him he
wasn't being aggressive enough on offense.
The Hornets, with whom Rice has three seasons left (for $17.1
million) on his contract, have benefited mightily from her
critique. They're even willing to put up with his singing.
Rice's only superstition during his spectacular stretch has been
to sing the R. Kelly song I Believe I Can Fly, from the movie
Space Jam, in the locker room before every game. "Don't bring up
that song," says Dunn. "I mean, it's a good song, but I'm
hearing it in my sleep now."
And Rice can probably make jump shots in his sleep. He can
definitely make three-pointers with his eyes closed, as he
proved to teammate Tony Smith during warmups recently. It must
be the result of all those nights shooting in the dark, a
practice he has long since given up. In Glen Rice's life right
now, there is nothing but light.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Glen Rice and others in game]
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [Glen Rice and Cristina Fernandez]