Work in Sports
Hear no evil
Rice, Jackson continue war of words
Posted: Wednesday June 14, 2000 03:55 PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- All remained not so perfect Tuesday in Lakerland, while the Pacers were starting sentences with phrases like "When we win Game 4 ...."
Something strange has happened since the NBA Finals switched cities.
The team that's trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series seems a little more tranquil, a little more self-assured. The team that's winning -- the Lakers -- is dealing with various and sundry serious issues regarding its best players: Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Glen Rice.
O'Neal, shooting 38 percent from the free throw line in this series, will be fouled plenty more in Game 4. The Pacers pretty much promised it.
Bryant, who missed Game 3 with a sprained ankle, was unsure how effective he would be when he returns Wednesday night.
And then there was Rice, still miffed after sitting out 10 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter in Game 3.
He remained embroiled in a clash with coach Phil Jackson -- a controversy further fueled by comments from Rice's wife alleging that Jackson's supposed anti-Rice bias stems from a power struggle with two guys named Jerry and a secret affection for Scottie Pippen.
Sounds almost like the Chicago Bulls circa 1998, doesn't it?
"When there's frustration, you try to keep it in the community. But when it seeps out, you have to do some damage control," Lakers forward Rick Fox said. "And we're dealing with that now, here."
Moments before Fox spoke, Rice had ended his interview session with these words: "If people don't think I can be out there doing things to get this team a win, then ... I shouldn't be here."
An NBA public relations official quickly ended the interview, hustling Rice away after he had spent the better part of 15 minutes explaining his frustration with being benched and offering insight into his less-than-rosy relationship with Jackson.
Meanwhile, beneath the stands at Conseco Fieldhouse, Jackson was sounding like another coach from down the road in Bloomington as he explained why he and Rice were supposedly on the same page.
"I play whom I want to play when I want to play them, and how they play and what I think is best for the team. That's it," Jackson said.
What the Lakers seemed to need was a sit-down between Rice and Jackson, a few minutes for the airing of grievances, or perhaps some aromatherapy (Don't laugh. Jackson does it).
The Rice controversy is "not a distraction to us," Jackson said. "That's nothing to us."
Rice didn't agree, admitting "it plays with your head a little bit."
He was asked: Had he talked to Jackson about it?
"No, I have not."
Did he plan to talk to Jackson about it?
"No, I do not."
What harm would it do to simply discuss it with the coach?
"I've been down that road before. The best way is to go out there and let my actions speak for themselves."
Rice said the relationship between himself and Jackson was not a "bad" one, while Jackson said the two have had a good relationship all year.
Rice's wife, however, sees it differently.
In an article published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, she claimed Rice was being used as a pawn by Jackson in his dealings with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and team president Jerry West.
"Jackson has never wanted Glen, he's always wanted somebody like Scottie Pippen, and this is his way of getting back at management for not letting him make a trade," she said. "This is Jackson's way of showing the people on top of him who is in control. It's crazy.
"It's all a mind game. It's all about control. Jackson did not get his way with the general manager or the owner about trading Glen, so who pays for it? Glen does."
Rice's wife, Christina Fernandez Rice, said she has counseled her husband to keep quiet about the situation until she thought it was hurting the team.
"How many players would have stayed as quiet for as long as Glen has? But finally, when the team is affected, you have to say something," she said. "Now if it was me, I would have already been Latrell Sprewell II."
Asked about his wife's comments, Rice said he agreed with them.
"Definitely. Why not?" he said.
Rice admitted he would not be 100 percent focused in Game 4 but said he would dedicate himself to addressing the deficiency in his game that Jackson said was the reason he removed Rice in favor of Fox in Game 3.
"I'm going to come out and be very aggressive on the defensive end," Rice said. "If I get beat, I never claimed I was the best defensive player on this team individually. Jalen's a great player, and when I get beat I expect the help to be there."
That's right, Rice said "when" he gets beat.
It was a comment typical of a second straight day off in the Finals when you couldn't exactly believe what you were hearing, reading or seeing.
Take Jalen Rose, for instance.
In a five-minute stretch of interview time, he repeatedly used the phrase "When we tie the series" and "When it's 2-2."
Every time he said it, the media mob did a double-take. Someone asked Rose: Didn't he mean "if" the Pacers win Game 4?
"It's when," Rose said.
The Pacers also sounded ready to roll out the "Hack-a-Shaq" defense again.
O'Neal has taken 58 free throws in the series, making just 22. It's a weakness as big as the man himself, and it's one of the few areas of soft underbelly on the Lakers -- other than their ever-fluctuating mental state.
"That's just exploiting a guy's weak points, and if Shaq's not a great free throw shooter, that's going to be exploited," Rose said. "If they changed the rule (to prohibit intentional fouls) it would be nonsense. It's a part of the game. Fouling a guy who's not a good free throw shooter has always been part of the game. It's elementary."
Game 5 will be Friday night in Indianapolis before the series shifts back to Los Angeles, if necessary, for Game 6 on Monday night and Game 7 next Wednesday night.