The Hornets' season had just been rendered toast by the Bulls,
and Charlotte forward Anthony Mason was chatting on a cell phone
in the visitors' locker room in Chicago wearing only a pair of
garish striped boxer shorts. Mason was in no mood to spar, even
with the reporters gathered around his cubicle after Game 5 of
the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 13. In fact, he hadn't
been in much of a fighting mood since the fourth quarter of Game
3, when Hornets coach Dave Cowens, fed up with two years of
Mason's grousing, benched and berated him after Mason glared his
way. After that 103-89 loss, in a deathly silent Hornets locker
room, Cowens got into Mase's face and growled, "You want some of
Mason was, for once, speechless. Now maybe the rest of the
restless Charlotte players will follow suit. They performed
fluidly in 1997-98, winning 15 of 16 games in one midseason
stretch, earning the No. 4 seed in the East and dominating the
Hawks, who many believed would easily eliminate Charlotte, in
the first round. But off the court they were hardly as cohesive.
"No question," Cowens says. "We're dysfunctional."
Mason's combative attitude, usually a plus on the
court, has irked teammates off it.
Yet salvageable, Cowens quickly adds. While All-Star forward
Glen Rice publicly questioned Cowens's strategies during the
playoffs, afterward he preferred to talk about his desire to
keep the Hornets' nucleus intact. Left unclear is whether he'll
be part of it. His agent, David Falk, has made it clear that
Rice's contract, which has two years and $12.4 million to go,
must be renegotiated by Charlotte, or Rice will demand a trade.
Asked to comment on his clashes with Cowens, Rice said, "I don't
know what you mean. I don't have spats with people."
Center Matt Geiger, a free agent this summer, concedes that he
does have spats. After Game 1 against Atlanta, Cowens complained
to reporters that Geiger had repaired to a Charlotte Coliseum
eatery for a drink at halftime instead of joining the other
Hornets in the locker room. After the next game Cowens expressed
his disappointment in Geiger's refusal to play with a strained
right hamstring. "I told Coach, 'If you got a problem with me,
tell me face-to-face. Don't go to the press with it,'" Geiger
says. "That's what upset me." Still, Geiger claims he's not so
upset that he has ruled out Charlotte as a permanent address.
"These players have an inherent love and regard for the game,"
Cowens says. "They play hard. Mase plays hard. He plays hurt. He
practices hurt. I like those things about him. But all this
other crap gets in there." Can he and Mason forget their
differences? "Nah," Cowens says. "We're like women. We forgive,
but we never forget."
Team sources say it's likely that Charlotte will try to trade
Mason, who has three years left on his contract at $14.6
million. That would please Hornets who have grown tired of his
act, among them Geiger, point guard David Wesley and center
Vlade Divac, a free-agent-to-be who is open to remaining in
Charlotte. "What happened here isn't normalor healthy," Divac
says. "We didn't have togetherness or trust here. It's sad if we
can't work it all out, because you can see how much talent we
As for Cowens, even though he never threw a punch, his challenge
to Mason to put up or shut up was viewed as a TKO. Until then
Charlotte's players and management had seen him as too soft in
his handling of Mason. "I don't know why this is such a big
deal," Cowens says. "This kind of stuff happened all the time
when I played for the Celtics."
Issue date: May 25, 1998