Well, it's nothing to make you clutch your chest. And maybe if the Clippers had gotten out of the gate faster this season, it might even have worked. Manning is still determined to leave, and the team, which had made it to the playoffs the last two seasons, continues south. Regrets all around. Weiss admits that the threatened departure of two of his best players has "definitely been a problem, a little more of a problem than I thought it would be." Not that Manning or Harper aren't putting out. "No matter how well they handle it," Weiss continues, "the other players will always wonder about their focus. There's bound to be an element of doubt, especially when you're going bad." All this intrigue is not an advantage in a team sport.
Manning is calm, even cheerful in this little storm, certain in his bones that he'll end up with a winner. "I just know that one day, sooner or later, I'll be on a team that's going to compete for a championship. I don't know when that's going to be, but I just feel it."
Newell, who still insists that Manning is the prototype athlete of the 1990s, believes it will be soon. "If he were to leave the Clippers," Newell says, "in three or four years you'll see him wearing a ring." If that happens, they'll be naming shoes after him. People will sit back and marvel.
Yet that's not exactly what winning means to Manning. Nobody seems to understand what he's after. As he relaxes at courtside after a practice, physically unfolds, he suddenly begins talking about that championship season at Kansas, all those years and millions of dollars away. "The more I play basketball, the more I realize how special that was, the adversity we went through as a team, what we achieved. The feelings you have. Do you know we actually had to go to the football team during the season to get players? Clint Normore, a defensive back. He's a police officer in Wichita now. You have to understand, for that year, we were the best team. Best team."
Not that it's been so bad playing for the Clippers, he has to admit. "Because I really do love to play basketball. I look down and feel the scar on my leg—I'm fortunate, blessed that I can still play. I'm playing basketball, having fun."
But somehow it is different and complicated now, right? He shrugs, seems to fold back up.
"It's business," he says.