"I liked Bo and Rumeal; they were nice guys," says Musselman, son of former NBA and CBA coach Bill Musselman. "But I've never traded two guys who were less valuable."
During their brief stopover in South Dakota, Kimble and Robinson violated the first rule of survival in the CBA: You don't have to love it, you just have to care. Unlike the NBA, the CBA has no tolerance for players who mail in an occasional day's work. Winning a quarter is worth one point in the league standings, and thus there is a last-minute intensity to the entire game. "The toughest thing about the CBA is just accepting it," says McCloud. "You have to look yourself in the mirror and say, 'O.K., I was a first-round pick. But now I'm here, and I'm going to get back to the NBA.' But a lot of guys can't take it. Rumeal and I were good friends while he was here, and that was his problem—he just never accepted the fact that he was down here. All he ever talked about was the League, the League, the League."
Baseball has the Show. Basketball has the League, a respectful term for the NBA. The CBA players watch a lot of NBA games on TV, and they can always spot someone on the floor who can't carry their jocks. "I know shooting guards in the NBA that I am dramatically better than," says Kimble, whose contract was bought out by New York before the '93-94 season. "Starting with some on the Knicks."
Some people look at Bo Kimble and see the worst decision the Clippers ever made, which is like being the worst sitcom Dabney Coleman ever made. After Kimble's two disappointing seasons in L.A., the Clippers pawned his salary off on the Knicks, tossing him into a blockbuster five-player deal. He played a team-low nine games in New York in '92-93 before the Knicks waived him. He took his game to Europe, where he suffered another stunning indignity: He was cut by a pro team in Lyons, France, at the end of 1993. The mighty hadn't just fallen. He had splattered at center court.
"If people want to look at my basketball career as a failure, that's their right," says Kimble. "But I know I did the best job I could, and I can sleep at night. I'm not afraid of the CBA. I feel like I'm taking one step back before I take four steps forward."
Five years ago Kimble led the nation in scoring and led Loyola Marymount on a dramatic run in the NCAA tournament after his friend Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the court. He signed a five-year, $7.25 million deal with the Clippers. He wrote a book. He appeared in a movie, which, the way things were going, seemed almost redundant.
Now, at 28, he's back in L.A., waiting for an ankle injury to heal and wondering what can go wrong next. He was hurt in his final game with Hartford before the team ceased operation, on Jan. 30 (Kimble was averaging 11.1 points). The Hartford players remained in limbo for two weeks until the results of the dispersal draft were announced. Kimble was claimed by the Pittsburgh Piranhas, but he never made it into uniform. Rather than pay his $l,500-a-week salary and wait for him to make it back from the injury, the Piranhas waived him. In less than a year and a half, Kimble has been bounced out of the NBA, European ball and the CBA. By now he is probably hesitant to go to the Y at lunchtime. They might not let him in the game.
"A lot of people ask me why I'm still playing," says Kimble. "But I'm only 28. I plan on playing until I'm at least 35. I love basketball. I'll play even if I'm not getting paid. If it's not the CBA, it'll be somewhere else."
Kimble says he saved his money and could retire tomorrow, but he still believes he can play in the NBA. He remains remarkably upbeat. He says he just has to reclaim his confidence in his outside shot, and that is not an easy thing to do when you are waived by a team called the Piranhas. Naturally, Kimble thinks the Clippers never used him properly, while the Knicks just never used him enough. The situation was just never right in Lyons or Rapid City or Hartford. Next time things will be different. "I have to stay strong and stay confident," he says, "and hopefully someday you'll see me back in the NBA."
Rumeal Robinson, meanwhile, may bring more natural ability to the arena each night than any other player in the CBA—through Sunday he was averaging a healthy 23.5 points a game and leading the Crawdads in scoring. But like Kimble, he experienced his finest moments in college, most memorably when he hit two free throws with three seconds left in the 1989 NCAA final to give Michigan the national championship. Robinson signed a four-year, $4 million pact with Atlanta, but after spending two seasons struggling with the Hawks, he was traded to New Jersey. The Hawks got Mookie Blaylock. The Nets got next to nothing. Robinson had his moments as Kenny Anderson's backup, actually earning NBA Player of the Week honors once, but his game and his attitude eventually deteriorated. After the '92-93 season, he demanded to be traded. "There are other teams that will treat me right," he said. The Nets dealt him to Charlotte in December '93; there he played just 14 games and averaged 2.1 points. He is still looking for a team to treat him right.