Power Forward—The 4 spot in NBA parlance—is suddenly a happenin' position in the NBA, and not just because Dennis Rodman, now of the Chicago Bulls, plays it. At 34, Rodman is in fact part of the old guard—to the extent that anyone who partakes of body piercing can be old guard. Anyway, think about this: The Seattle SuperSonics' Shawn Kemp, who has been around long enough to be a grizzled veteran, is still only 25 years old. And he has plenty of young company.
We chose three to join Kemp: Vin Baker, 23, of the Milwaukee Bucks; Robert Horry, 25, of the Houston Rockets; and Chris Webber, 22, of the Washington Bullets. In many ways, none are customary power forwards, who have traditionally been defined by what they are not (dominating centers a la Shaquille O'Neal, or small-forward acrobats a la Scottie Pippen) rather than by what they have tended to be—rugged rebounders who lacked offensive flash.
And what are they now? Well, as these hypothetical (and computer-enhanced) jousts between today's young guns and their 4-fathers, yesteryear's old cannons, suggest, the up-and-comers add speed and spring to physicality—making them at least a match for the titans of old.
Shawn Kemp vs. Maurice Lucas
Lucas is considered to have been the prototypical power forward, having utilized equal measures of brains and brawn during his 12 NBA seasons (the best of them in Portland). Seattle's Kemp has rarely been considered a heady player, but it's clear he would've been able to go around and over Lucas. At some point in their duel, a rock-solid pick or a well-placed shot to the kidney would have brought Kemp back to earth, where Lucas would've been in charge. But the edge in the long run would be Kemp's.
Robert Horry vs. Dave DeBusschere
Until the basketball world got a good look at Horry's still-developing talents in the last two NBA title series, the idea of mentioning him in the same breath with the New York immortal would have been crazy. But remove the 6'6" DeBusschere, a superb outside shooter and one of the best defensive forwards ever, from the mist that still surrounds the 1970 and '73 Knick champions, and could he have been better than a 6'10" gazelle who can shoot from downtown, pass, rebound, run and play tough D?
Vin Baker vs. Kevin McHale
Baker is solid and unpretentious, one of the few young stars in the NBA for whom the term throwback is truly accurate. Like McHale, who played in the shadow of Larry Bird in Boston, Baker may be destined to be overlooked on his own team, because Milwaukee's Glenn Robinson holds down the other forward spot. And though some of his back-to-the-basket moves suggest vintage McHale, Baker is a long way from being as good as the Celtic, an awkward-looking guy who turned into Astaire in the low post.
Chris Webber vs. Elvin Hayes
Without the wave of Michigan hype that carried him to early fame, Webber might have been Hayes, a sullen warrior who never grabbed the imagination of the sporting public. The new Washington Bullet does share with the old one a presence that often makes him the most riveting player on the floor, but Hayes could face up to the basket and shoot, something that Webber can't do, and he missed only nine games in 16 seasons, demonstrating a resilience that the oft-injured Webber doesn't seem to possess. It's E before C.