That chortling you hear emanating from Texas can be traced directly to San Antonio. With feelings of vindication and glee, the Spurs embraced the news that their former teammate, the Bulls' Dennis Rodman, had been fined $20,000 and suspended for six games for his histrionics on March 16 against the Nets—misdeeds that included head-butting referee Ted Bernhardt and upending a watercooler.
The Spurs are divided on whether the latest Rodman outburst is an isolated incident or the beginning of his undoing in Chicago. "I'd say it's split," says veteran San Antonio guard Doc Rivers. "Some guys are saying, 'I told you so.' Some guys could care less. And some, like me, are saying, 'Let's wait and see.' "
It's hard to blame the Spurs for reveling in Rodman's misery. Since being traded to Chicago in October, Rodman has assailed his former franchise by calling its management liars, its players wimps and its fans ignorant. In leveling his charges, Rodman apparently has forgotten that he was the one who disrupted two consecutive Spurs playoff runs.
Although San Antonio struggled earlier this season to replace Rodman's rebounding and intimidation, by midseason the Spurs had toughened themselves. And as of last weekend they were the NBA's hottest team, having ripped off 13 wins in a row. After Sunday's 100-88 victory at Indiana, their record stood at 49-18—exactly the same as after 67 games a year ago. And, says Rivers, San Antonio has finally regained some of the swagger that propelled it to a league-best 62 wins in 1994-95.
To replace Rodman's 16.8 rebounds a game, which led the league last season, the Spurs have resorted to a rebound-by-committee approach, with center David Robinson (12.1 per game through Sunday), forward Charles Smith (6.8 since arriving from New York in February) and backup center Will Perdue (6.4) picking up the slack. But San Antonio's catalyst has been point guard Avery Johnson, who through Sunday was averaging 13.2 points and 9.5 assists. "AJ's been the difference," says Rivers. "People make the mistake of underestimating him because he's a Christian. But he's the first to remind us, 'Don't confuse being a Christian with being soft.' "
And now the Spurs can observe Rodman's unseemly behavior with amusement. They view his antics as an annual rite of spring: The crocuses will bloom, the robins will sing, and the Worm will unravel. But Rivers says it's a waste of time to draw parallels between the Rodman of the Spurs and the Rodman of the Bulls. "What he did in New Jersey was react emotionally to something that happened on the court," says Rivers. "I can deal with that. What I couldn't deal with was when he didn't show up for practice before Game 5 of the Western Conference finals last year. It's a lot more disruptive when he's directing his anger at his own team."
Sadder but Wealthier
Last week Sixers owner Harold Katz did the heretofore unthinkable: He sold his team. The buyer was Comcast Corp., a cable giant that also purchased, for an estimated $500 million, the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, the CoreStates Spectrum and the new CoreStates Center, which will house both teams next season. Pat Croce, a former Sixers conditioning coach who became a health-club mogul, was a partner with Comcast and will be the Sixers' president. Sources say that his first order of business will be to replace John Lucas as coach.
Katz, who paid $12 million for the 76ers in 1981, walks away with more than $125 million and a heavy heart. Through Sunday the Sixers were 13-55; only the expansion Grizzlies had fewer victories. A series of poor trades, ill-advised signings and impulsive personnel decisions had devastated Katz's franchise and reduced him to a league laughingstock. And yet he never stopped believing he could right the ship. Team sources say that if the Sixers had won three in a row last week, Katz would have called off the deal. "Not true," Katz says. "Five in a row? Maybe."
A year after he took over the 76ers, Katz brought center Moses Malone to Philadelphia, and Malone led the Sixers to the 1983 NBA title. But the Katz era also included such memorable blunders as trading the No. 1 overall draft pick (which turned out to be future All-Star center Brad Daugherty) to Cleveland for journeyman forward Roy Hinson in '86; dealing (under duress) unhappy All-Star forward Charles Barkley to Phoenix for guard Jeff Hornacek, center Andrew Lang and forward Tim Perry in '92; and prematurely jettisoning big men Shawn Bradley and Sharone Wright this season.