Although many assume Gatling started wearing headbands to cover those scars, that's not the case. He began using them in 1995, four years after the Warriors drafted him with the 16th pick. Golden State had just faced the Trail Blazers and their headband-clad forward, Cliff Robinson, and Gatling slipped one on as a gag for his teammates. "I was just trying to be like Cliff," Gatling says. "But I started playing so well, the guys wouldn't let me take it off."
Gatling's easygoing manner and whatever-it-takes attitude made him attractive to the Mavericks, who were trying to rebuild a team racked by bickering among its stars last season. Although eyebrows were raised when Dallas made him the highest-paid free-agent acquisition in team history with a five-year, $21 million deal, the move has proved sound. Gatling has provided an emotional lift since the season opener, when he hit the decisive layup in a 92-91 victory at Denver.
Aside from the Mavericks' disappointing 10-19 record and the squabbling that led to the recent trade of All-Star point guard Jason Kidd to Phoenix, the season has been like one long dream for Gatling. While he once worried about whether he would ever play the game again, he now worries about whether he has brought the right colored headband for Couples. "Fred's a lot of fun," Gatling says. "He'll come to our practices, or he'll show up at a game, and say, 'Gat, I need a white one tonight,' or 'Gat, I need a blue one.' "
And Gatling is quick to oblige. As the NBA's best sixth man knows, it always pays to be ready.