Only a few players can consistently stymie the NBA's most potent scorers at one end of the floor and bury the three-pointer at the other. Only one of them can do both and has castrated a pig, reached inside a pregnant cow to examine a calf and had his car taken away by his parents because his college grade point average dipped below 3.0.
That player would be 27-year-old Bobby Phills, the 2-guard for the Cavaliers, and the one guard in the league who holds a degree in animal science and aspired to be a vet. On defense Phills is, well, a pit bull, a 6'5", 220-pound warrior with 4.8% body fat. He's too quick to blow past, and he's too burly to be posted up. "He's as tough as there is," says Bullets guard Calbert Cheaney. "The only way to beat him is to outthink him, but he really studies opposing players, so it's hard to beat him that way, too."
On offense Phills has a marvelous shooting touch—rare for anyone so muscular. At week's end he was averaging 12.6 points for maniacally D-minded Cleveland and was shooting a splendid 39.2% from beyond the three-point arc. Finally, his talents have been recognized: After five seasons he's on the All-Star ballot for the first time. "That's big," he says. "Someday I will be an All-Star."
If relentless one-on-one defense were a more valued criterion (which it should be this season, when only a handful of teams average more than 100 points), Phills would be on the '97 Eastern Conference roster. Has any guard ever abused him on the low block? "No," Phills says. Has any guard ever regularly beaten him off the dribble? "No," Phills says.
Last season the NBA's coaches named Phills to the All-Defensive second team, behind Chicago's Michael Jordan and Seattle's Gary Payton. Rarely has anyone done a better job on Jordan than Phills did on April 9,1995, three weeks after the Greatest Player Ever came out of retirement. Phills hounded Jordan into 9-for-26 shooting and 21 points. (Phills had 19.) "I saw that game against Jordan a couple years ago," says Charlotte forward Anthony Mason. "He did a hell of a job on Michael. Guys make the All-Defensive first team because of their offense. They just put those guys on. Phills has got the rare combination of speed and strength. He'll get there one day."
Phills hasn't always stopped Jordan, who scorched him for 45 points last Dec. 28 in Chicago. Still, His Airness has praised Phills's defense. So has Indiana guard Reggie Miller, whom Phills has muffled more than once. "I've done well against Reggie," Phills says. "He's so thin, I try to beat him up—not to hurt him; I lay on him, post him up on offense and try to tire him out so he's not as energized on offense."
When Phills competes in the 12th annual Three-Point Shootout at the All-Star Game in Cleveland, he'll become the sixth player in NBA history to make an All-Defensive team and participate in that event. (From that group Jordan and former Laker Michael Cooper are the only players to have made first-team all-defense.) Phills became a dangerous deep threat thanks partly to Denny Price, the father of NBA sharpshooters Mark and Brent Price. Denny, the women's basketball coach at Phillips University in Enid, Okla., is an accomplished shot doctor, and Phills paid him a one-week visit in each of the last two summers, launching jumpers for 90-minute stretches twice a day.
Phills's painstaking practice has paid off. A righthanded shooter, he had been releasing the ball from the left side of his head; Price moved his release to the proper side. After making one three (in 12 tries) in 1993-94, Phills made 19 (34.5% shooting) in '94-95, then 93 last year (44.1%). Through Sunday he had nailed 47 this season. "We taught him too well," says Denny, laughing. "Back in December, he made two big threes against Golden State and beat my son Mark's team. Bobby is always working to improve his game. He has a great work ethic."
Phills didn't merely hone his shot in the summertime. During the past two off-seasons he ran an Educational Awareness Basketball Training Camp for 12-to 18-year-olds in his hometown of Baton Rouge. Each camper must have a 2.0 grade point average and write an essay in order to participate. "With the money we make in the NBA, there's so much of an emphasis today for kids to be pro athletes," Phills says. "We've got to reroute their minds so if they don't make it, they have something they can live on."
His parents certainly stressed hard work and hitting the books. Phills's mother, Mary, is a mail sorter for the post office; his father, Bobby Sr., the dean of agriculture and home economics at Southern University in Baton Rouge, where Phills was a four-year star. "Make a 3.0 every semester," Bobby Sr. told his son in high school, "or you don't play ball." Bobby Jr. never ran afoul of that edict at Southern University Lab High, but he once did so at Southern, and though Bobby Sr. didn't keep him off the team, he did take away his car for a semester.