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TO THE HOOP, HON!
Phil Taylor
February 24, 1997
Since fianc�e Cristina Fernandez urged him to be bolder on the court, the Hornets' Glen Rice has been on a scoring spree
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February 24, 1997

To The Hoop, Hon!

Since fianc�e Cristina Fernandez urged him to be bolder on the court, the Hornets' Glen Rice has been on a scoring spree

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When the sun was setting in Flint, Mich., and the other kids were leaving the courts, young Glen Rice would hang around, taking jump shots in the dying light, straining to see the rim as the sky grew darker Gray would fade to black, and still Rice would shoot, thinking that if he could train his eyes to find the basket in the night, shooting in decent light would seem easy by comparison. It may not have been the most scientific theory, but Rice believed in it, and any shooter can tell you how important that kind of faith is. Shooting is not just a matter of release and rotation and follow-through. It's also a matter of the mind.

Rice's mind has always been strong, his faith in that jump shot unwavering. The jumper is his signature weapon, the one most responsible for making him an All-Star shooting guard, and he knows it will never desert him for long. "The only thing more consistent than Glen's jumper," says T.R. Dunn, an assistant coach for Rice's team, the Charlotte Hornets, "is his confidence in his jumper."

His mind has always been strong, but his heart—that's another story. It has been broken a time or two: by a failed marriage, by being separated from his two sons, by a coach who told him he would not be traded and then reduced him to tears by shipping him to another team the following day. He has played through the heartbreak admirably, establishing himself as one of the NBA's premier shooters. But it's only recently that everything has come together for Rice, that his heart has become as strong as his mind and as light as his jump shot. It's as if he has been playing on those dimly lit courts until now.

It's no longer accurate to say Rice has been on a hot streak. "Streaks last a week," says Detroit Pistons forward Terry Mills, one of Rice's college teammates at Michigan. "Glen's been tearing up the league for more than a month now. That's not a streak. That's permanent." From Jan. 1 through last weekend Rice pumped in 30.4 points per game and vaulted from 16th in the NBA in scoring to sixth, with a 25.1-point average. He was named the league's player of the week twice in five weeks. When Rice doesn't reach 30 points in a game these days, it's news: He scored 30 or more in 10 out of the last 15 games through the weekend, including a stretch of five in a row. "I've been in zones before where you feel like anything you put up is going in," he says. "This feels different. It doesn't feel like something I'm going to come out of. It feels like this is the way it's going to be."

As he has raised his level of play, he has lifted the Hornets. They began the season as a team of near strangers, with a new coach, Dave Cowens, and a pair of new players acquired in trades, center Vlade Divac from the Los Angeles Lakers and forward Anthony Mason from the New York Knicks. The newcomers have helped make the Hornets surprisingly dangerous. Through Sunday, Charlotte had the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference (30-21).

The 6'8" Rice has been a big contributor to that unexpected success. Once known strictly as a jump shooter, he has learned to put the ball on the floor more effectively, thereby earning more trips to the foul line (from which he was shooting 87.1% at week's end, ranking him 10th in the league) and keeping defenders from playing him strictly for the jumper. The highlight of his string of shining performances came during the All-Star Game on Feb. 9 in Cleveland, where he scored 26 points in 25 minutes, including an All-Star record 20 in a single quarter, and was the MVP.

That All-Star Weekend may be remembered as the one that gave him new stature, but the Weekend that changed his life came in Phoenix two years ago, when Rice was still with the Miami Heat, which had drafted him No. 4 overall in 1989 and for which he averaged 19.3 points in six seasons. The story begins, as usual, with Rice's jump shot, which he used to win the three-point shooting contest. When Rice returned to Miami, teammate Matt Geiger threw a party to celebrate. It was there that Rice met Cristina Fernandez, a high school special-education teacher. "I told the guys she was going to be my girlfriend," Rice says. But he wasn't nearly as bold around Fernandez. He was so shy that he had to send teammate Kevin Gamble over to ask, on his behalf, if Fernandez would like to dance.

She agreed to dance, but she didn't want anything else to do with Rice, who was separated from his wife and on his way to a divorce. But after several three- and four-hour phone conversations, Fernandez agreed to go out with him. On the day they were to have their first date, Rice scored a career-high 56 points against the Orlando Magic. "I had to do something to impress her," he says.

Before long Fernandez saw that Rice wasn't the stereotypical self-absorbed athlete, but surprisingly quiet and conservative. She introduced him to sushi, Spanish and salsa dancing. And she consoled him on Nov. 3, 1995—the day after Rice says Heat president and coach Pat Riley told him not to pay any attention to trade rumors—when Riley called to inform him that he had been dealt to Charlotte with Geiger and guard Khalid Reeves for center Alonzo Mourning and two other players. "I was on my way to practice when I got the call," Rice says. "I just went back inside, sat down on my living room floor and cried."

The tears were over moving away from his sons, Glen Jr., now 6, and G'mitri, 4, of whom his ex-wife, Tracey, has primary custody. They were over leaving the Miami fans, for whom Rice felt such affection that he wrote an open letter of thanks to them, published in The Miami Herald. And they were over leaving Fernandez. In Charlotte, Rice's play didn't suffer—last season he averaged 21.6 points and made his first All-Star team—but his appetite did. His weight dropped from 220 pounds to 205 as he sat alone in the hotel room in which he lived, playing video games night alter night. "Matt and Khalid would tell me I had to come to Charlotte, that he wasn't eating, that his new nickname was Slim," Fernandez says.

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