Doug Christie wore ice wraps and heat packs, spent hours hooked to an electrical stimulation machine and took baths in Epsom salts and seaweed last week, all to heal various body parts enough to stay on the floor for the Kings' Western Conference semifinal series against the Mavericks. Christie, Sacramento's shooting guard, has spent so much time in the postseason treating his aches and pains that it's hard to tell if he has a better chance of earning a championship ring or a physical-therapy license.
He couldn't have been on the court much more than he was last Saturday, when he played 50 of a possible 53 minutes in the Kings' 115-113 overtime road win. That victory, along with a 114-101 win on Monday at home, sent Sacramento on to its first conference finals. But Christie had supplied a bigger boost last Friday when he ignored a second-quarter ankle sprain—and the advice of the Kings' medical staff—and returned after halftime to help the team to a 125-119 victory in Game 3.
Christie's performances were emblematic of the surprising toughness Sacramento displayed in the series. With the hard edge provided by him and backup guard Bobby Jackson, the Kings now have enough grit to complement their glamour. "A year ago we probably wouldn't have won games like the two in Dallas," says center Vlade Divac, "but we've grown up enough to handle it."
While his teammates are feeling grown up, Christie is feeling as if he's grown old. Besides the ankle, his right foot, both wrists and lower back were all sore from blows delivered by the Mavs. "I've got a lot of parts that ache," he says. "Nothing wrong with the heart, though."
After he turned the ankle in Game 3, Christie headed to the locker room, and the team announced that he would not return. But during the third quarter, as he was preparing to go back to the hotel, he looked at the television monitor and saw teammate Peja Stojakovic being carried off the floor, also with an ankle sprain. Christie limped down the tunnel to rejoin the team, then scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to help the Kings pull away.
As tough as he is, Christie can appear mild-mannered. He taps his chest and points upward to signal his family during games, raises his hand dutifully when called for a foul, and with just 205 pounds stretched over his 6'6" frame, he seems in perpetual need of a meal. While Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looms as the next assignment for Christie, who was named to the all-defensive second team this season, he's not touting himself as a Kobe Stopper. "All you can do is try to keep him in front of you and get a hand in his face," Christie says. "There's no one thing you can take away from him, because he can hurt you so many ways."
That's why Christie is a worthy opponent: He knows that being hurt isn't the same as being beaten.