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Actually, Chambers has been shooting it less this season because he's on the bench more; coach Bernie Bickerstaff's 12-deep system has taken substantial time away from all of Seattle's starters. Bickerstaff and Chambers had an un-harmonious first season together in '85-86, but they seem to be on the same wavelength now.
"You've got to lay it on the line to Tommy Chambers," says Bickerstaff. "There is no doubt that he has a lot of athletic ability. Now he must make that next step to be the kind of superstar player who makes his teammates better. But there are several misconceptions about Tommy. From my experience, he works hard on the court and plays exceptionally hard. I've seen a definite change in him. The guy is making an effort."
His teammates see it, too. "I heard all the stuff about him," says guard Sam Vincent, who came to the team in a preseason trade with Boston. "All I can say is that I haven't seen it. He's an excellent teammate." Says Ellis, "I felt there were many times last season when he only looked for the shot. I think he's matured." He glances at Chambers, who is looking apprehensively in Ellis's direction. "Now he knows, for example, that he's only the second-best-looking Sonic." Chambers smiles. The give-and-take that goes on between Ellis and Chambers is a good sign, because Chambers has always had trouble being one of the boys. "Life with Tom Chambers," says Ellis, "is getting better and better."
With the encouragement of Erin—"Show some teeth," she tells him—Chambers is trying to make it better and better on the court, too. (As of Sunday, Chambers was averaging 16.7 points per game, and the Sonics were off slowly at 2-4.) Nevertheless, the great expectations others have for him have produced frustrations. His limitless potential has yielded limitless disappointment.
"I guess I'm not real happy," says Chambers. "It's got a lot to do with the criticism. I have to put on this crust. I have to be a hard guy. It's the only way I know to protect myself. I strike first, so they don't hurt me.
"Do people think I don't care, that I don't listen to this stuff? I've lost a lot of sleep over the criticism. It doesn't just roll off my back.
"People will never know how hard it is to play on losing teams. Even Magic wouldn't be smiling. I admit that there have been times I've only been concerned with myself. I've been on teams that were out of it late in the season, and I've gone for stats. Everybody does."
But not everyone would admit it.
"I'm a survivor," says Chambers. "But I'm telling you, happy times are here in Seattle. With a winning team, everything is going to be different."
He cracked open a fortune cookie and grinned. The fortune read: "You will win success in whatever calling you adopt."