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THE CENTER OF THEIR HOPES
Hank Hersch
January 18, 1988
The Warriors are looking to former Rocket Ralph Sampson to give them a big lift
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January 18, 1988

The Center Of Their Hopes

The Warriors are looking to former Rocket Ralph Sampson to give them a big lift

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•The Game. The breadth of Sampson's ability has not always been seen as a blessing. Some experts feel he has tried to do too many things—bring up the ball, pass behind his back and hoist three-pointers, all of which he tried on Thursday—rather than focus on a few money moves such as the skyhook and the turnaround jumper.

Even as the offense in Houston began to revolve around Olajuwon, Sampson accepted the shift without complaint. He has never seen himself as the prototypical pivot anyway. "When everybody says 'the center,' they're thinking, down on the block, in the paint, big, strong, rebound, score a lot of points," Sampson says. "I think of a center this way: You rebound and you run. My philosophy as a center and everyone else's can be totally different." He has, however, been polishing up his power moves.

"Ralph's dominance is not going to be like Moses Malone's and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's," says Warriors general manager Don Nelson. "He has to dominate as an all-around player. He would fail if we wanted him to score 30 and get 16 rebounds every night. But he can do a good job with those things and with his passing, his ball handling and his shot-blocking. He is, in fact, the modern-day center because he's so versatile."

Sampson's stats at Golden State are up slightly in rebounding, assists and scoring. Since the trade he has averaged 17.1 points and 11.7 rebounds a game. Warriors coach George Karl, who is redesigning his team around Sampson's fleet, size-17 feet, would not object to Sampson walking all over folks at crunch time. "Sometimes we need him to be more selfish," Karl says.

"I don't believe in dominant players," says Sampson. "Only dominant teams."

If Karl is waiting for the day when Sampson dominates, he should know that it may never come.

•The Blame. Two factors may well have held Sampson back in Houston: The Rockets' chronically weak back-court and their coach, Bill Fitch. Says Patterson, "The unfortunate irony is that to get the player who would make Ralph better, Sleepy Floyd, we had to trade Ralph for him."

Sampson feels that Fitch was too inflexible in his offensive strategy, not balancing the attack in a way that would have made both Towers more productive. Fitch and Sampson didn't see eye-to-eye on many other matters, either; they were forever clashing in public over issues such as the length of Fitch's workouts and how Sampson spent his summer vacation. Sampson says Fitch took particular exception to his trip to Europe in 1985, scolding him during the exhibition season for not being in shape.

After the trade Sampson ripped Fitch for being classless and complaining. "It was a relief to get away from him," Sampson said. Fitch downplays the tension, saying: "Ralph always played hard for me. Our relationship was never so stormy, not nearly as rocky as what it was built up to be." Indeed, when the season began, Sampson's future with the Rockets seemed secure. In October, as a free agent, he signed a six-year, $14.4 million contract with Houston.

Just a week before the trade Carroll had kiddingly told his friend Olajuwon that he would soon be joining the Rockets. Both laughed the thought off as being absurd. All Carroll knew was that he was headed elsewhere, particularly after the Warriors, a 42-40 playoff team last season, got off to a 3-15 start this season. Carroll, a six-year veteran out of Purdue with career averages of 20.5 points and 8.3 rebounds, was criticized by many people in the Bay Area—including some in his own locker room—as Joe Barely Cares. Carroll certainly cared very little for Karl. "Our relationship has always been fragmented," Carroll said before Thursday's game. "On the personal side, George has moronic tendencies that will always interfere with any success the team might have."

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