SI Vault
Leigh Montville
December 04, 1989
Ralph Sampson is now with Sacramento, trying to save a career made shaky by bad knees and a tarnished past
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December 04, 1989

No Legs To Stand On

Ralph Sampson is now with Sacramento, trying to save a career made shaky by bad knees and a tarnished past

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Sacramento. Maybe Sacramento.

Is he done? Will he ever play again? Are his knees shot? Is his story to end with a hum, with a line of downbeat dots...?

"Right now he's just a shell of himself," Sacramento coach Jerry Reynolds says. "He runs with a noticeable limp. He somehow seems to have a tough time stopping. He can't plant very well. Not that he ever was a muscleman, but he can't stay in there. He has trouble with his jumping, too. The first jump sometimes will be all right, but then he'll have trouble with that second jump. Right now, we're hoping that he can get back physically in a couple of months."

Sampson went on the injured list two days after Thanksgiving—technically, he can come back after five games; realistically, he may be gone much longer. He had been playing less and less during the early season for the troubled Kings, his minutes (an average of 20 a game) and production (6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds a game) slipping with virtually each appearance on the floor. He began the season as a starter, but eventually was benched in favor of a kid named Randy Allen. Allen last started for Cedar Rapids in the Continental Basketball Association.

"I don't know if he ever can be back to what he once was," Reynolds says. "But I think he can come back and be a contributor. I've got to believe that for my own career as a coach."

Sampson runs wrong. That seems to be the opinion. The fall in Boston—when he lost his balance, toppled backward and landed with a terrifying thud—-was the start. He ran with a different gait to compensate for back pain. The compensation brought about the three knee operations and more physical adjustments. He needed to learn how to run all over again.

He has hired a therapist from Phoenix to work with him daily. This will be a time to heal. Healing is the hope.

"I don't know if he can come back or not," Nelson says. "When he was with us, we never really had a chance to see what he could do. Just when he would start to look pretty good, he'd get hurt again. That was the thing. You never knew who was going to show up."

"He was hurting, and he wasn't getting better," Reynolds says. "He's had those three operations. Normally they don't cut you and go inside if there ain't something wrong."

What if this is the end? How will he be remembered?

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