Five very large men—and one little guy—were approached gingerly recently and asked this question: "Do you consider yourself an NBA enforcer?"
Without exception, the six initially replied, in as many words, "No, I wouldn't call myself an enforcer."
"Well, um, how do you think the rumors got started?"
"Yeah, well, we all know where the words come from," says 6'9", 215-pound Maurice Lucas, the quintessential power forward and enforcer of the Portland Trail Blazers. In Lucas' case, the word got out and around three years ago when, as an ABA rookie, he decked 7'2" Artis Gilmore and dared to duke it with Julius Erving, which is roughly akin to spitting on the flag. "A lot of people think I'm just one of these mean guys," he says indignantly. "Well, I just play rough. That's the way you play when you're in my game."
The other members of this oft-misunderstood elite:
? Kermit Washington, the 6'8", 230-pound Laker strong man, is a nice quiet person who lifts weights and sometimes separates people's heads from their shoulders. In one memorable game last November in Buffalo, Washington ended an elbow skirmish with John Shumate by dropping the 6'9" forward with a flurry of hooks and haymakers. " Shumate came apart in sections," an eyewitness said.
? Calvin Murphy, 5'9", 165 pounds, of Houston, is the littlest man in the NBA. equally adept at twirling batons and demolishing men a foot or more taller than himself. Last November he got angry at Boston's 6'9" Sidney Wicks, leaped to grab a piece of Wicks' Afro with his left hand, and with his right howitzered Sidney's face into a bloody pulp.
? Dennis Awtrey, 6'10", 240, of Phoenix, qualifies either for the Enforcers Hall of Fame or a padded cell. He has thrown punches into the faces of Dave Cowens, Bob Lanier and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Awtrey has the off-court demeanor of a puppy, and his blue eyes twinkle innocently when he says. "Why would I hit a guy for no reason?"
? Bob Lanier, 6'11", 250, of the Detroit Pistons, has had to do little in seven years to establish his reputation; his size is enough. In his second year he kayoed Atlanta 7-footer Bob Christian with one punch. "Most guys in the league have at least a little sense," Lanier says.
? Darryl Dawkins, the Philadelphia 76ers' 6'11" 250-pounder, is the baby of the group. He is only 20, and not even he can predict what sort of havoc he will wreak in the next 10 years. But his potential was made manifest in one fearsome frozen moment in Game Two of last year's championship series. Fighting for a rebound, Dawkins flipped Portland's 6'6" Bob Gross over his back like a child, dribbled Gross' arm and head on the floor, then took a wild swing at Gross that nailed 76er Doug Collins. On came Lucas, who delivered a forearm to the back of Dawkins' neck. The two squared off while 40 million television viewers held their breath. But Dawkins never threw another punch, much to the relief of Lucas, who therefore did not have to hit him back. "I wouldn't have wanted to mess up my hand," Lucas said. Dawkins, banished to the dressing room, turned over two floor-to-ceiling lockers, then smashed a huge wall fan and caved in a toilet stall.