- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"When I got into the car that night," he recalls, "the knee was so stiff I couldn't bend it. But I figured that I hadn't played in a while and the stiffness would go away. But the next day it was terrible. I couldn't walk. I thought, 'Hey, they took the cartilage out and I've been working on it. What's wrong? Why isn't it working?' "
Silas played in six more games, but ineffectively, then missed the next eight, a pattern that continued for the remainder of the season. His absence brought mixed blessings. It prompted Moe to move Gervin from forward to guard, where in time he became the best scorer in the game. But Silas was depressed. "I came back thinking, 'I want to be like I was before I got hurt,' "he says. "I wanted to jump as high, penetrate, do all the things I knew how to do. And this was the first time I had all those things taken away from me. It was scary."
He felt certain that the knee would improve during the summer, but it didn't. He flew to Los Angeles to see Dr. Robert Kerlan, the noted orthopedist. Silas recalls Kerlan saying, "Your problem is that you think you're working hard. You need to work twice as hard." Silas didn't believe such work was possible.
"I was all on my own," says Silas, "and that's the worst thing in the world, having to work out all by yourself." Despite his redoubled efforts, the knee remained sore all summer, but Silas hoped the pain would go away before the 1977-78 season began. "The first day of training camp I felt great," he says, "but the next morning I couldn't walk again. Now I said, 'Hey, I'm through. Jimmy, you're not going to play again!' " But everyone implored him to keep on working. And so it went. He began the season being shuffled on and off the injured list, then played sporadically. Play four, miss five, a couple of minutes of frustrated agony. Memories of what he had been carved him up like razors. He went to another specialist, Dr. Lanny Johnson in East Lansing, Mich., who examined the knee with an arthroscope and pronounced it "ugly." Johnson removed bone spurs, scraped the rough edges of the bones smooth and sent Silas back for still more rehabilitation. After missing 27 games, he resumed his fruitless in-and-out program, working out in solitude when the team went on the road.
By this time, Moe had all but given up on Silas. The Spurs were winning their division with Gale and Gervin. But Bass kept after Silas, phoning him every morning and begging him to push himself. When the team was at home, Forward-Center Coby Dietrick, the only Spur besides Silas left over from the Dallas Chaparral days, played one-on-one with him, pushing him until Silas would curse his friend in anger. Toward the end of the season, Silas played in 14 consecutive games, his longest stint in two years. Occasionally, he showed flashes of his old self. But they were just flashes.
This past summer Silas worked tirelessly on a Nautilus machine, and the knee started to come around, this time for real. But even with renewed confidence in the knee, Silas was afraid he was down to his last chance.
"Coming back was just like leaving high school and playing your first college game," Silas says. "The floor looked bigger, the leg felt naked. Every move I made was cautious. I didn't want anything to happen to me. I hadn't played with these guys for so long I wanted to say, 'Hey, guys, I want to play again. Help me.' "
In the opening exhibition game against Kansas City he scored 18 points in 20 minutes. Then he scored 12 in 13 against Atlanta. He was back. Playing as the third guard, he averaged 13 points in 21 minutes over the first 28 games of this season. On Dec. 16 he became a starter, and the Spurs began winning in bunches. Gervin has been scoring in torrents, as usual, but at pressure points, where the Spurs had been coming undone, it was Silas who once again was the agent of control. Since becoming a starter, he has averaged 16.6 points, but, more important, he has regained his leadership.
Against Kansas City last Wednesday, Silas and Gervin combined for 21 of the Spurs' first 25 points while the Kings were scoring 10, igniting a 124-95 blowout that was all but decided in the first quarter. In the 125-108 win over Seattle on Friday, Silas scored 20, launching a little salvo just about each time the Sonics threatened to creep back into the game. Stroking his beard, Seattle's Fred Brown said after the game, "I used to hear stories about James Silas. People used to tell me I'd be amazed at some of the things he could do. But I never saw him do anything until tonight."
Despite all this, those who have known Silas point out that he is still nowhere near what he was. Moe says he is just a bit more than halfway back. Bass says he's definitely not 75%. Silas is modest in assessing himself. "I would say that I'm about 80% now," he says, "and that's enough to be good. One hundred percent would be great, and the other 20% is coming, piece by piece."