A form of insanity is spreading through the NBA like a virus, threatening to infect every team in the league. Alarmingly, its carriers, pouting prima donnas who commit the most outrageous acts of rebellion, include some of the league's younger stars. There is a new outbreak nearly every week, with yet another player skipping practice, refusing his coach's orders to go into a game, demanding a trade or finding some new and creative way to act unprofessionally. Fines are levied, suspensions imposed, but such measures are nothing in the face of the epidemic. The lunacy is contagious. Madness reigns.
How absurd has it become? Consider New Jersey Net guard Rex Walters's thumbnail sketch of his team. "Let's see," says Walters. "We've got one millionaire who won't tie a 10-cent pair of shoelaces when the coach tells him to, an even richer millionaire who complains because he doesn't want to wear a tie on a plane, a couple of players who say they want to be traded every other day and a couple more who only seem to come to practice when they feel like it. If you're writing about us, I hope your name is Sigmund Freud, because this is the craziest group of guys you're going to find."
Then Walters pauses for a moment before adding a telling afterthought. "But hey, it's not just us," he says. "Look around the league."
Better yet, don't look around the league, because you won't like what you see. The NBA has more whiny youngsters than a day-care center at nap time. Here-with, a virtual All-Star sampling:
Unhappy with his treatment by Golden State Warrior coach Don Nelson, 21-year-old Webber, last season's Rookie of the Year, held out and left the Warriors little choice but to trade him, which they did, to the Washington Bullets in November. Assign blame for the Webber-Nelson divorce however you choose; the fact remains that Webber's actions have set the tone for the season. Discipline is now a two-way street.
The Nets' 27-year-old, $7.5-million-a-year All-Star forward failed to show for a shootaround in December, citing car trouble, the NBA version of "the dog ate my homework." He also balked at the team's new dress code requiring a player to wear a jacket and tie when traveling, and when the Nets threatened to fine him each time he violated the rule, Coleman smugly presented coach Butch Beard with a blank check.
Apparently sulking over the trades of his friends Webber and Billy Owens (whose numbers he has written on his sneakers), Sprewell, 24, the Warriors' $800,000-per-year All-Star, twice skipped practices and was late for a third (once blaming car trouble); he was suspended for a game without pay. During a January radio show Nelson was reduced to issuing a plea to his wayward guard: "Spree, if you're out there, please give us a call."
Remember the days when the only way a young player would talk back to his coach was under his breath? Rider, 23, the Minnesota Timberwolves' second-year guard, called a press conference to respond to coach Bill Blair's suggestion that he grow up. "What does growing up have to do with basketball?" Rider said. Rider, who earns $3.6 million a year, also received a one-game suspension when he missed a shootaround; his excuse was, uh, let's see...car trouble.
Upset over being benched for the entire fourth quarter in a blowout loss to the New York Knicks the night before, Anderson, 24, didn't show up for the Net practice on Dec. 28. The next day the $3.5-million-per-year All-Star guard blithely dismissed the incident as "water under the bridge."
So you thought you'd seen it all when Chicago Bull forward Scottie Pippen staged his sit-down strike in the final 1.8 seconds of a playoff game against the Knicks last year? It turns out that that was just a warmup for this season. "I don't think there's a team in the league that doesn't have attitude problems right now," says Seattle SuperSonic veteran center Sam Perkins.