Laimbeer Petitions NBA to Try Out for "Dream Team"

September 29, 1991
Bill Laimbeer is the latest Piston to give an Excedrin headache to USA Basketball and the NBA over the selection of the Olympic team. Laimbeer believes there should be Olympic tryouts and further believes he can secure a petition with the signatures of the majority of NBA players asking for those tryouts.

Boston's favorite public enemy even claimed he could think of four or five Celtics willing to sign it, naming Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Reggie Lewis as likely candidates.

Laimbeer did present well-organized arguments. He said any player who was not willing to try out for the Games because of ego or potential endorsement loss if they were cut doesn't deserve to be on the team. On that count, he's correct. 

He also has a point when he says picking the team a year in advance presents problems. What if Dee Brown and Derrick Coleman become All-Stars this season? What if Larry Bird's game drops off significantly because of a major operation? Think about it. Scottie Pippen wasn't even an All-Star selection last February, but since then, his game has blossomed so quickly that he is now recognized as one of the 10 best players in the sport. A lot can happen in one season.

The committee's argument is that these superstars are so busy they need to know a year in advance to clear their calendars. Nonsense. If they want to play in the Olympics, make that the first priority.

But back to Laimbeer. Is he correct in assuming McHale, Parish and Lewis would jump to his side on this issue?

Not exactly.

"I wouldn't sign it," said McHale of the Laimbeer petition. "I think they've assembled a great team. What difference would tryouts make? Why would you want to have 30 players come in and beat each other up? Would you take the last 10 that were standing?

"The NBA game is so pure that after an 82-game season, you have a pretty good idea of what the players' strengths are. That isn't necessarily true with the college game, where a coach can almost put a game at a standstill if he wants. In college, you can neutralize a great player much easier, and it might be hard to determine what he can do.

"But the pro game is up and down every night. There are no secrets. I think the committee had a tough decision to make, and I stand by what they did. I think the guys they picked are fantastic, and who's to say any one of them don't belong?"

Lewis was a little more ambivalent about Laimbeer's proposal.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I think some of Bill's points are very valid. There are a lot of guys who would just like the opportunity to try out for the team.

"It's a tough call. I'm not sure I'd sign it, but I'm not saying I wouldn't, either. But I'm happy with the guys they chose. I wanted to play in the Olympics, but I'm not upset about not being on there. Those guys are all clearly ahead of me. I wish them all the best of luck."

It's not surprising that Celtic players would hesitate to join Laimbeer's crusade, particularly since CelticsCEO Dave Gavitt is head of USA Basketball. Indeed, McHale said the fact that he likes and respects Gavitt so much probably does make him biased.

McHale never expressed a desire to play in Barcelona, yet there was a grass-roots campaign among writers nationwide that kept his name alive in the Olympic debate. Would he have gone if asked?

"I don't think I could have accepted," said McHale. "Just because of the fact of how I feel about my family and the kids and everything.

"A lot of things are very, very important to me. Basketball is one of them, but I had my chance in 1980. I felt bad at the time there was a boycott, and looking back, it's something I would have liked to have done, but there's not a big empty hole in my life because of the lost opportunity."

Laimbeer said that lost opportunity is precisely why people such as McHale should have a chance to audition for the shot at Olympic gold. He conceded his stance has put the Pistons and Olympic coach Chuck Daly in an uncomfortable position, but added, "Chuck hasn't said anything to me. He knows there's nothing he can do about it.

"I'm my own person. I will always speak my mind, and no one in the organization will try to tell me differently. In this case, I think I'm speaking for a lot of other players who probably aren't willing to stick their neck out like I am."

By the way, no word on what Parish thinks of all this. Parish once termed Laimbeer "the most despicable human being that's breathing."

Guess we'll take that as a no.

Getting to know you

Boston opens camp Friday, and that won't be a moment too soon for draft pick Rick Fox, who has been in town all week and has yet to meet Bird, Parish or McHale.

Fox received a lukewarm reception from fans and media following his selection by the Celtics in June, but a strong showing in the Los Angeles Summer League has perked interest.

The rookie says he didn't even notice the skeptics.

"I don't feel anything was stolen from me," he said. "I know I have to prove myself here. To tell you the truth, I was so busy running around with a smile on my face, I didn't notice much else.

"Heck, I was just excited that someone picked me up at the airport."

Fox said the most valuable part of the summer league was growing accustomed to the coaching staff and its expectations. He was warned of coach Chris Ford's tirades about poor defense, and therefore was not surprised when the first talking-to came his way.

"I know I've got a lot to learn," he said. "I'd say the biggest difference so far has been getting used to the length of the game. I remember during some of those games in LA sitting down in the middle of the second quarter and thinking the game was almost over."

It's unclear how Fox fits into the Celtics' rotation (the return or retirement of Derek Smith will be a factor), but he's aware he won't be logging Dee Brown-type minutes.

"I'm not sure how comfortable they are with certain skills I have," he said. "They seem wary of my inexperience. My job is to also make them see a talent with lots of potential, hunger and drive."

Fox also logged time at Pete Newell's big man camp this summer and worked out with Danny Manning, Kiki Vandeweghe, Kevin Duckworth and Vlade Divac.

Having absorbed a Duckworth pick and lived to tell about it, Fox officially has begun his NBA indoctrination.

Bet on the Blazers

OK, OK, it might be a bit early, but this observer believes the Portland Trail Blazers will win the 1992 NBA crown. With a nucleus that remains young and fresh and a group of athletes who must have had one of the longest offseasons imaginable, these guys are ready to do it. "I was really depressed the first three weeks after we lost," said Buck Williams. "I felt we had the personnel and management to win it all. Now I just believe it wasn't meant to happen." Williams cited the now-famous dropped pass by Cliff Robinson against LA as evidence. "Sometimes you drop a ball like that and you get it right back - easy," he said. "This time it rolled out of bounds. When something like that happens, it wasn't meant to be." . . . Poor Danny Ainge. He's been trying to renegotiate his contract ever since he was in Boston and has failed to do so with the Celtics, the Kings and now, apparently, Portland. Ainge said he will consider holding out of training camp unless the Blazers up the ante from about $ 1.3 million annually over the next two seasons to his $ 1.7 million-a-year request. At present, Ainge makes $ 725,000. "Maybe they think I've been a nice guy my whole career and they've got a fish," said Ainge. When the Blazers acquired Ainge, they did so with the idea he would be the difference in winning a title. The fact that the team didn't even make it back to the Finals probably hurt Ainge's negotiating stance, but isn't it unfair to pin that on one player? Still, in today's shrinking market, $ 1.3 million isn't all that unreasonable . . . Sherman Douglas also appears headed for a holdout in Miami, as the Heat have left their $ 2.2 million-a-year proposal on the table. Douglas is among three high-profile point guards - Kenny Smith and Rod Strickland are the others - who remain unsigned . . . The Heat have invited Ronnie Grandison, who played for Athletes in Action last season, to camp. Word has it that with no overseas prospects available for second-round pick George Ackles, he may have to suffer the indignity of going to Miami's camp and getting cut. This is the player the Celtics were willing to deal Joe Kleine for . . . Don't be surprised if Jack Haley ends up in Miami, too . . . Not surprisingly, Laimbeer is fretful about Vinnie Johnson in Celticgreen. "You simply cannot find a classier guy," said Laimbeer. "He's also very team-oriented. I'd much rather see him go out West." Laimbeer said he did consider retiring following the news that both VJ and James Edwards would not return to the Pistons. "If we couldn't be competitive mentally, and everyone was going to say, 'Well, we had our fun, now let's just collect the paycheck,' then I would have had a serious problem," Laimbeer said. "But I still believe we have a nucleus of players who are some of the best there is. We do have a lot of question marks, but I really like Darrell Walker, and the other guys Orlando Woolridge, Brad Sellers, well, let's just say a lot of people change when they come to the Pistons." . . . Jeff Ruland, with a bad knee and a 33d birthday approaching, is trying a comeback. He worked out with the Sixers during their rookie camp, and those who were there said the big fella simply is not mobile enough to do it . . . New Jersey has asked some of its players to rewrite their contracts so they can pay first-round draft pick Kenny Anderson some decent cash. Anderson wants something like Coleman received the year before (five years, $ 15 million), but that won't happen. "We felt Derrick could come in and play right away and we needed him right away because of the question marks about Roy Hinson's knee," explained Willis Reed. "I don't think any of the top five guys in this draft are going to walk in and play at that level."

Trading downward

Sacramento has no one to blame but itself for the sorry state the franchise is in. The Kings made two more bonehead offseason trades, the first swapping Travis Mays for Spud Webb, the second Antoine Carr for Dwayne Schintzius. The Kings were overloaded with forwards and Carr was making news about a new contract, but he also was their most reliable scorer. In a Sacramento Bee poll on the trade, 2,439 people said it was a bad one, while 1,495 said it was a good one . . . Roy Tarpley, who has been attending the John Lucas rehabilitation clinic in Houston, played ball with some of the Rockets last Thursday, his first full-contact game since he injured his knee last November . . . Phoenix president Jerry Colangelo decided to disband the Suns' dance team, for what he termed "reasons of my own," but when there was a loud public outcry, he reinstated it. Meanwhile, the Suns' new stadium is 70 percent completed, and there is a waiting list of 1,000 people for season tickets. Not bad for a first-round-and-out club . . . Dave Cowens' whirlwind big man tour included stops in San Antonio with David Robinson and Schintzius, in Charlotte with J.R. Reid and Eric Leckner, in Cleveland with Danny Ferry, in Seattle with Shawn Kemp and in Miami with Rony Seikaly and Alec Kessler . . . With the Atlanta Braves in a pennant race, the Atlanta Hawks felt compelled to take out an advertisement for their club featuring a picture of draft piapoff dinner Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Lombardo's in Randolph. For tickets, call 986-5067 or 267-1626 . . . Vinnie Johnson. Here. It would be poetic justice.

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