November 5, 1993
H E IS THE punchline awaiting the ultimate NBA trivia question. He is a player who couldn't fill his successor's locker, much less his shoes. He is Pete Myers, Michael Jordan's replacement, ready to begin his 15 minutes of fame.
Myers is supposed to start at shooting guard tonight when the Bulls open in Charlotte. The mere sight and sound of Myers being introduced over the PA will be the convincing slap to those of us still groggy over this whole post-Jordan era. This is unreal: Jordan will actually be replaced by a guy who had to share Jordan's locker for the first preseason game.
Myers came to the Bulls' fall camp realistically hoping to latch on . . . to a team overseas. That was his goal. The Bulls play to a large preseason audience, you see. So Myers, your typical bag-packing journeyman, hoped the exposure would buy him one more contract before his 30-year-old body said enough.
"Then Mike retired," said Myers, who had short stays with the Knicks and Nets, "and I thought maybe they'd bring in a shooting guard. You know, someone who'd average about 20 points a game."
When legends go, they invariably must be replaced. Somehow. Someway. Sedale Threatt for Magic Johnson. Xavier McDaniel for Larry Bird. Lucius Allen for Jerry West. Elmore Smith for Wilt.
But at least those replacements either already had proved themselves or used the opportunity to do so.
Pete Myers for Michael Jordan may be the most unbalanced transition ever . . . except you can't sell that to certain Celtics fans with long memories.
They know about another. They know about Hank Finkel for Bill Russell.
Finkel and Russell were total opposites. Finkel was a seven-footer whose best attribute was shooting and, like everyone else, couldn't come close to matching Russell's defense and rebounding.
That contrast was too much for tough-to-please Celtics fans, and so was another - the Celticswent from champions to losers with Finkel in 1969-70.
"It was the year I care not to remember," Finkel said recently by phone, his voice still creaking with pain.
Finkel arrived in Boston with a sensitive soul and an undistinguished four-year career with the Lakers and San Diego Rockets. In his first year in Boston, the numbers he put up were 9.7 points and 7.7 rebounds. The pressure he felt was unreal.
"No one takes the place of Bill Russell, not even a superstar, certainly not Hank Finkel," he said. "There was a lot of booing and name-calling. It became nasty."
Strangely, there were lots of fans around to boo at Boston Garden, too. The Celtics never drew well during the glory '60s, but somehow sold out nearly every game in Finkel's first year. That brings up a story that Tommy Heinsohn, then the coach, loves to tell. Heinsohn figured Jewish fans were coming to see Finkel.
"But by midseason, when Finkel finally got to the free-throw line," Heinsohn quipped, "he gave the sign of the cross.
"After that, there were no more sellouts."
Finkel (who, by the way, is German Catholic) was so distraught about the abuse that he thought about retiring. Then the Celtics drafted Dave Cowens, and that released Finkel from his personal hell. He settled in as a backup and hung around long enough to earn a championship ring in 1974. So there was a happy ending.
Finkel, 51, now sells office furniture in the Boston area and happily reports the fans "treat me great."
He adds: "You don't replace a Larry Bird, a Michael Jordan, a Magic Johnson. And that word, 'replace,' shouldn't be used. You only 'fill the position.' "
So Pete Myers will fill the position, maybe for a week until Toni Kukoc cracks the lineup, maybe for a year until the Bulls get someone better.
Or until Jordan unretires, whichever comes first.
"It's wild," Myers said. "I would have never imagined this."