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HOOP DU JOUR WHEN Charles Barkley whose weekly substance abuse for TNT is comically commended by many men of the couch is spoon-fed an item that actually might be newsworthy, it's prudent to pay attention.
Several nights ago, Sir Charlatan claimed the Pacers and Kings had revived trade discussions involving Ron Artest and Peja Stojakovic. Despite Larry Bird's stated fascination with Indiana's compulsive competitor, I've got to believe there's something to it.
For one thing, CEO Donnie Walsh always has coveted the Sacramento sharpshooter.
Number two, without Artest (sprained right wrist) the Pacers' offense conspicuously opened up in the final three quarters of Wednesday's dominant win over the Wizards.
Thirdly, the unbalanced Kings (7-12 going into last night's game in Seattle) need to shake things up. Either Geoff Petrie must fire his best friend, Rick Adelman (I've heard he's asked the Raptors permission to talk to Gene Keady; I'm lying), or he must import a demonic defensive player who derives equal enjoyment from punishing people on offense.
Not that Peja doesn't have other suitors; the Heat, his first choice (he owns a South Beach condo and fantasizes about finishing his career living off the open looks Shaq would create) surely have made a bid, and that goes for the Bulls, as well. But, as far as I can tell, they can't come up with such a savage.
Lastly, TNT's junk journalist wouldn't know fact from fiction if Larry Brown diagrammed the difference on Barkley's drive-in movie-screen forehead.
Therefore, he really has to trust the person who put him up to it. I'm talking colleague Reggie Miller. He's the only one at the network privy to such classified material. Of course, as the former prince of all Pacers, he wouldn't dare break the news on his own.
Is there a Peja-Artest offer on the table at this time?
"No," I'm informed. Nor is it currently being considered.
Have there been conversations along that line?
My source could not tell me that. Not wouldn't, but couldn't. He said he simply did not know. At the same time, he volunteered that the team definitely is entertaining subtractions and additions, because numerous players are unhappy about playing time Fred Jones, Anthony Johnson (when Jamaal Tinsley's healthy) and David Harrison, who was fined for breaking a glass picture frame of himself near the locker room.
I'm taking that long-winded answer as a "yes."
One more Pacer note: Jonathan Bender will announce his retirement within the next 48 hours due to unbearable problems with both knees. By all accounts, the exceptionally likable Bender may have been the best practice player in NBA history, but bone-on-bone pain was too much to endure.
Forget about going two games in a row, Bender couldn't play back-to-back quarters.
John Paxson was asked for his fondest memory of Scottie Pippen, whose No. 33 jersey was retired Friday when Phil Jackson's inflamed 10-9 Lakers liquidated the Ben Gordon-less Bulls. His response was identical to mine when I posed the same question to myself the entire year after Michael Jordan retired.
"Everybody thought we would fall apart as a team [in 1993-94], and Scottie literally carried us to 55 wins and had a season in which he easily could have been the MVP," the Bulls GM submitted.
Pippen established career highs in average points (22) and rebounds (8.7) and added 5.6 assists, four-tenths above his 17-year mark. I actually rooted out loud on NBC for the Bulls because their success minus His Airness was such an inspirational story line.
"We started out something like 4-10 (4-7, in fact, then took 14 of 15) and won 55," Paxson recollects. "As you know, we lost to the Knicks in the conference semis on the infamous Hue Hollins call. Had we won that Game 5 in New York, we were going home to clinch and would have. Then we would've been one series away from the Finals . . . the year after the greatest player in the game left. Scottie was phenomenal that season."
For some odd reason (a sure sign of senility, I'm afraid), I can't recall how awful Hollins' call was that send Hubert Davis to the line. However, I acutely recall Pompous Pilate, er, Darrell Garretson, supervisor of officials/observer that afternoon, standing in back of the scorer's table afterward, muttering to the free world how the call never should've been made.
The Bulls led 86-85 when Hollins felt the urge to whet his whistle with 2.1 seconds remaining on the game clock. Davis misfired from the top of the key, and I'm told by a still-active ref there was plenty of daylight between him and his defender.
Davis cashed both welfare checks for the victory and the Knicks went on to beat the Pacers, only to lose to the Rockets in the Finals after being up 3-2 going back to Houston.
Of course, that also was the season/series Pippen became professional sports' poster boy for self-absorption. With 1.8 seconds left in Game 3, he had a spit fit when Jackson set up a shot for Toni Kukoc and Scottie refused to play along. Rather than in-bound on the play The Incredible Sulk morphed into Sitting Bull while Kukoc flushed the 104-102 game-winner.
I might've been the only national voice to sympathize with Pippen trippin' out. I still believe Jackson should've allowed No. 33 to settle matters. I'm still convinced Pippen earned the right to win the game and so does Scottie, unapologetic to this day.
Pippen returned my allegiance by almost always making himself unavailable for comment after practices and games throughout the team's second trio of titles. Imitating Jordan's big-time attitude, he made himself as scarce as the league allows, breaking countless promises to participate in a feature interview.
In light of my tendency to carry grudges into the Hereafter, Scottie Pippen will always be a hoople.
Like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and 9/11, nobody ever forgets where they were when heard John Lennon was shot and killed.
Twenty-five years ago last Thursday, I was playing full court with Dave Cowens in some high school gym outside Boston. Sport Magazine had assigned me to check out how he was handling retirement, his first prolonged one on impulse he'd quit for six weeks or so during the '76-77 season to drive a cab.
Upon retuning to Cowens' home later that night, my wife called to alert us of Lennon's death.