When identical twins Harvey and Horace Grant played together for Hancock Central High in Sparta, Ga., basketball rivals and referees had a difficult time telling them apart.
"We never switched uniforms to fool people," said Harvey, now a starting forward for the Washington Bullets while brother Horace ("he's nine minutes older") fills a similar role for the Chicago Bulls. "But a lot of guys would still call me Horace by mistake."
For two years, National Basketball Association scouts and fans say they had no trouble separating the twins after Harvey joined Horace in the pros in the 1988-89 season.
Horace, who came to the Bulls a season earlier, was portrayed as a physical front-line player who put up consistent numbers as one of Michael Jordan's best supporting players. Harvey was viewed as an underachieving No. 1 draft pick who lacked the muscle and confidence to make a mark for himself in the NBA.
But that has changed this year. In fact, Harvey is posting more impressive statistics than Horace, and suddenly has become one of the most sought-after Bullets in trade talks.
"All those stories comparing me and Horace used to bother me," said Harvey, who is averaging 17.8 points and 7.9 rebounds, almost double last season's modest statistics. "We have different styles. Horace is a great player in his own right. But now I have my own identity."
Bullets coach Wes Unseld puts it more succinctly.
"Perception," Unseld said, explaining how his Grant has become a building block in the team's plans.
"The way Harvey has been playing this season, rival players now see him as someone they really have to reckon with. Before, players thought they could take advantage of him, muscle him under the boards, take him out of a play. But no more. He's on the verge of becoming a legitimate star."
The Grants' high school coach, Arthur Daniels, and Unseld say people mistakenly have thought Harvey to be laid-back, lacking toughness.
"I always thought Harvey was a little better than Horace, and more physical," said Daniels. "When Harvey played inside, he was kind of mean. He was always a fierce competitor."
Unseld said he never doubted Grant's toughness, even when he struggled through most of his first two seasons with the Bullets until a season-ending injury to star forward John Williams last December helped to speed his development.
"I know when the media and fans around the league talk about toughness, the first Bullets they think of are Bernard King and Darrell Walker," Unseld said. "They don't back down from anyone, but Harvey is actually the toughest guy on our team. He's tough by nature. He's probably been fighting to match or better his twin brother all his life."
Yes, back to the days they would spend hours after school going one-on-one on a dirt playground, shooting for hours at a bent rim.
"We'd go at each other until the lights went out or our mother came after us," Harvey recalled. "We played hard, but I don't remember us having any fights on the court. We preferred playing together. We got to the state high school finals twice, but both times we lost to Kenny Walker [now with the New York Knicks] and Crawford County High."
The twins started college together at Clemson in 1983, but soon parted ways.
"As soon as I got to Clemson, they talked about red-shirting me," said Harvey, who did sit out that first season. "I didn't like the idea. But then we switched head coaches, and I got lost in the shuffle, so I decided to leave."
He would play a season for Independence (Kan.) Junior College, winning All-America honors and getting offers to continue his college career from Kansas and Oklahoma.
"I thought about going to Kansas, but they played a slowdown game, and Danny Manning was already the man there," Grant said. "Billy Tubbs' style at Oklahoma was more suited to my game, running up and down the floor and the fans going crazy."
Despite his lack of bulk, Grant, 6 feet 9 and 216 pounds, found himself used as a post-up center for the high-scoring Sooners.
"I played mostly with my back to the basket in college, so I had to make an adjustment in the pros, learning to face the basket, shoot outside and put the ball on the floor against a lot of guys who were bigger and stronger than me," he said.
It was a long, frustrating transition for Grant, who was the 12th player selected in the 1988 NBA draft.
"Getting picked that high, a lot of people have high expectations for you, and I put pressure on myself," he said.
"I'd always been able to score -- junior high, high school and college. Not playing much as a rookie and averaging only 5.6 points was a real shock for me. I started wondering if I really belonged in the league."
Unseld said the real problem was in Grant's lacking the strength to hold his own against rival big men.
"Guys wouldn't let him get position under the basket," Unseld said. "They would just nudge him out of the way to get a rebound or keep him from driving the baseline."