Bradley, Johnson show why Bucks should stand firm

October 21, 1994|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,Knight-Ridder News Service

This can't be good news for Glenn Robinson.

Shawn Bradley lifts off the ground in Utah, maybe a couple of inches, blocks a shot, a nice, clean block, and then comes down on someone's foot and his left knee crumples. Again.

Larry Johnson is the featured attraction in Paris but not for long, because pretty soon he is limping; then he is walking off the court with a hitch in his step. Johnson might be hurt, but he still high-fives the front-row fans. Preliminary diagnosis: stress fracture in his foot.

Robinson is sitting at home, waiting for the Milwaukee Bucks to pay him $100 million, which is about $25 million more than the Bucks could be sold for, and maybe Robinson should be thinking about this: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Charlotte Hornets are in for a combined $128 million in salaries for Bradley and Johnson, and the two missed a combined 64 games for their professional basketball teams last season.

Much of this money is guaranteed to the player, of course. What the teams are guaranteed is nothing. The 76ers are not guaranteed that Shawn Bradley, all of his 7 feet, 6 inches, will train how the Sixers want or where they want; they are not guaranteed that Bradley will come to camp in shape; they are not guaranteed that Bradley can play basketball today, tomorrow or ever again.

First, an injury timeout for a couple of observations:

How hard would you work, in exactly what condition would you get yourself, just how concerned would you be about improving your job skills if you knew, no matter what, that over, say, the next 13 years you would be paid $84 million?

It might not be a conscious decision you make to work an hour less or skip the weight session or run one mile instead of two, but who could help themselves?

It seems today in the NBA that players are more concerned about being the most highly paid and highly promoted player than in being the best player. Remember Michael Jordan? He did not ask to renegotiate every year. Guys were being paid more than Michael Jordan to play basketball. Michael Jordan cared about two things. About being the best. About winning championships.

And back to the injuries:

Forty-nine games into his rookie season, Bradley dislocated his left kneecap and chipped a bone in that leg, too, and now, one minute into the Sixers' fourth preseason game, he goes down in a heap because that same knee couldn't hold him.

The Sixers are into Bradley for $44 million, and this was a guy who played one year of college basketball. Harold Katz knew more about how good a missionary Bradley was than how good a basketball player Bradley was.

Larry Johnson, how about him? He has a 12-year, $84 million contract now. That contract was renegotiated way up last year even while Johnson couldn't stand up straight what with his bad back and all. Johnson missed 31 games last season. Without him, the Hornets were 9-22, and they missed the playoffs. Now Johnson may be sidelined two months.

Glenn Robinson wants $100 million. Guaranteed.

Glenn Robinson played two years of college basketball. He was very good. He wasn't good enough to take Purdue, say, to a national championship. You can't be a one-man team, he would argue. Larry Bird was. But that was in the old days when you had to prove yourself before you demanded to be the highest-paid player in history.

Anfernee Hardaway of the Orlando Magic played a year in the league, and that was enough for him to demand being the highest-paid player in the world. It can be argued that Hardaway isn't even the most important player on his team. That would be Shaquille O'Neal, of course.

Every day another NBA player, usually with no experience, wants to be the highest-paid player. Why? Just because. With Bradley it was because he is 7-6. With Robinson it's apparently because he was the No. 1 draft pick and has a neat nickname, Big Dog, and maybe because he and his agent think Milwaukee is desperate. Owners can be desperate and desperately stupid, which can be the only explanation for Charlotte giving Johnson that contract last year.

But now, maybe, this stupidity is stopping. Milwaukee isn't caving in to Robinson, and if Herb Kohl, the Milwaukee owner, watched the tapes of Bradley crumpling like a cardboard box and Johnson giving grim-faced high-fives and limping off the court, he will tell Big Dog to play in Europe if that's what you want, but don't ask me to be the highest-paid NBA player until you actually play in the NBA.

It is hard to imagine what Charlotte's George Shinn was thinking when he gave Larry Johnson $84 million last year. It is hard to imagine now how Glenn Robinson imagines he is worth $100 million now.

Let the buyer beware. And the seller, too. Knees break. Backs ache. The money will stop. Won't it?

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