Vintage '98 Lakers whine: sour grapes, little maturity

On The NBA

May 24, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

Los Angeles Lakers coach Del Harris complained about the noise at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. Point guard Nick Van Exel complained about abusive Utah fans, as well as the forearms delivered by Jazz guard John Stockton. And Shaquille O'Neal complained about the officiating. Again.

So, whatever happened to be the big, bad Lakers team that demolished the Seattle SuperSonics in five games in the second round? The Lakers team that was playing so well that many had already issued it a pass to the finals -- even before the series against Utah?

The answer is experience and maturity. The Jazz has it, and the Lakers don't, which is why Utah leads the series, with Game 4 to be played today in Inglewood, Calif.

Sure, the veteran Karl Malone cries to officials more than anybody. But it seems as if the Lakers, from top to bottom, are more concerned about what's going on around them than about realizing what it takes to beat the Jazz.

"I liked it better when we were complaining about Stockton and Malone being physical, because that's who we're playing against," said forward Rick Fox.

Some of the Lakers' gripes:

The noise at Delta Center: "It gets us into our play sets a little later than I would like," Harris said. "The small-town or smaller-market fan is just different than the big city fan, basically. In Salt Lake you got the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and you got the Jazz."

The fans: Van Exel called the Utah fans the worst he's seen after coins and wadded paper and cups were reportedly thrown at the Los Angeles bench. "How are Mormons supposed to act?" Van Exel asked. When told not like that, he replied, "Lot of hypocrites in that crowd then."

The officials: O'Neal had a heated talk with Steve Javie after the Game 2 loss. "It wasn't pleasant," O'Neal said.

It just demonstrates that there's a lot of growth needed for a team that -- top to bottom -- is perhaps the league's most talented.

Kinder and gentler?

After being called into the office of commissioner David Stern on Tuesday -- where he was surely lectured on his role in heightening tensions in the Miami-New York first-round playoff series -- Heat coach Pat Riley promises a change on his team from the thug-like mentality that has been the norm in recent years.

"I'm to a point where I'm tired of it," Riley said after his one-hour meeting with Stern. "Not only with my team, but I'm tired of it in the league, when guys go over the top."

After the fight between Miami center Alonzo Mourning and New York forward Larry Johnson in Game 4 of the series, Riley said on the eve of the fifth and decisive game that he regretted that Mourning didn't connect with his punch. Riley apologized for those comments after his meeting with Stern, and then appeared to shift some of the blame on the incident to Mourning.

"He's going to have to be more mature -- and no longer do you throw punches, period," Riley said. "The only thing I'm saying is in light of what happened, I saw a season go down the drain. Now, all I want to do is I want to move in a very professional approach to this thing."

But, to Riley, being professional does not mean losing the edge that this team has been long associated with having.

"We're not going to turn the other cheek when it comes to competition," Riley said. "But let's get rid of all the extra-curricular bull"

It will be interesting to see how long that stance lasts.

Around the league

Last week, Michael Jordan added the league's Most Valuable Player trophy to his All-Star MVP award. If he wins the MVP of the NBA Finals, it will duplicate his trifecta of 1996.

If Utah and Chicago win their playoff series and reach the NBA Finals (both teams lead their respective series), it would mark the first time since 1989 that teams have played a rematch of the previous finals series (the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons faced each other in 1988 and 1989).

Quotable

"I didn't bring any good luck charms with me. I think I used up all my luck when they named me head coach. I wasn't about to push God any further."

-- Pistons coach Alvin Gentry, describing his approach to last Sunday's NBA draft lottery.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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