MILWAUKEE — It is usually not mandatory, nor even advisable, to break a sweat during game-day practices, and the Milwaukee Bucks had no intention of doing so just because Coach Don Nelson dragged them onto the court.
Realizing, perhaps, that his players were working only to stay warm inside the chilly MECCA Arena, Nelson had them walk--not run--through the plays the Chicago Bulls were expected to use in that night's game.
But once Sidney Moncrief squared off against reserve guard Ricky Pierce, portraying Bull guard George Gervin rather unconvincingly, he could not help himself. Moncrief actually started playing defense, which made everyone else on the court look like department store mannequins.
Breaking both a sweat and a smile, Moncrief playfully cut in front of Pierce-Gervin and stole a pass, waved his arms and helped teammates who didn't need any.
"That's Sid," said Nelson, who knew better than to tell Moncrief to save something for the game.
Later that night, the real Gervin got the same treatment. Gervin, the Bulls' main offensive threat since Michael Jordan and Orlando Woolridge were injured, was held, sometimes literally, to 17 points by Moncrief, who countered with 20 of his own playing less than three quarters of another rout by the Bucks.
"When you play against Moncrief, you're in for a night of all-around basketball," said Jordan, a spectator on this night. "He'll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court. You just expect it."
That, too, is typical Sidney Moncrief. At his best--and the remarkable thing about Moncrief is that he's almost always at his best--Moncrief is arguably the NBA's best all-around guard and most assuredly one of the hardest workers.
There may be a few who are more effective passers, more than a few better outside shooters and many with bodies better suited to the role of the archetypical guard in the National Basketball Assn. But no one, it seems, does it all as well as Moncrief, who appears to have reached the peak of his seven-year career.
Defense, of course, is Moncrief's specialty. His excellence in that area has made Moncrief, at 6 feet 4 inches and 183 pounds, a three-time all-defensive team choice and the leader of the NBA's fifth-best defensive team.
That alone has not made Moncrief, 28, a five-time All-Star. He also has career averages of 17.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4 assists and, as Nelson often points out, does other things for the Bucks that cannot be charted.
What matters most to Moncrief, though, is that Milwaukee has won division titles in each of his six previous seasons and is once again leading the Central Division.
"There aren't many players in pro basketball who can do a lot of different things on the court simply because there are so many specialized players," Moncrief said. "Some players can make the game look easy. I make it look hard. I try to play as best I can and work as hard as I can. That's all you can ask for."
And that, basically, is the reason Moncrief has been so successful. It may seem simplistic, but Moncrief has combined plenty of natural ability with a strict work ethic.
"Of all the things I like about him, his mental toughness is about as strong as anyone I've ever been around," Nelson said. "And I've known a lot of players."
That mental toughness must be the answer because the physical Moncrief is far from imposing. His sharp cheekbones and brow, receding hairline and noticeably bony knees make Moncrief look much older than 28.
There are days, Moncrief says, when he feels a lot older, too. Seven years of playing 33 intense minutes in nearly every game has taken a lot out of him. He also suffers from a degenerative knee condition that threatened his career almost from the start.
Yet, Moncrief has played in 515 of a possible 545 games and still has the drive and enthusiasm he had as a rookie fresh from Arkansas.
"The thing that amazes me the most about him is that he'll play so long and hard in every game, then practice the same way every day," teammate Paul Pressey said.
Moncrief said: "It's all mental. I definitely don't have the body to do it. I put my mind to the fact that, even though I played 40 minutes the previous night, and it was a difficult ball game, you still must perform the same way the next night. Or at least try to. But I must admit the way I play and the position I play wears me down."
Defining Moncrief's position is as difficult as trying to drive around him. In almost any game, Moncrief is a point guard leading fast breaks, an off-guard camping at the perimeter, a small forward posting low for inside shots, or a big forward crashing the boards for rebounds.
Is it any wonder that the Bucks pictured him on the cover of last season's media guide in a Superman suit?
But for all the respect and accolades super Sid has received in recent years, his personality still is more like shy Sid.