Has basketball's top road attraction, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, become one of the best teams in the National Basketball Assn. as well?
It's starting to look that way. One month into the season, the Bulls are atop the Central Division with a 10-3 record. They've won more games than any other team in the league except the Boston Celtics, and they have a 6-1 record on the road, better by far than anyone else.
They lost by a point in Dallas on Friday, but came back the next night to rout the Rockets in Houston, 98-86.
Jordan is scoring almost as much as ever--he's averaging a league-leading 33.1 points a game and has been the Bulls' leading scorer in all 13 of their outings. But he's passing more, too--6 assists a game after averaging 4.6 last season. And that's a dead giveaway that this season, Jordan is surrounded by some talent.
Begin with Charles Oakley, who is averaging 15.9 points and a league-leading 15.8 rebounds. Add rookie Scott Pippen, a virtual unknown from the University of Central Arkansas who is playing 23.8 minutes off the bench and scoring 10.4 points and grabbing 3.8 rebounds.
Then exhume Artis Gilmore, who returned to Chicago from San Antonio and gives the Bulls, with Dave Corzine, a combined 12.6 points and 8.3 rebounds from the pivot. And don't forget holdovers such as second-year forward Brad Sellers and point guard John Paxson. Under a first-rate coach, Doug Collins, the blend is working beautifully so far.
"They have one of the top players in the league in Michael," said Rick Sund, Dallas' director of player personnel. "And any time you have one of the top players, you have a legitimate shot at being a really decent team.
"They've surrounded Michael with shooters, and he's not shooting as much as he did last year. He's looking to distribute the ball more."
The Bulls, however, are in a strong division with Detroit, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and an improving Indiana, so it may be expecting too much of them to maintain this pace all season.
Kevin McHale, who hasn't played since undergoing surgery June 22 for a broken bone in his right foot, has been activated by the Boston Celtics and the 6-foot 11-inch forward is expected to play tonight in Atlanta against the Hawks.
"If everything is as we expect it to be, he'll get some playing time," Boston General Manager Jan Volk said. "He'll come back in a limited role at the start. This is the next step in bringing him back to what we hope will be midseason form.
"But he now has to play some competitive basketball. He's been working out. His injury has healed properly. He's tried to get the proper conditioning through practice, but that's not enough."
Could Conner Henry, who was cut by the Boston Celtics to make room for McHale, wind up in a Laker uniform?
It's possible. The Lakers were aware that Henry was the most likely Celtic to go, and although the former UC Santa Barbara star is not quite the shooter Jeff Lamp is, he's built much along the same lines at 6-7 and 195 pounds.
The Lakers almost had a replacement for Lamp, who is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Mike O'Koren, who became a free agent after being waived by New Jersey when he refused to report to the Nets after being traded by the Celtics, apparently was set to sign with the Lakers. Then he pulled a hamstring while working out at home in New Jersey, killing the deal.
The Lakers have talked about Henry but apparently are in no hurry to fill the roster spot. They may wait until after Dec. 15, the date when contracts are guaranteed for the rest of the season. By then, they may also have a better idea on a return date for Billy Thompson, who has a knee injury.
Kermit Washington's attempted comeback after a five-year absence lasted all of three weeks into the season for the Golden State Warriors. But it's not because the former power forward for the Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers thought he no longer could play at 36.
Losing--the Warriors are 2-10--lack of playing time and what he considered bias against older players had a lot to do with Washington's decision.
"Many times I felt like screaming out and saying, 'Please, put me in, I know I could do better,' " Washington told John Hillyer of the San Francisco Examiner. "Maybe that would be immature. Sometimes I felt like a coward for not doing it.
"If I played 20 minutes a game, I could average 10 rebounds, easy. It's not that I'm being cocky. It's just that the work ethic in the NBA is not that good. I'm not saying all of them don't work, but they don't work as hard as I work. They don't even come close to it."
Trivia: Can you name the last time someone other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone or Robert Parish was the starting center for an NBA champion? (Answer below)
When Darryl Dawkins and Mel Turpin were traded to the Utah Jazz during training camp this season, Turpin reported the night of the trade, in time for the team meeting that night. It took Dawkins five days to report.