A few years ago, the experts were raving about all the big, talented centers playing basketball.
Ralph Sampson, Sam Bowie, Akeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing were either just starting their National Basketball Assn. careers or were about to do so. Stardom was predicted for all of them.
Among those not singled out for greatness was a 6-foot 10-inch pivotman out of Penn State named Frank Brickowski. He was so lightly regarded, he was only the 57th player chosen in the 1981 draft.
Brickowski did about as well as expected. He spent three seasons in Europe, unable to make it in the NBA. When he did finally catch on with Seattle in 1984-85, it was as a backup playing 15 minutes a game. His career went downhill from there.
He started last season with the Lakers. It was said--only a bit facetiously--that when the Lakers got rid of Brickowski, they clinched the championship. Of course, they picked up talented Mychal Thompson in the deal with San Antonio, and he was a big help in winning the title.
After the deal, which included another center, Petur Gudmundsson, a Sports Illustrated writer commented: "Gudmundsson (back problems) may never play again. Brickowski never could play."
This season, the Spurs, marking time until their No. 1 draft choice, 7-1 David Robinson, completes his Navy career, made a starting center of Brickowski.
Maybe he's not in the same class with the three giants (the injury-prone Bowie has never really had a chance), but he's helping make the Spurs one of the surprises of the season.
In another sterling effort Friday night at San Antonio, Brickowski had 23 points and 15 rebounds as the Spurs beat the Denver Nuggets, 133-114, and reached the .500 mark (10-10).
Walter Berry also had a hand in the Spurs' victory. The sharpshooting forward scored a career-high 30 points to help offset a 37-point performance by Denver's Alex English.
Except for the two or three games in which he was in early foul trouble, Brickowski has given the Spurs surprisingly strong center play. His career averages were 3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds before this season.
Now he is averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds while playing an average of 30 minutes a game. He has raised his career highs in points to 29 and in rebounds to 17.
"Reading that comment in the magazine stung," Brickowski said. "But it also made me work harder.
"This is a real sweet reward because of the last three years I've had. The critics assumed I couldn't play, but they never considered what I could do if given the chance."
With Robinson not due until the 1989-90 season, the Spurs may have to pay dearly if Brickowski keeps up the good work. He will receive $180,000 this season.
"I plan on playing like this the rest of the season," he said. "If I do, I should get a good contract. The average NBA center makes about $600,000."
Detroit 117, Dallas 112--Isiah Thomas made a club-record five three-point shots in the first half at Pontiac, Mich., to build the lead that enabled the Pistons to complete a perfect homestand.
The Pistons, who have won 8 in a row, went 7-0 during the stretch at home to post a 15-5 record, the best in the league.
After Thomas scored 21 of his 24 points in the first half, Adrian Dantley took over and finished with 28 points.
The Pistons led by 15 in the third quarter, but a surge in which Mark Aguirre scored 11 of the 13 points enabled the Mavericks to pull within 98-95 in the fourth quarter. Dantley scored just often enough to protect the lead.
Atlanta 94, Milwaukee 87--The Hawks are proving they can win on the road. In this game at Milwaukee, Dominique Wilkins scored 23 points, and John Battle came off the bench to score 22 as the Hawks took their fourth in a row.
The Bucks, again without Sidney Moncrief, whose knees are hurting, trailed most of the game. Two three-pointers by Craig Hodges cut the lead to 71-69 with 8:20 left. But Doc Rivers scored on a jumper and a layup.
Portland 129, Phoenix 114--Kiki Vandeweghe, playing for only the third time in a month because of back problems, came off the bench to score 23 points in 27 minutes at Phoenix and help the Trail Blazers romp.
Clyde Drexler had another big game for Portland. The big guard scored 30 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, had 6 assists and stole the ball 3 times in an impressive performance.
Indiana 121, Utah 97--John Long scored all nine points in a 9-2 spurt during the third quarter at Indianapolis, enabling the Pacers to end a three-game losing streak.
A Utah rally cut a 12-point lead to 68-64 in the third quarter, but Long's spurt stretched the margin to 77-66, and the Jazz never threatened again.
Chuck Person led the Pacers with 22 points. Center Steve Stipanovich, who went 0 for 7 and fouled out against Moses Malone and the Washington Bullets Thursday night, regained his touch. Stipanovich was 8 for 10 and had 11 rebounds in 33 minutes.
Cleveland 103, New Jersey 94--The Nets made a valiant effort to win their first road game but fell to the sharpshooting of Craig Ehlo and Dell Curry at Richfield, Ohio.
A three-pointer by Ehlo gave the Cavaliers an 87-80 lead with 5:48 remaining. But the spirited Nets, playing without both regular forwards, Orlando Woolridge and Buck Williams, who are injured, fought back.
They pulled within four points with 1:03 left. But Curry sank a jumper, and Kevin Johnson converted a three-point play to clinch the victory.