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THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : Oh Canada? Oh Boy Is More Like It for New Pair

December 17, 1995|Mark Heisler

In the War of 1812, the United States tried to annex Canada, but our offensive was repulsed and the British wound up burning Washington, D.C.

In a classic case of payback, the NBA is now sacking Canada.

Picture this: Toronto and Vancouver are charged $125 million-- apiece --for franchises. The expansion price the last time around, in 1989, was $32.5 million. That's a jump of almost 400% in six years. The NBA has, once again, outpaced the cost of living.

The new teams got to choose everyone's ninth-best players, but that didn't count free agents--even ones such as the Lakers' retiring Sam Bowie--so it was more like the 10th or 11th best. Wily general managers went so far as to cut such players as Rafael Addison, obliging the Raptors to take pricey disappointments such as Oliver Miller.

That, however, was a small-potatoes scam next to the league's piece de resistance, the draft exclusions.

The Raptors and Grizzlies were allowed to draft sixth and seventh. In comparison, the NFL let the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars go 1-2.

But no league had ever come up with anything like this one: Neither new NBA team can draft first in 1996 . . . or 1997 . . . or 1998.

"Yes, it is [unfair]," Raptor General Manager Isiah Thomas says, cheerfully. "However, that's the way it is. I don't want to cry about it. I'm not going to complain about it. Before I came into the ownership group, the deal was made."

At last season's All-Star game, Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik delivered the official rationalization, even asserting the NBA was being generous. Actually, no league has ever stuck it to a new partner like this. The Dallas Mavericks (Mark Aguirre), Charlotte Hornets (Larry Johnson) and Orlando Magic (Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, who was traded for Penny Hardaway) all exercised top picks within their first three seasons and became legitimate teams.

Too legitimate, apparently.

Thomas says the league's argument, as he understands it, went this way: "When players like Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway went to what had been an expansion team, the other owners felt it diminished the value of their franchises."

Thomas laughs.

"I wish I had been there to argue with them."

Thomas ultimately pulled off a coup in the college draft, taking Damon Stoudamire, who will be his point guard for years while he phases out veterans such as Alvin Robertson who have helped the Raptors start so well.

The Grizzlies won their first two games, then lost 19 in a row. On the bright side, prize rookie Bryant Reeves has revived after a terrible start.

The Raptors (21,563) and Grizzlies (17,120) are Nos. 3 and 11 in the league in attendance, respectively. In comparison, the Lakers and Clippers are Nos. 26 and 29.

Indignities are everywhere. The Raptors heard the Canadian anthem mangled in Indianapolis. In Seattle it was so bad, even the players nudged each other.

On the Grizzlies' first trip to the Forum, Laker officials forgot the Canadian anthem entirely.

Then there was the first Chicago Bull trip to Vancouver, where excitement was running at a fever pitch. The local press, used to polite hockey players, was disappointed to learn Coach Phil Jackson wouldn't return phone calls, and Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman wouldn't talk after practice.

"Arrogance comes in a good many packages," the Vancouver Province's Tony Gallagher fumed, "but some of the proctological specimens on the Chicago Bulls have honed it to an art form."

Welcome to the NBA, oh, Canada! Look at the bright side: In four years or so, you get to sock it to Mexico City.

Internationalism, it's definitely the way to go.

SHAQ'S IN THE HOUSE; EVERYONE'S HAPPY (?)

O'Neal is back, but the Magic went 17-5 without him and Hardaway became a star, so now what happens?

"I've heard that question 100 times now," guard Nick Anderson said. "Shaq is going to do what Shaq has always done. Nick Anderson will do what he's done and Penny Hardaway . . . and so on. There will be no problems. OK?"

Hardaway said only, "I don't think I'll have to change my game at all." This was not the same as saying, "We're just happy to have our big guy back, and we all know our team starts with him."

Teammates' eyebrows were raised when O'Neal informed management he was leaving town during his convalescence to visit Los Angeles and New York. Horace Grant, who used to bust on Michael Jordan in Chicago for the same thing, acknowledged there was a "double standard," but said it was OK.

Shaq's return was routine. The well-known media hype engaged Coach Brian Hill in a fake argument for TV cameras. Hill said Shaq would play Friday, O'Neal interjected "Wednesday," Shaq left and Hill said, grinning, "I guess it's Wednesday."

Shaq then went out through a back door without further comment. He told a Magic PR assistant he was concerned about overexposure.

NAMES AND NUMBERS

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