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Getting the Right Chemical Reaction

On a team of young guns and the occasional loose cannon, Horace Grant is the ultimate good soldier.

September 28, 2000|J.A. ADANDE

A Laker team that has always had issues with chemistry--including the addition of the radioactive Isaiah Rider this summer--just brought in one of the most stable elements on the periodic table.

Horace Grant is like argon--barely noticeable, but handy (it's used as the filler in lightbulbs.)

He brings no agenda other than what's best for the team. He already has accomplished everything a player entering the NBA seeks: championships, personal accolades, big money.

The breakdown: three rings with the Chicago Bulls (from 1991-1993), an All-Star game appearance in 1994 that helped lead to a five-year contract from the Orlando Magic in 1994 that made him the highest-paid power forward in the NBA for portions of the deal. Now, at 35, he's just enjoying himself.

What motivation is left?

"Love of the game, like always," Grant said. "When someone gives you the opportunity to be a part of something special, at this stage in my career, you want to go out and leave your heart on the floor. Of course I'm playing for myself, but more so for the Laker organization and especially Shaq and Phil."

That would be Messrs. O'Neal and Jackson. Grant played alongside O'Neal in Orlando and under Jackson in Chicago, and now he couldn't be happier to be reunited with them.

His relationship with Jackson wasn't always the best. Grant was Jackson's designated yelling target; whatever frustrations the coach had he took out on him.

But Jackson at least had the courtesy to let Grant know what he was doing ahead of time.

" ' I can't say this to Michael, I can't say this to Scottie. Can you handle it?' " Grant recalled Jackson telling him. "I'm like, 'Sure.' For three years? That's enough. I thought he was talking for one training camp, but three years? Oh, man. Phil, you've got to stop. But it worked out.

"I respect Phil greatly as a person and as one of the great coaches to coach this game."

(A year under Paul Westphal in Seattle had to add to Grant's appreciation).

But in the second half of the 1993-94 season, Grant checked out on Jackson. Grant was angry at owner Jerry Reinsdorf and General Manager Jerry Krause for his contract situation, and was already fantasizing about lounging poolside in Orlando once he became a free agent. The normally outgoing Grant became withdrawn from his teammates and the media, and became less responsive to Jackson.

"We had a great relationship, but I couldn't deal with that type of organization," Grant said. "Phil knew. He knew everything. I understand his position, being caught in the middle. That's why we have a great relationship even today.

"I'm a little older and Phil's a little older and a little [more] mellow, he's read a few more of his Zen books and been fly-fishing," Grant said. "I think he's a little heartbroken because he can't follow the Grateful Dead like he used to.

"I think it's a great relationship. I was young and he was sorta young back in the Chicago days. We bumped heads just a little bit. But right now he's given me a great opportunity to be on a great basketball team."

This time around finds Grant more secure. He felt unappreciated at times in Chicago, shrouded as all the Bulls were in Michael Jordan's shadow. He was the only player bold enough to publicly criticize the team for its double-standard treatment of Jordan. But by 1994, when Jordan was in the Birmingham Barons' outfield and the Bulls were in the playoffs, Grant was longing for the return of Number 23.

In Orlando, Grant was treated as the best thing to hit town since Mickey Mouse. They raved about his championship experience and talked of how he could share that knowledge with O'Neal and Penny Hardaway. The fact that the Magic beat the Bulls on its way to the NBA finals in 1995--with Grant repeatedly nailing open jumpers--made it that much sweeter.

All of the attributes that made him attractive to Orlando have made him appealing to the Lakers. Except his responsibilities decrease as his career goes on.

He doesn't have to teach the young kids how to win this time because they just learned for themselves.

He doesn't have to play out of position at center, as he did in Seattle last year, because O'Neal is around to handle that department.

So his tasks are simple ones, as enumerated by Grant himself: "Play defense, rebound and, if I'm open, hit the 12- to 15-foot jumper."

Only one problem: he has to do all of that in a Western Conference that could fill out the depth charts of three all-star teams at his position. There's Rasheed Wallace and Shawn Kemp--and that's just in Portland. There's Tim Duncan in San Antonio, Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, Chris Webber in Sacramento, Karl Malone in Utah.

So how relaxed and happy will be be if 'Sheed or KG or C-Webb goes for 40 points on him?

"I don't think that'll happen, because I take so much pride in my defense," Grant said. "If a guy like that hit 40 on me, I know he worked for it, and I would shake his hand.

"Pressure? Nah. I'm a little bit older and a little bit wiser than to have a position like this be pressure. It's fun. Really, it's fun."

How much longer does he want to do it? His contract is up after this season, but as happy as Grant is, as good as the situation looks, why would he want to stop playing?

"So long as there's Geritol to be taken," Grant said, "I'm gonna be around."

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