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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

Keep Youthful Clippers Away From Sheffield

February 27, 2001|T.J. SIMERS

I look at the youthful Clippers and I'm reminded of those wonderful times when my daughter listened to what I had to say and offered no challenge.

Now when we talk, it's so she can tell me what the grocery store bagger has to say and how they are planning to spend my money on a wedding I'm in no hurry to attend.

I look at the bagger, of course, and he reminds me of Gary Sheffield. He says all he wants is a lifetime contract, but how do I know he's not going to be looking for a trade if things don't go his way?

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EXPERIENCE TELLS ME the Clippers are going to grow up and probably be as immature as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal one day, just as greedy as Sheffield and Frank Thomas, and just as miserable as Kevin Brown and Isaiah "J.R." Rider. That's life.

Right now they reside in this cocoon of innocence--Quentin Richardson riding piggyback on Lamar Odom to celebrate a double-overtime win over Portland the other night, the rest of their teammates jumping up and down as if they had just won a state high school championship game.

"To walk into that locker room and see nothing but pure joy for no other reason than they just won a basketball game is really something," Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said. "You would never see a veteran team react like that."

Toronto's Charles Oakley says 60% of the players in the NBA are using marijuana, so some veteran teams might be unaware they've even won a game.

No, it's not easy these days to like those who play the games we watch. They're making millions and still aren't happy, while families are being charged hundreds with no guarantee of getting an all-out effort in return.

And along come the enthusiastic Clippers, seemingly unaware that those who have come before them to play for this organization have felt like Papillon being sentenced to Devil's Island.

"They're actually excited about playing for the Clippers," Gentry said. "They think they're going to be the group that turns this thing around."

Holy chalupa, imagine if Mark Cuban owned this team rather than Dallas--talk about unbridled naivete . . . now there's a young man my daughter should meet.

So far the Clippers are more entertaining than good, but they are engaging because of the promise offered. In Odom they have a 21-year-old articulate athlete who has the game and charisma to be as big a star as Shaq and Kobe if his team should become a playoff regular. And in Darius Miles, they have a 19-year-old pogo stick, who is wearing the ugliest shoes you have ever seen.

"If someone paid you a million dollars--like they do me--you'd wear them, too," Miles said. Now there's a young man my daughter really should meet.

These kids are so fresh they are sitting in the locker room waiting for reporters to interview them before each game. A 100 feet down the hall, the Lakers go into hiding, or in the case of Rider, show up late.

"They can all learn from the legacies of Magic, Bird and Jordan," Clipper broadcaster Bill Walton said. "Fans never thought that it was a chore or job for those guys. That's one of the reasons why fans on other teams could like those guys--they got the sense those three legends just wanted to play."

Right now these kids report to work with that bounce in their step, and while NBA rules dictate they must play here for five years if owner Donald Sterling pays the going rate, how long before they lose their innocence?

"That's the great question--how long can it last?" Gentry said.

If you want to put it in Sheffield and Thomas terms, as soon as someone takes note that Miles is getting rich wearing ugly shoes and they're not. That's how it starts.

*

I BELIEVE Tiger Woods has gone eight tournaments without a win, which means I must have started watching eight golf tournaments before losing interest and switching to something else.

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IN HIS USA TODAY column, Larry King identifies Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone as "my friend." So Malone does have one.

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I DIDN'T HEAR the interview Monday, because that would have meant listening to Doug Krikorian and Joe McDonnell, and you know they can be pretty tough on people and I wouldn't want that to creep into what I'm doing.

But apparently they had Malone on, and Malone, who has experience as a UCLA recruiter, suggested it was time that Bruin athletic director Peter Dalis be forced to retire because of the way he has treated Coach Steve Lavin.

Next week "The Sheriff" has agreed to offer his solution on world hunger.

*

IF YOU CALL the movie guy who runs the Dodgers, you get a return call from his flak, Derrick Hall, who is the team's image specialist, which is to say he has been very busy the past year.

The movie guy doesn't like to talk publicly because he doesn't make much sense, which leaves us with Hall, and if Hall had been working for Bill Clinton, he'd have told us the President was prepping himself for the priesthood.

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