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Bill Dwyre

Second nature

Clippers guard Cuttino Mobley has put together a fine career in the NBA while higher-profile teammates get most of the attention.

October 11, 2008|Bill Dwyre

Cuttino Mobley should do ads for Avis. If he were a politician, his biggest dream might be to become vice president.

It could have been worse. His name could have been Tom or Dick. Or Harry. Fortunately for him, his paternal grandmother was Sicilian and gave him his best distinction.

"Cuttino. She loved that," he says. "Name came right from her."

He is one of the other guys on a team that is the other team in Los Angeles.

On his Clippers, the spotlight shines mostly on Baron Davis first, then Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman. Maybe, after that, he gets a tie with soon-to-be-star Al Thornton.

In a quest for more notoriety, Mobley could have taken a page from that German Olympian from Central Michigan, Kaman. Except, Sicily didn't have a team.

In this city, the other guys are the toast of the town in basketball. Mobley could get 35 points three nights in a row and the callers to the talk shows and the letter-writers to the newspapers would be asking what Kobe had for breakfast. By the time the spotlight has shined on Kobe and Phil and Lamar and Derek and Pau and Andrew, as well as Mobley's own higher-profile teammates, there is little left for him.

In Los Angeles basketball, Sasha Vujacic's hair net gets more ink and airtime.

Still, those who know the game know that Mobley is a very good player. In 10 seasons in the NBA, the 33-year-old Mobley, a 6-foot-4 guard, has averaged 16.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists. More so, they know he defends -- he was the Clippers' most effective matchup last season against Dallas' 6-foot-11 Dirk Nowitzki. And he is a model of consistency across the categories.

Last season, Mobley reached double figures in scoring 56 times, scored 30 points or more twice and 20 or more seven times. He led the Clippers in scoring seven times, in assists 10 times, in steals 20 times and in blocked shots 10 times.

No records were kept on how many times he swept out the gym afterward.

Coach Mike Dunleavy likes Mobley because, like all coaches, he is one of those hard-to-find unselfish types. "He's one of those guys who is willing to give of himself to win," Dunleavy says.

General Manager Mike Dunleavy likes Mobley because his five-year, $42-million contract, which runs out after the 2009-10 season, has been a good investment.

"I was over in Las Vegas for a camp when Mobley was a free agent and the bidding was going on," Dunleavy recalls. "Our owner, Mr. [Donald] Sterling, was there too. I knew it was getting close, so I went to Sterling's hotel room and told him we were close on this guy. I told him the money and he hesitated. I told him if we wanted to make the playoffs, we better get him. He said 'OK.' "

That was the summer before the 2005-06 season. That season, the Clippers lost in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Mobley is a Philadelphia kid whose father, Donald, started teaching him to be a boxer when he was very young and whose mother, Jackie, put a quick stop to that. "She didn't want that happening," Mobley says.

He played some high school quarterback and was good enough to attract the attention of Penn State and Miami. But he eventually caught basketball fever, went after high school to a prep school in Pittsfield, Maine, Maine Central Institute, and ended up playing against other elite prep school teams such as Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

That led him to the University of Rhode Island.

"I had a friend who said we should go where we could be big fish in a small pond," Mobley says. "So that's how I ended up there."

The big tuna in that small pond was Jim Harrick, who had previously coached UCLA to a national championship and who also recruited Baron Davis for the Bruins.

"Harrick was the best coach I ever had," Mobley says. "He let us play."

His draft status was somewhat like his current profile, an obscure second-rounder to Houston, the 42nd pick overall. And soon, there he was, a rookie in the lockout-shortened 1999 season, in the bright lights of L.A. More like in the shadow of the bright lights.

"We came to the Forum, and I'll never forget it," he says. "It was Shaq and Kobe against Pippen and Charles Barkley. I was just a guy on the bench. I looked into the crowd and there were Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy. I kind of oohed and aahed."

But Mobley doesn't remember that just because he was star-struck.

"The next night, we went to Golden State," he says. "Somebody got hurt, I got to play, I hit four of six from the field, and I showed them I could play."

When he came to the Clippers, so did Sam Cassell, and there has never been a spotlight Cassell didn't dominate. And now that he has gone, as well as Corey Maggette and Elton Brand, the Clippers have filled those spots in the bright lights with Davis and Camby.

Which leaves Mobley right where he has usually been -- a very good, not very famous player in a city where fans worship stars more than they assess talent.

None of which bothers Mobley.

"This is not a game about 'I,' " he says. "It's about 'we.' "

Still, distinctive profiles are nice, and maybe that's why Mobley has passed along his biggest banner.

"My son is 8," he says. "I named him Cuttino. Gotta keep it going."

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Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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