Five years ago, the New Jersey Nets, poor sisters to the cross-river New York Knicks in terms of support and financial solvency, listened to the cry of the fans and drafted Dwayne "Pearl" Washington, a flamboyant guard from Syracuse University and the New York playgrounds.
Washington, who didn't possess an outside touch, never fulfilled his promise.
The still-struggling Nets ignored that history lesson in June, when they passed up an opportunity to select all-purpose forward Billy Owens of Syracuse or shot-blocking center Dikembe Mutombo of Georgetown in the NBA draft. Instead, they chose another New York-bred point guard in Kenny Anderson, who skipped his final two seasons at Georgia Tech to turn pro.
The Nets' need for a floor leader seemed less acute than their need for a big man, since they had used their No. 1 pick to pick Mookie Blaylock from Oklahoma in 1989. But Anderson's style and roots proved hard to ignore.
Anderson, who will face the Washington Bullets tonight at The Meadowlands, missed the preseason before agreeing Friday to a five-year deal worth $14.5 million.
It was not all joy at The Meadowlands when Anderson was introduced to the media. Nets coach Bill Fitch chose the occasion to criticize management for waiving forward Jud Buechler and center Dave Feitl without his approval to make room under the team salary cap for Anderson.
Fitch viewed Buechler, who was subsequently claimed by the San Antonio Spurs, as a key reserve. Feitl was re-signed for the $130,000 minimum, but four veterans had to agree to take deferred salary payments to accommodate Anderson, who has surpassed the Detroit Pistons' Isiah Thomas as the highest-paid point guard in the NBA.
"I really haven't thought about that," Anderson told The New York Times. "I'm trying to prove myself by playing."
Fitch has eased the pressure on Anderson, using him as a reserve in his first three games, all losses. Anderson has averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 assists and has been on the floor with Blaylock at the end of each game.
Fitch likens the 6-foot-1 Anderson's slight build and style to that of Nate Archibald, who led the NBA in scoring and assists in 1972-73.
"The physical part concerns me the most," Fitch said. "It takes strength, courage, ability and technique when you drive to the hole. After a while, the big guys in the NBA put up a 'Don't Come Back' sign. I was amazed at how many times Tiny would get knocked down and pick himself up."
Center Sam Bowie says Anderson will be singled out by opponents because of his All-America credentials and huge salary.
"When you come in as a high-profile money player, it can be tough," said Bowie, who was picked ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft. "Guys will want to show Kenny he's not worth the money."
The Nets have said they don't want to push Anderson's development, and that's just fine with him.
"I don't want to be nobody's savior," Anderson said. "They said that at Georgia Tech, but we won because I had a great supporting cast. And I believe I have one here with Coleman, Blaylock, Bowie and [Chris] Morris. Don't put all the pressure on me."
Opponent: New Jersey Nets
Site: Meadowlands Arena, East Rutherford, N.J., 7:35
TV: Channel 20
Radio: WTOP (1500 AM)
dTC Outlook: The Bullets (3-5) broke a 5-game losing streak by beating the Timberwolves in Minneapolis on Wednesday night, 119-114. G Michael Adams is averaging 28.1 points and 10.4 assists. F Tom Hammonds scored a career-high 22 against the Timberwolves, and rookie F Larry Stewart (Coppin State) had 16 points and 9 rebounds in his second start. The Nets have lost 4 straight since winning their opener in Charlotte. F Derrick Coleman leads the team with 19.2 ppg and 11.7 rpg. The Bullets won the series last year, 3-2.