Morrison, Lee still dribbling, dreaming


When you are doing your dribbling for the Raleigh Bullfrogs, who are not a science experiment, you are beginning to think about a day job, right?

"No way," Mike Morrison said. "I plan on playing basketball another 15 years."

When you are spending your summer sinking jumpers for the Erie Wave, which is not a dance step, your next step is selling insurance, right?

"Very wrong," Kurk Lee said. "I'm 24 years old and playing ball and making good money. Why would I want to stop?"

When you have worn the uniforms of 18 teams in six leagues in three countries, as have Morrison and Lee since leaving Loyola and Towson State, it is just about time to become an adult, right?

"I'm having the time of my life," Morrison said. "I plan on playing as long as I can."

And so this is about the dark side of the snazzy moon that is pro basketball, and how everyone has the wrong idea.

Everyone else laughs, see. They can't get past the names, and can you blame them? Tulsa Fastbreakers. Rapid City Thrillers. Raleigh Bullfrogs. Who comes up with this stuff? Everyone else figures it must be the end of the world. Either that or a joke in Jay Leno's next monologue. But they just don't get it.

"See," Lee said, "they are paying you to play basketball, which you want to do. You're not behind a desk from 9 to 5. You're getting good money to practice an hour a day, or play a game at night. Work six months a year. Weigh that against the working world, it's not even close."

It would probably be a lot closer if not for that NBA carrot dangling in the distance. Morrison and Lee both got in a season in the bigs out of college, Morrison with the Suns, Lee the Nets. It hooked them, lending substance to their stalling of adulthood.

"Two things keep you going," Morrison said. "One is you love the game you have played all your life. Two is you have that NBA dream, and it doesn't have to die because you didn't make it the first time."

Morrison is the real traveler of the two, having played for 13 teams in three years, including teams in the CBA, WBL and GBA, which are leagues, not government agencies. He also spent time in the Philippines and, this spring, played for the Marinos of Porta la Cruz, Venezuela. "I was there in between coups," he said.

That's the way it goes on the Rand McNally heaven that is the Bullfrog track. Morrison met his wife during a summer league in Los Angeles, dated her in Phoenix and married her in Tulsa. Now they live in Upper Marlboro, where Morrison is running a bible basketball camp. Lee was traded from Sioux Falls to Oklahoma City at one point last season. Transactions are not pretty on the Bullfrog track.

"You do see the world," Morrison said. "It takes a certain amount of faith to keep going, but I'm not complaining. I've always been employed and had a place to sleep."

The funny part is that he wasn't even planning on this life, not that anyone could plan on it at Loyola. Morrison was in summer school in 1989, finishing up three courses he needed for his degree, when the Suns picked him in the second round.

"Total lightning bolt," he said. "I was figuring on maybe a year in the CBA and then getting my masters in communications and maybe becoming a journalist."

Thirteen teams later, Morrison is back at Loyola this summer finishing those three courses and getting his degree, so you know he is thinking about the day it all ends. But to hear him, that day isn't coming soon.

"I came real close to getting an NBA call-up last winter," he said. "I think I'll be back [in the NBA] next year. I have a good deal working with one team."

Lee, who took Towson to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 1990, also is thinking big. "I hear Dallas is interested in me," he said. "I know I'll get a shot [at a training camp] somewhere."

If it doesn't work out, count on him to keep shooting. It briefly crossed his mind that his time was up when he broke his thumb last winter and missed two months -- he has a degree in communications and figures on becoming a coach or broadcaster when he is done. But he came back strong.

"I don't think I will be quitting for a long time now," he said, "but when I was out, it hit me: is it already time to use my degree? People in this position think about that all the time. They fight it off. There are a lot of older guys [in the CBA] who just don't want to give it up. I understand. They're still getting paid to play."

Lee made $1,000 a week in the CBA, and $20,000 this summer with the Wave.

"You could do a whole lot worse," he said. "But see, I can demand more because I had that year in the NBA. If I hadn't had that year, I'd probably be in the working world somewhere. But making the NBA was the best thing that happened to me. It gave me a chance to keep going."

The endless winter. You might call it the stalling of adulthood, but would you pass up the chance?

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