Safety, not game, becomes pivotal Mutombo's parents missing in Zaire


Sometimes the real world intrudes on the make-believe of sports, reminding those who play and watch the fun and games that everyone has to wake up sometimes. Some more harshly than others.

Denver Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo is one of those now rubbing his eyes and wishing it were still a dream.

His parents are missing.

A few weeks ago, his parents fled their home in Zaire, which is in the midst of "political unrest," a kind, international way for saying civil war. Earlier this year, one of Mutombo's uncles, a U.N. official, was stabbed to death in Paris.

Although Mutombo's play looks solid from afar -- fifth in the league in rebounding, 27 points and 18 rebounds Thursday against the Detroit Pistons -- Mutombo is so upset he's considering going to Zaire to search for his family.

"It has taken a long time to hear from my parents," said Mutombo. "If it keeps going the way it's going, I think I'll find another way to go to Africa myself."

The Nuggets are owned by Comsat, a conglomerate whose chairman is former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird. He's working his international contacts, and U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., has asked the State Department for assistance.

But Mutombo is serious, despite the danger.

"Dangerous?" he says in response to a question. "It's not dangerous. It's my parents, so it's no problem for me to be in danger, too."

Rodman to rot?

The Detroit Pistons play the Chicago Bulls at noon today on channels 2 and 4. But will you get to see wacky Dennis Rodman?

The Pistons gambled earlier this season when Rodman returned from his self-imposed protest over Chuck Daly's firing and other Pistons' machinations and averaged more than 20 rebounds. Rather than realizing he was a time bomb, they got greedy and demanded an All-Star player in return in a deal. They couldn't get it because of Rodman's unpredictability. And he'll be 32 in May.

So now they're acting tough. When Rodman missed a practice last week, he was suspended. Originally, it was for two games, but when the Pistons realized the second game would be today's TV matchup with the Bulls, they made it one. Then they became angry again and said maybe it would be for more.

"Dennis has made it clear to us he doesn't want to be here," said player personnel director Billy McKinney. "when we get a deal that's right for us, we'll move him. If we don't, Dennis can stay here until he rots."

Rodman has said he would like to go to the Charlotte Hornets, New Jersey Nets, Phoenix Suns or Miami Heat if he doesn't have to take a pay cut.

Said one general manager who tried to get Rodman before the trading deadline: "They have so many people making decisions no one makes a decision."

Clippers confused

The Los Angeles Clippers were debating in the locker room last week about switching back to their black sneakers because they were 3-6 since the All-Star break wearing white ones.

"Why don't we just start playing harder," offered Lester Conner.

"This is supposed to be a team sport, but you wouldn't know it here," groused Danny Manning.

That's because a half-dozen key players are free agents and the team has talked openly about trading several of the others. It's a go-for-yourself mentality now, which doesn't help coach Larry Brown's team-oriented approach. And it's getting to Brown, who expected a deal last month.

"I really think Mr. [owner Donald] Sterling will spend the money," Brown said on ESPN. "I think we waited too long. I don't know if we have a plan. We lose sight of what the important thing is -- who's going to be on our team next year. If I were to ask Elgin Baylor or Mr. Sterling or Harley Frankel or Andy Roeser [team executives] who would be on our team next year, I don't think I'd get the same answer from any of them.

"People got on me, saying, 'Larry, there's a lot of players on the Lakers that are unsigned like our team. What is the difference? Why do you [have to] have these guys signed now?'

"I say. 'The Lakers have always taken care of their own.' " said Brown. "We're perceived that we don't take care of our own."

The Clippers have a chance to take over the L.A. market. Their test comes soon.

Lakers in transition

Speaking of those Los Angeles Lakers, free agent Byron Scott, 32, knows this is his last year with them.

"I don't think too many people are ready to move," said Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., where the Great Western Forum is located. "They just accept it and deal with it."

The Lakers do want unrestricted free agent A. C. Green to return and Green says, "I'd rather do what's right than what seems to have a bigger impact from a dollar standpoint."

The Orlando Magic supposedly will be a major bidder for him. And there's some life in James Worthy, averaging 18 points and shooting 49 percent the past two months after a 14-point and 42 percent start."

What's in a nickname?

The joke is the Warriors used to be Run TMC -- Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. Now, with injuries to key players such as Hardaway, Mullin and Billy Owens, their new nickname should be Limp HMO.

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