For Portland Trail Blazers forward Buck Williams, it was an off-season of discontent. Serving as the president of the NBA Players Association, he was criticized repeatedly as friction among players over the new collective bargaining agreement threatened to divide the ranks -- as well as endanger the start of the season.
Which is why the former University of Maryland star is happy that he'll now take his battles onto the court, and away from the bargaining table.
"I would be very dishonest if I said I wasn't troubled [by the off-season criticism], because I think I've worked extremely hard and my integrity and my good name means a good deal," Williams said. "I took it all in stride. It made me a better person and strengthened my character."
Now it's up to Williams, only the eighth player in league history to register 12,000 rebounds and 15,000 points, to provide strength to a Portland team that's in a stage of rebuilding. Clyde Drexler left in midseason, and went on to win a title with the Houston Rockets. Terry Porter is now with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jerome Kersey, selected by the Toronto Raptors in the expansion draft and later released, just signed with the Golden State Warriors.
"I feel like a stranger," said Williams, 35, the only remaining starter from the team that went to the finals in 1990 and 1992. "But it's part of life."
A title Rockets don't want
Former Dunbar star Sam Cassell, in London with the Rockets as they prepare for tonight's opening of the McDonald's Championships, wants no part of history -- the first NBA team to be defeated in this the seventh edition of the tournament.
"We don't want to be the first," Cassell said. "Let somebody else be the first."
International teams in the tournament have a lot in their favor: being used to international rules, and the fact that teams have already battled through tournaments to reach the six-team finals.
Houston is at a disadvantage: the team has just been together for a little over two weeks and its star, Hakeem Olajuwon, is coming off minor elbow surgery that will keep him out of the tournament.
What are the Rockets without Olajuwon -- maybe not even a playoff team. And maybe not a sure bet to leave London victorious.
Tough break for Coleman
Derrick Coleman, according to New Jersey Nets coach Butch Beard, had come into camp a model citizen. He was taking younger players aside to offer guidance, and was even adhering to the team's dress code.
So it's too bad that Coleman apparently will miss the start of the season after being diagnosed with "a minor heart irregularity."
It was reported that Coleman is seeking a second opinion from a specialist, and rightfully so. With the heart conditions that left former Dunbar star and Boston Celtics guard Reggie Lewis dead in 1993, and Loyola Marymount forward Hank Gathers dead in 1990, Coleman should not be tempted to rush back to play.
"We're glad we were able to monitor the irregular heartbeat as early as we did," Beard said.
Around the league
Comical scene at the new Rose Garden Arena in Portland on Wednesday when tip-off was delayed for an hour -- because not all the arena seats had been installed. . . . Golden State's signing of Kersey could cut into the minutes of Donyell Marshall, a lottery pick in 1994 who reported to camp out of shape. . . . As if there aren't enough Michael Jordan books on the shelves, add two more to the list: "Rebound: The Odyssey of Michael Jordan," by Bob Greene, and "Second Coming: The Strange Odyssey of Michael Jordan -- from Courtside to Home Plate and Back Again," by Sam Smith. Both writers work for the Chicago Tribune. . . . Think the Rockets' new uniforms are horrible? Imagine having to wear them. "You got Rockets shooting at you, you got numbers on the front, numbers on the back, logos here, it's just too much," Robert Horry said. . . . Detroit is experimenting with Grant Hill at point guard. . . . Former Terp Tony Massenburg probably will start for Toronto.