CLEVELAND -- As he looked around at the most talented group of basketball players ever assembled in one place, former New York Knicks guard Walt "Clyde" Frazier began having flashbacks.
"I look at Earl Monroe, and I think of my battles -- he was my nemesis," Frazier said of the former Baltimore Bullets guard. "When I see Wilt Chamberlain, I see him blocking my shot and remembering how he intimidated me. This is the best thing to happen to all of us, because none of us really got the recognition that we deserved."
As part of its 50th anniversary celebration -- and its All-Star Weekend -- the NBA paid tribute to the 50 players selected as the greatest of all time.
At halftime of last night's game, all of the men -- except Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal and former Lakers guard Jerry West, both missing for health reasons, and the late New Orleans Jazz great Pete Maravich, who was represented by his two sons, Jaecen and Joshua -- gathered at midcourt for a tribute.
"This is a privilege," Michael Jordan said. "If I get a chance, I'd like to say thank you to all of them because of the roads they paved for myself and the others that are here. Without their dedication and love of the game, quite naturally, we wouldn't be here. So they deserve a lot of success for the credit of the NBA."
The Boston Celtics have 13 players among the NBA's top 50 -- more than any other team.
"As I look around, there are a lot of people I played against, but it's also nice to know there are 13 players who at one time played with the Celtics," said John Havlicek, one of the 13. "That's pretty special."
Three Bullets were represented -- Monroe, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. Each of the 47 players wore a leather jacket especially made for the occasion, with Monroe wearing one of the Baltimore Bullets, the team he played for before going to the Knicks.
While the weekend was intended to be a happy gathering of players representing different eras, several of the former NBA stars said during their interview sessions that they sense a lack of respect from the younger players.
"Most of the players only know the NBA from Dr. J forward," Monroe said. "These guys wouldn't know about a Gus Johnson [former Bullets forward] if you told them. These guys not showing respect is bad for the game. Because you know what, it's going to happen to them. All of these guys should be paying homage to us."
Not all of the greats spent their time criticizing the youngsters.
"I think the players today are more physically talented -- they're bigger and stronger," Havlicek said. "However, I wouldn't trade my era for any because I think it was a special era. There were only nine teams in the league, and I felt it was a pretty strong league."
Added Monroe: "When you played in the '60s and '70s, every day you had to come up against somebody who was playing at the top of their game. Today, you can play one team and be off for the next three or four games."
For Bullets forward Chris Webber, one of the highlights of the weekend was meeting all-time great Bill Russell.
"I talked to him for a second, and that was an honor," Webber said. "He initiated the conversation and said he respected me. To me, that means so much; that made the weekend for me."
Webber said he couldn't help but stare at Russell during the brief talk. "I was just looking at his beard -- it was gray," Webber said. "I know he saw me checking out all his features. I didn't care. I didn't say anything. I couldn't. I was speechless."
A center's center
Russell, one of the best centers to play the game, is a big fan of Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon.
"I've played against guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond and Walt Bellamy, and I watched guys like [George] Mikan. "[Olajuwon] is an excellent player, excellent. The thing I like most about him is he's a competitor, and that's what makes him, for me, one of the players worth watching."
Asked what advice he would give Dennis Rodman on his return from his 11-game suspension tomorrow, Jordan said, "If I had to give him advice, I'd tell him to wear pants all the time."
Pub Date: 2/10/97