It's the American (and Yugoslavian) Dream to declare early for the NBA, work out for Michael, skip the prom, go 1-through-13 in the draft and drive an Escalade—unless you are Shane Battier, who is willing to drive a Yugo.
Either way, yesterday's high school seniors are today's multimillionaires—which means room service!—and their new lives usually begin in July at the Pro Summer League in Long Beach, Calif., where two 18-year-olds were still naively calling their new boss "Mr. Krause." Tyson Chandler (the No.2 overall pick) and Eddy Curry (No.4) were both there in Bulls jerseys—even though one of their uniform numbers is apparently jinxed—and they learned summer league can be an interactive experience. Curry committed a hard foul on his first defensive possession, lined up for the free throw and heard his first pro catcall. Tuck your shirt in, Eddy! This ain't high school anymore. And his reaction was unthinkable: He tucked the shirt in. Later, in another Bulls game, the seven-foot Chandler was open from 22 feet and heard a gang of spectators say, Shoot it, shooooot it. And his reaction was also unthinkable: He shot it.
The point is, summer league is the NBA's starter kit, where the American (and Yugoslavian) Dream gets reclassified to Wake-up Call. There are high school kids who want in (Jerry's Kids), and there are high school kids who want back in (Korleone Young), and there are high school kids who are already in (Darius Miles). There are college literates who still carry backpacks (Battier), and there are imports from Belgrade who carry Serbo-Croatian-to-English dictionaries (Vladimir Radmanovic).
The end result in Long Beach was a smorgasbord of hope, resentment, ball-hogging and loitering at Gilbert Arenas' Cadillac Escalade SUV. "Every day, guys wanted to hang out at my car," says Golden State's rookie guard. Of course, that's because his car is an outright home. It has two seven-inch TVs fitted into the visors, another TV that folds out of the dashboard and a 13-inch flat-screen that drops from the ceiling. It has a sound system that could penetrate the White House and a hidden camera in the rear bumper so Arenas can see exactly where he's been.
Of course, that's the irony: Everyone else in summer league wants to know where they're going.
WHO NEEDS A PROM WHEN YOU CAN GO MEET MICHAEL?
One floor down, his new best friend is having a steak, again courtesy of room service. The friend is wearing a black headband and has one eye on the red meat and one eye on a shoot-'em-up TV movie. But Eddy Curry does not dare eat his potatoes. His body fat is down to 12.5%, he's lost 50 pounds to get to 285, and he intends to keep it this way.
So this is Chicago's future, and the two of them are the latest case study on youth and excess. Five of this year's first seven picks showed up in Long Beach, but only these two were high schoolers and only these two were surrounded for postgame interviews every day. In the end, after they'd lost all five of their games, by an average of 17.8 points, the only consensus was: Check back in three years.
Curry is nicknamed Baby Shaq, and Chandler is nicknamed Baby Garnett—"Guess we're just babies," Curry says—so it isn't fair to judge them yet. It is more prudent to try to see the world as they see it, and what they've seen is a whirlwind.
Chandler, for instance, gladly skipped his prom in June to work out for Michael Jordan and the Wizards. He even showed up in Air Jordans, to which Jordan said, "Nice sneaks." But when he slipped making a cut, Chandler said, "Must be these raggedy shoes." That was about it for the trash talk, until Jordan told him, "You've got no left hand." Chandler, being Chandler, went home to work on it. He takes all his criticism to heart, and this ended up hurting him at Long Beach.
The Bulls coaches began to learn about him. They learned he went trick-or-treating as a 6'4" 11-year-old and that a woman turned him away, thinking he was too old. They learned that he never went out on Halloween again. They learned that his mom could rarely buy him sneakers. And that when he tore a pair of black ones one day, he painted over the hole with her black eyeliner so she wouldn't see.
They learned that 60 Minutes profiled him as a ninth-grader. And that he imagined turning pro right then. And that he never intended to go to college, and never took the SATs or ACTs. And that he put undo pressure on himself. And that as a freshman he'd sometimes ask teammates not to throw him the ball because he was petrified of blow ing the game. And that he was beginning to worry about it again at Long Beach—blowing games.
They had him playing small and power forward, and he'd drift ridiculously far out on the perimeter. He'd drift even though he'd grown from 6'11?" to 7'?" since high school. He'd call for alley-oops every fast break, but was mostly a nonfactor (6.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg). By the end of the summer league, he admitted he was glad his hometown Clippers had traded him. "I try too hard at home," Chandler says. "I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off."
At least Curry had a position: center. Scouts say he has the best hands since Chris Webber, and he shows a touch from 12 feet in, and his agile feet are due to his old hobby in Chicago, gymnastics. "I can still do back flips," he says. In a way, he's the anti-Chandler—he started basketball late and took his ACTs. Though he's more understated than Chandler, he showed a mean streak at Long Beach, averaging 13 and 4. He even had the gall to wear jersey No. 2.
Chandler was originally going to take the number, but Bulls equipment man John Ligmanowski told him the number was cursed, that everyone who'd worn it had either been cut, traded, injured or useless. He cited Khalid El-Amin, Brad Sellers and Dennis Hopson. He said Ron Harper had tried the number too, and struggled until Jordan talked him into switching. Chandler chose No. 3 instead. But Curry demanded No. 2, and couldn't be swayed.
"Gonna break the curse," Curry says.
The summer league exposed them for what they are: teenagers. Curry wore his McDonald's All-American basketball shorts; Chandler wore his State Champions T-shirt. Curry admitted he still had posters of Jordan on his bedroom wall; Chandler admitted he had posters of Garnett and Tupac. Curry asked for a tattoo parlor; Chandler found one. Each bought rims for their Escalades. Each was afraid the new Bulls power forward, Charles Oakley, would haze them. And each was afraid Chandler's idol, Shaquille O'Neal, would dunk on them.
"Tyson can be in awe of Shaq, but I've got to guard him," Curry says. "My nose will be bleeding."
It was all a new world. After the final Long Beach game, one of Chandler's relatives tugged on Curry's sleeve to say, "Please keep an eye on Tyson."
Curry, his No. 2 jersey in his duffel bag, simply said, "I will. I will."
ANYBODY HAVE A WALL STREET JOURNAL HANDY?
The media kept asking Battier about high school kids skipping college, and he kept waxing poetic about the void in their lives. "They're missing out on the greatest four years of your life," Battier would say. "They'll never know what it's like to move in the first day and see your parents drive away. They won't know what it's like to find quarters in your couch to buy a pizza.
"I know what a municipal bond is. I know the value of a dollar today vs. a dollar a year from now. I can balance a checkbook. And I won't need Mom to live with me my rookie season."
It sounded condescending to some—Chandler, for one, since he's considering living with Mom—and that's why Battier wasn't popular here. But Battier was already such a veteran. He was the Grizzlies' team captain, and the only player in the league to ice his knees for preventative reasons, and the only one to talk about golf, and one of the few rookies not to buy an Escalade.
"I'll get a Volvo, a Yugo, whatever loaner I can get," he says. "If you have all the finest things in life at 22, what's there to look forward to? I'll want all that when I'm 45, when I have time to enjoy it. I'm going to invest my money. I'm old-school."
On the court, he still couldn't beat people off the dribble, which is why Chandler and Curry went ahead of him and some scouts think he'll have an uncertain career. But he still averaged 19.3 points and 5.3 rebounds playing mostly on the perimeter, and won a game by diving for a loose ball.
"Way to make the big plays," Grizzlies GM Billy Knight said.
"That's why I'm here," Battier answered.
From a distance, though, the best player in the summer league was fuming.
BREAK UP THE CLIPPERS
Brand, he loves. Brand was traded to the Clippers on draft day, and Miles agrees with team officials who think the Clippers can make the playoffs. "Well," says team executive Andy Roeser, "it's the first time a Bull was ever traded to the Clippers because he wanted to play for a winner."
Odom, he loves too. After every Miles dunk, Odom—dressed in street clothes—says, "Way to go, son." Which is funny to Miles' mother. "A 21-year-old calling a 19-year-old son?" she says. "Oh, well." But Miles is clearly the league's best player, averaging 27 a game, and has proved again that a high school senior can catapult to the NBA.
Then there's Battier, whom Miles does not love.
"I'm not trying to talk about Shane Battier, or make him look bad or nothing like that," Miles says. "But I hate when he talks in the paper how high school players get picked just off talent. And how he stayed four years in school, and did this, and did that. It's not Tyson and Eddy's fault they're good. God blessed them. God blessed me. "When Battier says that, he's disrespecting all us high school players. He's disrespecting me, Kobe and Garnett. I hate that." Memo to Battier: It's not your fault, but cover your head next season.
AND YOU ARE ... ?
He's spent two mediocre years in the CBA and IBL, and this could be his last stop. Although Miami and Portland have shown mild interest, Laker assistant Jim Cleamons says Young "needs to pay attention to detail" and "should've gone to college."
Bryant, Garnett and Miles made it out of high school because they're freak-of-nature athletes, but the 6'7" Young has never shown one stellar attribute. And then there's what happened in Detroit.
Former Pistons coach Alvin Gentry wanted to cut him that first preseason, but was overruled by management. Then, whenever Gentry offered to tutor him after practice, Young would get ticked off about having to stay. Then, before a fifth and final playoff game with Atlanta, the coaching staff spied Young and a teammate climbing into a cab with two girls just two hours before tip-off. And that's when they wrote him off.
And now it may be too late: The Lakers have no plans to keep him.
OH, AND I'LL ALSO NEED AN AMERICAN DRIVER'S LICENSE
Sonics assistant coach Dwane Casey says Radmanovic is a "quicker, younger Detlef Schrempf," and considering Vlad is 6'10" with range, he also compares favorably with Dirk Nowitzki. In Long Beach, he averaged 17.2 points and 4.3 rebounds, though he appeared to run out of steam late. The problem may have been the food. "Can I be honest?" he says. "American food is horrible." But he still plans to go home and tell his basketball friends to join this new NBA full of 18-year-olds.
Long Beach was his perfect orientation. For starters, he got to see freeway gridlock. "Here, traffic is so bad, you must start going somewhere three hours before," he says. "In Yugoslavia, you can drive fast, which is why I have an Italian sports car. Here you have rules, and you must respect them, or they will put you in jail. In Yugoslavia, you just say, 'I am basketball player,' and they say, 'Okay, no problem, be careful.'
"And what is a carpool lane? What is with America? So many rules. And your taxi drivers! They don't know anything. I ask to go to Rodeo Drive, and he did not know Rodeo Drive. I'm from Yugoslavia, and I know Rodeo Drive."
Either way, he is anxious to return for training camp and apply everything he learned at his first pro summer league. Everything.
For instance, he intends to buy a car.
"There is only one I want," he says. "How you say it ... Escalade?"
This article appears in the August 6, 2001, issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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