In 1989 Glen Rice entered the national basketball consciousness by scoring 31 points for the Michigan Wolverines in 1989 NCAA championship game. Rice and Rumeal Robinson would lead the Wolverines to an overtime victory of PJ Carlesimo’s Cinderella Seton Hall team.
The shot was pure. The rim was a prop. The net’s movement, or lack thereof, a testament to the release, rotation, splash; culminating in a textbook follow through pose.
Career TS% .551
Career FG% .472
Rice honed his shot by staying out late at the playground as a kid. His reasoning, if he could make it in the darkened shadows of the park, shooting in the lights of the gym would be nothing. He would learn what a shot felt like rather than relying on his sense of sight, almost as if shooting by wrote.
“He can definitely make three-pointers with his eyes closed, as he proved during warm-ups recently.”
He would be drafted by the sad sack Miami Heat and quickly bring them out of the doldrums, leading them to the Conference finals in his first season. But Miami would turn out to be the first stop in what can only be called a basketball Odyssey.
pawn 1 n. – a person used by others for their own purposes.
The trade from the Heat would be the beginning of a string of teams, including the Lakers, who would extract from Rice what they would before jettisoning him unceremoniously. But unlike some of his other stops, Miami and specifically Pat Riley would initiate him into the harsh realities of NBA player movement, and this would be one of the few times where Rice did little to earn his fate.
“Rice says Heat president and coach Pat Riley told him not to pay any attention to trade rumors—when Riley called to inform him that he had been dealt to Charlotte, “I was on my way to practice when I got the call,” Rice says. “I just went back inside, sat down on my living room floor and cried.”
But if Rice thought being lied to, followed by being traded away, was tough to swallow, his misery would soon enough subside because in Charlotte he would see the personal and statistical high point of his career.
“I’ve been in zones before where you feel like anything you put up is going in. This feels different. It doesn’t feel like something I’m going to come out of. It feels like this is the way it’s going to be.”
Rice had previously dazzled the league with his shooting prowess, but in Charlotte he would learn to keep defenders honest with drives to the rim. These forays often resulting in fouls, and one can imagine how well he shot freebies.
He would scratch the surface of superstar status on his third trip to the annual no-defense-scoring-fest known as the All-Star game. With 20 points in the third quarter and 24 in the half, both All-Star records, Rice would earn MVP honors and a momentary spot amongst the NBA’s elite.
Losing Eddie Jones
On March 3, 1999 Rice would traded to the Lakers for fan-favorite Eddie Jones and not-so-fan-favorite and over priced Shaq-back-up, Elden Campbell. Charlotte was willing to trade Rice, who had been holding out, but the trade’s finalization languished as Rice recovered from an elbow injury.
In the strike shortened season he would average 17.5 points a game, down five points from the previous season, but this was to be expected when transitioning from being the first option to the third. Rice played heavy minutes in the playoffs and produced good numbers, but he couldn’t help the Lakers avoid another playoff departure that was once again deemed too early for the talented crew that Jerry West had assembled.
Buss vs. West vs. Jackson
With the signing of Phil Jackson, Rice’s career and ego would take the hit that it never recovered from. Phil wanted to swap Rice for Pippen and there was also a rumor of a Latrell Sprwell trade. But Rice was to be a free agent at season’s end and David Falk was talking max deal, succesfully squashing both trades in the process.
Compounding the problem was the Lakers system. After years of having coaches run plays for Rice that had him coming off screens a la Reggie Miller, the Triangle would turn Rice into a standstill shooter and the numbers would drop further. The lack of defensive skills would become more glaring as the Lakers began their march to a title. But the trouble wouldn’t make its way into the paper until the most inopportune of times.
”Jackson has never wanted Glen, he’s always wanted somebody like Scottie Pippen, and this is his way of getting back at management for not letting him make a trade…Jackson did not get his way with the general manager or the owner about trading Glen, so who pays for it? Glen does. How many players would have stayed as quiet for as long as Glen has? But finally, when the team is affected, you have to say something,” she said. ”Now if it was me, I would have already been Latrell Sprewell II.” Asked about his wife’s comments, Rice said he agreed with them.
-June 14, 2000
As the 23 game grind that was the 2000 Laker postseason wore on, it became evident that Jackson valued Rick Fox’s defense over Rice’s offensive output. Rice would see his playing time dip 10 minutes from the previous postseason under interim-coach Rambis, and his scoring plummet to 12.5 points per game. And his performance in game 1, a 1-8 stinker where he played 24 minutes, made matters even worse. But knowing what we know about Phil Jackson, Rice would have needed to be perfect on the offensive end to make up for the abuse Jalen Rose was laying on him on the defensive end.
Rice would rebound in Game 2 by scoring 21 points, but it was in the aftermath of a Kobe-less game 3 loss (7 pts., 3-9) that would see the two headed monster of bad D and an inability to keep his, and bizarrely enough his wife’s, mouth shut that would initiate the basketball tragedy that marked the end of his career and relegate him to one trick pony status.
“Rice admitted he would not be 100 percent focused in Game 4 but said he would dedicate himself to addressing the deficiency in his game that Jackson said was the reason he removed Rice in favor of Fox in Game 3.
‘I’m going to come out and be very aggressive on the defensive end…If I get beat, I never claimed I was the best defensive player on this team individually. Jalen’s a great player, and when I get beat I expect the help to be there.’
That’s right, Rice said ‘when’ he gets beat.”
Mixed up in all of this was the growing feud of West and Jackson. Many onlookers were already thinking that the beginning of Jackson was the end of West. There was also West’s increasing anxiety, which forced him to feel barely measurable relief when the team won rather than any modicum of elation. There were promises from Buss to Rice about an extension, and West’s resistance to working for a man who could not keep a promise. There was the fact that the player didn’t want to be a hired gun and that’s seems to be all that the owner wanted, and he had no problem lying about it to keep that player happy during a championship run. Finally, there was Jackson marking his territory…
“I play whom I want to play when I want to play them, and how they play and what I think is best for the team. That’s it.”
Things Fall Apart
The Lakers would win a title and Rice would get a ring, but Jackson wouldn’t get his Pippen, and West would retire using Rice’s treatment as one of his reasons. Rice would be traded as a part of the monstrosity that was the four-team trade that sent Rice to the Knicks, Patrick Ewing to the Sonics, and Horace Grant to the Lakers.
And what were the Lakers looking for when they added Grant? Defense and rebounds.
Rick Fox would be the beneficiary of all of this. Becoming a starter by default, he would shed the 25 pounds he gained to try to be the banger the “soft” Lakers lacked and return to the form that saw him scoring 16 points a game as a Celtic.
We know what came next for the Lakers, but what became of Rice? In New York he became their sixth man. He was then traded to Rockets a year later. After a two-year stay in Houston he would be traded to the Jazz and bought out. He would wind up as a member of the Clippers, who waived him after 18 games.
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”
An NCAA championship, 14 years in the league, traded 4 times, 6 teams, 3 All-Star games, and a ring. To travel from All-Star game MVP to publicly feuding with your coach in the midst of a Finals that would see you win a ring, and then to end your career as a journeyman bouncing from team to team.
No other way to say it: Curious.
-Gatinho aka Scott Thompson