Bowie confident he'll return to Blazers
I Ex-UK star hopes to silence critics
Even when he was hobbling to the arena on crutches, Sam Bowie still heard the whispers and questions.
"I just keep answering the same question about why Portland picked me over Michael Jordan," said Bowie, the second overall pick in the 1984 National Basket-
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ball Association draft. "I firmly believe, though, that one day I'm going to quiet all that criticism and become the player I know I can be."
Bowie, a former All-American at Kentucky, has missed four of the last seven seasons with leg injuries. A stress fracture in his left leg made him miss two years at UK.
He came back to lead Kentucky to the Final Four in 1984. That's when Portland decided to take the 7-1 Bowie over Jordan, now a superstar with Chicago. The first choice in that 1984 draft was Akeem Olajuwon, another star at Houston.
"It was a lot of pressure to be picked between those two," said Bowie. "But who knows, it could have been one of them who got hurt and then people would be questioning those picks."
No one faulted Portland after Bowie's rookie season. He averaged 10.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.67 blocked shots per game and hit 52.3 percent from the floor.
He was having another banner year in 1985-86 when a bone bruise in his left leg made him miss 13 games. He returned for three games before season-ending surgery was needed.
That just started his problems. The fifth game of the 1986-87 season Bowie went down with an injury to his right leg. He missed the rest of the year.
He thought he was ready to return last season. Warming up for the first exhibition game, though, he went down.
"It wasn't a new break," said John Lashway, Portland's public relations director. "It just turned out that the original break hadn't healed. It was really weird."
In March a metal plate and 10 screws were inserted in Bowie's right leg. "The injury was just so bad that they had to screw the bone back together," said Bowie.
He's been in Lexington all summer working to rehabilitate the leg under the watchful eye of Pat Etcheberry, UK's strength coach.
"If anybody can get me back, it's Etch," said Bowie.
Portland doesn't want Bowie to rush. Some team officials feel if he had not tried to play so soon last season that he would now be fully healed.
"We are giving Sam as long as he needs," said Lashway. "No one is counting on him because no one wants to pressure him into coming back too soon.
"We would like to think he could be ready midway of the season. That would be great for him and us."
Bowie doesn't have to rush back. He makes $1 million per year and has two more years remaining on his original contract. He's also guaranteed extended payments through 2001.
That security is one reason Bowie won't feel sorry for himself.
"I could be a lot worse off," said Bowie. "If I had got hurt again before the draft, I wouldn't be financially secure now."
If it hadn't been for his basketball talent, Bowie isn't sure if he would have even been able to go to college.
"I came from a broken home," said Bowie. "My parents were divorced when I was in the seventh grade and it was a sad situation for some time.
"My mother was making $10,000 and trying to raise two kids. My parents just didn't have the finances to send me to college. That's why I tried to absorb all I could when I got a free education.
"Life is too short. Time just flies by. That's why I'll never forget my roots. No amount of money can change that. Plus money doesn't help you if you have bone cancer or get paralyzed in a car wreck. Money can't make those people happy."
Bowie still recalls when his father died. He was a sophomore at UK and was shocked when he heard the news.
"My father was 45 years old and had been a great athlete," said Bowie. "He was in shape and didn't have any health problems.
"I wanted to be a pro player and do so many things for him and my mom. They always wanted the best for us and tried to do all they could for me and my sister. Now I'm making all this money and he's not here to share it. But I do still feel like he's watching over me and we will get back together one day."
Bowie, who had over 600 scholarship offers after his prep career in Lebanon, Pa., always wanted to play pro basketball. But that didn't change the way his parents raised him.
"I was raised in a Christian family and it was mandatory for us to attend church each Sunday," said Bowie. "Now I'm so thankful that I have that relationship with Jesus Christ. It lets me be a good role model. So many athletes take drugs or abuse
alcohol. I don't want to be like that and want people, especially kids, to look to me as a solid citizen."
Bowie still remembers admiring Lew Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the world champion Los Angeles Lakers, when he was young.
"Jabbar had been my idol for years when I came into the NBA," said the former UK pivotman. "I had to play eight games against him that first year. The first time he hit me in the chest with an elbow shocked me.
"Then I realized I had to get some respect, too. I shot him an elbow right back. After our first game, though, I went to his house for dinner. I got to mingle with Magic Johnson there. It was just a great experience for me."
So was working out with 7-0 Alexander Sabonis recently. The Soviet star was in Portland to rehabilitate a foot injury and the Trailblazers hope a deal can be work-
Big Boo hopes to be back
ed out to have him playing in Portland this year.
"The organization is really excited about the chance of having him either this year or next," said Bowie. "He would be a real plus for us or any team. He's a nice guy and I enjoyed working out with him."
Portland fans feel the same about Bowie, who plans to return to Portland late next month.
"The people here just love Sam," said Lashway. "Most of our fans have really stayed behind him. He did some TV work for us last year and after basketball he has a future there. But everybody here still hopes he makes it back on the court."
If he doesn't, though, Bowie insists he'll have no regrets.
"I always thought I would be a pro player and want to make it back," said Bowie. "If I don't, though, it's no huge problem.
"People often wonder how I deal with the adversity. But adversity is seeing a 10-year-old kid in a hospital who has had his leg amputated. That kids wishes he had a leg to hurt. That's why I'll never feel sorry for Sam Bowie. Life's too short for that."