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Get Me Out of Here
Gerry Callahan
February 27, 1995
For George McCloud and other former No. 1 picks, the CBA is the way back to the NBA—or a ticket to nowhere
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February 27, 1995

Get Me Out Of Here

For George McCloud and other former No. 1 picks, the CBA is the way back to the NBA—or a ticket to nowhere

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Currently, 12 former NBA No. 1 draft choices are playing in the CBA. The roster (as of Feb. 19):

Player

College

Year (overall pick)

NBA Team

Kenny Battle, Quad City

Illinios

'89 (27th)

Pistons

Kevin Brooks, Shreveport

S.W. Louisiana

'91 (18th)

Bucks

Tate George, Quad City

Connecticut

'90 (22nd)

Nets

Byron Irvin, Mexico

Missouri

'89 (22nd)

Trail Blazers

Dave Johnson, Rapid City

Syracuse

'92 (26th)

Trail Blazers

Earl Jones, Rochford

Dist.of Columbia

'84 (23rd)

Lakers

Randolph Keys, Quad City

Southern Miss.

'88 (22nd)

Cavaliers

Jerome Lane, Oklahoma City

Pittsburgh

'88 (23rd)

Nuggets

Roy Marble, Tri-City

Iowa

'89 (23rd)

Hawks

Mark Randall, Rapid City

Kansas

'91 (26th)

Bulls

Rumeal Robinson, Shreveport

Michigan

'90 (10th)

Hawks

LaBradford Smith, Quad City

Louisville

'91 (19th)

Bullets

The first thing you learn when you step inside the locker room is that no one ever earned a trip down to the CBA. Somewhere along the way, they all got screwed. They all got a raw deal from some brain-dead NBA coach or general manager who just didn't know talent when he saw it.

The League of Dreams is the official nickname of the Continental Basketball Association. The League of Excuses is the unofficial one. No player ever deserved to be bounced out of the NBA and into one of the 14 lonely outposts on the CBA circuit. The owner just didn't like him. The coach wouldn't give him the minutes. The media wouldn't give him a break. The team doctor misdiagnosed his injury. How is a guy supposed to make it in the NBA when no one will give him a chance? "Everyone thinks the same thing: Someone must have made a mistake," says Mark Randall of the Rapid City (S.Dak.) Thrillers, who was the top pick of the Chicago Bulls in 1991.

Sometimes a good excuse is the only thing a player takes with him when he goes from the NBA to the CBA. It's often the one thing that keeps him going. He doesn't play in this league because he loves the fries at the Burger King in Sioux Falls, S.Dak. He plays because he still believes he belongs in the NBA and there is no better way to get back. The money may be in Europe. The hope is here. As of Sunday, there were 69 former NBA players in the CBA, including 12 former first-round picks (chart), and they were all out to prove the scouts were right the first time.

"I could have said the hell with it and gone home and gone fishing," said former NBA first-round pick George McCloud last month when he was playing for Rapid City. "But I know I can play at the next level. I won't succumb to injuries or tragedies. I know I'll get back to the NBA." Indeed, McCloud recently jumped from the Thrillers to the Dallas Mavericks.

The CBA has sent a number of productive players to the NBA, including John Starks and Anthony Mason of the New York Knicks and Elliot Perry of the Phoenix Suns, but few had high-profile college careers. They were not top draft picks who flopped in their first tour of the NBA. However, the CBA has seen plenty of wayward bonus babies who were hoping to play their way back to the NBA. For them, the League of Dreams often is a nightmare.

It was a cute story for a couple of days. Then a bunch of $800-a-week guys stepped out on the court and beat them silly, and it wasn't so cute anymore. On Nov. 29, Rapid City coach-general manager Eric Musselman activated Rumeal Robinson from injured reserve, and suddenly the Thrillers could put five former NBA first-round picks on the floor. Along with McCloud, Randall and Robinson, they also had Bo Kimble and Kevin Brooks. Reporters from around the country started calling. The CBA is a league that embraces novelty acts, and Rapid City had a good one. "For a team in this league, it was an awesome collection of talent," says Randall, "even though it didn't workout."

The Thrillers played six games with the five former first-rounders and won three before Musselman traded Brooks to the Shreveport Crawdads. The novelty survived another 13 days as Brooks was replaced by LaBradford Smith, a former first-round pick of the Washington Bullets, but when the Thrillers got blown out at home, 125-106, by the Yakima Sun Kings on Dec. 23, Musselman gave up on his all-star cast. The coach had a sense that some of his riches-to-rags players were not fully committed to their CBA experience.

"Usually I'll yell and scream and get all worked up after a game like that," says Musselman. "But I just walked into the locker room and went up to LaBradford, and I said, 'Can you name one team in our division?' He said, 'I don't know.' Now keep in mind: There are only three other teams in our division, and Yakima is one of them. And they were in first place.

"So I go to Rumeal and I asked him to name one team in our division. He doesn't know. So I ask Bo, and it's the same thing. 'I don't know.' I didn't get upset. I just walked out of the locker room, called our owner and said, 'I want to move three guys.' "

Within a week Kimble, Robinson and Smith were gone, traded to the first team, literally, that would take them. Kimble, the eighth pick overall in the 1990 NBA draft, by the Los Angeles Clippers, was sent from Rapid City to the Hartford Hellcats, who have since folded, in exchange for a fifth- and a sixth-round pick in the 1995 CBA draft. Robinson, who had been taken two picks later than Kimble in '90, by the Atlanta Hawks, was shipped to the Crawdads. He was worth a third- and a seventh-round pick in the CBA draft as well as the rights to someone named Jens-Uwe Gordon. Smith went to the Quad City Thunder for Joe Wylie and Gaylon Nickerson.

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