Each day I will post a former player and an article to reminisce about. Feel free to contribute. Today we start with:
Who is This Guy? Keith Closs
Though he's short on moves and muscles, the Clippers' 7'3" rookie center blocks shots and earns $1.7 million
by Jeff Pearlman
Posted: Wed April 1, 1998
Keith Closs of the Clippers is 7'3" and 212 pounds and, some say with a snicker, has all the basketball skills of a lamppost. That statement strikes Closs as funny because, well, wasn't he the guy dipping and spinning past Dikembe Mutombo for 15 points in a December game against the Hawks? And—ha, ha!—wasn't that Closs swatting away six shots against the Spurs' twin towers in January? Come to think of it, wasn't Closs the player who scored 12 points and blocked five shots against the Lakers?
"People have lots of misconceptions about my game," says the 22-year-old Closs, "but when we face off, I usually show 'em what the deal is."
The deal, to be honest, is that Closs is a major project who could develop into something slightly more than Manute Bol and something slightly less than Shawn Bradley. At week's end he was averaging 4.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks as a backup center. Which is merely great for a guy who, a year ago, was starring for the Norwich Neptunes in something called the Atlantic Basketball Association.
Closs played two seasons at Central Connecticut State and, as a sophomore in 1995-96, averaged 6.36 blocked shots per game, breaking David Robinson's Division I record by nearly half a swat. But in what he admits was an ill-advised decision, Closs left New Britain to follow his NBA dreams. "I knew back then that I could play here," he says. "I just needed someone to give me an opportunity. I thought I'd be given a real chance."
Scouts, however, only saw a gangly player with limited moves and no big-game experience. So he played 12 games for Norwich, then last summer entered the Fila Summer Pro League with a team of free agents and Lakers rookies. He averaged 13.3 points and 5.0 blocks, and suddenly everyone was interested. "The bidding for Keith wasn't easy," says Elgin Baylor, the Clippers' general manager. "Once teams saw him play in the summer, they knew he was more than just a college guy. He showed an ability to run the floor, play defense and, most notably to me, block a lot of shots." The Clippers were so impressed that they let starting forward Malik Sealy leave as a free agent and signed Closs to a five-year, $8.5 million contract. "Not much of a risk," says Baylor, "if you look at the kid's potential."
Closs, who grew up in Los Angeles, wears Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's number 33 (plus a mini-Afro) and says Giant Steps, Abdul-Jabbar's autobiography, is his favorite book. "I'd love to have that type of career," he says. "Kareem was the ultimate."
Closs is no Kareem. But as opponents have seen, he's no lamppost, either.
Gary Grant (born April 21, 1965 in Canton, Ohio) is a retired American professional basketball player at the point guard position in the NBA.
Gary "The General" Grant played for Canton McKinley High School and collegiately at the University of Michigan.
He was selected in the 1988 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics, but was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers before the 1988-89 season started. There he remained for seven years before moving on to the New York Knicks, the Miami Heat, and the Portland Trail Blazers.
I remember getting a picture and auto with him when I was a youngn'.
It may sound out of place now, but Maurice Taylor actually wanted to be drafted by the Clippers.
Taylor, who had made himself available for the NBA draft after his junior season at Michigan three years ago, was disappointed he wasn't a lottery pick. When the Clippers picked him 14th overall, he vowed to show those who bypassed him that he was a player who would turn the league's biggest joke into a winner.
"I'm going to bleed red and blue blood," Taylor said hours after being drafted. "You have to be loyal. I'm just thankful that I got picked."
For two seasons, Taylor considered himself the franchise's most loyal Clipper. He didn't complain that he couldn't wait to leave as the losses mounted. Taylor always talked about the franchise's future.
He was so confident the Clippers were going to offer him a six-year, $70.9-million contract extension--the maximum under league rules--he switched agents from Norm Nixon to David Falk over the summer because he felt he needed more exposure.
Things haven't quite worked out the way he expected.
Falk demanded the maximum offer from the Clippers. There was no response from Clipper owner Donald Sterling, who failed to show for a meeting with the agent, and the club still has not made Taylor an offer. After Falk demanded Taylor be traded, the club made it clear it has no intention of agreeing to that.
Last month, the Clippers said they planned to review Taylor's play over the course of this season before deciding whether to make make him an offer. The Clippers declined to update their position on Taylor's contract situation Wednesday.
The casualty of the whole process has been Taylor's loyalty to the team.
"There's no way I'm coming back," Taylor recently said about re-signing with the Clippers as a free agent next summer. "I don't think that the Clippers have shown me any loyalty."
Taylor, who is about to begin his third season in the NBA, will not turn 23 until late this month. He is still finding himself.
The last thing he wanted was to come across like another greedy young player, but he began training camp saying this will be his last season with the Clippers because Sterling doesn't want to pay him.
Taylor can be warm and loyal, but also cold and defensive, traits that can be traced to childhood days in Detroit.
Taylor's mother, Cathy Williams, raised him and his younger half-brother, Amos Robinson, until Taylor was 12.
Williams moved her family around a lot--they lived in four neighborhoods in the Detroit area before he reached fourth grade--and Taylor often had to assume the role of man of the house.
"We lived in so many different places growing up," said Taylor, one of those moves coming after the family's home had burned down.
"We stayed on the east side of Detroit, [also] near Highland Park, which are two pretty rough areas. It taught me to appreciate things a whole lot more. When you don't have anything, when you get something it makes you appreciate it a whole lot more."
Williams began having financial difficulties before Taylor was out of elementary school, and she sent him and Robinson to live in better neighborhoods. Taylor moved in with his aunt, Sabrina Lloyd, and Robinson moved in with his father.
Lloyd knows Taylor as someone who sticks by the people who stick by him.
"Maurice has always been a very compassionate person," she said. "He's always been very respectful and he always looked after his younger brother, sister and cousins."
Taylor's mother later remarried and moved to Tennessee. Taylor stayed in Detroit with Lloyd.
"I consider myself a 'Mama's boy' and being away from her made me take heed to my feelings more," said Taylor, who never lived in the same house with his father and, although they see each other occasionally, doesn't have a close relationship with him now.
"I had to grow up quick. I had to."
After moving in with his aunt, Taylor turned to sports to help him adapt, and football was his first love. He played quarterback until he grew too big for the pocket. Taylor, who is now 6 feet 8, sprouted from 6-1 to 6-7 between his freshman and sophomore years in high school, and that was the end of football.
Until 10th grade, Taylor had never played organized basketball. His version of the game had been to shoot a ball into a raised garbage can outside his aunt's house. His playing career began when a high school coach persuaded him to play the final eight games of the season his sophomore year.
Taylor was an immediate hit. He averaged nearly 35 points over those eight games. As a junior, he averaged 27 points.
"The way he took to basketball was a gift," Lloyd said. "His playing has always been something special."
Taylor averaged 30 points as a senior and became a hot recruit for colleges. He signed to play at Michigan because he wanted to play in front of family and friends.
"Maurice always worked hard and he always wants to bring along those he's close with," said Robinson, who has lived with Taylor and attended Santa Monica College the last two years.
At Michigan, Taylor was the Big Ten freshman of the year and helped lead the Wolverines to the National Invitation Tournament championship as a junior.
Once with the Clippers, Taylor's game began to expand. He averaged 11.5 points his first season and was named to the all-rookie team.
Under Coach Chris Ford last season, Taylor had a breakout season despite lugging around 289 pounds (his training camp weight) over the lockout-shortened 50-game season.
Taylor averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 rebounds and made a name for himself with big games against two of the league's top power forwards--Utah's Karl Malone and Houston's Charles Barkley.
When the Clippers made several moves this summer to upgrade the talent level around him, Taylor was pleased.
"I always felt that the moves that we made over the last off-season were very positive," Taylor said. "Drafting Lamar [Odom] and acquiring Derek [Anderson] and Eric [Murdock] were great moves for the team. . . . It's just sad that we won't see it grow together."
The rest of the Clippers haven't seemed bothered by Taylor's contract problems, as long as he is ready to play. He showed that by arriving to camp at 257 pounds and displaying more willingness to rebound and run the floor.
Taylor has averaged 10.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 27 minutes in four exhibition games, and in Tuesday's loss to Phoenix, his 11 assists easily topped his regular-season career high of four.
"He has that killer instinct right now," backup forward/center Brian Skinner said. "He's one of the pillars that holds the team up in terms of leadership. We respect him and he's a great player."
Taylor has the type of ability that can turn a general manager into a genius. Taylor can beat opponents in so many ways. Anthony Avent, who joined the Clippers this season after five years in the league, noticed right away.
"I knew that Maurice had skills, but I didn't know exactly how much," Avent said. "He has a lot of skills.
"I can see Mo's side and I can see [Sterling's side]. But as the owner, he has the right to decide whether he can give him the extension, now or later."
Ford, whose contract for a third year has an option held by the Clippers, is trying to stay out of Taylor's contract situation, although he knows the power forward has high value around the league.
"There's not much I can do in this situation," Ford said. "The organization has made the stance to wait it out. . . . We'll have to wait and see."
Sources say General Manager Elgin Baylor recognizes the value of Taylor, who has the unlikely combination of talent and a desire to remain with the Clippers, and has been in favor of giving him the maximum extension. But Baylor can't make the move without Sterling's approval.
Taylor said he's not expecting Sterling to change his mind before the league's Oct. 31 deadline for extensions. And, despite the Clippers' ability to offer him more money next summer (seven years for roughly $87 million) than any other team, Taylor said he's destined to become an ex-Clipper.
But if Sterling agrees to Falk's contract demands?
"That's not going to happen," Taylor said. "We can talk hypothetical situations until we are blue in the face, the bottom line is that I don't think they are going to offer me the max.
"I'm playing out my last year and looking forward to the summer. I feel the contract stuff is behind me. The next time I'll be talking about money will probably be next summer."
Maybe the best chance the Clippers have in keeping Taylor as a free agent next summer would be to include a Krispy Kreme doughnut franchise.
Taylor is hooked on the warm, soft doughnuts that have become a craze in the Southland. He talked equipment manager Pete Serrano into a couple of early-morning runs during training camp.
"That would be kind of hard to pass up," Taylor said. "That would put a monkey wrench in the whole thing."
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On the Rise
A look at how Maurice Taylor's per-game averages increased last year compared with his rookie season the year before:
Each day I will post a former player and an article to reminisce about. Feel free to contribute. Today we start with:
When I was in high school, I worked at a store at the Cerritos Mall and Keith Closs always came in to buy the odd-size jeans at our store with his girlfriend. I remember getting some jeans from the back that were size 28 waist and like 5 feet long. LOL.