The road gets rougher, a man wrote, it's lonelier and tougher. The reference wasn't to pro basketball. The reference should have been.
Up and down hardwood floors, up and down airport concourses, late meals and early wakeups - these are the quintessential elements of the NBA, the problems that confound a rookie as much as any new play or old injury.Danny Manning has entered the maelstrom with a lot of publicity and a big contract, but fame and fortune don't mean as much as experience. You've got to go `round, at least once, maybe several times before you feel comfortable and confident.
Manning was the first man chosen in last summer's NBA dfaft. He was college player of the year, led Kansas to the NCAA championship, started for the U.S. Olympic team. And right now that means almost nothing.
"There are some coaches that wouldn't play a rookie more than 10 minutes a game this early in the season," said Gene Shue, Manning's coach on the Los Angeles Clippers. "You can't expect a lot from a rookie. This is a tough league."
Manning expects a lot from himself. He doesn't always get it. Danny finished with 14 points and 5 rebounds in 39 minutes in a recent game in which the Clippers were beaten by the Warriors, 113-111. Not bad, considering. Considering Danny didn't have a point at halftime.
"I just missed the shots that I had," said Manning. "Nothing more complex than that."
Did he feel upset about not playing well? "I tried my best," said Manning. "There's no time to dwell on your performance. There's always another game coming.
"Every night you learn something, if not about yourself then about your opponent. Tonight I learned you have to try to move Ralph Sampson off the block. Otherwise he'll jump right to the goal."
Manning is a gentleman as well as an athlete. Each town he visits on this his first swing around the league, Danny sits down for an obligatory pre-game press conference to provide expected answers to expected questions.
"I get asked the same thing each place," said Manning, quite polite in his explanation. "But I understand what a No. 1 draft pick has to do."
What he didn't understand was why the Clippers, who had promoted him, who had used him on the cover of their media guide and in quarter-page advertising spreads in the L.A. papers, refused to negotiate with his agent until the completion of the Olympics the beginning of October.
"I missed a month of camp and the early season," said Danny.. "Of course, that was both an advantage and disadvantage. The disadvantage was not learning the system and missing out on the friendships. The advantage is that I gave my body a break. I'd been playing basketball since the previous summer, right through."
Manning is remarkably humble for a guy getting $2.1 million a year on a five-year contract.
"Three types of players get paid well," said Manning. "Obviously, a superstar. Then a tall person or big fellow. And three, a high draft choice."
Manning is 6-10, a first pick and maybe headed for stardom. Yet he'll only concede the first two facts.
"So many people don't understand that the first man chosen is not always the best player," said Manning, "but the player who fits in best."
Someday Manning will be able to fit in with any team in the NBA. These days he's merely trying to fit himself into the pace of pro basketball.