Yao Ming pulled Patrick Ewing aside at Thursday's practice. He wanted to be sure that was actually Charles Oakley in the Rockets' practice jersey. Yao was told that Oakley signed a 10-day contract with the Rockets, but the former New York Knicks forward looked thinner than Yao remembered.
Yao had followed Oakley when he played for New York. Well, not just "play."
"More fighting than playing," Yao said smiling.
Oakley, 40, may be trimmed down, but he made it clear that some things haven't changed since Yao watched him during the peak of his career.
"All (Yao) needs to know is he's got a good man beside him," Oakley said. "He doesn't have to worry about Shaq (O'Neal) no more."
Injuries at power forward necessitated Oakley's signing with the Rockets, but his attitude and demeanor was what made him most attractive. The Rockets had been talking with him since the start of the season, but the talks became serious this week because of the Rockets need for immediate help at power forward.
After only one practice, Oakley will be dressed and ready to play tonight at Golden State. The 6-9, 245-pound forward is even likely to see playing time. On Thursday, Kelvin Cato was placed on the injured list with a left sprained shoulder. Clarence Weatherspoon said he is "working toward" being able to play after missing two games with a left calf strain. And Maurice Taylor said he plans to play after missing a game with strained ribs.
"We got caught shorthanded the other night," said Jeff Van Gundy, who coached Oakley for four seasons in New York. "Cato's hurt, too. So we needed another big guy. I know him. I trust him. He knows who he is and how hard you have to play to win in this league."
Oakley hasn't donned an NBA uniform since playing for the Washington Wizards last season, but his 18-year career has been packed with success. He is 17th in NBA history in rebounding after collecting 12,200 with Chicago, New York, Toronto and Washington.
Oakley also adds toughness. Van Gundy has joked that Yao needed to elbow an opponent in the face and not be so hospitable in the lane.
"Jeff is no fool," said Mark Jackson, who played in New York with Oakley for four seasons. "He reached back and got one of the toughest, if not the toughest guy to play this game. (He's) war-tested. And I think it's a very different environment when a guy drives a lane, realizing that he could get popped.
"Nothing dirty, just good old-fashioned basketball. That's something that we need to learn."
Oakley is the third player whom Van Gundy coached in New York to join the Rockets since December when they traded for Weatherspoon. In January, they signed Jackson as a free agent. Before the season, Van Gundy named former Knicks standout Ewing as an assistant coach.
"It's a Knicks reunion, but we don't have no barbecue," Oakley said. "We've been to a lot of playoffs. I think the fans of Houston want to see their team get back to the playoffs and do what they did in the '94, '95 days."
The Rockets will evaluate Oakley over the next 10 days and decide if they will sign him for the remainder of the season.
"When he was in his prime, he was the best frontcourt team defender in the NBA," Van Gundy said. "So obviously, time has marched on, but he can still do that effectively in the NBA. (At) his peak, there was no better help defender."
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#4 Posted on 22.3.04 2231.31 Reposted on: 22.3.11 2232.30
Oakley's been sitting out the entire season, hoping to sign with a championship contender towards the end of the year. The prick.
Anyway... Oakley's acquistion, even if it does turn out to be for the rest of the year, doesn't do much to help the Rockets in my opinion. They'll still get no farther than the second round... if they're that lucky.