Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Martin protests: 'I'm not a thug'

Spotlight on him as Nets play Lakers

The Associated Press

Martin profile
        EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On the eve of his first meeting of the season with the Lakers, Nets forward Kenyon Martin stated, “I am not a thug,” while cautiously adding that he won't hesitate to foul Shaquille O'Neal if necessary.

        Martin, who has played in two games since serving a two-game suspension for his sixth flagrant foul, will be in the national spotlight and under even more scrutiny as New Jersey makes a rare appearance today on TNT.

        Martin, college player of the year at the University of Cincinnati two years ago, was serving another suspension in early March when the Lakers defeated New Jersey 101-92 in Los Angeles.

        “If we're in a position where I have to foul Shaq, if I have to, if the game is on the line or something like that, if I have to, I'm not worried about anything. I'm going to play,” Martin said Tuesday.

        Notice how he twice said “if I have to” in answering the question.

        Martin is obviously aware that the NBA, through its referees, will be keeping an extra close eye on him for the foreseeable future. A week or so ago, his words seemed much more defiant, arguing that the league was singling him out for special attention.

        He has come to realize that it's no fun having the eyes of Big Brother focused squarely on him. ESPN sent a camera crew to Saturday's game against Philadelphia with the assignment of focusing exclusively on Martin.

        The previous day, a reporter from National Public Radio was among those sent to interview the player some see as the league's latest bad boy. That came just days after commissioner David Stern criticized Martin in a television interview.

        “I think he's basically a good kid with a great career ahead of him, but he's going to change, or he's not going to be playing on a regular basis in the NBA,” Stern said.

        History shows that when the commissioner is singling someone out, that someone is going to lose.

        Around the office, they call him Dynasty Dave in situations such as these. He's undefeated.

        “He is being held (to a standard) a little bit higher than anyone else in the league right now,” Nets coach Byron Scott said. “Is it warranted? I don't think so. But the league is making a point to make sure they clean up the game of basketball.”

        The Lakers will be coming off a Tuesday night game at Washington when they make their annual visit to the Meadowlands, where the Nets have put together an 11-game home winning streak.

        Scott said Martin will be used as a help defender on O'Neal and, at times, as a man-to-man defender on Kobe Bryant. Scott also said the Nets will use most of their 18 fouls (from centers Todd MacCulloch, Aaron Williams and Jason Collins) to send O'Neal to the free throw line.

        The hope is that Martin, if and when he does foul O'Neal, Bryant, Robert Horry or anyone else, doesn't do so with any added vigor.

        To many people, Martin is the latest incarnation in a long line of dirty and/or obnoxious players that stretches from Rasheed Wallace to Dennis Rodman to Bill Laimbeer and beyond.

        “He didn't want the "dirty player' moniker assigned to him,” said union director Billy Hunter, who was with Martin when he met with Stern and other league officials in early March.

        Feeling he was being held to a different standard in the weeks after his category 2 flagrant fouls (the more serious violation) against Tracy McGrady and Karl Malone, Martin asked to be treated equally.

        But his subsequent flagrant foul against Atlanta's Shareef Abdur-Rahim undid any positives that came out of that sitdown. Rather, it perpetuated the negative image.

        “I don't care what people think. I am not a thug,” Martin said. “I could care less what they say, what they write.”
        Martin's two most recent flagrant fouls came on the offensive end.

        “Two offensive fouls when he's doing what 90 percent of the big men in this league do — get the ball in the post and turn with your elbows up,” Scott said, adding that he could not recall ever seeing any other player called for a flagrant foul on the offensive end. “But they've been watching him, they want to make an example of him, and they've been doing a pretty good job of it.”

        Minnesota's Flip Saunders, who coached Martin at the Goodwill


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