By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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If Byron and Juvenal would have sat dumbfounded in the Arena (surprised by the giant pretzels as much as anything else), seventeenth-century clergyman Thomas Fuller, who opined, "Fame sometimes hath created something out of nothing," probably would have run down to the sidelines, pointing at Ogg, screaming, "I told you so! I told you so!" Because Ogg, for all his 86 inches, for all his high-school and college heroics, simply is not a force in the NBA. Though he's not a lightweight in the eyes of the crowd, opponents don't exactly shiver at the mention of his name, and stronger players can slide the skinny rookie out of the way as if he were on casters. Despite his respectable blocked-shot pace (23 for the year in very limited playing time), he has grabbed only 22 rebounds, and notched more personal fouls (38) than points (36). If they ever name a street after Alan Ogg, you can be sure it will be straight and single-lane, and that there will be plenty of accidents on it. Which is not to say he's completely talentless - he's relatively quick and agile, and he is 7-2. But by NBA standards, Ogg is a '78 Caddy, long and lumbering, among sleek, late-model sports cars.
Teammates say the crowds love Alan because he epitomizes hard work and dedication. "It's great when Alan gets into the games," says forward Grant Long. "He gets really fired up, and then he can give all of us the charge. Plus, we've all heard our share of tall jokes when we were kids, and now we have someone to use them on." Rookie forward Alec Kessler, Ogg's closest friend on the team, echoes Long's assessment. "Alan's a great guy, plays hard, and people know that." Heat coach Ron Rothstein downplays the frenzy. "It's fine for the crowd to get excited like that. It's no big deal," he says. "Like Oggy said, it's all his friends and relatives that he pays to come see the game."
Rationalizatons and dismissals notwithstanding, the fact of the matter is that the work-ethic rationalization is a heaping pile of baloney. The Call doesn't exist in the same dimension as the awestruck applause that follows a Magic Johnson no-look assist or a Michael Jordan aerobatic assault. Ogg's big-league sports life, filled with negligible minutes and flailing elbows, teeters and tumbles over the brink of carnival. The Heat, still afflicted with growing pains, are not yet contenders, but with Ogg, they are at least entertainment. When the home team falls hopelessly behind (which is still more than half the time), that's when Miami needs Alan Ogg, and that's when they summon him. And with Ogg as the center of attention, fans need not look at the score. They can redirect their energies toward other goals, take their fun where they find it. Oggmania is a Heat fan's air bag; it keeps things from turning ugly.
Some fans have even suggested that boosting Ogg serves to tweak the starters' noses, and there's some support for this theory, especially in the way that hecklers step up The Call whenever first-string center Rony Seikaly disappoints them. "The praise we give to newcomers into the world arises from the envy we bear to those who are established," said Duc Francois de La Rochefoucauld in his Maxims, and that's probably how Seikaly feels, although he'd say it slower.
During a recent Arena game, visiting Philadelphia 76ers superstar forward Charles Barkley, who knows Ogg from the Birmingham area, demonstrated why sports and cliche are Siamese twins with this Valium of a comment: "I think he's a real nice kid with some talent and I hope that people give him a chance to develop that talent." But the definitive word about the Ogg Mystique should come down from on high. Way up high, in fact, from the mouth of Sixers center Manute Bol, who, at 7-7, is the tallest man ever to play professional basketball. Bol is impossibly tall, impossibly thin, the Washington Monument in a tank top. And it seems useful to ask him about Alan Ogg, about the awkwardness of being a late-comer to the sport, about outsider dynamics, about the inherent strangeness of extreme altitude. But Bol, it seems, has nothing to say about Alan Ogg. Actually, he does have one thing to say: "I ain't never heard of him."
That night, Bol does hear of Ogg, loudly and stadiumwide. The crowd's first audible twinge of desire comes with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, as one man near courtside screams Ogg's name until his face turns cardinal red. But the Heat are knocking the wind out of Philadelphia, at one point accumulating an eighteen-point lead, and there will be no Ogg in the Arena tonight. It's a game right up until the final minutes, when the Sixers strap on their veteran power and subdue Miami 103-96.
ACCORDING TO THE Ogg-TimerTM (see page 25), the zero-minute Philadelphia story is by no means a rarity. Ogg got his first pro minutes in a January 12 game at Detroit, as a result of injuries to first- and second-string centers Seikaly and Terry Davis, and with both of them healthy, his on-court time has dwindled considerably. As the Heat climb out of the NBA cellar, there's a very real danger Ogg will be left behind. But he's not worried. "I'll come back to free-agent camp and work hard. I don't want to predict. I think that people around the league have seen what I can do." Especially if they were watching January 22, when the Heat visited the Atlanta Hawks. That Tuesday, Ogg put on quite a show, pouring in eleven points, more than one-third of his entire season total, in front of a capacity crowd that included his father. "I just got in and played hard," says Ogg of his Atlanta scoring torrent. "My dad came and I talked to him after that game. I hadn't seen him in a while, so that was good."