No use lying about it, the game was ugly, a final blemish on the frowning face of the Miami Heat's 1992-93 season. The Knicks were in town, the swaggering, trash-talking Knicks, tuning up for their playoff date with Air Jordan's Bulls and embarrassing the Heat without much effort.
In one six-minute stretch that April evening, Miami bricked eleven straight shots, stumbling their way toward a 109-97 loss. When assistant coach Bob Staak pitched a sideline seizure, he was ejected. Head coach Kevin Loughery, who had spent the second half admonishing his team to play an illegal zone defense, followed ten minutes later.
Then something funny happened. Not just funny, though, but something brave and irreverent and, well, classy. Heat point guard Steve Smith had the ball near the top of the key, when suddenly Brian Shaw circled behind him like a wide receiver on a reverse, and Grant Long was doubling back to grab the ball from Shaw, and then Smith had it again -- or seemed to -- and then no one was sure who had it. Not the fans. Not the refs. Not the Knicks. Everyone was lost in this beanpoles' game of three-card monte, an entire Arena dumbstruck by the razzle-dazzle beauty of The Weave.
The Weave. The Harlem Globetrotters' Weave. The supersilly you-can't-do-that-in-this-league Weave.
Sure, the Heat still lost. But for one flickering moment amid the most disappointing season of the club's short history, Steve Smith and his teammates managed to erase all the awfulness, to wipe out the whole win-grubbing mentality that drives professional sports. For those few seconds the sport was reduced to theater, a place where character -- the ability to improvise in the face of adversity -- counts more than tomorrow's box score.
So sublime was the incident that it should have made Steve Smith's pick-a-nickname contest, held last month by the Miami Herald, moot. "Steve the Weave." Perfect.
But while Smith is poetry in motion on the court, he's definitely got a tin ear: Just in time for the Heat's opener against Orlando at the arena on Friday, he has announced that he wants to be called "Tricky." In fact, as of this week the nickname was being faithfully spouted by the Herald and the Heat's PA announcer.
Everybody knows the first rule of for-shortening: Thou shalt not anoint thyself. Did slugger George Herman Ruth choose "Babe"? Did quarterback Joe Namath take "Broadway"? Did the immortal Wilt Chamberlain hold a contest to settle on "Stilt"? No, no, and no. (Chamberlain, in fact, despised "The Stilt" throughout his career, favoring the handle "Dip," derived from "The Big Dipper.")
"The point is that any good nickname is something that comes from friends, or fans, or us," says Dave LaMont, morning talk-show host at all-sports WQAM (560-AM).
The key words here are "good" and "nickname," words rarely used in conversation about Smith's choice.
"Tricky is kinda weak," opines LaMont. "[Fellow host] Joe Rose and I both passed comment on it. We were not impressed. In fact we haven't gotten a single call about the whole thing, which probably means our listeners are equally unimpressed."
Ned Smith, a sports reporter for WTVJ-TV (Channel 4) who is unrelated to Steve, was more direct. "Tricky doesn't work," he declares. "When I saw the name, I said to my girlfriend, 'This is the the best he could come up with?'"
Both 'casters, however, are nearly glowing in their praise of "The Weave." A little goofy, they concede, but far more descriptive of Smith's fluid dribbling and hypnotic court sense. "Plus, you always love it when a nickname rhymes or has a little alliteration," LaMont says. "It rolls off the tongue."
And how would ESPN nickname guru Chris Berman judge Smith's ho-hum handle? Well, it's hard to say, since Berman is too busy speaking at Shriners' conventions these days to return calls from mere print journalists. But could anyone ever believe that "Tricky" A a name most often associated with an unpopular president A would strike his fancy? Steve "Just a Guy Named" Smith, maybe. Or Steve "Somebody Get Me the Lock" Smith. Steve "Washington Bound with Mr." Smith, even. But Tricky? To put it in proper Bermanese: Fuuum-Ble.
The moniker dispute has not been overlooked in the Heat locker room. "Steve 'The Weave' fits much better," insists backup center Matt Geiger. "It fits 100 percent better. The PA guy used 'Tricky' last night at the game and it just didn't work."
Reserve forward Alec Kessler is more contemplative. "'Tricky' has a degrading effect in a way," he observes. "Because there is nothing tricky about Steve's talent. He's a brilliant player."
Manute "Seven-Foot-Seven-Inch Free Agent Dinka Tribesman Who Once Killed a Lion" Bol simply shakes his head. "Nope," he says. "His nickname is 'Smooth Steve.' The man's smooth."
"I'm pretty sure there's a nickname out there that's much better," chips in Glen "Minute" Rice.
"It's funny about nicknames," muses Vernell "Bimbo" Coles. "I used to hate 'Bimbo,' thought it was stupid-sounding. But after a while it just sort of stays there and you learn to live with it. Now I figure nine out of ten people are more likely to remember Bimbo than my real name."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Smith himself, the Heat's surest bet for an All-Star, is unimpressed by the furor. "It's just a nickname," he says, softly. "I didn't choose 'Tricky' to please everybody else. I chose it for myself."
"'The Weave,'" says Smith, sounds "nerdy." Informed of the mounting popular support for a replacement nickname, he looks up icily. "It's too late," he snaps.
Not if his fans have anything to say about it.