Wells' spitting incident in San Antonio is latest woe for the troubled Blazers
Bonzi Wells' spitting incident with Danny Ferry Ñ which led to a one-game suspension Ñ was only the latest in a series of transgressions by the Portland Trail Blazer swing man.
Since near the end of last season, Wells has been accused of making racial comments toward white players three times Ñ twice during the course of a game.
NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said he is unaware of such comments by Wells.
'That's not something that is acceptable in the NBA, but I have never heard this allegation,' said Granik, a member of the league's front office for more than 20 years. 'I'm sure there would be (penalties) if it were true. I can't say I ever recall such an incident in all my years in the NBA.'
The Trail Blazers have downplayed the spitting incident. But a look at Wells' career dating to college and high school reveals a long list of troubling incidents involving the 26-year-old Indiana native, now in his fifth season with the club.
The most recent was during the game at San Antonio on Nov. 9 when Wells spit in Ferry's face as the players walked to their respective benches during a fourth-quarter timeout. The NBA suspended him for a game because of the incident.
Ferry told teammates that Wells had taunted him in games dating to last season, using an expletive preceding the word 'honkie' multiple times. And there have been at least two other times when players accused him of using racial epithets to white players.
During an exhibition game in October, Golden State's Troy Murphy said Wells repeatedly trash-talked him, using the word 'cracker.' Murphy, a second-year forward with the Warriors, said Wells leveled the insult at him several times.
And last April, after a Blazer game at Dallas, guard Nick Van Exel said Wells had scoffed at the Mavericks as 'a bunch of soft-assed white boys.' The comments, made public by Van Exel, created a stir in Dallas for a day or two, then drifted into oblivion.
Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said he had heard nothing about any of Wells' alleged comments.
'I'm not aware of it,' he said. 'If I had heard him say something like that, I would have addressed it, absolutely. There is no sense in saying something like that. I don't know the purpose of it.'
Stu Jackson, the NBA's vice president of basketball operations, said he was unaware of any comments made by Wells. Jackson, who is in charge of disciplinary action for the league's players and coaches, said the alleged comments played no part in Wells' suspension after the Nov. 9 game.
'It's certainly something we don't condone,' Jackson said. 'Had we been made aware of the incidents at the time, we would have taken appropriate action. We would not accept any player making statements with racial overtones.'
Wells refused to comment this week. 'I'm cool,' he said Ñthe phrase he uses when he chooses not to speak with reporters.
Wells denies incident
After the San Antonio game, Wells denied spitting on Ferry. Cheeks, who has referred to the incident as 'alleged,' said he believes his player.
'He told me he didn't do it,' Cheeks said. 'All I can do is take his word.'
There was at least one witness Ñ Blazer broadcaster Steve Jones, who made mention of it during the telecast.
'Unfortunately, I saw it,' Jones said Tuesday night. 'I don't know what caused it. Nobody does. Usually something happens to precipitate something like that, but I didn't see anything. All I know is, there's not a good history between the two guys.'
Ferry has a reputation as being a clutcher and grabber, and he and Wells have had minor altercations in the past. 'A lot of people have trouble with the physical way Danny plays,' said Sacramento Kings assistant coach Terry Porter, the longtime Trail Blazer who played three seasons with the Spurs. 'Bonzi is known to have a quick trigger. Sometimes, guys test it and try to get under his skin.'
The NBA levied its suspension after receiving an account from San Antonio center David Robinson, who said he heard the spitting action as he walked to the bench. Robinson said he turned and saw the saliva hanging off Ferry's face.
Cheeks said he doesn't want to draw any conclusions from the Ferry controversy.
'I don't think a man's character should be decided by one incident,' the second-year Portland coach said. 'Bonzi has had some problems, has done some things he has regretted, but I believe his parents raised him the right way. I believe Bonzi has been a very good character guy.'
A history of attitude
This week, Doug Zaleski of the Star-Press newspaper in Muncie, Ind., where Wells grew up, wrote a column headlined, 'At 26, Bonzi Wells still hasn't grown up.' Zaleski, a member of his newspaper's sports staff for 14 years, covered Wells in high school and saw every game Wells played during his career at Ball State. Muncie, a city of about 70,000, is 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Wells continues to make his home there during the offseason.
Among incidents during his pre-NBA years:
• After his senior year at Muncie Central High, Wells, a runner-up for the state's 'Mr. Basketball' award, was kicked off his Indiana all-star team by unanimous vote of his teammates 'because of his selfish attitude,' Zaleski wrote. Wells left the arena at halftime of the first all-star game after an argument with the team's coach.
• After his sophomore season, Wells was named Mid-American Conference Player of the Year. In an interview with the media, Wells said he intended to change his attitude, in part because of guidance from his father.
'After I got ejected from the Kent State game, my Dad got on me and got me back in line,' Wells said. 'I know sometimes I get kind of haywire and this and that, but I've got to get over that. I've got to realize there are younger kids out there looking up to me. I need to start leading by example and start acting older than I am.'
• Less than three weeks later, Wells was arrested for domestic battery after a woman accused him of striking her after she refused to have sex with him. According to police reports, the woman suffered scratches on her arms, neck and one leg, and some of her jewelry was broken.
Wells was jailed briefly, posted $2,000 bond and was released. He claimed that the two had been arguing when the woman started breaking furniture and other items in his apartment. The prosecutor's office, citing lack of conclusive evidence, chose not to file criminal charges. Wells was not suspended by the school but was ordered to perform community service.
• As a college junior, Wells stomped off the court after a loss at Central Michigan, then delivered a slap to the head of Central's Jerry Glover, who had chased him down to shake hands. On the way to the locker room, according to Zaleski, Wells kicked teammate Randy Zachary down a flight of stairs as the two argued.
• In an interview before his senior season, Wells, who had received eight technicals the previous two seasons, pledged better deportment.
'I watched a lot of films and saw I was acting like an ass out there,' Wells told the Star-Press at the time. 'I saw I was jaw-jacking to a referee or doing things that weren't right for us to do as a team. É I can't lead the team in technicals, can't be yelling at teammates or not clapping when I'm on the bench Ñ all that crazy stuff. That's no leader right there. That's a crazy person Ñ a Dennis Rodman.'
But Wells also said this: 'People who like me are the people who know about basketball or played the game or understand the game.' Those who don't, he said, 'are probably just new fans who don't know much about basketball and don't understand how hard it is on the court.'
Zaleski's take on Wells: 'He is the typical pampered high school and college athlete you hear about who thinks he can do no wrong. Everybody always bent over backward to make excuses for Bonzi and allow him to do things. He can be a snake charmer. Underneath the bull, there is a softer side, but he chooses not to use it.
'He can be engaging and funny. Kids from his neighborhood worship him.'
Since joining the Trail Blazers in 1998, Wells has accumulated a lengthy list of incidents. Among them:
• November 2000: Wells was suspended one game and fined $10,000 for striking and verbally abusing referee Tim Donaghy during a game against Seattle. Wells threw his headband at Donaghy and had to be restrained by teammates and coaches.
• December 2000: Wells purposely tripped Dallas' Michael Finley in the fourth quarter of a tight game, precipitating a brief skirmish. The Mavericks went on to win 106-101.
'Bonzi did not have anything going his way at the time, and I knew he was going to foul someone hard or something,' Finley said. 'But I never thought it would be me.'
• March 2001: Wells was ejected after an argument and brief tussle with Porter late in a loss to the Spurs. It was the only ejection in the 16-year career of Porter, who said as he was discussing the incident with officials, 'Wells came up and shoved me, and I shoved him back, and (referee Steve) Javie booted us both Ñ I guess to get control of the game. No way did I deserve to get kicked out.'
• September 2001: Wells and former teammate Erick Barkley were cited by Portland police for criminal trespass after allegedly refusing to leave the scene of a fight near a downtown nightclub. Portland police Sgt. Brian Schmautz said the two shouted profanities at officers who asked them to leave. No charges were filed.
• November 2001: After being ejected from a game against Indiana in the Rose Garden, Wells threw his gum into the stands, hitting a fan on the head. Wells apologized to the fan before the team's next home game.
'I apologized and gave him one of my jerseys. I guess it's the price you pay for being in the front row,' Wells said. 'You get close to the action, hear the sound bites and accidentally get hit with a piece of gum. But I apologized and let him know that we have love for him.'
• December 2001: Sports Illustrated interviewed Wells for an article on the Blazers and how they have alienated some of their fan base. 'We're not really worried about what the hell (the fans) think about us,' Wells said. 'They really don't matter to us. They can boo us every day, but they are still going to ask for our autographs if they see us on the street. That is why they are fans and we are NBA players.'
The Blazers ordered Wells to apologize to the fans through a series of media interviews.
• November 2002: After a 29-point loss to Sacramento, Wells talked with the media about the problems with the Blazers' deep roster.
'We have a lot of guys, and it's tough to find your niche,' he said. 'I know I'm not in a flow, and it's tough to find it when you're not playing.'
Cheeks read the comments the next day and called a team meeting, telling the players to keep their thoughts about the subject private.
• November 2002: The Wells-Ferry incident.
Ferry: 'I was walking off the court, and it caught me off-guard. The more I sat down, the angrier I got. It is ridiculous, but there is nothing I can do about it right now.
'The guy is nuts. You never know what he's thinking. Every time you play him, it's an adventure. This was just something else. It has no place in the game.'
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: 'It is a shame when you have somebody who decides that the best way to compete is to spit on somebody else. Bonzi showed a lack of class. I can't imagine why there is any room for that in the game.'
Wells: 'I don't know what's up with Danny Ferry. I think he just has a problem with me. I don't have a problem with Danny Ferry.'