Originally created 11/05/99

Rider returns to Hawks after missing practice



ATLANTA -- After another disappearing act, Isaiah Rider returned the Atlanta Hawks for their first game at Philips Arena on Thursday night, insisting his latest unexplained absence was merely part of the grieving process.

Rider, who has a troubled history in the NBA, was excused from Tuesday night's opener at Washington, a 94-87 loss to the Wizards, so he could attend his grandfather's funeral in Texas.

He was supposed to return to the Hawks for Wednesday's practice, but failed to show up and didn't tell the team where he was.

"I just lost some of my people," Rider said as he sat at his locker prior to the game against the Milwaukee Bucks. "The Hawks totally understand. As far as they're concerned, it's fine."

General manager Pete Babcock didn't sound quite as convinced. Asked if everything was settled, he replied, "For today." He also said Rider will be fined for missing practice, likely around $2,500.

The Hawks acquired Rider in an August trade from the Portland Trail Blazers despite his stormy past. The Hawks, who also got guard Jim Jackson, gave up Steve Smith, their leading scorer and one of the league's upstanding citizens.

Jackson was starting for the Hawks against Milwaukee, but Rider was expected to play, coach Lenny Wilkens said.

Rider showed up late for his first pro practice with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1993 and has been adding to his list of offenses ever since, including feuds with coaches and convictions for marijuana possession and assault.

The 6-foot-5 guard insisted he was looking forward to a new start in Atlanta but had his first run-in before even taking the court.

He failed to show up for the first day of training camp in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Oct. 5, then gave a bizarre explanation ranging from a fear of flying on a small plane to his reluctance to play for a rebuilding team.

"I feel a lot better about the team," Rider said Thursday. "I think we're a lot better now than we were at the start of the preseason.

"But it's a long year and it's going to be a learning process. We're certainly not the most dominant team in the East, so we're going to have to work hard every night."

Rider said his grandfather died "very recently" and he needed to be with his family to provide support.

"We didn't think he would pass away so quickly," he said. "It's OK. He lived a long life."

Rider met with Babcock on Wednesday, then discussed the situation with coach Lenny Wilkens on Thursday.

"He's an emotional person," Wilkens said. "He may not show it, but he is. We had a nice talk. ... He should be ready."

The other Hawks insisted all was forgiven after another no-show by Rider, who is expected to add scoring punch to an offense that ranked next-to-last in the NBA a year ago.

"A death in the family is a serious thing," forward Alan Henderson said. "I can't say anything about that. It's tough on people. But I'm happy he's back. I look forward to play with him."