Originally created 06/20/00

Lakers' Fox enjoys 'enforcer' role



LOS ANGELES -- Rick Fox has worked hard to become the most reviled man in the NBA playoffs.

Whether he's shoving Reggie Miller, clobbering Austin Croshere or jawing with Jalen Rose, Fox has been methodically irritating and aggravating the Indiana Pacers throughout the NBA Finals.

He played this part throughout the Los Angeles Lakers' rocky trip through the postseason. He was thrown out of a game against Phoenix, and he was nearly tossed from a game against Portland -- while he was sitting on the Lakers' bench.

"I guess I am the most volatile individual in the series," Fox said. "I meant it when I said I'll do whatever it takes for us to win. If we're not getting the respect we deserve on the court, I'll deal with it."

It's just the latest role for Fox, an accomplished actor with a movie-star wife in Vanessa Williams, film experience of his own and a recurring role on the HBO television series "Oz." His character on the show, Jackson Vayhue, is a basketball star in prison for failing to control his rage.

Sound familiar? Fox doesn't dismiss the connection. On the court or off, he's a method actor all the way.

"You have to look within and find the evil that's inside of you," Fox said. "It's not the kind of talk you want your kids to hear, but we're grown men."

Opposing fans love to hate Fox. With his good looks and delicately coifed hair, he's an easy target for taunts, the most common being "pretty boy" -- an unfit moniker for someone playing decidedly ugly basketball.

But Fox wasn't always this way. A charismatic man with a strong record of charity work, he spent his first six NBA seasons in Boston. He doesn't think he earned more than three technical fouls with the Celtics.

Fox admits his role with the Lakers may be an act at times, but he said his play always comes from inside.

"There's a side of me that can snap," he said. "It's hard for me to calm down when I get in those situations."

Perhaps it's his Canadian birth that has turned Fox into basketball's closest thing to a hockey enforcer. Perhaps it's his predilection for a much more gritty style of ball than his high-flying, high-scoring teammates.

Or perhaps it's because the Lakers feel they don't get respect on the court, and Fox has set out to change things.

"When these playoffs started, I don't think anybody had any respect for us, and rightfully so," Fox said. "We hadn't done anything. But now we've earned our respect, and when people don't give it to us, that's when there's a problem."

The Lakers went from pretenders to contenders this season because of coach Phil Jackson's guidance and Kobe Bryant's emergence as a superstar, but the assembly of a quality supporting cast to take the pressure off Shaquille O'Neal also has been a key.

That's where Fox comes in. He averaged 15 points a game in his final season in Boston, but with the Lakers, he has a less glamorous part to play.

Fox's new reputation grew during the playoffs in Sacramento and in Phoenix, where he was thrown out of a game after picking a fight with Clifford Robinson. In the conference finals, he began getting warnings from referees when he checked into games, prompting coach Phil Jackson to say Fox had "a target tattooed on his back."

Against the Blazers, Fox was threatened with ejection while sitting on the bench, when all he did was toss a ball back onto the court in Scottie Pippen's direction. Of course, he also got into a shoving match with Pippen later, and teammate Brian Shaw got a one-game suspension for coming off the bench to help him.

"During the film session, I asked him if he had problems with the referees in this league, because they seem to be calling every possible thing they can against (him)," Jackson said.

"Everything from jump ball circle violations to flagrant fouls to technicals have all gone his way, so I've been real curious about that. It's been an interesting transformation."

"I've had to answer a lot of questions," Fox acknowledged. "You know, `Where is this coming from? You used to be a model citizen.' In the past that's been the case ... but it came to a point where nobody respected us."

Fox and Miller have a running feud that culminated when Miller elbowed Fox in the back during the fourth quarter of the Pacers' Game 5 victory. Fox charged after Miller and shoved him, and only intervention by teammates prevented a more serious confrontation.

"I have a problem with individuals who say and do brave things but don't back them up," Fox said when asked about Miller. "It's a lot easier to be brave at home, and it's a lot easier to be brave when you're up by 20.

"Teams continue to test me. I've become the last person they should be testing."

As Fox speaks, he rubs the scruffy beard -- just like a hockey player's playoff beard -- on his sculpted movie-star jaw.

"It builds up to the point where you can't keep it in anymore. Too much pain. Too much pain from the last two playoffs, getting stepped on and disrespected and swept out of the playoffs.

"Nice finishes last. I know it."