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Friday, December 11, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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There's Only One X-Man -- Bird Legacy Tough Act For Mcdaniel To Follow

BOSTON - First comes the trademark hairless dome. Then the trademark scowl. And then a whirlwind of trademark dunks and power moves.

At the end of the 30-second commercial, scheduled to air in New England this weekend and nationally around the first of the year, the viewer is exhorted to tap "The Power of X."

Xanthus, a South Korean footwear company with a new line of basketball shoes, is paying Xavier McDaniel nearly $1 million, plus 10 percent of profits, over the next three years, to help win over sneaker consumers.

The Boston Celtics needed no such high-tech inducements. They had a huge void to fill and McDaniel just happened to be free at the time, to fill at least part of it.

People around here say the X-Man is no Larry Bird.

McDaniel says they shouldn't be surprised.

"I let that be known up front," he said. "You just can't replace a Larry Bird. Just like you can't replace an Xavier McDaniel. You can replace the body, but we're all unique individuals.

"Bird had some things going for him that I don't. First, he shot the ball better than me. Second, he passed the ball better. . . . And he also had the legacy."

But McDaniel has had the last laugh on a lot of people.

The New York Knicks played a dangerous game with McDaniel last summer, and lost. McDaniel ended up signing a five-year, $13 million deal with the Celtics about a month after Bird announced his retirement.

Critics in Boston then contended the Celtics made a mistake. That McDaniel was out of control, bogged down the offense and broke off too many plays. But he showed them, too.

Things change.

"When you're losing, all the stuff comes out," McDaniel said. "But when you're winning, the negative all disappears."

Lately, the Celtics have been winning. After a 2-8 start, they've improved to 9-10 heading into tonight's confrontation with McDaniel's former team, the Seattle SuperSonics. And guess what Bostonians have started to discover?

He may not be Bird, but just being X ain't bad.

In his past four games, McDaniel has averaged 19.3 points and shot 66.7 percent from the field. Some subtle changes in Coach Chris Ford's system - less of the double low-post stuff, and more push-it-up - have prompted some of the improvement. Ford also induced some of it by asking McDaniel, the team's second-leading scorer at 14.4 points, to drive the ball more, post it up a little more and fling it from the perimeter less.

To emphasize his requests, Ford benched McDaniel for a game against Atlanta last month. Then he returned McDaniel to the starting lineup - at power forward. In other words, McDaniel was asked to tap "The Power of X" a little more.

And, maybe for the first time since his initial few seasons in Seattle, the X-Man is ready.

Actually, he proved that last spring. After averaging 13.7 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Knicks (and being criticized for it) during the regular season, McDaniel jumped to 18.8 points and 7.2 rebounds as New York finished a game short of bullying the Chicago Bulls out of the playoffs. What changed?

"I got an extra 10 minutes a game," McDaniel said.

Even more than that, McDaniel was better prepared for the rigors of the postseason. Never a believer in weight training, he changed his mind two summers ago, shortly after undergoing surgery for the second time on his right knee.

McDaniel now hits the weights every day during the summer and every other day during the season. Last summer in Seattle, he was able to bench-press 260 pounds.

McDaniel's knees no longer ache. His back doesn't hurt. He's missed just one game the past two seasons.

"Before, I was young," the 28-year-old said. "I was strong. I could jump. I could dunk. Now I have to start relying a little more on smarts."

Things change; why fight it? That was a lesson McDaniel learned in Seattle. Time was, people thought he'd be a Sonic for life, and that the Sonics would be longtime powerhouses with him in their lineup.

McDaniel's enduring link to the franchise that drafted him No. 4 overall in 1985 now is nothing more than a cameo performance in "Singles," the movie about Seattle's grunge-rock scene. Though he is depicted in a Sonics uniform, McDaniel's part in the film was shot after he was traded to the Phoenix Suns. And, for all he knows, Pearl Jam could be one of Shawn Kemp's newest dunks.

Well, thanks for the memories. Whatever they are.

"The year we went to the Western Conference finals (1987) was the year Detroit also went to the Eastern Conference finals against Boston," McDaniel said. "The Pistons went on to win two championships. We went through, like, 37 players.

"We were always getting torn down, and I knew my days there were numbered. You could see it coming. (Team president) Bob Whitsitt told me not to worry, that they weren't looking to trade me. But I saw John `Hot Rod' Williams all over television. You mean to tell me he just happened to be in town? Seattle wasn't exactly attracting tourists like that.

"When the trade went down (Dec. 7, 1990), I was just happy that it was over."

And McDaniel says he bears no grudges. Tonight's game will be nothing special, he claims.

"It's never personal," McDaniel said.

"Tell Bob Whitsitt that I don't hate him. He just made me grow up."

---------------------------------------- SONICS REPORT

-- Who: Seattle Sonics (11-6) at Boston Celtics (9-10).

-- When, where: Tonight, 4:30 PST, Boston Garden.

-- Broadcasts: KJR radio (950 AM); PSN television (cable).

-- Injury report: For Seattle, C Rich King (stress fracture, right foot) is on the injured list. For Boston, F Ed Pinckney (right knee) is on the injured list.

-- Sonic trends: Except for their victory over Houston in Japan, the Sonics only have beaten hapless Dallas on the road. . . . The Sonics have lost two straight for the first time this season. A loss tonight almost certainly will lead to an 0-for-4 road trip. . . . The Sonics have gotten 18 shots blocked so far on this swing.

-- Celtic trends: Boston has won seven of its past nine games. . . . Despite nursing strains of his right quadriceps and left hamstring, Reggie Lewis has struck for 36 and 29 points in his past two outings. He is working on a free-throw streak of 38 straight. . . . Besides Xavier McDaniel, the Sonics will face a more recent, ex-teammate in Bart Kofoed. -- Keys: For the second straight game, the Sonics will face a front line they should be able to overpower. Celtic C Robert Parish is a 7-footer, but is 39 years old. Boston forwards McDaniel and Rick Fox are both 6-7. Shawn Kemp had a field day (and career-high 31 points) against a small Philly front line on Wednesday, but will be facing a mentor, of sorts, in the X-Man. He'll need some offensive support from Derrick McKey, who's hit only 12 of his past 38 shots.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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