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Curry Remains the Heart of the Bulls

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 27, 2005; Page D03

DEERFIELD, Ill., April 26 -- Eddy Curry was in uniform while the Chicago Bulls were pulling out a 102-99 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on March 30, but he wasn't on the floor -- or anywhere near the court. Curry instead was in the visiting locker room at Charlotte Coliseum, hooked up to a heart monitor, fearful of a heartbeat that began speed-racing through his pre-game workout.

The horror of that night has subsided now, following a series of extensive tests in Charlotte, Boston, Minneapolis and Chicago that were inconclusive. Curry's irregular heartbeat, however, has ended his breakout season, robbing the 6-foot-11, 285-pound center of the chance to participate in the playoffs, his first opportunity in his four-year career.

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When the Bulls put on their warmups for Game 1 against the Washington Wizards on Sunday, the 22-year-old Curry was wearing an oversized button-up shirt and baggy jeans, hiding the pain of a broken heart.

"Guys [were] getting ready to go play and you could see it in his face, 'Man, I wish I was a part of this. The building is sold out. The fans are into it,' " Bulls assistant coach Pete Myers said, lowering his head. "Eddy is not a real animated person -- if he gets a dunk, he can do some stuff -- but you could see it. It's unfortunate that he wasn't able to play because, for me, the [first] three years that he's been here, that's all we talked about -- getting to the playoffs, being on a winning team, letting this city actually embrace you. And now, he's got to sit back and watch it."

Curry has refused interview requests ever since the Bulls held a news conference on April 14 to announce that Curry, the team's leading scorer, would require six weeks of rest while under the supervision of team doctors.

Bulls reserve guard Jannero Pargo said that when the team first heard the news, several of the players were hoping that they could make a deep playoff run so that Curry could join them later. But the team isn't willing to risk the long-term health of Curry, who will be a restricted free agent this summer and was expected to command a lucrative contract extension.

Maintaining a relatively low profile, Curry has made his presence felt only at games and practice. And, if he is hurting emotionally, Curry hasn't let on. "I think he's trying to be strong, not only for himself, but for this team," said Pargo, who shares a bond with Curry because the two grew up in Chicago. Curry hung around Berto Center on Tuesday, taking time after practice to shoot jumpers in street clothes and clown around with his teammates.

Curry, the No. 4 pick in the 2001 draft, lost 30 pounds last offseason and was finally emerging as the consistent low-post presence many expected him to become. He averaged a career-high 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, while shooting a team-high 53.8 percent (fourth best in the NBA) in 63 games.

Curry scored 27 points and 25 points, respectively, in his last two games of the regular season against Indiana and Memphis. Then, he experienced some discomfort and dizziness in Charlotte, which abruptly ended his promising season. Although the postseason isn't in Curry's plans, Myers said this season wasn't a total loss for Curry.

"He got something out of it and it was positive. He got to experience that winning feeling for the first time," said Myers, the only member of the Bulls' coaching staff who has been with Curry throughout his career. "He was playing well. The city finally got a chance to see why [former Bulls general manager] Jerry Krause drafted him -- because he's a talent. He's a 6-11 guy who's athletic, has soft hands with a soft touch. [If] he comes close to what he wants to accomplish in this league, he's going to be damn good."

Other NBA players have played after having similar conditions diagnosed, including Hakeem Olajuwon, Terry Cummings and Aaron McKie. Houston Rockets forward and former Wizard Juwan Howard was forced to miss part of this season after developing a viral infection in his heart.

Charles Smith, the former New York Knicks forward and current basketball analyst for ESPN2's "Cold Pizza", said doctors detected a murmur in his heart when he was a sophomore in college, but he said it never bothered him through his nine-year professional career.

"Athletes, mainly basketball players, push their hearts to the limit," Smith said. "A lot of guys have heart murmurs. I don't think its widely talked about, but guys have played with them. You can go to a lot of retired players and they can take an EKG and it looks like we had a heart attack."

Smith added that the deaths of former Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers and former Celtics great Reggie Lewis have heightened concerns about heart conditions. "Nowadays, doctors don't want to take that risk. They don't want to be the one to say that 'You're okay,' then leave them wildly exposed," Smith said.

At the April 14 news conference, Curry said he hadn't even considered the possibility of not playing again. "It won't do me any good, being scared and talking crazy," he said. "I really think everything will turn out for the best. But right now, I've got to be cautious."

The Bulls have managed to go 10-4 since Curry was sidelined -- including the 103-94 win in Game 1 on Sunday. "I think it's really tough for Eddy," Bulls forward Antonio Davis said. "To be hurt at a time like this is very difficult, I'm sure. But I don't think he understands how good it makes us feel for him to be around; to talk to us and let us know that he's smiling. It gives us an opportunity to let him know that we're not here if you're not playing the way you're playing. My heart goes out to the guy. But he has to be positive."

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