Lloyd Free has long since given up trying to silence his mouth, the fastest in the NBA. But he claims he has at least reduced the verbosity in his court style this season.
"I'm into a quiet game now," said the league's No. 2 scorer."Before I figured I had to come out and make a splash fast. So I'd toss up 15 shots as fast as I could cock my arm."
He'll be shooting at the Washington Bullets Tuesday, 10 p.m. (EST), in their only appearance of the season here.
"Now I've got lots of minutes to produce. Things are worked around me, I'm in control. So I take my time, pick my spots and then take off."
Probably only Lloyd Free would consider an average of 20 shots a game, a wild assortment of passes and more than an occasional 25-foot, into-your-face-don't-blink-or-it's-gone jumper the ingredients of a tone-downed game.
But this is the same Free who shugs off his 28.4 point average with the San Diego Clippers and raves instead about hotel marquees.
"Those marquees, that's when I knew things were different for me," said Free. "Always used to be Dr. J. and the 76ers or maybe, just plain old 'Dr. J is Here.'"
But now that he is free of Julius Erving's shadow, those same marquees proclaim, when the Clippers come to town, "Welcome Lloyd Free." To which he adds, "at last."
He may not be establishing the kind of identity many other players covet, but he doesn't really care. What counts, he says, is that he is finally on his own to either make it or develop a sore right arm trying.
"That's why I'm trying to play with more control," he said. "(Coach) Gene Shue keeps telling me I'm his man and to play my game. So that's what I am trying to do.
"Everyone thinks all I can do is shoot. They never saw me do it all, but I'm doing it now. They forget I'm second on this team in assists. Does that sound like someone without a conscience?"
Free's brash and brazen approach hasn't won him many popularity contests during his four pro seasons. He readily admits that "a lot of folks wanted to see me fail" when Philadelphia traded him to the Clippers in October for a 1984 first-round draft choice.
But he is not a malicious man. He has a friendly demeanor and a fine flair for the dramatic, both with his nonchalant bragging and his high-arching jumpers.
He likes to talk, reporters like to listen and the result, in Philadelphia, was attention equal to that of any other 76er star despite his hardly glittering 13.3 point career average.
He hardly was bashful about how he got that publicity, either.
Who else but Free, dressing just steps from the hallowed locker of Erving, would dare call himself "Prince of Midair?"
Who else but Free, a master of the "hello-goodbye" school of defense, would demand constantly to be traded because his talents weren't being fully utilized?
And who else but Free, ignoring a wide-open Erving, would take the final shot in last year's sixth playoff game against Washington, only to be called for charging?
"You get wound up in a bunch of personalities and things take off," Free said about his Philadelphia days. "I don't think anyone will deny I drew fans or that people watched me."
It is hard to ignore Free while he is on the court, although his constant mouthing has served to pollute any unbiased examination of his skills.
But he has been gifted with some rare talents. Because of his gravity-defying spring, he plays much taller than his 6-3 program height.
"There are a lot of things you can criticize him for," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta, "but he is scary. I hate to see him with the ball in the last few seconds of a close game. You can play good defense on him and if he is on, he'll still kill you."
Motta's club has had the most success of anyone stopping Free this season. The San Diego sensation scored 21 points on six-of-16 shooting in one game at Capital Centre and sat out another with a mysterious ankle injury that annoyed Shue so much he lectured Free "about how I am a national figure now and I have to show up every night ready to play."
Free has scored 30 or more points 21 times, including games of 46 and 49 points this season. And, despite averaging the second-most shots in the league, behind No. 1 scorer George Gervin, he is making almost 50 percent of his attempts.
Ironically, Shue and Free never seemed to get along in Philadelphia, where the coach always was one disciplined guard away from an NBA title. Now they are each other's biggest fan.
"Gene has always loved one-on-one, free-lance players," said Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry, a former Shue teammate and assistant coach. "This team is almost like a dream come true for him."
The Clippers certainly donht lack for individualistic players. Besides Free, there is Super Sidney Wicks, whose self-centered tendencies have worn out the patience of coaches in both Portland and Boston; Swen Nater, who puzzled even the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden; and Nick Weatherspoon, the former Bullet who still thinks a pass is something you make at a member of the opposite sex.
Free says he yearns for that time "when we have a contender. This isn't a contender, it's not a dangerous team. But the man (Shue) will produce a winner, you can count on that. He is something. And when he does, Lloyd Free is going to be with him.
"That's when the basketball world will know what I can do. People think I'm a gunner. But they are going to find out I'm a winner, too."