Two days ago, Joel Kramer was known only to real fans, as a member of the Phoenix Suns' second team, but an ankle injury to regular center Alvan Adams has made Kramer, a rookie from San Diego State, one of the most talked about people in this town.
His picture has been on the front page of local newspapers and he is being told the fortunes of the Suns depend on him.
The versatile Adams is not expected to play in Tuesday's playoff game against the Seattle SuperSonics at Veteran Memoral Coliseum. That means Kramer, all 6-foot-7, 203 pounds of him, will be the starting center in the Suns' most import game of the season.
The Suns trail the Sonics, 2-1m in their best-of-seven Western Conference final series, which will move after Tuesday's game to Seattle for the fifth game Friday at the Kingdome.
"Hopefully, I can play just as well as I did in the last game," Kramer said at the Suns' practice today.
Adams sprained his left ankle Sunday in the first quarter's final minute. Kramer came in and played 30 minutes that were inspiring to his teammates and the crowd.
He made three of four shots, grabbed six rebounds and had three assists, three steals and two blocked shots as the Suns won their first in this series, 113-103.
"We were lulled into a false sense of security when Adams left the game," Seattle's Paul Silas said.
The Sonics kept going to 6-11 center Jack Sikma to take advantage of Kramer, but Kramer, with help from his teammates, forced Sikma into missing seven of the 10 shots he took in the final three periods. Sikma got only six rebounds, six below his average.
"We may have gone to Jack too much and he was so anxious to take advantage of the situation that he started pressing," Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens said.
The only other 6-7 center in the NBA is the Bullets' Wes Unseld, but he outweighs Kramer by 60 pounds. Kramer is aware of those facts, but the shrugs them off.
"It's just a matter of positioning and timing," he said.
Intelligence is one of the primary requirements for a center in John MacLeod's offense. That is an area in which Kramer, the son of two accountants, excels.
Phoenix basically is a fast-break team, but when it runs set plays, it usually begins with a pass to the center on the high post.
The big scorers, Paul Westphal, Walter Davis and Truck Robinson, screen and cut underneath, and the center must be able to read the defense and get the ball to the right man, much like a pro football quarterback.
"Joel is a straight-line basketball player," MacLeod said. "He has no fancy game. If he has to get from A to B, he does it the most efficient way possible.He simplifies the game."
Kramer was a third-round draft choice last year after averaging a modest 9.6 points and seven rebounds a game at San Diego State.
He also was a dean's list student in accounting and played for the United States team in the Maccabiah (Jewish Olympics) Games.
The Suns had five centers in training camp. Kramer was kept instead of veterans Ira Terrell and Dennis Awtrey because, as MacLeod said, "he was such a complete player and could do many things well."
Kramer has played all three positions in the front court, and although he had started only one previous game, he and Don Buse are the only Suns to have played in all 82 regular-season games. Kramer averaged 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds this season.
He teammates also have confidence in Kramer. Mike Bratz, the feisty third guard from Stanford, said, "Joel is a sound fundamental player. He's a position player, and even though he didn't get a lot of rebounds Sunday, he kept his man off the boards.
"I don't see why he can't continue to do the job. We have a couple of special plays for Alvan. We can't run those with Joel because of the height factor, but other than that, we should be fine."
Backing up Kramer Tuesday will be Bayard Forrest, a seldom used 6-10 second-year man.
Sunday was the first time in the series the Suns rebounded with the Sonics, therefore getting their running game going. The Sonics, besides not rebounding well and getting into foul trouble, committed a season high of 31 turnovers.
"Sunday's game was just a game of mistakes for us," Wilkens said. "We didn't read the situation well and we had all of those turnovers.
"Defensively we let them run their offense too close in, and normally we're a better defensive team than that."
Will it make a difference to the Sonics if Kramer plays center instead of Adams?
"It shouldn't, in terms of what we have to do," Wilkens said. "The offense they run is the same no matter who is at center."