Former Washington Bullet guard Phil Chenier, whose career was thought to be over after two major back operations in the past three years, signed a 10-day contract with the Golden State Warriors yesterday.
Chenier, 30, is fifth on the Bullets' all-time scoring list and, in the mid-1970s, was one of the premier guards in the National Basketball Association.
Chenier had his first back operation in September 1978 and never regained form. He played in only 36 games in the 1978-79 season and 27 the following season.
He was traded to Indiana for future considerations in December 1979, but his back began bothering him again and he was waived last February. He returned home to Columbia, Md., and later that month had a second operation to repair a ruptured disk.
Chenier said yesterday he was never convinced his playing career was over, but he didn't raise his hopes too high.
He worked out diligently on strength-building machines and he swam, ran and played in pickup basketball games.
"In the early stages, i really didn't know if I'd be able to come back or not," he said. "But after working out, I found that the urge was strong."
Chenier said he set a personal goal of the All-Star break to launch his comeback, but the Warriors contacted him before he started making calls himself.
He has former teammate Elvin Hayes to thank for that. When the Bullets were in Los Angeles two weeks ago, Hayes ran into Pete Newell, the Warriors' talent consultant, and told him that Chenier was working out, was in shape and wanted to play again.
Newell, a coach at California before Chenier went there, has always been a Chenier fan and was intrigued. So he called.
Chenier flew to California and took a physical last Thursday. He watched the Warriors play Friday, worked out with them for three days and signed yesterday.
"It's all happened pretty fast," he said, "but I don't have any problems with my back and I feel a lot stronger now than I did after the first operation."
Golden State appears to be the ideal place for Chenier to try his comeback. His parents and friends live in nearby Berkeley, "so it's not like I'm being uprooted or have to go through an adjustment to a new area. All I have to do is play."
Lloyd Free and John Lucas are the Golden State starters and Sonny Parker is the third guard. Chenier feels he can help the Warriors, but said he is in no hurry and neither are the Warriors.
"I get the feeling they're just going to keep an eye on me for a while and use me when the right situation arises," Chenier said.
Chenier replaced center Clifford Ray on the Warrior roster. Ray sprained his ankle in practice Jan. 17.