Although Ralph Sampson said today that he hasn't thought about whether he will return to Virginia next season or go to the National Basketball Association, he had difficulty restraining his enthusiasm when he talked about the possibility of playing alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a Los Angeles Laker.
"It would be fun playing with Kareem," Sampson said. "I don't think I'd be playing behind him. I'd be at power forward with him at center; Magic (Johnson) and (Norm) Nixon would be the guards; Jamaal Wilkes would be the other forward and Michael Cooper would be coming off the bench. We would be unreal. We could play a double low post or the same offense they play now--the pass goes in to Kareem and everyone cuts to the basket. I like to cut to the basket.
"Kareem is getting up in age, so he'll need some rest. That means I'd get to play a lot at center, too.
"But . . . " Sampson added, "I don't know yet what I'm going to do. I've still got plenty of time to wait, and I'm going to use all of it."
Sampson, a 7-foot-4 junior, won all the top awards this past college season. Virtually all basketball observers say he can have the type of impact on pro basketball that first Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, and then Abdul-Jabbar have had.
A spokesman for the Lakers said the team wants Sampson "if he comes out, and we'll try everything we can to get him."
Sampson has until May 15 (45 days before the draft) to declare himself a hardship case and enter this year's NBA draft.
"I'll set a time for myself when I'll sit down and decide what to do, but that time just isn't now," he said. "I'm free, my time is mine and I'm just running around, going to class and having a good time. In a couple of weeks I'll sit down and make my decision.
"No, I don't feel any pressure," he said in response to a question. "There was a lot more pressure on me when I was deciding where to go to college. There were 500 to 600 people coming after me. In the NBA, it's one on one, just me and them, and either they have the ball or I have it. One of us has to make a move, and I want them to make theirs first.
"I'm just going to do what I think is best for me," Sampson added. "I could sit down and figure it all out right now, but I'm having too good a time just living my life, playing softball and being a college student. I'm having a good time and I'm not going to be pressured. I'm going to push the other people back in the corner."
A number of indicators suggest that Sampson will leave Virginia. The most important are his desire to be a Laker and the Lakers' desire to have him.
Here is how that could happen:
The two teams with the poorest records in the Western and Eastern Conferences of the NBA will flip a coin for the first pick in the June 29 draft. The San Diego Clippers will finish with the worst record in the West and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the worst in the East. The Lakers obtained the Cavaliers' No. 1 pick two years ago in a trade involving Don Ford and Butch Lee and an exchange of draft choices.
That means the Lakers and Clippers will flip a coin for the first pick, May 20. That's five days after Sampson must make his irrevocable decision.
The Lakers have reportedly been dickering with the Clippers in an attempt to ensure themselves of the No. 1 pick. One rumor has Nixon and $1 million going to the Clippers for the pick and another has Abdul-Jabbar going to San Diego along with a heap of cash. The Lakers deny both reports. The financially troubled Clippers say they are open to all offers.
There is another hitch that makes a decision even more difficult for Sampson. Even if Los Angeles gets the first pick, the Lakers can't have any contact with Sampson until after he has declared himself an undergraduate eligible.
That rule was instituted at the Board of Governors meeting last summer after the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks, the teams then involved in the coin toss, wooed Sampson for two months before he decided to stay in school.
Sampson said he feels the new rule is unfair.
"There needs to be some sort of contact, at least through a player's coach or lawyer, so the player can weigh all of the options and see if it is the best thing for him to do," Sampson said. "They (the NBA) tried three different things the last three years. They're experimenting, and I'm the one they're experimenting with. But I really can't lose. I think I know my value and it might go up a little if I stay and we win the national championship, and it might go down a little if I stay and we don't, but it isn't going to change enough to bother me."
Estimates of what Sampson would be offered range as high as $1.5 million a year, twice as much as he was offered by Dallas and Detroit a year ago.