Staff writer Phil Taylor is trying not to take it personally, but he finds it an odd coincidence that just when he took over the NBA beat, Michael Jordan retired and Charles Barkley hinted that he was on his way out too. "It's like waiting to get into a pickup game, and as soon as it's your turn, all the guys say they're tired and want to go home," says Taylor. Not everyone is leaving the playground, and coming onto the court are a lot of new faces, many of them familiar to Taylor. While covering college basketball for the magazine the last three years, Taylor profiled several players who have gone on to the NBA, including Shaquille O'Neal, Todd Day, Harold Miner and Chris Webber. Taylor wrote about Webber, the Golden State Warriors' new $74.4 million man, four times during Webber's career at Michigan, and he even gave Webber his Least-Improved Player award in an INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL column last March. After hearing Webber mention the award over and over again at the West Regional in Seattle, Taylor approached him in a hallway at the Kingdome. "I said, 'Chris, you know I'm the one who wrote that, don't you?' " recalls Taylor. "He looked at me and then, fortunately, he broke into a big smile and said, 'It probably helped me.' "
Taylor will have ample opportunity to see the new and improved product because he lives in Union City, Calif., only 20 miles from the Warriors' home court at the Oakland Coliseum. "Webber must think he's never going to get away from me, especially now that he's right in my backyard," says Taylor.
Taylor's predecessor on the pro basketball beat, senior writer Jack McCallum, is now the editor of our SCORECARD section. During his eight years covering the league, McCallum learned a thing or two that Taylor might want to keep in mind. "Eat the Mexican food in San Antonio, talk to assistant coaches and when Charles Barkley is holding court, never approach him alone," says McCallum. "If you do, he'll say something about your hair or your clothes. Of course, Phil probably wears nicer clothes and has a better haircut than I do, so it may not be a problem for him."
Besides, Barkley may soon have a different kind of insult to hurl at Taylor, who was inspired to take up golf after he noticed a number of NBA players watching it on TV in their locker rooms during last season's playoffs. Although Taylor is an enthusiastic novice, he is not the quickest study. "My handicap is that I hit slices into places where no one ever expected a golf ball to go—behind utility boxes and between pipes," he says. "I'm a driving-range kind of player. That's where I'm at my best." Nevertheless, Taylor says that when his game improves, he would like to challenge Barkley, another fledgling player, to a little one-on-one out on the golf course. That is, if Barkley doesn't retire before our man gets his game up to par.