Glen Rice: Small Hands, Big Heart, 1993


[To start the 1989 NBA Draft, four names flew off the board like finger snaps. Pervis Ellison, Danny Ferry, Sean Elliott. The Miami Heat had the fourth pick and snatched University of Michigan’s 6-feet-8 swingman and offensive machine, Glen Rice. “Rice was the guy we wanted,” woo-hooed Miami managing partner Lewis Schaffel afterwards. “He had a phenomenal [pre-draft] workout. None of us could remember anything like it.” 

When Rice arrived for his first NBA training camp, though, he wasn’t in top shape and had added some pounds around his waist. Throw in a months-long adjustment period to the pro game, and the guy Schaffel “wanted” struggled on both ends of the floor and even lost his trademark long-range touch. Though Rice settled in after midseason, he just wasn’t the same guy who wowed the Heat during his workout. “He needs to revive that nobody-can-stop-me mentality he flashed in the NCAA tournament,” wrote one publication.  

What a difference a year makes. Rice showed up for his second training camp in shape and ready to put the NBA on star alert. And he did, averaging 17.4 points per games, shooting 81 percent from the charity stripe and nearly 40 percent from behind the arc, the latter then a very impressive number. Rice also showed that he could create his own shot off the bounce, which hadn’t been the case in his rookie season. 

But Rice still had his carping critics. “You’d like to see him take more responsibility for the offense,” harped one. In the brief article below, from Street & Smith’s Pro Basketball Yearbook, 1992-93, we catch up with Rice as he prepares for his fourth season as Miami’s top gun. He’s coming off a season in which he took “responsibility” for 22.3 points of the Heat offense. At the keyboard is the always-reliable Fran Blinebury, who shares that Rice did it all with some of smallest hands in the pro game.]


When Glen Rice came into the NBA, he brought a big reputation as a top gun, with the potential for a big scoring average and a big future. But he also brought tiny, delicate-looking hands for a man of his 6-feet-8 stature. 

Quite frankly, that was an area of no small concern to the members of the Miami Heat front office when they decided to make the former University of Michigan star their top draft choice in 1989. What they wondered was if they should put such a large part of the future of their franchise into those little hands? 

“Yes, it was a concern,” said coach Kevin Loughery. “Glen had extremely small hands, and even with his great jumping ability, bigger hands can help you carry the ball so much better in traffic. So the small size of his hands is always going to be something of a setback.”

But in his third season as a pro, Rice grabbed the leadership role on the Heat and boosted the fourth-year expansion team into the playoffs for the first time in club history. The Heat is not a one-man show, but Rice is the one man who can heat up and put the sizzle in the Miami attack like the sun at the beach. “I always said that small hands are the mark of great shooters,” says Rice.

That certainly became true through the second half of last season when he went through one seven-game streak of averaging more than 28 points per night. He became the league’s most-prolific three-point shooter last season and might have had plenty more if he ever bothered to look down at his feet and moved back a step or two to make sure he was behind the three-point stripe. 

“On half of my three-pointers, I don’t know if I’m behind the line or not,” Rice said. “I just catch the ball, and I shoot.”

He is an incredible rhythm shooter who makes the ball swish through the net with the same ease as the late Pistol Pete Maravich. He is a shooting machine, plain and simple. Loughery, for one, admits to being surprised at the consistency of Rice. A pretty fair jump shooter during his own playing career, Loughery sees mechanics of Rice’s shot that should hinder, rather than help, him. 

“Most guys need a lot of leg and extra oomph from that far out,” Loughery said. “But Glen uses very little energy on his shot, just a flick of his wrists. Because he doesn’t need time to set himself, he can get the shot off so quickly, and he beats the defensive rotation. If you hesitate as a defender, his shot is gone.”

That shot is even more unusual when you consider that Rice releases his jumper with two hands, not the traditional one-handed technique. It is a style that many coaches tried to change when he was first starting out and learning the game. But by the time Rice reached high school, that shot was going in so often that his coach there decided not to tinker with success.

“Funny, they used to talk about my little brother Kevin’s jump shot,” Rice said. “They said he had perfect form and that my shot was sloppy. But mine went in, and his didn’t.”

When you see Michael Jordan take flight, he is usually waving the ball in one hand, holding it like a softball, which allows for so many of the extra moves. When Julius Erving was hanging out his shingle as Dr. J. and still operating in the NBA, his fingers were so long that he could wrap them around the ball as though he were gripping the hammer of Thor, and that made it so much easier to throw down his brand of thunder dunk. 

Rice can barely palm the ball. But that has not stopped him from raising his scoring average in each of his first three NBA seasons, and he is now one of the guns who can be counted on to produce 20 points every night. 

“Comparing him to the guards and the small forwards who are there now, I think he’s reaching the all-star level,” said Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Jack McCloskey, the architect of the Detroit Pistons championship teams. 

Rice doesn’t look like the classic silky-smooth jump-shooter when he takes the floor with more padding than many football players. He wears braces on both ankles and both knees. He has his right thumb taped before every game, and he wears a brace on his thumb and pinkie finger. 

You see him line up for the opening tap, and he almost looks like a mummy. Heat teammate Willie Burton nicknamed him “Robocop.” But there is nothing mechanical about the way Rice plays the game. He is so fluid that he makes many of the difficult shots look easy. He has exceptional body control and can score even when he’s off-balance, thanks to his flick-of-the-wrist release. In a league filled with stars, Rice is one on the rise.

“I think Glen has a star mentality,” said Loughery. “He can jump, he can slam the ball, and he can shoot the three-pointer. This is what fans like: the three-pointer, the dunk, the blocked shot, and the pass. He already has shown he can do three of them. And he has the charisma and personality.”

Along with those tiny hands that, instead of doubts, now have Glen Rice gripping what should be a bright future.

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