Ask Sixers center Spencer Hawes about the exceptional start to his season, and youre liable to get a few different answers, all of them correct.
The Seattle native has talked about working out during the lockout-extended off-season with the players at his former school, the University of Washington. He has talked about swimming and boxing and participating in yoga. (He also talks, with great reluctance, about reducing his body fat from 13 percent to under 10. He doesnt believe thats a big deal. His coach, Doug Collins, does. He half-kiddingly tells Hawes that the correlation between lower body fat and improved play is the Eighth Wonder of the World.)
There is also an overlooked aspect to Hawes regimen. The part that included Shawn Kemp.
Go ahead, throw out the punchlines about Kemp, a six-time All-Star with the old Seattle SuperSonics. Talk about how he once had body-fat problems of his own, to the extreme. Talk about his drug issues and his out-of-wedlock kids.
But know this: If he has helped Hawes reinvent himself on the court, he has been trying like crazy to reinvent himself off it.
Im not proud of some of the things Ive done, Kemp said over the phone last week.
Now 42, the guy who was known as Reign Man would like to believe he has grown up, after becoming known more for his proclivities than his play that he is something more than the man who served a drug suspension late in his 14-year career, and was twice arrested on narcotics-possession charges after he was done playing. That he is more responsible than the guy who, according to a 1998 Sports Illustrated story, fathered seven children by multiple partners.
One of them, Shawn Jr., is now a scholarship player at the University of Washington or U-Dub, as the locals call it. As for the elder Kemp, he settled back in Seattle in 2005. Hes married now. Owns a restaurant in town called Oskars Kitchen. Does a radio show on the local ESPN affiliate. Works out religiously; he has dropped some 55 pounds since his playing career ended in 2003 and now carries 256 on his 6-10 frame, virtually the same as in his heyday with the Sonics.
And get this SI is going to run another story about him in the near future. One that will show, he said, how he has gotten his life in order.
One big thing my mom told me was, Whatever you do with yourself, dont grow up to be an old fool, he said. Im glad the stuff I went through was years before and not years after.
Hawes, who turns 24 in April, idolized Kemp growing up. His dad used to take him to Key Arena to watch the Reign Man soar, to see him and Gary Payton take the Sonics to new heights. They peaked in 1996, advancing to the NBA Finals and extending Michael Jordans Bulls to six games.
Then came the decline. And now, perhaps, the rebound.
Hawes first worked out with Kemp when he declared for the 2007 draft, after a single year at U-Dub. Sacramento made him the 10th overall pick, and he spent three years with the Kings before being dealt to the Sixers in June 2010.
He did little his first year in town, averaging 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds a game, and became a restricted free agent during the elongated off-season. After giving some thought to seeing what other options might be out there, he accepted the Sixers one-year, 4 million qualifying offer.
In the meantime, he and Kemp had reunited for workouts.
Hes got a lot of upside to his game, Kemp said. Ive been barking at him for a while. I thought it was time to step up and show he could play a little better.
Hawes said it was more of a mutual decision to get together.
When I came into the league I had higher expectations than what I produced especially last year, statistically, individually, he said, adding that the summer afforded him the opportunity to really reflect on it and say OK, this year, somethings going to change, and Ive got to start making myself head in the right direction.
While he said his workouts with Kemp were off and on because of their conflicting schedules, they did things like run steps together at Lake Washington. There were also times when Hawes would head over to Oskars Kitchen, which is not far from where he grew up, just to pick Kemps brain.
But mostly they played one-on-one.
Just getting dirty a little bit, Kemp said. Me and Spencer down in the post, beating each other up. A lot of elbows being thrown. A lot of real physical play.
It was fun, definitely, said Hawes, who at 7-1 and 245 pounds is more earthbound than Kemp. I had to stop sometimes and catch myself: Damn, Im working out with Shawn Kemp.
Then he would get back to work, which was much-needed. In Kemps view Hawes, a good shooter, fell in love with his jumpshot. Certainly that was the case last year. He missed much of the preseason with a back injury 16 practices, by Collins count and struggled to get into shape.
Because of that, the coach said, He had a tendency to drift and float on the perimeter a little bit.
Not anymore. If Hawes once viewed his jumper as his safety net, he now views it as a complement to the rest of his game.
Hes playing around the paint, Collins said. When he does that, to me it means his legs are fresh. Hes diving to the basket and hes very active. Hes rebounding, and thats exciting for us.
After seven games, five of them Sixers victories, Hawes is averaging 12.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists, all of which would be career highs if maintained. His shooting percentage (66.7) leads the league, and he is third in rebounding.
While he was limited to a little less than 17 minutes Saturday against Toronto because of a strained back, the injury is not believed to be serious. But he certainly is.
I think Spencer can keep playing like this all season, Kemp said.
Spencer, he believes in himself, Collins said. Thats one thing I love about him. I think he went through a segment in Sacramento where he had a little self-doubt. But I think he really feels good about himself. The guy signed a qualifying offer and hes playing to get a big contract next year. I respect that.
After all this time, Hawes finally has all the answers. And some unlikely help in finding them.
Gordie Jones is an award-winning journalist who has worked in the Philadelphia market for 28 years. He also co-authored a book about the 76ers' 1982-83 championship team with former Sixers general manager Pat Williams.