Los Angeles — There are certain people in this world, no matter how high they rise in their profession, who can't seem to get their names in the paper. People like the vice-president; Bo Derek's husband; the chief Santa Claus at Macy's.
Well, you can add forward Jamaal Wilkes of the Los Angeles Lakers to that list -- the shadow without the man, a guy to be having a bad night when the ball even ticks the basket on its downward flight.
All Wilkes has doen over the years is provide his team with the kind of steadiness usually found only in a sewing machine. He scores; he rebounds; he plays defense; and unlike most high-scoring forwards, he moves well without the ball.
To everybody else in the National Basketball Association, power forward is a muscle position. You play it with your body; your hands; your legs -- anything physical. But Jamaal has made it a touch position. He's picked your pocket and spent your money before your even realize that your wallet is gone.
Although Wilkes was named to this season's Western Conference All-Star squad, it wasn't the fans who picked him, it was the coach. The experts know he'll score against anybody; that most defensive rebounds seem to carom in his direction; and that his brand of basketball will fit whatever style that's chosen.
Asked if he thought this might be Wilke's best season as a pro, Laker teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar replied:
"Personally, I don't think the kind of basketball Jamaal plays ever varies that much. He's always on. He always seems to be in the right place when you need him, only he does it without a lot of fanfare.
"Most people don't appreciate how great he is because they don't understand what he does," Kareem continued. "In looking back on his career, I'm not so sure his rookie year with Golden State wasn't just as productive for the Warriors as what he is giving us right now."
When Wilkes played at UCLA, the headlines went t center Bill Walton. At Golden State, Rick Barry kept getting in the way. And with the Lakers, there has always been Abdul-Jabbar and later Magic Johnson.
In fact, when Jamaal scored 37 points against the tough Philadelphia 76ers last year in the playoff final that made the Lakers world champions, he still wound up with second billing to Johnson.
It happened because that was the night that Magic, filling-in for the injured Abdul- Jabbar at center, led both teams in rebounds with 15 while scoring 42 points.
Wilkes avoids a lot of body contact in close to the basket because of his quickness, but over the years he's demonstrated an ability to score in heavy traffic, often while being held or bumped.
It's a marvelous talent -- that of being able to get a basket while still drawing a foul. Such a maneuver invariably results in a three-point play for the Lakers and frustration for the opposition.
"Being able to get my shot away under all kinds of bad conditions is something I developed myself, but that I can't explain," Wilkes said. "Some of it is instinct, but a lot of it has to do with the way i release the ball.
"Actually point totals have never been may main concern. Anybody in the NBA who takes a high number of shots at the basket, even if he misses quite a few, is probably going to score big. What I worry about is my shooting percentage, not how many points I score, because that's a much better indication of my offense."
Laker coach Paul Westhead calls Wilkes the best quiet forward in the NBA and one of its most unselfish players.
"Jamaal never looks for or takes any credit for what he's doing," Westhead explained. "And this is unusual in the pros, where most guys have a tendency to want to show what they can do. But with Wilkes, i get the feeling that he is operating on a different level, a different plane, like he knows something we don't."
Don't look for Jamaal among the league's leading scorers or rebounders. Instead follow the routine procedure of LA guard Norm Nixon, who says he always looks for Wilkes to pass to when the hour is late, the game is on the line, and the Lakers need a clutch basket to win.
Chances are if Jamaal doesn't score, nobody else on the team would have been able to either.