Earvin Johnson had only one nickname Junior - when he first met Jay Vincent back in the third grade in Lansing, Mich. So Johnson, perhaps as much as anyone, knows the potential talent of the enigmatic Vincent, signed Sunday by the Los Angeles Lakers to bolster bench scoring.
"Jay can play," Johnson said. "I know that. He can do a lot of things. Even when he was having problems with those other teams, when he played, he played well."The Lakers are hoping that Vincent, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward who played with Johnson at Michigan State, has left his problems behind and will play well in Los Angeles, Vincent's sixth National Basketball Association stop in the last five seasons.
Waived by the Philadelphia 76ers Dec. 13, Vincent was contemplating offers from two undisclosed teams when Johnson and Laker General Manager Jerry West called and persuaded him to pass up better, multiyear deals to sign with the Lakers.
Vincent agreed to terms Saturday and signed and practiced with the Lakers Sunday. Because Vincent cleared waivers, the Lakers will pay Vincent the NBA minimum of $110,000, prorated for the rest of the season. The 76ers and San Antonio Spurs are liable for the bulk of Vincent's guaranteed contract, which will pay him $1.6 million over the next four seasons.
"I guess you could call it a last chance for me," Vincent said. "If it doesn't work out here for Jay Vincent, then it won't work out. Then, I will look in the mirror and say, `Jay, something's wrong with you.' I haven't done that yet. So, this is the last stop."
Because he has been traded four times since entering the league in 1981-82, and because he was waived by Philadelphia after being criticized for poor work habits and excess weight gain by 76er owner Harold Katz, Vincent has a reputation as a "problem" player.
But Vincent, 30, also has periodically shown he can be a premier scorer.