Diving into the Bullets Forever Summer Project, I present the story of Robert John Pack, Jr.
Robert Pack was just another chapter in the saga of John Nash's perpetual pursuit of the right man to lead the offense for the Washington Bullets. Let's go back to September of 1995, everything was lovely.....well, far from it. Chris Webber's injury woes and the lack of a point guard were prevalent themes.
Sputtering into year two of Chris Webber-Juwan Howard experiment, along with Calbert Cheaney, Gheorghe Muresan, Tim Legler, Rasheed Wallace and the gang, the Bullets were living out the faux French translation of their namesake curse.
Neither Chris Whitney, nor Brent Price, nor Doug Overton were going to cut it at the point.....what to do, what to do? What Nash did was trade the Bullets 1996 first round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Brent's brother, Mark. That's it! Mark Price, four-time NBA All-Star, was going to be a hero and savior! Who cares if he was 31 and only appeared in 48 games the year before.
Susan O'Malley and her crack marketing team bedazzled a welcome wagon and went to greet Price at the airport. Unfortunately, Abe Pollin's chosen few did not heed the risk involved with acquiring Price. His nagging foot injury bothered him the moment he stepped off the plane from Cleveland, and again the moment he stepped on the court in training camp. The elder Price would only suit up for seven games in January of '96 before shutting it down for the season. By the way, the 1996 draft pick would end up being Vitaly Potapenko.
In comes Robert Pack, who was acquired in a trade with the Nuggets for Don MacLean and Overton on October 31, mere days before the season opener at Philadelphia. I was ecstatic. The 26-year old had made a name for himself with quickness, tempo, strength, and the moxie to try to slam the ball, as a 6'2" point guard, every time he attacked the basket (after all, he was the runner up to Isiah Rider in the 1994 NBA Slam Dunk Contest).
Pack grew up in New Orleans and attended Alfred Lawless H.S. where he still is the school's all-time leading scorer. In the streets of NOLA, he balled against the likes of former Bullet and Georgetown Hoya, Jaren Jackson, along with other ex-Hoyas, Perry McDonald and Dwayne Bryant. Pack actually wanted to attend Georgetown, but that dream didn't work out.
College: University of Southern Cal
He found himself at Tyler Junior College in Texas before transferring to USC in 1989 to play under George Raveling for a couple seasons. The Trojans were only 12-16 in Pack's first year, but in the '90-91 season, he was named team captain and led USC, along with All-American sophomore Harold Miner, to a 19-10 record. The Trojans lost to Florida State as a 10 seed in the first round '91 NCAA Tournament. Pack remains tied for 19th in career USC scoring average (13.6 ppg) and 6th in total career assists (319).
Undrafted after his senior season at USC, Pack took the Gilbert Arenas route of hard work spawned from slight. He didn't even receive an invitation to NBA summer leagues, but the Portland Trailblazers saw something they liked and signed him as a rookie free agent. Pack came off the bench in '91-92, appearing in 72 games and averaging 4.6 ppg with just over 12 minutes of support, spelling Terry Porter and Danny Ainge of ball-handling duties on a '92 Western Conference Champion Portland team.
In October 1992, a couple weeks before the beginning of the season, the Blazers signed Pack, who had been holding out of training camp for a guaranteed contract, and then traded him to the Denver Nuggets for a '93 second round draft pick. Pack would go on to spend the next three seasons with the Nuggets, backing up Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the first two seasons.
In '94-95, Pack entered the season penciled in as the starting PG for Denver. The duties were shared with Abdul-Rauf and at times, Jalen Rose. Pack upped his minutes per game to 27.2, to go along with 12.1 ppg and 6.9 apg.
Unfortunately, Pack injured his knee in late February of '95, had arthroscopic surgery in March, and re-injured the knee in April in an attempt to make it back for the playoffs. Yes, that's correct, John Nash made a trade for an injured Mark Price in September '95 and then for a recovering Pack (fresh off missing the final 40 games of the previous regular season) in October '95.
Despite promising explosiveness, Pack's time as a PG in Denver was marred by turnovers, posting team worsts of 3.1 and 3.2 per game in '93-94 and '94-95 respectively, and poor shooting, hitting 43% of his shots from the field when he was getting the bulk of the PG minutes at the beginning of '94-95.
Robert Pack had a blazing start to his career in Washington, bringing excitement back to DC. Through 31 games, Pack made 31 starts while averaging 18.1 points, 7.8 assists (good enough for 9th in the league at the time) and 2.0 steals (6th in the NBA). The Wizards Bullets were.....decent, jumping out of the gate with a 16-15 record. Pack had nine points and 18 assists in a Bullets November 8th win against the Charlotte Hornets (Big Gheorghe Muresan also dropped 31 on Matt Geiger's head that night).
Pack also came through with 95 points and 46 assists during a mid-December five-game winning streak. Of course, turnovers (3.7 per) and shooting (42.8 FG%) were still an issue, but team was winning (kinda) and Pack was being mentioned as an All-Star candidate.
Then, the historical curse of injuries came calling. Pack missed his first game of the season on January 6, 1996, a match-up against the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the time, team doctors said that Pack's knee issues would cause him to miss anywhere from a couple games to a couple weeks.
Further examination resulted in the diagnosis of a bruised nerve in his right leg which caused Pack to loose feeling in his foot. Working with an unspecified time-table, he began jogging in late February and was working on drills in order to return to practice in late March.
Tragically, Pack wasn't able to properly heal and never suited up for the Bullets again. Washington would finish the season 39-43, three games behind the Miami Heat for the final playoff spot in the East.
NBA: Post Bullets
The summer of '96 was infamously historical for the Washington Bullets. In May, GM John Nash resigned, to the surprise of everyone, for "personal reasons," ending a six year run with the team. Perhaps Nash saw the writing on the wall when he was cut out of the Juwan Howard negotiations. In stepped Wes Unseld to hold the GM reigns.
Despite reports that Pack's leg was healed, he didn't fit into the future plans for the Bullets. Unseld renounced the rights to Pack in July and the plan was to go after free-agent Kenny Anderson, a preference of Chris Webber. When that didn't work out, Washington made the Rasheed Wallace and Mitchell Butler for Harvey Grant and Rod Strickland trade with Portland.
Coincidently, Anderson signed a 7-year, $50 million deal with the Trailblazers and Robert Pack moved on to New Jersey for 5-years and $15 million, signed by new Nets GM, John Nash. And we all know how the Juwan Howard contract situation played out, for better or worse.
In February of '97, just over 30 games into Pack's tenure with the Nets, as he was opening the hatch to John Calipari's doghouse, Nash traded him, along with Khalid Reeves, Ed O'Bannon, and Shawn Bradley (Pack once had a wicked dunk on Bradley) to the Dallas Mavericks for Jim Jackson, Chris Gatling, Sam Cassell, George McCloud, and Eric Montross.
After the '96-97 season, Pack would go on to spend the next three seasons in Dallas. However, his time was marred by a wide range of injures from hamstring, to back, to groin, to ankle tendon strains, to oral surgery, and he only appeared in 66 games over that span.
In August of 2000, Pack was involved in another blockbuster trade, which was the first four-team trade in NBA history. Pack and John "Hot Rod" Williams were sent from Dallas to Boston, along with Utah's 2001 first round pick. Dana Barros (Boston), Howard Eisley (Utah), and Bill Curley (Golden State) were shipped to the Mavericks. Bruno Sundov (Dallas) and Donyell Marshall (Golden State) were sent to the Jazz. Adam Keefe (Utah) and Danny Fortson (Boston) ended up on the Warriors.
Pack's time in Boston was short-lived as he was MIA with training camp nearing. In mid-October '00, he was traded back to the Denver Nuggets, along with former Bullet, Calbert Cheaney, in exchange for Bryant Stith and Chris Herren. Pack was relatively healthy for the Denver in '00-01, appearing in 74 games and backing up Nick Van Exel with 17 minutes per game off the bench. In April of '01, he even pulled a triple-double in a win against Antawn Jamison and the Golden State Warriors.
But that was pretty much it for Pack's NBA career as he would randomly bounce around the league for the next three years. A couple 10-day contracts with the Minnesota Timberwolves would get him into 16 games in March/April 2002. A 10-day contract with the New Orleans Hornets in January '03 would result in the team signing him for the rest of the season.
In October 2003, Pack was released by Portland Trailblazers GM, you guessed it, John Nash, before the start of training camp. He signed a couple 10-day contracts with the New Jersey Nets, but was ultimately released in January '04 before setting off on his Euro career.
Pack played 18 games with Spanish team, Pamesa Valencia, in early 2004. He played about 57 games during the 04-05 season with Lithuanian team, Zalgiris Kaunas, where he was All-Lithuanian LKL 1st team and guard of the year (also where I'm assuming Pack clocked the hell out of this fool).
Pack's last try at the NBA, an unsuccessful one, came with the Toronto Raptors in 2005. He was released in October before the start of the season.
Since, Pack has been active in his own foundation (The Robert Pack Foundation), which was founded in 1997, and has helped with the post-Katrina recovery effort in his hometown of New Orleans. Most recently, he was spotted on the Summer League Coaching Staff for the San Antonio Spurs.
In the big picture, Robert Pack's time as a Washington Bullet was very short lived, but those 31 games in '95-96 will always be ingrained into my memory. The times were filled with so much promise for a team hoping to make the NBA playoffs for the first time since 1988. The Bullets eventually succumbed to the all too familiar Curse O' Les Boulez. We can all find ways to further appreciate this current four-year playoff run, Robert Pack and the '95-96 season is one of the ways.
I leave you with this mix of Robert Pack career highlights, enjoy.
Robert Pack Mix (via PoletBally)
- "In Trade for M. Price, Bullets Got Off on the Wrong Foot," Washington Post (Nov. 16, 1995) Author: Richard Justice
- "After Dreaming of Hoyas, Pack Has Arrived in D.C.," Washington Post (Dec. 15, 1995) Author: Richard Justice
- "The book on....Robert Pack: Bullets Guard," The Sporting News (Jan. 15, 1995) Author: Scott Howard-Cooper
- "Giving It the Old College Try Is Off to a Rough Start in the Pros," New York Times (Feb. 17, 1997) Author: Selena Roberts
- "PLUS: PRO BASKETBALL; 4 N.B.A. Teams Involved in Trade," New York Times (Aug. 17, 2000)
- "Where Are They Now? - Robert Pack," Legend of Basketball, National Basketball Retired Players Association website (Jan. 19, 2007) Author: Daniel Brecher.
- Robert Pack, NBA.com Player Bio
- USC Men's Basketball 07-08 Media Guide
- Robert Pack EuroBasket.com Profile