Lucky Rex Walters, Now With The Heat, Comes Back To Philly The Former Sixer Guard Will Be Back In The Corestates Center Tonight - As A Contender.

Posted: February 04, 1998

His uniform now is red, yellow, black and white. His new team has been atop the NBA's Atlantic Division since day one of the regular season.

And his expectations involve titles, not puny four-game winning streaks that ignite a frenzy from a city that mistakenly thought its team could play .500 basketball for the rest of the season.

Rex Walters, the luckiest man in the NBA, returns to the CoreStates Center tonight bound for the playoffs.

Walters will be in a locker room with Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway. His coach, Pat Riley, is a man with five world championship rings. Although he'll still be on the bench cheering and rooting for his team, Walters will be aiming for an Atlantic Division crown, not for moral victories. And he'll be paid $3.55 million - by the Sixers - through next season.

``The difference is that we're expected [in Miami] to come out every night and win ball games,'' Walters said Sunday after the Heat lost to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. ``The difference in attitude is absolutely amazing. It's hard to put into words how I feel right now.''

Does Christmas arriving nearly a month late explain it correctly?

``Definitely,'' Walters said.

On Jan. 18, it certainly didn't seem that way.

Walters, considered the Sixers' best shooter before rookie Tim Thomas arrived, was waived by the team he'll face tonight to make room for backup point guard Eric Snow. From the look of things, he got out just in time - the Sixers head into the game saddled with a six-game losing streak.

Walters could not be blamed for the team's dismal play this season mostly because he wasn't a major participant when he was a Sixer.

After arriving from the New Jersey Nets on Nov. 30, 1995, in the Derrick Coleman-Shawn Bradley trade, Walters was never a significant part of the Sixers' plans.

``When I was traded there, it was something they had to do,'' Walters said of the Sixers. ``It wasn't like they wanted Rex Walters. So I never felt like Philadelphia was my home.''

Once Sixers coach Larry Brown arrived, a new residence for Walters seemed inevitable.

Allen Iverson was the franchise. Thomas and Jim Jackson were the two reasons Brown let Keith Van Horn go, and then-backup point guard Doug Overton was a local product who came about $1 million cheaper than Walters.

So after averaging 4.6 points in 33 games under John Lucas in the 1995-96 season and 6.8 points in 59 games under Johnny Davis last season, Walters got no indication from Brown that things would change for him this season In 19 games, Walters averaged 2.2 points.

``It was impossible,'' Brown said of playing Walters. ``With [Jackson], Jerry Stackhouse at the time, [Iverson] and now Aaron [McKie], it was just impossible. And the few times [Walters] did play, he didn't play as well as he did in practice. But he was great to coach.

``Despite having a back ailment and being hurt most of the year, he never missed a practice, never stopped trying to get better. And every time I came to practice, he was out there working hard, trying to make his teammates better.''

Hours after he was released, Walters talked about how he knew the writing was on the wall. He could tell by the facial expressions, smirks and bad vibes he was receiving from Sixers management, and the deafening silence that is reserved for those whose departure is a foregone conclusion.

``I saw [being waived] coming months ago,'' he said then. ``I felt like I had to play twice as good to get two minutes.''

Nine days later, he landed with a contender for the first time in his five-year career.

``We lost Malcolm Hulkaby, our third point guard, for the year,'' said Riley. Riley said he remembered Walters from Nov. 16, 1996, when Walters hit the winning shot to give the Sixers their only victory against Miami over the last two seasons.

``Plus, I like Rex and I think he's going to fit in as a point guard and play a little bit of two for us,'' Riley said. ``I think he's a heady player who really can shoot the three. He's tough, and I think he might really help us. To me, it's a great opportunity for us.''

Both Riley and Brown feel that way because of the presence of Mourning and Hardaway. With Mourning posting up and Hardaway's penetrating ability, Miami needs someone other than Voshon Lenard to hit a few threes. If nothing else, Walters proved he could do that last season. He hit a team-high 38.5 percent (57 for 140) beyond the arc.

But even if he does that only in practice, Walters knows that better times have arrived.

``I think Coach Brown and Pat Croce are trying to get [the Sixers] there,'' Walters said. ``But this is totally different, a totally different environment. Everything is just first class. You're going to come to work every day. There's no question about it. No ifs, ands or buts.''

And that isn't the case with the Sixers?

``Not yet,'' Walters said.

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