A Former Rainier Beach Star Was Exiled to the Wacky World of Filipino Basketball

It might have been the best thing for him.

With three minutes to play in the second quarter, Rosell Ellis has a look on his face that is two parts disbelief, three parts frustration, and a dash of homicidal wrath. It's late July 2007, and in Game 5 of the best-of-seven Philippine Basketball Association Finals, Ellis, the 32-year-old former Washington state player of the year for Rainier Beach High School and now import for the PBA's Alaska Aces, is taking his first breather of the night.Fuming on the bench, Ellis has just watched Dale Singson, one of his Filipino teammates, lunge into the lane like a doomed soldier leaping out of a trench. Three long-armed defenders were waiting for Singson, who bunny-hopped sideways and sent up a one-hander, which an opponent swatted into the crowd. Ellis' forehead wrinkled and his eyes bulged. Rocking back and forth and shaking his fists, he alternated between mouthing obscenities and chewing on his lower lip.Before the PBA finals, Ellis seemed primed to win his first championship as an international player. Early in the series, he was named the PBA's best import, and his teammate, Willie Miller, won the league's MVP award. With Ellis, Miller, and a veteran supporting cast, Alaska (not to be confused with the state) was favored over the younger Talk 'N Text Phone Pals. But after routing their opponents in Game 1, the Aces faded. Alaska dropped Games 2 and 3 and managed to steal Game 4 with a late surge.Now, in the crucial fifth game, they were playing their worst basketball of the postseason. The guards repeatedly chucked blind shots at the rim. The big men played like they had traded their high-tops for cement clogs. On defense, Ellis grew tired of watching Talk 'N Text guard Mac-Mac Cardona blow past Alaska's flat-footed defenders, so Ellis waved off his teammates and manned up on Cardona himself, forcing the speedy guard to heave an impossible turnaround from 19 feet. But when the miss caromed off the rim, Ellis' teammates let an opposing forward grab the offensive rebound and score on a put-back.Just before halftime, Talk 'N Text point guard Donbel Belano snagged a long rebound off a missed Alaska jumper, slalomed the length of the court through Alaska's indifferent defenders, pulled up at the top of the key, and rolled in a three-point shot that sent Alaska into the locker room trailing by nine points. With his best shot at a title slipping away due to his teammates' ongoing carelessness, Ellis was ready to express his anger with more than a facial expression.With his teammates seated around him in the locker room, heads bowed, Ellis began talking about the game. "You got in the game for eight minutes, and you ain't do shit!" he screamed. "If I'm gonna be out there busting my ass, you best believe you better go out there and bust your ass. You ain't gonna ride me to death. Fuck that! I'm talking to everybody collectively now, but in a minute I'm starting to get personal."Tim Cone, Alaska's head coach, was also furious with the team, and thought Ellis' invectives were some kind of fiery pep talk. Cone tried to transition from Ellis' tirade into his own speech. He walked over to Ellis, patted him on the thigh, and said, "I got it now, Roe."But rather than yielding to his coach, Ellis bolted to his feet, got in Cone's face, and screamed, "Fuck that! You ain't got shit!" Ellis then blamed the coaches for letting the team go soft. "You guys just stand there collecting a check," he said to his superiors. "What are you guys here for? You don't say nothing! When a guy comes out the game, tell him what he did wrong or tell him what he needs to do. Don't just be sitting there. That's what the goddamn fans are for.""Fuck you, Roe!" Cone shot back, and from there, the two faced off in a foul-mouthed tête-à-tête as the other players and coaches watched in horror. Here were the two most important people on the team—the 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound star player, a towering mass of muscle, a web of veins bulging in his forearms and neck as he clenched his fists; and Cone, the 5-foot-10-inch, middle-aged, mildly potbellied head coach—on the verge of attacking each other.Beneath the surface of this ugly confrontation, you'll find the essence of Ellis' life in basketball: an incident of on-court violence in Ellis' past that nixed his NBA chances; the pressure of being a hired gun abroad, tasked to play with strangers and accept a disproportionate amount of responsibility for a team's fortunes; the grief that accompanies missing out on his loved ones' lives in Seattle; and the passion and professionalism Ellis brings to the game, which, despite his volatile temper, have earned him a reputation as one of the true gentlemen of international basketball.Nine and a half years before his flare-up in Manila, Ellis was a lightning-quick, 22-year-old swingman close to fulfilling the NBA potential he showed at Rainier Beach, where he was a 1993 McDonald's All-American. After finishing his college career at McNeese State University in Louisiana, Ellis joined the Des Moines (Iowa) Dragons of the now-defunct International Basketball Association, and became the league's fifth-leading scorer."That's when I really started thinking about the NBA," Ellis says. "I was leading in a bunch of categories, and I had a bunch of scouts coming to the games. That's when I used to do everything—shoot threes, dunk all the time; my free throws were good."Other IBA stars like Ira Newble and Damon Jones eventually became NBA role players, and Ellis might have followed their path if he hadn't blown his top during a home game in January 1998. According to Ellis, a referee, Bob Schoewe (pronounced "Shavey"), was "talking shit" as the players lined up around the paint for free throws. "You guys aren't gonna be shit," the ref allegedly said. "You guys are just gonna be in this league and make this little money and that's all your careers are gonna amount to.""I don't make enough money to sit here and listen to you talk like that," Ellis told Schoewe, who whistled Ellis for a technical foul. When Ellis protested, the ref called a second technical and ejected him from the game. Schoewe, who has refereed for 25 years in high school, NCAA Divisions I, II, and III, and several semiprofessional leagues, denies insulting Ellis or the other players. "It would be something of a self-indictment," he says. "I'm there working. Why would I demean where they are?"Both men, however, agree on what happened after Schoewe tossed Ellis. "I went and got him," Ellis says. "I was just going to get in his face and talk shit to him, but one of my teammates grabbed me. I'm the type, when I'm in a confrontation with somebody like that, don't touch me right then and there, because the comfort zone is already broken."To get to the ref, Ellis shoved his teammate out of the way, ran to the scorer's table where Schoewe was reporting the ejection, leaped on the referee's back, and put Schoewe in a sleeper hold. "I snapped," Ellis says. "I had him like that for like two seconds, and then I thought about it—like, damn! So then I let him go."Schoewe wasn't hurt in the attack. "He slipped me into something like a full-nelson," Schoewe says. "It's something I had never experienced before and something few refs ever go through. The only thing I thought of was, 'What the hell is he going to do now?'" A few seconds into the incident, a gaggle of coaches, players, referees, and stadium security officers pulled Ellis away from Schoewe and shepherded him to the locker room.Afterward, Ellis stood in the shower for half an hour, thinking about the consequences of his attack. The same NBA scouts who had been watching his physical game blossom had just seen his mental game melt down. Footage of him choking the ref was on "every news channel you could think of," Ellis says. The IBA banned him for a year, and his reputation in America was ruined.There is no such thing as the right time to strangle a referee, but Ellis probably couldn't have picked a worse one. Less than two months before, in December 1997, Latrell Sprewell had beaten Ellis to the choke. Sprewell, a standout guard for the Golden State Warriors, tried to strangle then–head coach P.J. Carlesimo (who now coaches the Sonics) after a dispute in practice. Sprewell left the gym, but returned later to take another swing at Carlesimo. The initial assault on Carlesimo's windpipe and Sprewell's premeditated repeat attack, both unprecedented at the time, earned the all-star a one-year suspension without pay and stoked public outrage.In the basketbrawl pantheon, Sprewell's attack rests alongside Kermit Washington's spinning punch that nearly killed Rudy Tomjanovich in an on-court melee in 1977 (Tomjanovich said he thought the scoreboard fell on him), and the 2004 carnage unleashed on Detroit Pistons fans in Auburn Hills, Mich., when Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and other Indiana Pacers bum-rushed a courtside section after an onlooker tossed a cup of beer at Artest. Ellis, playing in the minor leagues, never achieved the same level of infamy, but coming on the heels of Sprewell's rampage, his misstep was enough to shatter his chances of reaching the NBA. Being branded a ref-throttling head case became Ellis' scarlet letter, and thrust him into basketball exile.Mike Bethea was an assistant coach at Rainier Beach during Ellis' high-school career and took over the head coaching job in 1994, the year after Ellis graduated. Two of his players since then, Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson, have made it to the NBA, and Bethea believes that had it not been for Ellis' "really terrible timing," he would have joined them. "I definitely think he could have been one of those guys that could have played in the league and contributed," Bethea says. For his part, Ellis calls his attack on Schoewe one of his "biggest mistakes" and says "there's no telling where I might be" had it not occurred.After the detonation in Des Moines, Ellis became baller non grata in the United States and was forced to look for work abroad. But by driving him into international basketball, strangling a referee also set Ellis on a successful and lucrative path. Depending on his base salary and performance incentives, Ellis makes between $15,000 and $20,000 per month as an import on foreign teams. By skipping from one team to another as seasons in different countries begin and end, he can, for example, play in Australia from October to February, then in the Philippines from March to July, thus multiplying his earnings. Over the years, Ellis has developed a reputation as one of the most reliable forwards in international basketball, a consistent 20-point scorer who plays phone-booth defense and often outworks his local teammates in practice.Reminiscent of a miniature half-brother of the NBA in the throes of a manic episode, the PBA harbors a fun-house atmosphere that is inspired by over-the-top commercialism. Teams double as marketing vehicles for their owners' primary businesses, and are often named accordingly.Alaska, one of the Philippines' biggest sellers of boxed and canned milk, called its team the Milkmen until 2000. Alaska's opponents in the 2007 finals, the Talk 'N Text Phone Pals, are owned by telecommunications mogul Manuel V. Pangilinan, a hoops junkie who is known throughout Manila as "MVP." The Santa Lucia Realty company is the proud owner of perhaps the PBA's least fierce-sounding team, the Realtors.It's also common for management to change team names to give struggling brands a boost. In 2005, the Purefoods franchise was pushing corned beef and their team was the Chunkee Giants. Now, they're hawking hot dogs as the Tender Juicy Giants. In September, the San Miguel Beermen, the league's oldest franchise, became the Magnolia Beverage Masters to promote a new line of health teas.The courtside entertainment provides similarly sponsored thrills. Companies that can't afford their own team pay to have mascots wander the aisles, where they pose for photographs, dance as much as their cumbersome costumes permit, and further blur the line between professional basketball and a Lewis Carroll acid trip. The PBA's in-house mascot, an orange Wookiee wearing a basketball uniform, owns the most traditional costume. He is joined by a rotating cast that includes the Welcoat paint company's human-sized paint can, which requires seeing-eye people to lead it through the crowd, and a man dressed as a superhero with a microphone for a head representing the X-treme Magic Sing home karaoke set, among other characters.Midway through Ellis' season with Alaska, life-sized bottles of Casino-brand rubbing alcohol and Omega liniment joined the fray. The brown liniment bottle, wearing khaki shorts and a big cartoon smile, became especially popular for dancing in a way that made the most of his rectangular body's capacity for lightning-quick pelvic thrusts.It's easy to see how a player like Ellis, who approaches basketball with a sense of dogged professionalism, might hate participating in this two-rim circus, but he maintains a sunny disposition toward the league's carnival milieu, even getting a kick out of the PBA's devoted transvestite fan base. Dressed in denim skirts and halter tops, they attend every game and always sit directly behind each basket, waving homemade banners embroidered with the players' names and numbers. In an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, their gender-bending burlesque is the ultimate insult to opposing fans, yet nearly everyone in the arena, players included, gets caught rubbernecking."Sometimes I catch myself watching, like, what's up with these guys?" Ellis says. "But to each his own. They could do whatever they want, as long as they don't come put their hands on me."The transvestites managed to score a leading role in one of Ellis' most enduring memories. Ellis was playing for the PBA's Coca-Cola franchise a few years ago, and the team was warming up before a game. Ellis kept hearing someone call his name—"Ell-ees! Ell-ees!"—during layup lines. "Just by the way he was saying my name, I knew something was funny," Ellis says. "I knew better than to look, but I'm laying the ball up and he's right under the basket. So as I come down, I just happen to look. Gay dude, just had breast implants, whipped them out and showed me." Ellis runs out of breath from laughing when he gets to this part of the story, taking a minute to gather himself. "I knew right then, I done seen it all."Basketball is the only professional team sport in the Philippines and plays an enormous role in society. A basketball court, along with an outdoor market, a Catholic church, and a municipal hall, is a hallmark of every town plaza in the archipelago. Even against the starkest odds, Filipinos find ways to play the game. They cut, slide, pivot, and leap in flip-flops or bare feet. They attach wire rims to rusty car hoods and lash the homemade backboards onto coconut trees.PBA players are as famous as movie stars and politicians; in fact, after they retire from playing ball, they often become one or the other. On the surface, Ellis' life as an import in this hoops-obsessed nation is sweet. The Alaska franchise provides Ellis with an apartment, a maid, a car, and a driver. He makes more money in a month than most Filipino families earn in a year. When fans spot him in malls and restaurants, they call him "idol," ask for high fives and autographs, and take photos with him.Notoriety feels good once you're used to it. Although African Americans have been in the Philippines since some arrived as soldiers in the Philippine-American War at the end of the 19th century, tall black athletes in Manila are still exotic. Upon seeing Ellis, people occasionally act like visitors at a petting zoo. When he wanders through the aisles of one of Manila's labyrinthine flea markets, browsing for pirated DVDs or knockoff designer clothes, people wait for him to turn his back, then run behind him to measure their heights. The boldest among them reach up to feel his hair, an object of endless fascination among straight-haired Filipinos."At first it took a little getting used to," Ellis deadpans. "People always staring at you everywhere you go. You would just turn around and have 10 or 15 people just looking at you, and then they'll whisper to somebody. That's kind of offensive back at home."Everyday life for an import—a tidy apartment, an endless string of near-identical malls, dinner at Pizza Hut or a like-minded chain, and the occasional nightclub jaunt—can easily become an American-style nightmare of suburban tedium, and PBA teams would prefer to keep it that way. Around the league, imports are notorious for sampling too much of Manila's seedy underside, and teams try to keep their players' lives boring in hopes of containing their inner Mandingo.This image of hard-partying, sex-crazed athletes was epitomized by one-time Portland Trail Blazer Billy Ray Bates, widely considered to be the best import in PBA history. Bates found his way to the Philippines in the early 1980s, after drugs and alcohol ruined his NBA career. In the PBA, Bates, a gifted scorer even by NBA standards, was able to put up Chamberlain-like numbers in the bedroom as well as on the court. Even his PBA nickname, "Black Superman," contained a hint of innuendo.Although his Filipino teammates vividly recall times when Bates downed a couple of beers in the locker room before tip-off, he averaged more than 46 points per game over four seasons in the PBA. Joel Banal, one of Alaska's assistant coaches, counts the day he held Bates to a PBA career low of 28 points among the highlights of his playing career.As former elite college players who fell short of the NBA, American imports like Ellis are the mercenaries of international basketball, bouncing around the world to reinforce teams that sometimes play like they would have trouble defeating Ellis' old South Seattle high-school squad."Generally, the guys we get are right at the cusp of making the NBA," says Alaska coach Cone of the import crop. "The supertalented guys don't make the NBA because of character issues. These guys are as good as any athlete in the NBA, but coaches just wouldn't touch them in the States. Or we get the guys that don't really have the skills but have the great character. It's only rarely you get that guy who's got some really good skills and really good character, because usually those guys are in the NBA."Despite Ellis' tendency to blow his top, Cone considers him to be in the "great character" class of imports. "He's got a lot of negatives to his game," Cone admits. "He can't shoot. He can't make free throws. But on the other hand, he's gonna bring so much to the game in terms of rebounding, getting out on the floor, hustle for loose balls, and the ability to play as a teammate. You'd be surprised about a lot of imports. They just come in and they don't want to practice, or they'll play a game one night and want the next two nights off. They'll sit on the sidelines with a little ache or pain. You'll never, ever see that with Rosell. He's a workhorse. He just takes everything up to another level because of how he works."Ellis has toiled in some of the most remote corners of the basketball world during his career. He won a Continental Basketball Association (CBA) championship with the Yakama (as in the tribe based near the Central Washington city of Yakima) Sun Kings in 2000, and his career has included stints in Argentina, Venezuela, Poland, Indonesia, China, Australia, and the Philippines.One indication of his success as an import is how rarely he has been replaced. There are few guaranteed contracts in international basketball, and teams are quick to scrap players who don't produce. This is especially true in the Philippines, whose teams have a reputation for being some of the most cutthroat in the world. In the wanton world of PBA imports, it's common for a player to fly into Manila, play a game or two, and then fly home if he doesn't live up to expectations. Philippine coaches talk about imports in terms usually reserved for used cars—players who can't average 25 points per game are called "lemons." Loyalty is laughable; imports can be replaced anytime during a season, including the playoffs. In 2002, the PBA's Red Bull franchise started former Duke University player Antonio Lang for the entire season, then gave him his walking papers on the eve of Game 7 of the league finals.Yet Ellis, in five seasons in the PBA, has never been replaced. That's better than NBA veterans Cedric Ceballos and Darvin Ham, each of whom dropped into the Philippines for depressing, out-of-shape post-NBA stints that lasted, respectively, one and three games. "I ain't the best at this; I ain't the best at that," Ellis says, explaining how he manages to stick with teams. "But I'm pretty good at a bunch of stuff, and a lot of teams could always use a guy like that. When you got a reputation for working hard, it can help you out along the way."Sitting pretty on top of nearly a decade of accumulated salary and wisdom, Ellis can afford to kick back in the plush one-bedroom apartment his Philippine team provides him and snicker at some of the dismal foreign arenas where he has played. The stands in Chinese gyms were spotless, he recalls, but franchises neglected the playing surfaces. "The floors were the shittiest," Ellis says. "They were like playing on ice-skating rinks. You can't stop, you can't run and do no jump stop, you can't even cut it's so slippery. Guys were wiping out all over the place."Argentine hardwood was similarly afflicted, but ingenious team managers there came up with a solution that's bound to please American soft-drink companies. As Ellis explains, "Before the game, they pour Coke all over the floor so it'll be sticky." Yet refreshments were powerless against the foremost obstacles on Argentina's courts, dead spots, or "holes in the floor," as Ellis calls them.Scouring the hardwood for cracks and stomping up and down the court to listen for the hollow thud of dead spots became a vital part of Ellis' pregame routine. The space above the players' heads was equally perilous. In some drafty Argentine gyms, the players dodged fluttering insects and swooping bats. "You're dribbling the ball and a bat just—whoosh—flies through the court," Ellis remembers. "You're like, 'Oh shit! I'm not used to this, man.' Just imagine a hot gym with bats and bugs—big bugs. One dude was at the free-throw line, fixin' to shoot it, and a moth hit him in the face. We just started laughing."Then there were the Argentine fans. Argentina, despite winning a gold medal in basketball in the 2004 Olympics and sending players like Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni to the NBA, is a soccer country, and basketball fans there bring a bit of fútbol-inspired hooliganism to games. It was the only place where Ellis, a relentless hustler throughout his life on the court, hesitated to chase loose balls into the crowd."If you go out of bounds, you gonna get up quick," he explains. "You don't wanna lay down too long or you don't want to get too close to the rail, 'cause they trying to spit on you, grab you, everything. Man, if you fall close to that wall, they are trying to literally kill you."The 2006–2007 season was one of the longest of Ellis' career. He arrived in Australia in September of last year and played for the Melbourne South Dragons until late February. He returned to Seattle for five days before flying to the Philippines for the beginning of the PBA season in March. Alaska's playoff run ended in the last week of July, and by the night of Ellis' halftime rant, he had endured nearly 11 months of solitude. "You gotta get away from it after a while," Ellis says. "I don't care if you're playing in the best situation. You're gonna get burned out, you're gonna get mentally tired, and you're gonna want to go off."While Ellis has spent most of the past decade playing basketball in South America, Australia, and Asia, his parents have grown old, with his father recently retiring after decades of working at Boeing. His girlfriend of nine years used to travel with him, but now she stays in Seattle to work. Ellis' globe-trotting is one reason that they haven't married yet; they don't want to start a family with Ellis on the road.In 2005, Ellis gave up part of his season overseas and played instead with the Yakama Sun Kings. In the CBA, "you stay in some bullshit places [and] you make bullshit money," Ellis says, but he did it to be closer to his family and girlfriend.In high school, like now, Ellis was not a finesse player. Bethea remembers him as "domineering and overpowering." The release on Ellis' jump shot looks bizarre: His shot starts normally, with his feet square to the basket and his shooting elbow straight under the ball—but things get loopy when Ellis rises in the air. His elbow jerks out to the side, and with the ball still cocked in his hands, he turns his wrist and rotates it about 90 degrees to the left before releasing it. The result is like a knuckleball: Instead of the slow, even backspin of a textbook jumper, Ellis' shot spins in a different direction every time he shoots. It reaches the rim, but after that there's no telling where it will go.Despite his peculiar shooting method, however, Ellis has always been an efficient and, when needed, prolific scorer. During his senior year at McNeese State, Ellis averaged 18.5 points per game on almost 67 percent shooting. In the post, Ellis is strong enough to create space against taller players and release an almost automatic baby hook shot. And though his herky-jerky perimeter moves aren't slick, Ellis' powder-keg first step and battering-ram shoulder are enough to consistently get him into the key, where he rarely misses.Still, a 6-foot-5 'tweener with a suspect outside shot is far from the prototypical NBA player, and Ellis was not surprised when he wasn't drafted out of college. Yet Bethea thinks Ellis would have eventually played his way into the league because of the way he approaches the game. Even as an 18-year-old at Rainier Beach, Ellis "held everybody to a higher standard," Bethea says. "He didn't have a little-kiddie side to him. He was real businesslike beyond his years. He was so serious and focused about winning."At Rainier Beach, Ellis' work ethic has assumed legendary status; Bethea never fails to cite Ellis' energetic play during preseason motivational talks with the team. And while it's not hard to see the seeds of Ellis' volcanic temper in his intense personality, he never rode his teammates too hard nor did he challenge a coach in high school. "When he sees you doing less than your best, he's gonna call you on it," says Bethea. "But it wasn't a temper. I just thought he was a competitor. Nobody was ever afraid."One of Ellis' Alaska teammates, Willie Miller, is the PBA's clown prince and reigning Most Valuable Player. Miller is half-black; his parents met while his father, a sailor, was stationed at a now-closed U.S. naval base at Subic Bay, and Miller grew up in neighboring Olongapo City.Although Miller looks like a full-blooded American, his mannerisms—the jumping-bean eyebrows, the nose used for pointing—are pure Filipino. Miller might also be the most talented local player in the PBA.A 6-foot, left-handed guard, Miller is dense and wide like a bowling ball, but changes directions faster than a balloon running out of air; there isn't a guard in the league who can stay in front of him. His touch at the rim is chinchilla-soft, and although Miller occasionally struggles with spoken English, when it comes to putting English on shots, he's Charles Dickens. His midrange bank shot is a wistful throwback to Scottie Pippen's, and he's one of the league's deadliest three-point gunners.But Miller takes nothing seriously. When the team watches game tape to scout opponents, he distracts teammates by fashioning a glasses frame out of leftover athletic tape and sticking it to his head. At practice, while Cone explains the intricacies of the triangle offense, Miller sneaks off to shoot three-pointers with an enormous rubber fitness ball. And after losing a league semifinal game by 18 points, a lathered-up Miller is in the shower, swinging his suds-covered dong in circles and repeating his high-pitched catch phrase, "Oh yeah! Oh yeah!"Miller plays the same helter-skelter game Filipinos play on the playground, racing up and down the court at full tilt, weaving through defenders, and finishing with improbable circus layups. He throws risky full-court passes to breaking teammates for layups. He dribbles straight into double teams and slices them in half.But these strengths are also Miller's greatest weaknesses. His offensive derring-do leads to countless turnovers, which fans forget as soon as he unveils his next electrifying move (but coaches remember for weeks). He falls asleep on defense and lets opposing guards penetrate the heart of Alaska's defense. Worst of all, his playful demeanor gives the impression that Miller isn't a serious competitor and doesn't care about winning."I'm still serious when I'm smiling," Miller insists. "Every time I have the basketball in my hands, I'm just happy. I'm more focused that way. When I'm mad or too serious, then I have problems."For Ellis, a player who pays attention to the little things like boxing out, playing help defense, and calling out screens, Miller's impish game is a source of constant frustration. Even though Miller was by far Alaska's best local player, Ellis would scream at his coaches to take the ball away from Miller during crunch time.The tension between the two players came to a head just before the finals, when the team was studying tape of Talk 'N Text before a practice. Ellis was lying on the floor, with one eye on the screen and another on Miller, who was sitting on a couch, showing a teammate videos on his cell phone. "Would y'all quit fucking around!" Ellis boomed. "I'm sick and tired of your shit over there."Miller, predictably, laughed it off, but Ellis continued to fume. He was particularly upset with the coaching staff, which chose to overlook Miller's clowning because he was known to respond poorly to angry coaches. "I get so mad with [Cone] for not saying nothing to him because everybody's afraid of [Miller] going into his shell," says Ellis. "I'd rather him go into his shell and sit on the bench and cry instead of fucking up the game. Because of Willie going into his shell, I'm going into a rampage. Pick your poison."After he and Cone faced off in the locker room, Ellis, as promised, threw a fit. To him, Cone's backing down was another sign of the coaches' weakness. "Yeah, get the fuck out of here," Ellis yelled as they left the room. "Run, you pussies."Outside, the coaches discussed how to handle the situation, while the team sat in stunned silence. "He painted me into a corner where I had to come out swinging," Cone says of Ellis. "If I didn't, I could lose whatever respect I had with the rest of the players."Cone secretly agreed with Ellis' critique of his teammates, finally bursting through the door and heaving a large dry-erase board in the general direction of backup forward John Ferriols, who deflected the airborne slab with his feet. Cone screamed at the team for its lethargic play and told Ellis he was wrong to disrespect his coaches and teammates.In the second half, the team played better but still lost. They were down three games to two and would have to win twice in a row to become champions. Cone decided to continue to feign anger toward Ellis and the rest of the team to create tension, which he hoped would make the players tougher and more aggressive."If you're feeling bad, frankly, guys, I could give a shit," Cone told the team at practice before Game 6. "This isn't about rubbing each other on the shoulder and making us feel good, because if we lose, we're not gonna like each other anyway. All I care about is: Are you ready to come out and win a game tomorrow?"Alaska ran Talk 'N Text out of the gym in Game 6, and then, with his team trailing by eight at halftime, Ellis took over Game 7, posting up on the left block and scoring on a constant stream of jump hooks. Miller, playing calm and steady for once, delivered him the ball on most of these possessions. In the last minute, Miller crossed over at the top of the key, barreled to the rim, and flipped in a finger roll to give Alaska a two-point lead. On the next play, Miller stripped Cardona, walked the ball up the court, and found Ellis for a crucial score, giving Alaska a 98-94 lead with less than a minute to play, and Alaska held on to win by three points to claim the championship.A week after his locker-room showdown with Cone, Ellis and his teammates were sitting on fellow Ace Jeff Cariaso's deck, laughing and watching the city lights in the distance. The Filipinos brought San Miguel Light and Ellis chipped in a couple of bottles of Hennessy and Grand Marnier.It was a cross-cultural love-fest that would have seemed impossible a week earlier, capped by Ellis and Miller posing together for a picture. They stood side by side, each grinning with a crispy pig ear between his teeth while holding the porcine head in front of them. Just before the shutter snapped, both players said in unison, "Oh yeah!"news@seattleweekly.com

 
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