Timberwolves Focus on Sealy's Life

Tuesday, May 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves are trying to focus on Malik Sealy's life and not the wrong-way and possibly drunken driver who ended it.

``If being angry brought back Malik Sealy, I think we'd all be angry,'' vice president Kevin McHale said. ``But nothing anybody's going to do or say right now is going to change the events of 4 a.m. on May 20. That's written in stone.''

On Monday, the State Patrol arrested Souksangouane Phengsene, 43, of Minneapolis, who remained under guard at Hennepin County Medical Center, where he's being treated for serious injuries from the crash. Investigators have until noon Wednesday to present the case to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office for formal charges.

Investigators said Phengsene was driving the wrong way on Highway 100 early Saturday morning when his pickup smashed into Sealy's sport utility truck in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, fatally injuring the popular player who was returning from teammate Kevin Garnett's 24th birthday celebration.

An emergency worker reported that Phengsene, who was convicted of drunken driving in Des Moines, Iowa, three years ago, smelled of alcohol as he was extricated from the wreckage. Blood tests are pending.

McHale said the team was trying to remember the good times such as Sealy's buzzer-beating basket against Indiana this season, the first game-winning bucket of his career.

``We watched the shot against Indiana when he banked it in and he's on the floor and he's got his hands raised and he's kicking his legs,'' McHale said, smiling. ``I think that's the way I'll always remember him, just the smile. And the interviews and the intelligence.''

McHale insisted the team held no animosity for Phengsene.

``You can be angry at a lot of things,'' McHale said. ``What good does that do?''

The Timberwolves are planning to fly to the funeral Friday on the campus of St. John's, where Sealy starred before being drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1992.

All the players except Rasho Nesterovic, who has returned to Slovenia, are expected to attend.

On Monday, Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders attended a memorial ceremony for Bill Musselman, who coached him at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s and served as the Wolves' first coach.

Saunders broke down as a prayer at that service was said for Sealy, who is survived by his newlywed wife, Lisa, and their 3-year-old son, Malik Remington.

``I had a tough time today,'' Saunders said. ``But I think it's going to be that way for a while. It's going to be like that for our players for a while.''

Sealy was coming off the best season of his eight-year NBA career, and he was a big part of their franchise-best 50-32 record.

``I hear people say we had a great year, 50 wins. But that doesn't matter. Because no matter what, this year will go down as a loss,'' Saunders said.

Lisa Sealy released a statement saying the family was deeply moved by the sympathy of the Timberwolves, the NBA, friends and the public. She said the family was ``thankful to know that Malik was loved by so many.''

Sealy was one of the more affable and intelligent players in pro sports. He had parts in commercials and movies and was a successful businessman. He played for the Pacers, Clippers and Pistons before finding a niche with the Wolves.

Saunders said that although Sealy was a free agent, he was certain the 30-year-old swingman was planning to stay in Minnesota.

``I think he had finally found a situation that he loved, and, more importantly, where he was really loved,'' Saunders said.

The grieving will take a long time because players are scattered for the summer and will revisit the tragedy when they report to camp, Saunders said.

Saunders and McHale are particularly concerned about their star, Garnett, who worshipped Sealy so much that he patterned his play after him and chose No. 21 in his honor.

``The fortunate thing for Kevin is he had an opportunity to play with somebody he idolized growing up,'' Saunders said. ``You don't always have that opportunity. Malik touched his life and instilled a lot of positive qualities in KG. So, yeah, we're concerned.''

Garnett has not spoken to the media since Sealy's death. He posted an audio clip on his Web site Monday, the Star Tribune reported. Garnett's Web site (http://www.kevingarnettdirect.com) was blank today, and the recording was unavailable.

The newspaper quoted Garnett as saying: ``I'm here. Trying to get it done. Trying to find some reserve from within.''

McHale said he'll draw on his experiences grieving the death of Boston Celtics teammate Reggie Lewis, who died of heart failure in 1993.

``As time goes by, you do remember the smiles and the laughter,'' McHale said. ``You remember a lot of the positive things. I think the pain subsides and the memories stay forever.''