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For Grant, basketball is a means to an end

"Horace Grant is having the series of his life." _ Lakers guard Magic Johnson

Funny thing about life.

For Chicago Bulls forward Horace Grant, the NBA Finals are his ticket to stardom.

He is being noticed. The importance of his role is being discussed.

Averaging 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and shooting 61 percent, he is getting hit by the spotlight that normally shines only on his more famous teammate _ Michael Jordan.

This refrain is an oldie but goodie to Grant now, a tune whose lyrics he long ago memorized. This is why he smiles when asked if he derives any pleasure from this moment at center stage.

"This feels great. But in the game of life, it doesn't weigh at all," Grant said Monday, the day after Chicago took a commanding 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Lakers in the best-of-seven series, and two days before the Bulls can clinch their first NBA title.

"To me personally, (winning the title) is like a secondary thing. I do it as a job, because I have to work."

On the basketball court, Grant plays as if a man possessed. He is the Bulls' best power rebounder and their best low-post scorer and defender. His picks and screens have freed teammates for countless open shots.

He has never played better than he is right now, and, because of it, the Bulls have never been closer to winning the title.

"Everybody can be a scorer, but everyone can't be a rebounder and a utility man," said Grant, whose twin brother, Harvey, plays for the Washington Bullets. "I put my hard hat on and I get my lunch pail and I go to work."

Grant has this thing about taking his work home with him.

"I slept very calmly (Sunday night), but I woke up this morning and it's business as usual," Grant said.

Away from basketball, Grant becomes introspective.

He wants very much to help people. He considers himself one of the fortunate few, a millionaire who plies his trade wearing short pants.

"Sometimes I feel guilty, being in the position I'm in and some kids not having a shirt on their back and not having enough to eat," Grant said.

Grant grew up poor in Sparta, Ga., so he remembers from whence he came.

"My parents divorced when I was 8. We got on welfare after the divorce, but my mother has a lot of pride and she didn't like that. She went out and worked two jobs."

A recent newspaper story described Grant as the only Chicago Bulls player who has visited children from a depressed inner-city housing project in the shadows of Chicago Stadium.

Parents who live there said it would mean a lot to the kids to hear a few words of encouragement from Bulls superstar Michael Jordan.

Instead, they have a new hero: Horace Grant.

"I love kids. Period. If I can do something to motivate them, I'm going to do it," Grant said. "Basketball is a lot of guys' tickets out of situations like that. I think it's very important for us to go and speak to kids like that.

"A friend asked me to speak to the kids. It was a very warm reception. I think we should take it upon ourselves, as Chicago Bulls, to go in there after this thing is over with and give something back."

Grant's generosity knows no bounds. During the Eastern Conference semifinals against Philadelphia, he befriended a homeless man and provided him money for a hotel room and meals.

"If I can save one life, that's a difference," Grant said. "I think this is why God gave us all this talent. Not just to play basketball. But to try to reach people.

"You can't change it all. But you can change some of it. You can go in there and motivate one kid and that could be more gratifying than even winning the NBA championship.

"If I was a motivational speaker who could go in there and speak to kids, I would give (basketball) up to save lives. If I had a guarantee that they would hear me and listen to me, definitely. And that's no B.S."