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("Power Play for Howard") I need help to start with preparing 500 words in which I have to evaluate the benefits (tangible and intangible),...

("Power Play for Howard")
I need help to start with preparing 500 words in which I have to evaluate the benefits (tangible and intangible), costs, and risks associated with negotiation Juwan Howard's free agent contract from the perspective of Juwan Howard and both teams' general managers.

A Power Play for Howard
Bill Brubaker
Mark Asher
Nothing less than the future of the Washington Bullets hung in the
balance on the
evening of July 11 when Juwan Howard, the club’s all-star free agent
forward, arrived at
agent David Falk’s headquarters in Chevy Chase Pavilion to solicit
$100 million contract
offers from National Basketball Association team executives.
Outside, on Wisconsin Avenue NW, the Bullets held a We-Love-Juwan rally
rabid fans desperate to keep their young star in Washington—a city
that hasn’t had a
winning NBA team in nine years. Inside, in Falk’s private
office—adorned with Michael
Jordan–autographed basketballs and other client memorabilia—Howard
braced himself
for a long night of high-stakes negotiating.
Bullets General Manager Wes Unseld got first crack at Howard—a
courtesy Falk said
he was extending to the club as “the incumbents.” It soon became
clear, however, that incumbency,
like loyalty, had limited value in professional sports. Shortly after 7
Unseld offered a seven-year, $78.4 million contract. Lucrative as it
was—the offer
amounted to more than $136,000 per game through the 2002–2003
season—Howard considered
the proposal far below his market value. He loved playing and living
and the thought of leaving brought tears to his eyes even as he
dismissed Unseld’s offer.
Yet leave he would. By dawn, Howard had begun seriously contemplating a
south to play for the Miami Heat, which ultimately trumped the Bullets
with a sevenyear,
guaranteed $100.8 million deal—the biggest in the history of team
sports, garnished
with luxury hotel suites and limousine service for the 23-year-old
Howard during road
trips. The Bullets’ most promising player in a generation was gone,
and with him hopes
of resuscitating the club’s fortunes.
But Howard’s tears would prove premature and the Heat’s huge offer
only the opening
gambit in one of the most intricate and controversial episodes in recent
sports history.
Over the next 30 days, Howard would sign with Miami only to have the
invalidated by the league, triggering a bitter sequence of threats,
legal maneuvers, and
shifting alliances. The final outcome would prove a colossal windfall
for the Bullets:
When Washington opens its 1996–97 season Friday in Orlando, Juwan
Howard will be
wearing his familiar No. 5 on a red, white, and blue Bullets uniform.
This turbulent saga—recounted here following extensive interviews with
agents, league officials, union representatives, and team
executives—illuminates the extent
to which pro sports have become a tangle of emotion and fiscal logic,
on-court talent
and off-court financial calculation.
The unprecedented case also featured an unusual collaboration between
two traditional
adversaries, the NBA and the players’ union, the National Basketball
Players Association. It featured the repudiation, first by the league
and then by Howard, of one
of basketball’s most charismatic, cunning, and successful coaches, Pat
Riley, who is also
the Heat’s president. By taking strong and decisive action against
Riley and Heat owner
Micky Arison, the NBA may have brought Washington’s franchise back
from the
dead—a critical development for a club that will change its name to
the Wizards next
year and move into a new, 20,600-seat downtown arena, the MCI Center.
During a summer in which free agent bidding took the never-never land of
salaries to new heights, Howard’s odyssey ultimately became the story
of a favorite son
who briefly sought his fortune elsewhere but ended up returning to the
wiser and certainly much, much richer. Buoyed with a nine-figure
contract from the
Bullets, Howard celebrated by buying a $230,000 Ferrari sports car and a
luxury suite at
MCI Center and by contemplating his dream house: a Washington-area
mansion with
eight bedrooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a bowling alley,
theater, and
basketball court. “I want elevators inside my house,” Howard would
explain. “That’s
always has been a dream of mine.”
“This was about bucks,” Unseld said in his office next to USAir
Arena, a computer
printout of NBA player salaries by his side. “No matter how you want
to put it, I think
that’s eventually what it came down to.”
A Sour Start
Howard’s summer of 1996 “fiasco,” as he has called it, had its
roots in the summer of 1994
when the Bullets drafted the 6-foot-9-inch University of Michigan
junior. Howard wanted
a six-year, $24 million deal, considered the going rate for the fifth
player chosen in that
year’s draft. By agreeing, the Bullets could have locked Howard into a
long-term contract.
But during negotiations in the sunroom of Bullets owner Abe Pollin’s
house in
Bethesda, John Nash, then the club’s general manager, essentially told
Howard he wasn’t
worth it. Nash (who resigned under pressure in April) later offered
Howard an 11-year,
$37.5 million deal with the option of becoming a free agent after his
second season, in
1996. Howard considered the below-market offer “totally unfair,” but
he accepted it
and soon established himself as a valuable NBA commodity, averaging 19.8
8.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game over the two seasons.
Howard’s game was more than statistics, however. With a positive
attitude and strong
work ethic, he became a guiding light for less disciplined teammates.
Off court, he donated
time and money to charitable causes and community projects. Polite and
Howard was untouched by controversy until this May, when a Detroit woman
filed a paternity
suit alleging he is the father of her 4 1/2 -year-old son. Howard has
denied the allegation.
A blood test taken by Howard indicated there is a greater than 99.99
percent probability
he is the child’s father, according to a lab report filed in court by
the woman’s attorneys.
Knowing that Howard would become a free agent this year, players from
teams playfully began recruiting him during games last season. “Grant
Hill was recruiting
me, telling me what Detroit had,” Howard said in an interview earlier
this month. “Alonzo
[Mourning of the Heat] and Patrick [Ewing of the New York Knicks] were
recruiting me
at the All-Star Game. I just laughed, man. I just said, ‘Yo, this
seems like college recruiting
all over again.’ It felt good to feel wanted.”
Howard insisted that he wanted to remain a Bullet. “He’s theirs to
lose,” said agent
Falk, 46, a George Washington University law school graduate whose
client list at Falk
Associates Management Enterprises (FAME) includes Jordan, Mourning, and
Ewing. In a
half-page ad in The Washington Post, Pollin promised Bullets fans, “We
will do everything
we can to keep Juwan with us in Washington. . . . We love Juwan
Howard.” Howard and
his agents could not open negotiations with clubs until a new collective
bargaining agreement
(CBA) was signed this summer. In early July, with the moratorium still
in effect, Falk
deliberately sent the Bullets a signal by telling a Washington Post
reporter he expected
Howard would sign for $15 million to $20 million a year ($105 million to
$140 million
over seven years, the maximum term allowed under the new CBA).
One minute after the new labor agreement was finalized at 4:59 p.m. on
July 11, the
NBA’s free agent marketplace officially opened. So began a competition
that in tone and
tension resembled a cross between a television game show and a Turkish
bazaar. That
evening, a parade of free agents and team officials converged on
FAME’s eighth-floor
headquarters at Chevy Chase Pavilion. Offers for various players were
scrutinized by
Falk’s 36-year-old partner and fellow lawyer, Curtis Polk, in what the
agents called their
“War Room”—an inner sanctum with a computer main-frame, three
laptops, and six
telephone lines. But most of the action would unfold in Falk’s private
office, watched
over by a framed Sports Illustrated magazine cover featuring Falk and
Between 5 and 7 p.m. Falk quickly negotiated a one-year, $30 million
contract that
would keep Jordan playing for the Chicago Bulls. Then he turned to
Unseld, a wide-bodied, 6-foot-7 Hall of Famer who led Washington to its
only NBA
title in 1978, immediately notified Howard, Falk, and Polk that he alone
would represent
the Bullets. Howard and his agents asked for assurances that the
Bullets’ coaching staff,
headed by Jim Lyman, would be retained. Unseld said it would. Howard
also asked how
the Bullets intended to improve a team that hadn’t made the NBA
playoffs for eight
years. Unseld disclosed that he was trying to acquire Rod Strickland,
one of the NBA’s
top point guards.
Unseld, who had replaced Nash as the Bullets’ general manager only two
earlier, then offered Howard a seven-year, $78.4 million contract. The
proposal stirred
little enthusiasm among Howard or his agents, and after Unseld left
Falk’s office, Polk
said there was no chance Howard would play again in a Bullets uniform.
The assessment,
with its ring of cold finality and implication of abrupt change, was
upsetting to
Howard, who began to cry.
But the press of business beckoned. Between 8 and 10 p.m. the Detroit
Pistons’ top
basketball executive, Rick Sund, discussed his interest in Howard,
followed at 11 p.m.
by Knicks General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, who had flown to Washington in
the team’s
Gulfstream jet. Neither made a firm offer that evening.
At 2 a.m., Howard slipped off to take a nap. As he dozed, the Heat,
represented by
Riley, a club lawyer and two vice presidents, negotiated with Mourning,
their prized,
6-foot-10, free agent center. Of 160 free agents on the market, the Heat
rated Mourning
and Howard third and fourth most desirable, respectively, after Jordan
and the Orlando
Magic’s Shaquille O’Neal, who ended up with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Riley asked Mourning to sign a one-year contract at less than market
value to help
the Heat create more room under the salary cap. Mourning dismissed the
Riley said he then assured Mourning that after “taking care of some
business” with other
players, “I will make you the highest-paid player on the team.”
At that moment, the seeds of controversy were planted.
Under the CBA, club officials are forbidden to make undisclosed
promises, “representations, commitments, inducements . . . or
understandings of any
kind” with players. The prohibition aimed to prevent clubs from
circumventing the rules
of the league’s salary cap, which limits spending on players to keep
teams competitive
with one another; in general terms, the cap restricts teams’ payrolls
to $24.3 million for
the 1996–97 season. The CBA also requires teams to report immediately
all player
contracts—oral or written—to the league.
Riley would later contend, bitterly, that his pledge to Mourning was
proper because
it contained no specific dollar figures—an interpretation of the CBA
supported by the
players’ union but disputed by the league.
Shortly before 3 a.m. Mourning left the room and Howard walked in.
“All the guys
were very tired,” Riley recalled, “and it was very, very serious in
there. We all knew we
were going to be talking about a lot of money.” Riley tried to lighten
the mood by
recalling how his brother had represented him in his first negotiation
as an NBA player
in 1967. “Before going into the room, my brother looked me in the eye
and said, ‘Just
think, Pat! You’re going to earn $17,000 a year!’ ” Riley told
Howard and his agents.
The Heat’s opening bid for Howard was $84 million over seven years.
For several
hours the two sides haggled. By the time the session broke up around 6
a.m. on Friday,
July 12, Riley had increased his offer to $91 million plus $3.5 million
in bonuses and
some perks. The Heat executives shuffled off to breakfast, then to their
hotel, the ANA,
on M Street NW.
At noon, Howard returned to Falk’s office to review the offers. The
Bullets initially
were eliminated from consideration; Howard had been impressed by Riley,
who had won
four NBA championships as the Lakers’ coach. But Howard could not
easily shrug off his
feelings for the Washington club, and it was decided to give the team
another chance, what
Falk called “the court of appeals.” Howard asked to meet Pollin at
his house in Bethesda.
At 5 a.m. Howard, Falk, and Polk joined Pollin, Unseld, and club
president Susan
O’Malley in the sunroom where Howard had his first negotiation with
the Bullets in 1994.
Pollin announced to his guests that Unseld would make one last offer,
and warned that the
Bullets wouldn’t exceed that “by a dime.”
The Bullets executives left the room for a few minutes to confer. When
returned, Unseld increased his seven-year offer from $78.4 million to
$84 million. “Wes and
Susan said they had studied the numbers and . . . this is what they
could afford,” Falk said.
“They had given Juwan an ultimatum.” (Pollin declined to be
interviewed for this article.)
The meeting broke up before 6 p.m. Back at FAME’s offices Howard again
cried as
he considered the take-it-or-leave-it negotiation at Pollin’s house,
which echoed his first
contract talks two years earlier. Regret gave way to irritation. “I
couldn’t believe this
was happening again . . . despite that I gave 100 percent on and off the
floor for the franchise,”
Howard said. “Abe Pollin had made that promise to the people that he
would do
anything it took—anything possible—to make sure Juwan Howard stays
in Washington.”
Howard told Falk and Polk that Miami was his top choice, but he wanted
the Heat to up
the ante. Within an hour Riley was back in Falk’s office. The Heat now
offered $95.2 million plus $6 million in bonuses, but Howard wanted more
perks. Riley agreed to the hotel suites
and limos, as well as an extra $5,000 to help Howard sponsor a summer
basketball camp.
Still, Howard’s agents pressed for more.
“You’ve got to stop this,” an exasperated Riley finally demanded.
“Every time
I walk out of the room and come back in there is something else. Please.
It’s over with,
OK? This is the final offer.”
Riley left around 8:30 p.m. Falk and Howard phoned Unseld at his
Baltimore home.
Do the Bullets have any room to compromise? Howard wanted to know. For
three hours,
Unseld floated various suggestions for increasing the value of his
offer, such as deferred
payments. But Falk would have none of it.
“Can you do any more?” Howard finally asked.
Unseld was out of ideas. “No,” he said.
“OK,” Howard said, “I guess there’s no more to talk about. Thank
you for two great
years. And good luck to you guys.”
Howard hung up and turned to Falk. “Call Pat Riley,” he told the
Miami Bound
Around 1 a.m. on July 13, the phone again rang in Riley’s room at the
ANA Hotel.
Howard was on the phone.
“Coach,” he told Riley. “I’m coming to Miami.”
Howard reviewed the Heat’s offer, point by point, with an elated
Riley. The final
deal would amount to $100.8 million in cash, plus perks. “Then they
began to ask for a
little bit more,” Riley later recalled. “Silly things. I said,
‘You need [more game] tickets?
OK, we’ll give you a couple more tickets. But let’s move on, OK?’
In Falk’s office, Howard exchanged champagne toasts with new teammate
and FAME staffers. Falk declined to disclose FAME’s cut for
negotiating the Howard deal
other than to say it was less than the maximum 4 percent agents can
charge under the
labor agreement.
Yet an apparently ironclad deal still seemed to have some wiggle room.
talked to Falk by phone that afternoon.
“Is it a done deal?” the Bullets executive said he asked. Falk said
Later, Falk phoned Unseld again. “Falk gave me a figure and says,
‘If you guys did
this . . . ’ ” Unseld recalled. “And I thought that was strange
because I thought it was
finished with us.”
Falk said later he never suggested Howard was open to new offers, and
Unseld concedes
he may have misinterpreted Falk’s signals. Nevertheless, Unseld phoned
Pollin at
his Virginia farm, and the Bullets’ owners agreed to increase the
club’s offer from
$84 million to $94.5 million.
Unseld said he then phoned Falk only to have the new offer rejected. But
Falk said
he recalls no new bid on the afternoon of July 13, and he accused the
Bullets of using
“spin control . . . to make it look like they were really close” to
signing Howard.
The next day, the Bullets renounced their rights to Howard—conditional
on him
having a valid contract with the Heat—in order to have room under the
salary cap to sign
free agent forward Tracy Murray. In the coming days the Bullets also
would acquire free agent forward center Lorenzo Williams and, in a trade
with the Portland Trail Blazers,
point guard Strickland and forward Harvey Grant. But the club was being
lambasted by
Washington fans and media for losing Howard.
On July 17, Howard flew to Miami in a private jet to sign his new
contract. At a
news conference that evening, Howard called his new contract a
“blessing” and his
relationship with the Heat “like a marriage.” The signing, he said,
was the most important
day of his life, after graduation day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last year.
The Unraveling
Riley had little time to celebrate: NBA investigators were heading his
way. In an interview
on July 16 on ESPN, Mourning left the impression that he had an
agreement with
the Heat. Asked if his new deal was for “$100 million plus,”Mourning
said, “Yeah, it is.”
If Mourning had such an agreement, the Heat had not notified the NBA as
A new Mourning agreement would have dramatically shrunk the room Miami
under the salary cap to sign Howard. And that would jeopardize the
validity of Howard’s
contract. Riley and Falk again insisted no deal had been finalized.
(Mourning declined
to be interviewed for this story.)
The NBA hired Robert Del Tufo—a former New Jersey attorney general who
had once prosecuted mobsters and Russian spies as a U.S. attorney—to
determine if the
Heat had circumvented salary cap rules. Had the team made an undisclosed
deal with
Mourning, possibly as early as last November, when the club obtained him
in a trade
with the Charlotte Hornets?
Del Tufo and two other lawyers flew to Miami to interview Heat
executives on July
24. Riley insisted there were no undisclosed deals. But a week later, on
July 31, the
NBA’s chief legal officer, Jeffrey Mishkin, phoned Arison, the
Heat’s owner, to tell him
the NBA had disapproved Howard’s contract because the club could not
fit Howard’s
first-year base pay of $9 million under the salary cap. Mishkin told
Arison the Heat had
improperly made an undisclosed agreement with Mourning and used his
previous, less
lucrative contract to calculate the room the club had available to sign
Howard. The team
also had miscalculated the portion of incentive bonuses in two other
free agent deals—
for guard Tim Hardaway and forward P. J. Brown—that should have been
against the cap, Mishkin asserted.
Under the CBA, a club can offer a player performance bonuses that are
unlikely, in
the club’s estimation, to be achieved. “Unlikely” bonuses
ultimately are not charged
against the cap. The CBA defines “unlikely” bonuses as those based
on achievements not
attained the previous season by a player or his team. The CBA also gives
the NBA commissioner
authority to contest any “unlikely” bonus he considers to be, in
fact, probable.
Riley had given Brown and Hardaway “unlikely” bonuses. One
incentive, for example,
would pay Brown $1.5 million if the Heat won either 27 home games or 43
games this season. The Heat deemed that “unlikely” because the
franchise never had
won more than 26 home games or 42 total games in its eight-year history.
But the league, noting that the Heat had significantly improved its
prospects by signing
Howard, disagreed. Mishkin told Arison that those bonuses, now deemed
shaved $2.5 million from the Heat’s payroll ceiling, thus invalidating
the Howard deal.
Riley was stunned by the news. He denounced the ruling as
“unconscionable,” one
that “dismantled” his team. As a “partner” of the Heat, he
asserted that the NBA had a
“fiduciary responsibility” to alert the club if the Howard deal was
in jeopardy. “Every
team in this league pushes the envelope a little,” Riley said. “And
then you talk to the
NBA and they say, ‘You can’t go that far.’ ”
Owner Arison, who had tangled with the league before, was equally upset.
In 1995
the league had fined him $1 million—and taken his top 1996 draft
choice—for recruiting
Riley while he was under contract to the Knicks. Miami officials
speculated that
NBA Commissioner David Stern may have disallowed the Howard contract to
the Heat’s relentlessness or to bail out Pollin’s flailing
“We’re not mistake-free,” Arison, who also owns Carnival Cruise
Lines, said in an
interview. “I don’t think we made mistakes greater than many teams
have made, and
we’re being punished greater than any team’s ever been punished for
similar mistakes.”
The NBA office was unmoved. The league could not alert Miami to
potential problems
with the Howard deal, an NBA official said, because it only learned of
the Brown
and Hardaway details after their contracts were signed.
Stern, in his first public comments on the Howard case, said he judged
the case
solely on its merits. “We took our action because that’s what the
facts before us required
us to do. . . . If the Heat is unhappy, get on line,” he said in an
interview last month.
“At a meeting of 29 owners you would get unanimity that I have it in
for all
29 owners,” Stern added. “If you’re not prepared to have all of
the teams mad at you,
you’re not doing your job.”
The Heat is Off
In a news release on July 31, the NBA stated that issues raised by the
Howard matter
would be resolved by arbitrators jointly selected by the league and
union. The Heat,
however, had at least as much at risk under arbitration as Juwan Howard.
Under a worstcase
scenario for the Heat, if an arbitrator and appeals panel upheld the
NBA’s allegations
regarding the alleged Mourning agreement, the league could void
contract, fine the club $5 million, suspend Riley for a year, take away
draft picks—and
still leave the Heat without Howard.
While the NBA was disapproving his contract, Howard was en route to
Miami to
shop for a house in Coconut Grove, a picturesque community on Biscayne
Bay. Howard
planned to visit a Mediterranean-style house on the water—a location
that would even
let him take a boat to practice. But as Howard stepped into the airport
terminal, one of
his agents told him of the latest trouble.
Howard rushed to the Heat’s downtown offices, where Riley assured him
the NBA’s
allegations were false. “We’ll fight these charges like hell because
we’ve been wronged
here,” Riley told Howard.
With Arison looking on, Howard hugged Riley. “Coach,” he later
quoted himself as
saying, “I’m behind you guys 100 percent.”
That evening, Howard joined Riley at Paulo Luigi’s, a trendy
restaurant in Coconut
Grove. But in the next several days the warm relationship between new
player and new
team quickly cooled. Howard concluded after discussions with Polk that
if he backed
Miami and the team lost a protracted fight with the league, other NBA
clubs might have
as little as $40 million or $50 million to offer him for seven years. In
effect, he would
take a $50 million pay cut and become, he said, “a laughingstock.”
That house on Biscayne Bay suddenly lost its appeal. Riley found he
couldn’t get
Howard to return his calls.
“I mean, this is a business,” Howard later explained. “Yes,
indeed, I believe in loyalty.
But I believe in loyalty in the sense that it has to be done right and
make sure that I
don’t lose in no kind of fashion.”
Falk had gone to Europe and Israel on a long-planned family vacation,
leaving Polk
to sort out Howard’s future. Polk tried to sort through the key
issues. Could the Heat prevail
in arbitration? Possibly, Polk believed, but it might take two months.
But if the Heat
lost the arbitration, Howard stood to lose tens of millions.
The Bullets could sign Howard only if the league restored the team’s
“Larry Bird
rights.” The CBA provision, named after the former Boston Celtics
star, allowed
teams to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign their own players.
The Bullets had
lost their “Bird rights” to Howard when they renounced him. But if
the rights were
restored, the Bullets would have no limit on the sum of money they could
On August 1, the NBA declared Howard a free agent. Howard instructed
“Wait for word on the Bullets before coming to an agreement with any
The next day, Unseld phoned Pollin, who was in Atlanta for the Olympics.
“If we can get Juwan, we could be a very good team,” Unseld said.
“Do what you want to do,” Pollin responded. “Do what you have to
Unseld had tried not to second-guess himself over the earlier Howard
the media and irate fans had done plenty of that. But now he had a
chance to make
amends. “I’m sure if I looked back on it,” he subsequently said,
“I would find plenty of
mistakes. . . . I choose not to do that because if I did I would drive
myself crazy.”
The league was driving the Heat crazy. On August 2, NBA Deputy
Russ Granik told Arison by phone that based on his understanding of the
CBA the Heat
would be unlikely to regain Howard’s services through arbitration.
“You will not get
Juwan Howard,” Granik declared, according to Heat officials.
Later that day, the Heat obtained a temporary injunction prohibiting
Howard from
signing another contract unless it recognized the validity of the Miami
deal. The injunction
named the NBA and Howard as defendants. Howard was angry at the Heat for
forewarning him. “Where’s the loyalty there?” he demanded.
The players’ union agreed with the Heat that the Hardaway and Brown
were “unlikely” and that Mourning did not have an undisclosed
agreement. But the
union disagreed with Miami over whether Howard should be allowed to
re-sign with the
On August 3, as the league and union were completing an agreement to
restore the
Bullets’ Bird rights, Unseld prepared to negotiate his second-chance
contract with
Howard. Polk, concerned that Miami would impose further legal obstacles,
Howard in his hometown of Chicago and advised him to return to
Washington. Howard
arrived that night.
Monday, August 5, was triumphant for the Bullets, disastrous for the
Heat. The
league and union agreed that if a player signs a second contract after
his first deal has
been disapproved, the second contract is the valid one, making
arbitration moot. The
deal, which would apply first and foremost to Howard, was intended to
protect players
against financial losses in disputes between the NBA and its teams.
In Howard’s case, the league and union also agreed to restore the
Bullets’ Bird
rights and allow Murray and Williams to remain with the Bullets. If the
club re-signed
Howard, however, it would forfeit its 1997 first-round draft choice.
Riley, ever more furious, accused the league and union of “getting
into bed together”
in an “unholy alliance.”
On the afternoon of August 5 Unseld phoned Polk. “We got our Bird
rights restored.
Why don’t you come on over?” Unseld said, according to Polk.
Pollin agreed to match the terms of Howard’s $100.8 million Miami
$4.2 million to cover Maryland taxes because Florida has no state income
though Howard seemed to be in a decidedly weaker negotiating position.
“We wanted a
happy player,” Unseld said.
Howard’s seven-year, $105 million Bullets contract—contingent upon
the resolution
of the Heat’s legal challenges—took but 30 minutes to negotiate.
Unseld refused,
however, to match Riley’s offer of hotel suites and limos. “I
didn’t want him getting
picked up in a limousine and everybody else getting on a bus. It’s as
simple as that,”
Unseld explained. “Everybody else in a regular room and one guy in a
suite? I don’t
think it makes for the chemistry of a team.”
Before signing the contract, Unseld took Howard aside. “He wanted to
see where
my head was at,” Howard said. “He wanted to see, Did I have any
grudges against him? . . . I told him, ‘Hell, no.’ Excuse my French.
I said, ‘No. You guys had to do what
was best for the organization and make a bright business decision for
yourselves. And I
had to do the same thing for me.’ ”
Shortly after 10 p.m., Riley called Polk at his Rockville home. Though
was now a remote possibility, Riley still hoped for a final meeting with
Howard. “We
needed Juwan to tell us, ‘If I go down the road with you and you win
[arbitration] I will
come to Miami,’ ” Riley said.
Polk refused, and the conversation turned ugly. “Riley told me,
‘You’re a shrinking
violet. . . . You’re a coward,’ ” Polk said. Riley said he does
not recall making those
comments, but added, “We had some very, very heated discussions.”
For Riley, the battle was over. Without Howard in his corner, he said,
“we had
nobody to fight for anymore. . . . And that’s where you had to cut
bait.” Riley remained
furious at the league for allowing Washington to recover from its
mistake. “The league
built a team in Washington, basically,” he later charged.
Falk said the Heat fell victim to a league intent on “dealing very
sternly, no pun
intended” with clubs that pursued free agents too aggressively and to
a union “not in a
strong enough position to do battle with the league.”
“The league had the whole thing wired; the league forced Miami to
settle,” Falk
added. “The league presented the Heat with a plea bargain: If you go
to an arbitrator,
you’ll go to jail for 100 years. If you don’t, we’ll let you
In the settlement, announced August 10, Howard’s contract with the
Bullets was
approved. The NBA and Miami agreed to drop “the various legal
proceedings between
the parties,” which meant the Heat would abandon its bid for a
permanent injunction
and the league would not pursue the alleged undisclosed Mourning
agreement. The Heat signed Brown and Hardaway to new contracts, removing
the issue
of whether their bonuses were likely or not, and Mourning signed a
$105 million deal.
Two days later, Howard appeared at a news conference at USAir Arena.
“He’s baaaaaack,” Unseld said in introducing his once and future
“I look at this as a blessing—a blessing from God,” Howard told
reporters, echoing
the same language he had used a few weeks earlier in Miami. “I could
recall the time I
graduated from college. That was the best day of my life, right there. I
consider this
behind that.”
The “$205 Million Man”
In the end, Pat Riley said, he bears Howard no malice. “You know what?
I wish Juwan
the very best,” Riley said one afternoon recently. “But I think deep
down in his heart he
will always wonder what it would have been like to play with Alonzo and
this team
down here. That’s something he’ll never know.”
Riley paused, chuckling softly as he reconsidered. “Juwan will
probably win championships
in Washington,” he said. “And he’ll probably forget that this
whole thing ever
That, Howard said, is unlikely.
“I will never forget this,” he said after a Bullets practice.
“This is something I can
tell my grandkids about. How I signed a $100 million contract. How I
signed a $105
million contract. I’m the first guy this has ever happened to. This
Howard had the look of a man who had just accomplished something really
big— “I
was a $205 million man.”

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