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In 1990, I was the 8th pick of the first round of the NBA Draft. I played college ball in Los Angeles for four years, graduating from Loyola Marymount where I averaged 35 points per game in my senior year. I helped my team reach the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament in a dramatic and emotional run that is still remembered and talked about to this day. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to remain in LA when the Clippers called my name with the 8th pick that year.
My rookie year started off great and I received substantial playing time averaging over 30 minutes per game through the All-Star break and beyond. But there came a point in the season where my playing time was suddenly reduced. Over the last 30 games plus of that season, I averaged barely 6 minutes per game. I wasn't hurt and showed no signs of hitting the proverbial "rookie wall." I never received an adequate explanation for my diminished playing time and in those days not many rookies questioned the decisions of a coach like Mike Schuler.
A similar pattern emerged in my second year with the Clippers as a point came in the season when my minutes were reduced and never reinstated. I had always wondered why I never got more playing time but moved on with my career, signed with another team and eventually began to focus on my post-NBA career.
It wasn't until a year go that the mystery of my rookie year was resolved. My first contract in the NBA was structured with some relatively easy to achieve incentive bonuses. The most significant one involved playing time and provided that if I averaged 15 minutes per game I would receive a $300,000 bonus, a substantial amount by today's standards and a boatload of money in the mid 80's. In 2013, it was revealed to me by a member of the Clippers front office that the decision to yank my playing time wasn't made by coach Schuler in my rookie year or by Larry Brown in my second year, but came straight from the top from none other than the team owner Mr. Donald Sterling...who decided he was not going to pay, and I was not going to earn that $300,000 bonus.
Looking back, it all makes sense. The demotion and reduction in playing time had a profound impact on my confidence and psyche as a player. I know I would have been angry if I had known the financial-based decision for my benching, but I feel like I would have been better off knowing the truth. I understand this was a business decision by Mr. Sterling because it sure as hell was not a basketball decision. Now, I will add that Mr. Sterling was always polite and respectful towards me, at least, in my presence. I never saw or heard the kind of bigoted opinions and disgusting rhetoric he allegedly directed towards his mistress/ girlfriend recently.
My unpleasant experience with Mr. Sterling pales in comparison with the magnitude and the implications of his offensive racial attitudes. But it's not like his departure from the NBA will be a blow to basketball purity and decision-making.
Photo note: the photo above was taken on April Fools Day 2013.