A college president held a 2 a.m. press briefing in Milwaukee, and a 7' black man, fleeing from oppressive conditions in the South—for one, the steering wheel on his Cadillac didn't tilt—traveled across the country and hid out in three Seattle hotels. Judges in Los Angeles, Greensboro, N.C. and King County, Wash, issued restraining orders. The former lawyer of twice-convicted Teamster boss, Dave Beck, and attorneys for a Hollywood movie-theater mogul closeted themselves for 72 hours, tearing holes in a $1,357,000 contract and writing a new one for $1,500,000. In Milwaukee a nearly penniless college junior succumbed after 10 hours to an ultimatum from a big New York company and wound up a millionaire. All these melodramatic events occurred last week, each one because of a new twist on that old basketball play, the center jump.
One jumping center was 7' Jim McDaniels, who until last Thursday morning, when he signed with the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics, was a rookie All-Star for the ABA's Carolina Cougars. The other was 6'11" Jim Chones, who had led Marquette to a 21-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking before he agreed to take $1.5 million in cash Thursday night from the ABA's New York Nets.
This season has been basketball's stormiest since the betting scandals 12 years ago, and more bad weather is forecast by the owners of the rival leagues, who in their efforts to get congressional approval for a merger have, in effect, been seeding the clouds and then calling everyone's attention to the rain.
Despite weaknesses in defense and rebounding, McDaniels had been averaging 26.8 points a game for Carolina. He was also whining to his lawyer, Norman Blass, about unfair working conditions, e.g., the unacceptable steering wheel on the Caddy the club bought him.
His dissatisfaction apparently came to a head after last month's ABA All-Star Game. McDaniels led the East to victory in Louisville and set a record for most points scored in a quarter (18), but hometown favorite Dan Issel received the Star of Stars Award. Following the game, McDaniels rejoined the Cougars for a road trip that took them to Dallas, where they ran into the Sonics in the airport. As both teams awaited their flights, McDaniels rapped with Seattle's Spencer Haywood, who last season had left the ABA's Denver Rockets to join the Sonics.
When the Cougars got home, McDaniels got together with the man who had engineered Haywood's move to Seattle, Los Angeles Attorney Al Ross. Ross and McDaniels met with Cougar General Manager Carl Scheer and orally presented 18 complaints, among them a request that a $50,000 bonus be paid McDaniels for the "aggravation" of playing in North Carolina. The Cougars failed to respond immediately, so McDaniels and Ross left for California. There the player's contract was turned over to Sam Schulman, the Sonics' owner and a Hollywood moneyman, and his lawyers went to work.
Five days later the Cougars received a restraining order from an L.A. court prohibiting Ross from discussing McDaniels' future with any team other than Carolina. Tsk, tsk, McDaniels was already playing musical hotel rooms in Seattle while his latest attorney, Dave Beck's old lawyer, Charlie Burdell, hammered out a new contract with the Sonics.
Barely 24 hours after the Seattle signing was announced, the Cougars obtained a restraining order from a Greensboro court, which said McDaniels could not play for any team but Carolina. A few hours later Seattle obtained an order of its own from a Washington court, which said the Cougars were not allowed to bar McDaniels from playing with the Sonics for the next 10 days.
Meanwhile Nets Owner Roy Boe arrived in Milwaukee to negotiate the final details of Chones' contract. By midnight Chones had signed, and at 1:45 a.m. Father John Raynor, S.J., Marquette's president, issued a statement: "We at Marquette University wish Jim every success in his new venture."
Marquette Coach Al McGuire, who last year advised Chones to "take the money and run" as soon as the offers became large enough (a previous $625,000 bid from another ABA team was turned down), accepted the loss of his center—and of his team's chances for a national title—almost as blithely. "I'll just have to take it like he broke a leg and couldn't play anymore," McGuire said.
Chones himself also indicated that the possibility of an injury induced him to take the Nets' offer. He unquestionably needs the money, since his father died two years ago and his mother has been supporting her five other children on a $1.85-per-hour job as a "salad lady."
But even in these turbulent days it is surprising for a college player to quit an undefeated team. The Nets claim Chones contacted them first. Having lost the opportunity last spring to get Julius Erving, another college dropout—he now stars for the Virginia Squires—because of a team policy against signing undergraduates, the Nets were loth to pass up a second windfall.
However, a Milwaukeean close to Chones tells a different story. The ABA will hold the opening rounds of its draft March 2, and New York was awarded a special first-bonus pick because it lost Erving. The Nets informed the other ABA members it intended to draft Chones, but only if he could be signed ahead of time. Chones' lawyer offered a verbal guarantee that Chones would sign as soon as his season ended, but the Nets rejected it, taking the position that since they were prepared to shell out so much money they didn't want to take the risk that Chones would change his mind. At 8 a.m. on Feb. 17, New York made its offer and told Chones he must accept or reject it by 6 p.m. The pressure brought about by the ABA's insistence on holding its draft while the college season is still on brought Chones to the point of crunch before he was ready to arrive there. But the collision was sweet. "When I signed," Chones said, "I heard angels singing and water running off a mountain."
Be that as it may, Chones cannot play anywhere until next season. By signing he is ineligible for college ball, and the ABA has a rule that prohibits a man from competing in both college and pro ball in the same season.
McDaniels' status is less clear. "No way," is the manner in which Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens describes McDaniels' chances of significantly helping the Sonics this year. Wilkens plans to spot him against weaker teams and then urge him to work on his defense and rebounding during the off season.
"Sam's got a new toy," is how one Seattle reporter described the signing of McDaniels. Schulman may not be the only pro owner with a new plaything in the months ahead. "Until Congress passes the necessary legislation, the intense competition between the ABA and NBA for star players must continue," Boe sophistically intoned last week. But the players are hardly blameless. As the man said, money is the root.