Search

SPOTLIGHT JIM MCILVAINE SEATTLE IS GAMBLING $35 MILLION ON A FORMER BACKUP CENTER TO HELP IT HIT THE JACKPOT

Nov. 11, 1996
Nov. 11, 1996

Table of Contents
Nov. 11, 1996

NBA Preview 1996-97

SPOTLIGHT JIM MCILVAINE SEATTLE IS GAMBLING $35 MILLION ON A FORMER BACKUP CENTER TO HELP IT HIT THE JACKPOT

There are certain mysteries of the universe that are beyond all
understanding. This is one of them: Jim McIlvaine will earn more
money this season than Shawn Kemp, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen
or Mitch Richmond. After you take a moment to digest that fact,
two questions may come to mind. How in the world can that be?
And who, exactly, is Jim McIlvaine?

This is an article from the Nov. 11, 1996 issue Original Layout

The second question is easier to answer. McIlvaine is a 7'1",
260-pound center who was drafted out of Marquette 32nd overall
by the Bullets in 1994 and averaged 2.3 points and 2.9 rebounds
as a Washington reserve last season. Those are the kinds of
numbers that are often rewarded by the NBA version of the
minimum wage ($247,500 a year for veterans), but McIlvaine, 24,
had the good fortune to have his contract run out after last
season, just in time for last summer's great free-agent gold
rush. Seattle looked beyond his modest statistics, saw great
promise in his shot blocking and overall defensive skills, and
signed him to a seven-year, $35 million contract.

That happened in July, and McIlvaine says that only once since
then has he made it through a day without someone bringing up
the contract. "But that was the day we spent on the plane coming
back from [preseason games in] Europe," he says. "So I don't
know if that counts." Fortunately he has maintained a sense of
perspective as well as a sense of humor about his newfound
wealth. "Teachers and parents should be making a lot more, and
athletes should probably be making a lot less," he says. "Does
it make sense that I'm making this much money? Of course not.
But no one in this league can really say they deserve the money
they're making except for maybe Michael Jordan."

But if McIlvaine provides the interior defense the SuperSonics
need to transform them from last season's NBA finalists into
this season's champions, he will seem like a bargain. His 2.08
blocked shots per game ranked 10th in the league even though he
averaged only 14.9 minutes, and his projected 6.67 blocks per 48
minutes was the best such mark in the league. The Sonics, deep
in scorers, won't ask for many points from McIlvaine, just
defense and rebounding. Especially after All-Star center
Shaquille O'Neal moved to the Lakers and the Pacific Division,
the Sonics were looking for more power in the pivot than they
had last season with starting center Ervin Johnson (now with
Denver). "We didn't get McIlvaine to be a Shaq-stopper," says
Seattle general manager Wally Walker. "But he's the kind of
player who can make opposing centers work hard for everything
they get." McIlvaine's presence should also take some of the
inside burden off Kemp, the Sonics' All-Star forward. "Shawn's a
better player when he has a big body beside him," says Seattle
coach George Karl.

Kemp apparently didn't see things the same way, at least not for
the first three weeks of training camp, which he missed in
protest of his place on the Sonics' salary scale. (He's
reportedly the sixth-highest-paid member of the team.) Although
Kemp made it clear that he held no ill will toward McIlvaine,
his frustration obviously was triggered by the signing of the
Sonics' new center. After Kemp reported to camp, McIlvaine was
properly deferential. "All I know is that guys like Shawn Kemp
will eventually make more than I'll ever see in my lifetime," he
says.

One thing that seems certain is that McIlvaine, who earned
$525,000 last season, will never flaunt his healthy bank
account. He and his wife, Kim, haven't treated themselves to any
expensive toys since arriving in Seattle, which is in keeping
with his conservative nature. "If we buy something big, it will
be a careful process," he says. "We might have our eye on a
motor home, but we'll spend a couple of years shopping around
before we commit to something." That would be a wild spending
spree, McIlvaine-style.

"I've talked to people from the players' association, and
they've told me about guys who signed big contracts and started
throwing their money around, buying a new car every week and
living the high life," he says. "Then by the time they retire
they're coming around to the players' association for financial
help. I know that will never happen to me, but I just want to be
careful."

If the Sonics had been careful, they wouldn't have gambled on
signing McIlvaine in the first place. Now they hope that, come
June, they will be rewarded for their risk. --P.T.

B/W ILLUSTRATION: MICHAEL CUSTODE McIlvaine guards his riches as he does the basket: with great zeal. [Jim McIlvaine]