Marcus Camby stood in his suite at the SkyDome Hotel in Toronto,
staring out at the expanse of green in the empty stadium outside
his window. For a moment there was silence. No agents, no
friends, no publicists buzzed around him, competing for his
attention, for his affection. You could not help but wonder if
his recent past would have been different, if it would not have
become such a twisted mess, if he had enjoyed more moments like
this one, if he had just been alone more often.
Camby, the Toronto Raptors' 6'11" second-year forward, admits
that he was at least as much villain as victim in the scandal
involving him that has come to light, bit by sordid bit, during
the past year. He acknowledges having taken thousands of dollars
in cash and gifts from agents, in violation of NCAA rules, while
he was an All-America at Massachusetts. But he also offers as
some small defense the chaos that can overwhelm a star college
athlete and warp his sense of right and wrong. "It was a crazy
time," he says. "People were coming up to me, offering me
things, trying to get close to me. The phone was always ringing.
Everything was happening so fast my head was spinning, and I did
some things I'm not proud of. I did some things I shouldn't have
Camby became deeply entangled in the seamy world that exists
behind the scenes of big-time college athletics. The agents
supplied him with money, jewelry, rental cars and prostitutes,
which he willingly accepted and in some cases requested. Two
agents, John Lounsbury of Wolcott, Conn., and Wesley Spears, a
lawyer in Hartford, Camby's hometown, believed, or at least
hoped, that Camby would allow them to represent him when he
turned pro if they lavished gifts on him as a collegian; they
were left in the lurch, feeling like jilted lovers, when he
exited UMass after his junior year and signed with a
high-powered agency, ProServ, which helped him negotiate a
three-year, $8 million contract as the No. 2 pick in the 1996
But the Camby story goes beyond his association with Lounsbury
and Spears. It is about how so many people tried to cash in on
an All-America, how the payoffs and under-the-table deals became
so widespread that they may have been far out of Camby's
control--perhaps, in some instances, even beyond his knowledge.
It is about how, despite the efforts of the NCAA and school
athletic departments, agents can infiltrate a player's inner
circle of friends and family. In Camby's case nearly everyone
close to him was drawn in, some of them unable to resist the
lure of easy money, until before long almost everyone was
playing the angles, shading the truth to fit his own motives.
"This would make a great movie," says one friend of Camby's.
"And the funny thing is, I don't even know if Marcus would be
the main character."
September 14, 1997
Lounsbury and Spears paint Camby, now 23, as the ultimate greedy
athlete, constantly with his hand out. "Marcus was good," says
Lounsbury, 42, who estimates that he gave Camby more than
$40,000 in cash and gifts between December 1994 and March 1996.
"I would call him all the time, and he'd have a few sentences, a
little time. But when he wanted money, he increased the amount
of time he gave me. He knew how to play me. He'd ride around in
my car, tell me what I wanted to hear, then take the money. 'I'm
struggling, man.' Those were Marcus's famous words. That's what
he said anytime he called and needed something. 'I'm struggling,
man.'" Lounsbury says he often rented cars for Camby--always in
his own name, to keep from raising suspicion--including one
occasion in March 1995 when he rented a car for Camby for what
was supposed to be a weekend. Camby kept the car for 17 days,
until Lounsbury went to Camby's mother's apartment, in Hartford,
to reclaim it. The bill was nearly $2,000. Lounsbury produced a
copy of the rental agreement for SI, and Camby's name is on it
as an additional driver. "It's obvious I was taken for a ride,"
Lounsbury says. "And it's obvious I wasn't the only one."
Camby and his close friend Tamia Murray, who Lounsbury says was
present when he came to retrieve the car, dispute Lounsbury's
account. Both admit to accepting rental cars from Lounsbury,
which in Camby's case would have been contrary to NCAA rules,
but both also say Camby never kept a car nearly that long. Camby
says the story is typical of the way Lounsbury has sometimes
rewritten history. "Every day I find out some new lie that
someone is telling," Camby says. "It's like they think because
I've admitted to doing some things wrong, they can just accuse
me of anything and everyone will accept it as the truth."
Camby does acknowledge that many of Lounsbury's allegations are
true. He admits that while at an electronics store with
Lounsbury in March 1995 watching an NCAA tournament game, he
asked the agent to buy him a stereo as a birthday gift.
Lounsbury bought it for him on the spot at a cost of $1,066.
Then there were the roughly 40 trips Lounsbury made to meet
Camby, often in the parking lot of a McDonald's near the UMass
campus, to hand-deliver money, usually between $300 and $500.
Camby doesn't deny that such payments occurred, but he and
Lounsbury differ over one important detail. "I never made an
unsolicited trip with Marcus or gave him money or anything
without him asking for it," Lounsbury says flatly. "He never had
a problem with asking for it, though."
Camby and his friends, family and associates dispute Lounsbury's
assertion that he gave only when Camby asked. "The guy was a
walking ATM machine," says ProServ's Alex Johnson, Camby's
agent. "He was giving out money to anyone he thought could help
him land Marcus. No one had to ask for anything."
Says Camby, "I didn't have to ask for anything. I had so many
people offering me things without asking. I got offers from
big-time agents, names you would recognize. I got offered cars,
houses for my mother, college tuition for my sisters. When
you're getting all those offers, why would you need to ask for
Camby's mother, Janice, recalls Lounsbury coming to her Hartford
apartment, uninvited, at Christmastime in 1995. "He looked at my
tree and said it didn't look like I had many presents under it,"
she says. "I told him my tree was just fine. But he said he
wanted to help. Then he went in his pocket and took out $500. I
said I didn't need it, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. He
just kept saying, 'Take it. Take it.'"
Murray, a childhood friend of Camby's who still lives in
Hartford, says he also benefited from Lounsbury's unprompted
generosity. Near the end of one UMass home game during Camby's
junior year, according to Murray, he and Lounsbury went to a
public rest room in the Mullins Center. Murray says Lounsbury
checked under the stalls to make sure no one else was there,
then handed him $600. "He said $300 was for me and $300 for
Marcus," Murray says. "Then he walked out one end of the rest
room, and I walked out another. That was the first time he gave
me money. I didn't even know him that well. I thought, Damn, I
gotta come to games more often."
Yet Lounsbury's involvement with Camby seems almost innocent
compared with Spears's association with him. After he signed
with ProServ, Camby says, Spears threatened to expose their
improper contact to the tabloids unless Camby paid to keep him
quiet. Camby's response was to go to the police. Spears has
since been charged not only with extortion but also with
promoting prostitution. His trial, at which Camby almost surely
would be called to testify, was scheduled to begin on this
coming Monday, although sources told SI that a plea bargain was
possible. Spears, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges,
declined to speak with SI.
It was Camby's statement to police in his complaint against
Spears that brought Camby's own transgressions to light. He told
of his first meeting with Spears, in December 1995 at his UMass
dormitory when he was a junior. Camby said that he, a friend and
another UMass basketball player had sex with a woman whom Spears
had brought along. The woman, who at the time was a tenant in a
condominium owned by Spears, told authorities that her rent was
cut by $250 for her night's work.
After that, Camby said in his statement, Spears began showing up
at Minutemen games with some of Camby's friends, whom Spears
provided with money and free use of rental cars. Camby also said
his friends gave him an expensive gold chain and diamond pendant
around Christmas 1995 that he later learned had been purchased
by Spears. Camby said he accepted $1,000 from Spears in May 1996
and, at about the same time, had sex at Spears's home with a
woman procured for him by Spears. Camby told police that Spears
took photographs of him with the woman. According to Camby, it
was about two weeks later, after he signed with ProServ, that
Spears made his threat. Camby quoted Spears as telling him, 'I
was doing all this stuff for you and your guys, and you better
sign with me. I want four percent of your contract and 25
percent of your endorsements now, or I am going to Hard Copy and
the [National] Enquirer. If I can't have you, no one else can.'"
If convicted of the charges against him, Spears could face jail
time and disbarment. Lounsbury says he was forced into
bankruptcy by debts he ran up while plying Camby with gifts. The
reputation of the UMass basketball program was severely
tarnished, making it highly unlikely that the Minutemen will
attract the kind of recruits who will get them back anytime soon
to the Final Four, which they reached in 1996 with Camby as
their star. The school was forced to return the $151,000 it
earned in NCAA tournament revenue that year and forfeit all four
of its tournament victories because Camby's involvement with
agents made him retroactively ineligible.
To his credit Camby has repaid that money to the school. "I felt
I owed them that much," he says. He has paid for his misdeeds in
other ways as well. The revelations about his offenses at UMass
came to light last season, during the first half of his rookie
year with Toronto, and they, even more than the back and ankle
injuries he struggled with, affected his performance. "It was
the most difficult time I've ever gone through," he says. "The
worst part was that it was all uncovered a little bit at a time,
so I always knew that there was going to be another story when
the media discovered something else or the school discovered
something else. It was like knowing another weight was going to
fall on you, but you didn't know when. Then finally everything
was out in the open, and I didn't have to worry anymore. That's
when I started to play up to my abilities."
When he did, the Raptors liked what they saw. Camby finished
with averages of 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and was
10th in the league in blocked shots with 2.06 per game. Despite
missing 19 games with injuries, he made the NBA's All-Rookie
first team. "He's a 6'11" player with the skill set of a guard,"
says Toronto coach Darrell Walker. "I've never seen a man his
size with the skills he has. We played him at every position
last year except point guard. We'd throw him in at shooting
guard and ask him to defend [the Portland Trail Blazers'] Isaiah
Rider or [the Philadelphia 76ers'] Jerry Stackhouse, which
should tell you something about how wide a variety of talents he
Camby's talent has never been questioned, but in light of the
revelations, his character has. "I get reminded of [the scandal]
from time to time," he says. "Sometimes I'll walk down the
street at home in Hartford and someone will yell out something,
call me a name or something. People have a right to hold what I
did against me. But I think all it will take is for me to make
the All-Star team a few times in a row to make people forget
about the mistakes I made in the past."
That may be wishful thinking. "Spears basically said he was
going to ruin the kid, and he's come pretty close, because every
couple of months Marcus has to deal with all of this again,"
Johnson, Camby's agent, says. "People Marcus thought he could
trust have let him down. Some friendships have been damaged that
can never be repaired. Yes, he can still play basketball, and he
can still earn a lot of money. But if you think he hasn't lost
anything in all of this, you're crazy."
Murray accepts much of the blame for that. Although Camby's and
Spears's names have been linked repeatedly in the headlines,
Camby met face-to-face with Spears a handful of times. More
often it was Murray who dealt with Spears, accepting money and
gifts, some of which eventually reached Camby but most of which
Murray kept. "Marcus didn't know about most of it," Murray says.
"I was the one who got most of the stuff from Spears. I would go
to his house, and he'd go upstairs, then he'd come down with
money for me, $300 or $400 at a time. He didn't really ask me
about hooking him up with Marcus, but we both knew what was
Murray says he took the money with no intention of trying to
persuade Camby to sign with Spears. "Spears knew I was from the
projects and that I didn't have a lot of money," he says. "He
thought I'd sell Marcus out, but I wouldn't do that to a friend.
I just figured if Spears is going to try to use me, I'm gonna
play stupid and just take the money. I didn't see any way it
would get Marcus in trouble. If I knew it would lead to all
this, to people thinking Marcus was some kind of bad guy, I
never would have done it. People have the wrong idea of Marcus.
The stuff with Spears, almost all of that was me, not Marcus."
Camby did deal extensively with Lounsbury, whose courtship of
him is an example of what happens when a minnow tries to swim
with the sharks. Lounsbury was a newcomer to the agent business,
having decided to try his hand at it after being laid off from
his job as an executive at an oil company in 1994, and he went
all out to get Camby, taking out, he says, more than $60,000 in
cash advances against credit cards and borrowing more than
$60,000 from friends and family. He even went so far as to try
to enlist Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates as an investor,
sending a letter to Gates along with a UMass cap and T-shirt
autographed to bill by Camby. Lounsbury says Gates didn't
respond. Lounsbury got an early lesson in the big-time agenting
business when he approached a prominent Big East player to talk
about representing him and the player responded with an open
palm and one question: "What's in it for me?" "I knew right then
how the game was played," Lounsbury says. Eventually Lounsbury
built a client base of former U.S. college players who played
overseas. He saw Camby as his first major client, the one who
would lead to other big-name players. Lounsbury, who still
carries all of his important Camby-related paperwork--including
answering-machine tapes, rental-car receipts, phone bills and an
unsigned representation contract--in a burgundy leather
briefcase, says Camby took advantage of his desperation to sign
"I knew all along that what I was doing was wrong," Lounsbury
says. "In fact, Marcus and I had that discussion several times.
He knew I couldn't afford what I was doing. He's been to my
home, my son's Little League games. He's met my friends. He knew
how far out I was going for him. But he always told me it wasn't
a risk, that I was his man."
It didn't take long for Lounsbury to become intoxicated with his
friendship with one of the best college players in the nation.
He felt special when Camby would spot him in the crowd at a
UMass game and acknowledge him. "He would smile and give me a
little thumbs-up," Lounsbury says. "That was like our little
signal. He'd do that, and, as stupid as it sounds, I'd feel
great the whole night. I was in. God, I listen to myself and it
sounds like a 12-year-old boy and his first girlfriend."
Lounsbury thought he was buying Camby's loyalty and says Camby
reassured him whenever he had doubts. "On three occasions, I
heard about other agents' giving him things," he says. "I even
met Spears after one game when both of us were waiting for
Marcus. Marcus told me not to worry, that [Spears] was just some
guy his boys were taking for a ride. He would say, 'You can take
it to the bank.' I'd ask him what he meant by that, and he said,
'We're going to get rich together when I come out.' That was
enough for me."
In addition to lavishing money and gifts on Camby, Lounsbury
tried to ingratiate himself with the player's mother. Meanwhile,
he says, Spears sought to use Camby's friends to get an inside
track. "He went for the 'boys in the hood' approach," Lounsbury
says. "Another agent I heard of tied himself to Jackie Bethea,
Marcus's 'second mom.' [Bethea coached Camby on youth league
teams and has a child with Camby's father, Ames Manderville.]
Another guy went for the [then Minutemen] coach [John Calipari].
Another guy worked on the people handling the agent-screening
process at UMass. We were all looking for an angle."
Camby's story might have been different if somebody he respected
had been able to persuade him to distance himself from the
unscrupulous characters. Todd Glasco, who coached Camby on a
traveling church league team from Camby's early teens until his
senior year in high school, says he tried to be that person. "I
told his mom, after his freshman year [at UMass], 'In the next
12 months you're going to have all kinds of friends you never
knew before. He's going to be a millionaire, and everybody in
the world is going to want to talk to him.' I warned Marcus not
to take anything from them. He gave me a blank look. He was
listening to me, but it was obvious he wasn't hearing me."
Camby, however, says Glasco never said anything of the sort.
"Todd Glasco never warned me about anything," he says. "He was
someone I played for as a teenager, but it wasn't like we were
close or anything." In fact Camby says that Glasco never took
any special interest in him until after he blossomed as a player
in his freshman year at UMass. "In all the time Marcus played
for him he never took the time to meet me," says Janice Camby.
"Then when Marcus started playing in college, [Glasco] called me
up to introduce himself. From then on he drove me to almost
every one of Marcus's games."
Camby, Murray and Johnson all believe that far from distancing
Camby from agents, Glasco may well have been helping Spears try
to recruit Camby as a client, a charge Glasco calls
"ridiculous." They point to the fact that Glasco was at Spears's
house on the night in May 1996 when Spears made his threats to
Camby. "These were two guys who had no reason to know each
other," Murray says of Glasco and Spears. "When Marcus and I got
to Spears's house that night, there was Todd sitting there. I
don't think he wanted us to see him there, because he parked his
car way down the street, and as soon as we walked in the door he
looked surprised and went straight upstairs."
Glasco says he had become acquainted with Spears at that year's
NCAA tournament. Spears had invited him over, he says, to show
him that Camby was still accepting gifts from him--in this case,
stereo equipment. Glasco says he went over because he wanted to
protect Camby; he says he was afraid of what might happen when
Spears finally realized that Camby had no intention of making
him his agent. "There was a feeling of real anger in the air,"
Glasco says. "I went upstairs and called my wife and described
what was going on. She said, 'Drop the phone and walk out now.'
I said, 'I want to, but I can't. I'm afraid if something happens
to Marcus, I won't be able to forgive myself.' If someone pulled
out a gun and he gets shot.... I didn't know what was going to
happen, but that's the way the atmosphere was."
Glasco went back downstairs, where he found Spears talking to
Camby's friends Murray and Boris Wray. "Marcus is sitting with
his head down," Glasco recalls. "He hasn't said a word. I felt
like smacking him upside his head. It was like, You stupid
idiot. What are you doing? I warned you two years ago this
moment was going to come." After some very tense moments, Glasco
says, Spears finally ordered everyone out of his house, but not
before uttering his threat to expose Camby in the tabloids.
Glasco insists that others dealt with Spears much more than he
did, especially Murray. "Tamia always had money," Glasco says.
"One game, they were playing Wake Forest at UMass, and I needed
to get a soda. Tamia was like, 'I'll get it, Glasco,' and he
pulled out a wad that was incredible. I'm thinking he's doing
drugs, because at that time I don't know who Wesley Spears is.
Tamia knew what I thought, so he said, 'No, Glasco, it ain't
drugs.' All of a sudden, every [road] game, he's flying in,
sometimes first class. He's staying in hotels, living it up.
He's always got a rental car. I was trying to figure it out when
Janice told me, 'Wesley's paying for everything.'"
Although Murray doesn't deny his involvement with Spears, he
says the incident Glasco describes never happened. "I grew up on
the streets," he says. "I learned to be smarter than that. I
don't pull out a wad of money around anybody, especially in a
crowd of people. That's just Glasco trying to make some people
look bad 'cause he thinks it will make him look good."
After signing with ProServ, Camby gave Lounsbury $28,500.
Camby's representatives told a UMass internal committee that
investigated his dealings with agents that Lounsbury had
borrowed that sum and "was late in paying the money back and
indicated that he was in fear for his life" and that Camby had
made the payment to "save his life." But Lounsbury told SI, "I
don't know where in the hell they got that." He says that Camby
paid him because he threatened to sue the player for the money
he had spent on him. He added that Camby's representatives had
him sign a confidentiality agreement, which he produced for SI,
that was to keep him from ever mentioning the deal.
Johnson says that "word had gotten back to us" that Lounsbury
had gambling debts ("My gambling debts were a very small part of
my overall debts," Lounsbury says) and that "Marcus gave him the
money to help him out with that in return for a confidentiality
agreement that was supposed to keep Lounsbury from talking
publicly about his involvement with Marcus. Obviously he's
broken that agreement. If Marcus wanted to sue him, he'd have a
pretty good case."
And why not? A lawsuit would be just another twist in this
unsavory tale. Camby takes solace in his belief that he has done
what he can to atone for his misdeeds. "At least I can say I
didn't duck anything," he says. "I dealt with what I did, and
I've tried to do whatever I can to make it right." He also
refuses to blame his actions on his friends Murray and Wray, or
on the fact that he grew up in the Hartford housing projects
with little money.
"I've tried to tell Marcus that he has to stand up and take
responsibility for his actions, and I think he's done that,"
says Isiah Thomas, the Raptors' president and general manager.
"But I also think that he got into the situations in the first
place because some people took advantage of the fact that he was
young and easy to lead astray. This wasn't some shrewd guy
trying to con everybody. This was a teenager with a lot of
unethical people trying to tempt him, and after a while he gave
in to the temptation."
Despite his status as persona non grata in the Camby camp,
Glasco freely analyzes his former player--and his take is
markedly different from Thomas's. "I think he thought [accepting
money from agents] was a game," Glasco says. "Just take the
money from these guys and then they would disappear and he would
go on his merry ride. While I was involved, I saw other players
who were doing that same thing, and agents would disappear. If
the agents didn't sign the guy, they would be gone. But none of
those players was as high a draft choice as Marcus. None of them
were going to be a top pick. That's why he was different. He
didn't seem to understand that."
But Camby says he kept track of which agents were honest and
dishonest and that he made a point of signing with one he
considers trustworthy. "I went with ProServ because they had a
track record with a lot of NBA players and because they didn't
offer me anything," he says. "The funny thing is, all those
people who offered me things and gave me things were hurting
their chances of getting me to sign with them."
It is unlikely that Camby would ever listen to any advice from
Glasco, but the latter offers it anyway. "He's got to move
somewhere else," Glasco says, referring to the fact that Camby
still lives in the Hartford area in the off-season. "You've got
to hire a trainer, and you've got to focus. They don't have time
to waste with you. There's another Marcus Camby coming up next
Indeed, there is probably another Marcus Camby-like talent out
there in the college ranks, making the same mistakes Camby did,
accepting something he shouldn't, thinking he's not hurting
anyone and that he'll never get caught. Maybe he will be more
fortunate than Camby, or wiser, and he will save himself a lot
of pain. Maybe he'll take some time and get away from all the
schemers and dreamers and family and friends. Maybe he will go
off by himself and think.
"ALL IT WILL TAKE IS FOR ME TO MAKE THE ALL-STAR TEAM TO MAKE
PEOPLE FORGET," CAMBY SAYS