"I've taken a beating from a lot of people saying I was wrong to requesting that [DNA test]. But I don't think I was. In my heart, I would never put anyone in jeopardy. If this was a child of mine, I would have done the same thing."
-- John Paxson, Chicago Bulls GM
Rarely are all three the truth.In the case of the Eddy Curry trade to New York, there is the Bulls' side, the Knicks' side and Curry's side. The truth? Somewhere inside all three. He left the crilla with a chip on both shoulders. Mad at the world for the hand he was dealt, mad at God for forcing the world's hand. He had finally met the expectations the basketball world put on him four years ago. He had finally reached the point where people could see what Shaq saw when he claimed, "Eddy Curry is the best big man in the East" a year before Diesel came East. He had us almost believing. Then his heart skipped a beat. Then another one. And all of a sudden, right when the Bulls were in the spotlight again for the first time in the NBAAJ Era, he disappeared. Wasn't there.
Every playoff game they lost, his disappearance became more visible; with every playoff game lost, we could see something was wrong.As most players do, Eddy Curry played his best basketball in a contract year. But this was the worst thing that could happen. The arrhythmia that's not normal. That's bad enough. To discover you have a heart problem -- literally, not figuratively -- at the end of a contract year that's beyond not normal. That's "Damn, I'm screwed." But now everything is cool, right? EC2 will wear LJ2's old jersey and make it look better. Make the Knicks look better. Make Isiah look better. Maybe. The problem: No answers. No one actually knows what went wrong or why. Then again, someone might know something, but they ain't talking. Which, under the circumstances, is justified. Eddy Curry's lawyer, Alan Milstein, said a few weeks ago, when the news broke that the Bulls wanted a DNA test taken before they structured a contract for him, that "this is far bigger than just the sports world." Nothing in all three sides of this story is more true than that.
Is this about risk or reward?
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And for those who think or say that Eddy Curry had no choice, that all along it should have been a no-brainer for him to choose his life and his health over a game of basketball, you all don't even know half of the half.And this is where the DNA testing takes center court. This is where John Paxson, Isiah Thomas and Eddy Curry all meet. It is also where all three find validation. Illinois is one of 10 states that has no statutes against DNA testing by employers and insurance companies. Meaning that it was within the legal rights of the Bulls to request that Curry take the test. But was it ethically right for them to demand that he take the test as part of a negotiation that would determine his future, not just with them but possibly all of the other 28 teams that could offer him employment? See, the results of the test were requested by the Bulls, but they'd be there for every other team in the league, too. And once those results got out, if negative, they'd undermine all immediate and future negotiation and contract talks that Curry could have with any other team in the NBA. And as generous as the Bulls' offer of $400,000 a year over the next 50 years was in Curry's mind, it was still an indication that they were giving up on him. As far as that offer is concerned, from his standpoint, there was no room to see if they were willing or open to possibly working with him, whatever condition he might have. There was nothing in that that $20 million through 2055 that said: OK, Eddy, the test came back negative; now let's see what we can do to get you back on the court over the next couple of years. Let's see if there's some medication, see if there's some way we can work with you and a team of doctors and specialists to get you back into the game. None of that came across in the Bulls' offer. So now you see why Eddy did what Eddy did. And although he was cleared to play -- and has been cleared to play by the Knicks' doctors -- almost every test that has come back since March has come back "inconclusive." Meaning: He's fine now, but we aren't sure what went wrong we're just sure something did. Add to that the fact that neither the NBA nor Lloyds of London would insure him to play this season and that didn't help his case much, either. Which brings everything back to the negotiation, the contract. Although it isn't against the law in all states to test Curry's DNA to determine employment, isn't it within the legal rights of an employer in any state to know "what's wrong" before they put someone to work? If only one in seven doctors comes with a conclusion, and if another doctor from the world-renowned Mayo Clinic suggests that this specific deoxyribonucleic acid test be taken, and if the former trainer of the team (Chip Schaefer) is the same man who watched a former player (Hank Gathers) drop dead on the court because he had a similar "undiagnosed problem," and if you are the Bulls what are you supposed to do? What other course of action do you take besides demanding that an immoral but not illegal DNA test be taken before you sign off on a contract worth somewhere between $5 million (if it was to be one year) and $65 million? Plus, if they sign Curry to a contract and he doesn't take the test, and then something happens doesn't that leave the organization open and liable to a lawsuit from the Curry family, claiming that the Bulls had prior knowledge that he might have had a preexisting condition and did not do everything in their power to protect him and could have possibly prevented this situation from ending tragically? Isn't that about a $200 million lawsuit? So now you see why Paxson did what Paxson did. At the same time, the Knicks hold no obligation to the situation between the Bulls and Eddy Curry. As far as they're concerned, they have two things working on their side: the money that the Jerry Reinsdorf-owned Bulls don't have, and the power to remove the one thing making this situation five times more dramatic than it needs to be. In other words, the element of negotiation. See, once the Knicks agreed to pay Eddy Curry a certain amount of guaranteed money ($10 million or so is what's being reported) for one year regardless of whether he plays or not this season, and around $60 million total over the next five years if he does/can play over that time period, the negotiation factor in this entire scenario was removed. And that's what allowed Eddy's agent, Leon Rose, along with Knicks principle owner James Dolan, Larry Brown, Thomas, Curry, and everyone else to come to that table and do something that no other team in the league seemed willing to do: just talk.
And by taking the Steinbrenner approach to franchise management, the Knicks were able to offer Curry security and money up front, while getting all of the information they needed on the back end.Will the Knicks make Eddy Curry take a DNA test? No. It's against the employee laws in New York. Will they suggest that he take it? Yes. They, like every other team, would like to know if something is seriously wrong and/or whether Eddy is predisposed to the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that took Gathers and Boston's Reggie Lewis away from us. Will Eddy take the test? Probably so, now. With no questions or hesitation. Now that the results of the test are no longer part of a negotiation, are no longer a part of how his immediate future will be decided, are no longer looked at as the end-all-be-all of his professional basketball career, I'm pretty sure he wants to know, just like everyone else: What in the hell is really going on inside this body? And regardless of the results, in one year with the Knicks, he'll make half of that Bulls' offer of $20 million over 50 years. If the results come back positive, he'll triple it in less than six. And get a chance to prove Shaq right in the process. So now you see why Zeke did what Zeke did. Three sides, all justified. Now tell me: Where's the truth?
If I told you there was a fourth side to this story, what would you think?What if I told you that the fourth side of this story matters more than all of the other sides put together? This side has no name, no rhyme, no reason, no rationale. It's the side that represents life. And what life represents to some people. It's also the side that represents death, and the meaning of it. To some people. Eddy Curry is a 22-year-old individual. Since he was 11, he knew what he was going to do for the rest of his life. He was into gymnastics, but when is the last time you saw a 7-foot black male gymnast in the Olympics? He knew that the NBA was going to be the end of his journey. It wasn't a matter of how, but how soon. Like most other American athletes of this generation, he put every egg he had in one basket. Ball or fall. Tattooed on his heart. By the time he turned 16, he had no choice. "I think Eddy was caught in the middle of all this," said best-selling author Sam Smith after covering the Curry situation for the Chicago Tribune during the opening of Knicks camp. "He's got a lot of responsibility, and he was under a tremendous amount of pressure. I think he just wanted all of this to go away. "I also think Eddy did what any kid in his situation would do. He feels that he's invincible. Most kids his age feel the same way: invincible. Eddy Curry was going to play basketball until someone told him he couldn't. And so far, no one has." Yet we ask why he's not pro-life. The Bulls had a choice. They simply could have refused to play Eddy this year. Swallow his contract and let him become a free agent and be done with the situation forever. The Knicks had a choice, too. They simply could have left the situation alone and rolled with Jerome James in the middle and hope that Michael Sweetney lives up to the G'town pedigree that Ewing, Mourning and Mutombo set back in the day. But Curry he had no choice. At least, not in his mind. Or in his heart. Not playing basketball was not an option. And for those of us who've never had that opportunity -- you know, had that lifelong dream come true of not just making the NBA, but of getting to the second contract, the one that sets you and your peoples up for life -- to judge Eddy Curry's decision to ignore the inconclusiveness of the cardiologists, to ignore the irregular heartbeats, to ignore the recent deaths of 22-year-old Shawntinice Polk of the University of Arizona or 22-year-old Thomas Herrion of the San Francisco 49ers it basically shows our ignorance more than his. To understand the fourth side, simply use Jay Williams and Grant Hill as criteria. Here are two kids who had the lives that Eddy Curry dreamed of, who experienced things at an early age that Curry probably still hasn't experienced. They know that basketball does not equal life. But do they act like they don't know? No. They are still doing everything humanly possible to play. Regardless of what every doctor has told them. Regardless of the hand God has dealt them. If a degree from Duke doesn't make them smart enough to pull away from the game, what in the hell do you think a diploma from Thornwood High School is going to do? And when put in perspective, their injuries weren't as severe as Curry's, and the risk is not the same. But the principle is: Losing this game in their lives is equal to losing their lives. Death is its equivalent. There is a line in the movie "Finding Neverland." It's as though Kate Winslet's character is summing up Eddy Curry's life. She says of her health: "My understanding is that my situation may be quite serious. However, my wish is that life should go on as normal. So I'll have the examination and take whatever medication they advise, but I don't want to know what they're for I need to go on pretending until the end." At the end of the movie, Kate Winslet's character dies. I hope for Eddy Curry, the game is worth it. Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.