9.04.2008

When the Bucks Dealt Jabbar (Part IV)

The Bucks were well-advised to treat Abdul-Jabbar's desire to be traded as a serious issue. If he did, indeed, sit out a year, or if he followed through on his vow not to sign again with the Bucks after his contract expired and went to another team, they could wind up with nothing - not Kareem, not any players from a trade and little or no good will from the fans.

At that time, the NBA had no rules governing the movement of free agents, players who had fulfilled their contracts. This was before the so-called Robertson suit in 1976, brought by Oscar Robertson, in which the federal courts spelled out what was then the NBA's free-agent system of compensation and the right of first refusal.

Alan Rothenberg, who was the Lakers' attorney for Cooke, did not know at the time that Abdul-Jabbar wanted to be traded, but he soon would. Rothenberg, now president of the Los Angeles Clippers, said that the Bucks were walking a tightrope with Abdul-Jabbar.

"The compensation rules hadn't been tested," he said. "Milwaukee was afraid that (Commissioner Walter) Kennedy wouldn't have the guts to give them any kind of an award if Kareem left and went somewhere else."

Embry, Alverson and Pavalon said that they would do their best to make Abdul-Jabbar happy while at the same time hoping they would be able to change his mind. After four hours, the meeting at the Sheraton broke up.

The Bucks had a gentleman's agreement with Abdul-Jabbar to remain quiet about his desire to be traded.

Embry and Alverson were understandably concerned that if other teams knew they were being forced to make a trade, the Bucks wouldn't get very much in return. But in March, the code of silence was broken. There was a broadcast report by Marv Albert out of New York that Abdul-Jabbar might be traded to the Knicks.

Embry, who had been waiting for the day when word leaked on the possibility of a trade, quickly flew from Louisville, Ky., where he had been scouting a college game, back to Milwaukee, where he came up with a strategy.

"I set up meetings with the management of both newspapers," Embry said. "I confirmed that, yes, Kareem might be traded, but we don't want to make a big thing out of it. The sports editors and the managing editors gave us cooperation. They agreed."

Bill Dwyre, now sports editor of the Los Angeles Times and then sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal, said that he attended no such meeting and that he knew of no self-imposed censorship on his part or that of either the Journal or Milwaukee Sentinel.

Alverson was aware it was probably only a matter of time before Abdul-Jabbar trade rumors showed up somewhere, but once they came from New York, he made a mental note to forget about dealing with the Knicks.

"I'll go to my grave believing that the Knicks convinced Kareem and Sam that it was all locked up," Alverson said. "(Before the leak) we were thinking about convincing Kareem to stay by providing him a town house in New York and a full-time charter service to get him to Milwaukee. We were scrambling."

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