The SI cover only intensified the fight. Tellem was the agent of choice for Telfair's parents, Erica and Otis, and for Sebastian's older brother, former Providence star Jamel Thomas. Over dinner, Miller had his chance to strike a lethal blow to the opposition. He had brought Adidas executives to the table to let all members of the fractious Team Telfair know that the sneaker company was prepared to make Sebastian a rich young man.
"There was a lot of hostility in the room," Miller said. So the agent took a back seat and let the Adidas men do his bidding.
No contract was presented between appetizers and dessert. "But numbers did come," Miller said. According to two people at the table, Adidas passed around outlines of an offer as if they were dinner menus. One person said the proposal guaranteed Sebastian $15 million over 6 years, with incentives that could've made the deal worth $32 million. "They gave each one of us a copy," the person said. "(Erica and Otis) were practically ready to sign."
A second person confirmed that the executives handed out an outline, and that the guaranteed portion of the proposal had Sebastian taking in $15 million over 6 years. But that person claimed the deal maxed out at $42 million "if Sebastian hits the jackpot with all of his incentives. He'd get $2 million up front. ... Adidas wants him badly. They told us Sebastian is the most marketable guy in the draft." Miller's point, exactly. He said he didn't see the "presentation packet" that was handed out to the guests of honor -- "I was negotiating a contract with (Adidas), so I didn't need to see everything," he said -- but conceded it was possible the outline of an offer was included in the packet. "Maybe it was a worksheet," the agent said.
Maybe it was the piece of paper that would bridge the gap between the pro-Miller and anti-Miller camps.
One person at the table said Adidas executives showed off the design they had in mind for Telfair's sneaker. That person would later produce a tall, thin book with a black cover that detailed the shoe company's presentation. The marketing slogan, "Impossible is Nothing," was written in white letters across black pages, before photographs of Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens. A section titled "We are the Past" included shots of Oscar Robertson, Pistol Pete Maravich and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, this before a "We are the Present" section showed portraits of Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady and Garnett.
The word "YOU" was printed over the next two pages, followed by two more pages carrying the message, "Are the Future." The presentation included a picture of Telfair in his black and gold Adidas camp uniform, and a picture of a black sneaker with three gold stripes meant to be Telfair's sneaker. Finally, across from the image of a smiling Telfair was the picture of a low-cut white leisure sneaker and the words, "Invention is a two-way street. We provide the tools. You light them up. Without you, it's just a shoe in a box. With you, it's a shoe with a soul -- making history." Truth be told, Vaccaro figured the Adidas deal was all but done. If nothing else, Reebok's grassroots chief might've faked an offer to force Adidas to increase its bid. He figured that once his former employer had told Telfair he was its No. 1 priority, the marketing prize of the Class of 2004, it would have no choice but to keep throwing money at him.
By his own admission, Vaccaro had "an ulterior motive." He wanted to see Adidas pay the price for what he characterized as premature negotiations with a high school star.
"It's illegal," Vaccaro said. "I'm not letting this go. ... The bad guy here is Adidas."
* * * * *
They entered the Spectrum Club in Manhattan Beach, side by side, passing row after row of tanned bodies working on their treadmills. Sebastian Telfair of Lincoln High and Jameer Nelson of St. Joseph's University parted this sweat-stained sea on their way to the fitness club's basketball court. In his right hand, Telfair was carrying his S31T Adidas specials, his weapons for the day.
They pushed through the glass doors and entered the no-frills gym. They stretched and jogged and then joined Pape Sow of Cal State Fullerton and T.J. Cummings of UCLA, the two big men hired by the Los Angeles Clippers to fill out the two-on-two game; NBA rules prohibit teams from putting more than four players on the court for a predraft workout.
Compared to Telfair, Nelson was a dinosaur, an actual 4-year college player who led tiny St. Joe's to the brink of the Final Four and won the John Wooden Award as America's best player. Built like an icebox, the 5-foot-11 Nelson had more than 20 pounds on Telfair.
As the two started their duel, shooting around-the-horn jumpers at a rapid-fire pace, the Clippers' brain trust looked on: Elgin Baylor, the GM; Mike Dunleavy, the head coach; Barry Hecker, the director of player personnel; and Gary Sacks, a young Hecker aide and a rising star in the organization. Pre-draft workouts are off-limits to the media and often guarded as if peace in the Middle East were at stake. Team officials live in fear of information leaking into enemy hands, information that could ruin their draft-night hopes. But the Clippers had agreed to let me watch this workout on the condition that I kept my observations in confidence until the postdraft publishing of this book.