Let's say you own a professional basketball team and there is a big guy knocking on your door looking for a job. You're a fried chicken magnate and don't know anything about this skeleton with red hair. So you look him up in the NBA Guide. You study the numbers.
You find out the big guy has been in the league for five years. He has played 202 games. For some reason, then, he has missed 208 of his team's games.
To hire this guy, you have to pay off his old bosses by giving up some of your players and tall piles of cash and maybe some draft choices. So you study the NBA Guilde more closely.
The big guy has averaged 17 points a game. Not bad, but nothing special there. Forty guys might average 17 a game, including guys who get coaches fired.
The big redhead knocking on your door gets 13 rebounds a game. That's good, right up there with Wes Unseld. But of those 13 rebounds, only two come on the offensive board. Is this guy in the offense?
In his five NBA seasons, the big guy has played in only one NBA All-Star game.
His team, in those five seasons, is an average of nine games over .500. It made the playoffs three times in five years, once winning the NBA championship. He gets 2 1/2 assists a game, shoots 51 percent from the floor and 67.4 percent from the free throw line.
Nice player. Serviceable. A $250,000 player. Nothing great.
So what do you, the owner, give up for the guy after studying the cold-type numbers of the NBA Guide?
What is Bill Walton worth?
Right, Bill Walton is knocking on your door.
Or is he The Frail One?
When the San Diego Clippers signed free agent Walton (for $1 million a year), they were forced by NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien to give compensation to the Portland Trail Blazers.
O'Brien, ruling when the teams couldn't agree on compensation, ordered San Diego to give up forward Kermit Washington, center Kevin Kunnert, a first-round draft choice, and either guard Randy Smith or a first-round draft choice and $350,000.
No one is happy with the deal.
Portland wants more.
San Diego wants to give away less.
And the NBA Players Association is considering a lawsuit against the NBA for that the association boss, Larry Fleisher, calls "an excessive award acting as a penalty to stop other teams from signing free agents."
Fleisher was a happy man yesterday afternoon because a federal judge in New York, Robert P. Carter, had just overruled the NBA-ordered compensation in the Marvin Webster case of last year. In that one, Commissioner O'Brien ordered the New York Knicks to give Seattle $450,000, a first-round draft choice and forward Lonnie Shelton as payment for signing Webster.
"That award has been set aside," Fleisher said, "and I would believe in the next couple days that I will decide if we want to take the Walton case to court. The federal judge is our protector, as determined in the Oscar Robertson case four years ago."
By "protector," Fleisher meant that a federal judge is the ultimate arbiter of what's fair in compensation. Should the Walton case reach federal court -- and it likely will, given the Shelton decision and Fleisher's enthusiasm to keep the market as open as possible for his player-clients -- the testimony would be fascinating because Walton, when healthy, is a great player who lifts his teammates to superior efforts; only problem is, he almost never is healthy.
Lawrence Weinberg, president of the Portland Trail Blazers, thinks his team has been robbed.
"San Diego has lost Kermit Washington, they have lost Kevin Kunnert -- one of three centers they had -- and a No. 1 draft choice and $350,000," Weinberg said, adding that he doesn't expect to get the guard, Smith.
"For that, they got Bill Walton.
"People would go around doing that deal for Bill Walton seven days a week."
It is natural that Portland wanted more for Walton. Portland may have wanted Marine World, The San Diego Zoo, Gaylord Perry and John Jefferson. According to Fleisher, Portland's original demands for compensation were $5 million in cash, four first-round draft choices and three players.
"I find the commissioner's award distressing," Weinberg said
As Weinberg believed he didn't get enough for the world's greatest basketball player, Fleisher believed San Diego had to give up too much for an eternally crippled redhead who hasn't played in half his team's games the last five years.
"Bill Walton is not instant championship," Fleisher said. "He has averaged less than 40 games a year for his five seasons. And if compensation is based on loss to team, well, Portland sold out every game last year and made the playoffs without Bill Walton playing a single minute.
"Bill Walton's loss, then, was minimal. To award Portland three players -- two of them starters, one an All-Star, another player who may be the best backup center in the league -- is a tremendous award. And in the event Bill Walton is unable to play 80 games, that award effectively will have destroyed the San Diego team."