arcus Camby stood in his suite at the Sky Dome 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 done."
Camby became deeply entangled in the seamy world that exits 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 NBA draft.
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."
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 anything?"
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 paying 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 has."
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 going on."
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 him.
"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 year."
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.