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Long Tall Salley

Former NBA Big Man John Salley makes a play for stardom after basketball.
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 1)

On the other hand, Salley is occasionally guilty of the same excessive praise that is rampant in NBA coverage,. The Lakers' 19-year-old guard Kobe Bryant is one player singled out for coronation. Bryant may become a great player, but lets calm down. He is not yet the "air apparent" to Michael Jordan. One of Salley's advantages as an analyst, however, is that he has competed against many of today's players.

Salley played his last National Basketball Association season for the Bulls in 1996, the same year they set an all-time record by winning 72 games and losing 10. In June 1996 he earned his third world-championship ring in a 10-year career. Just 32, he could have gone on for more. But the power forward/center retired before the start of the 1996-1997 season. Why quit at such a young age?

"You know why I quit? The moment Jerry Krause [the Bulls' general manager] had the nerve to tell me, 'We can only pay you $375,000.' I thought it was a crock of bull. He said, 'But look, you get a chance to play with the Bulls, a chance to win one more ring.' Well, I can buy my own jewelry. I love playing with Michael [Jordan] and I love the situation. But I'm doing this for a living.

"I was making $3 million a year with Toronto [his multiyear contract with the Toronto Raptors was then still in effect]. He said, 'You're already getting your money from Toronto.' That had nothing to do with it. I had $12 million for five years with incentives for another $3 million. I had to give Isiah Thomas [then executive vice president of basketball operations with Toronto] back $1 million to get out of my contract, because he waived me.

"I was in Toronto five months before I went to the Bulls. Krause was the only one who knew where I was at. I wasn't going to take any waiver calls from anyone else. He said, 'What are you going to do, Sall?' I said, 'I'm going to go down to Miami Beach and sit on the beach.' It was funny, because I did whatever I had to do to be a Bull. They wanted to see about the chemistry and if I was going to fit perfectly with the team. I did that. Krause told me they couldn't pay the money and the next thing you know [before the 1996-1997 season] they give Robert Parish $2.5 million for two years." Parish, who was 43 when he got his contract, ended up playing an insignificant role, averaging about nine minutes a night in 43 games during the 1996-1997 season.

So Salley flew to Athens, Greece, to play for Panthinaikos, a team that with the help of Dominique Wilkins had won the European championship in 1996. But a dispute with management ended a deal that was to pay Salley $1.4 million. He made only a fraction of that when he didn't finish the season.

Salley had other cards to play. He had long thought of using his personality to land his own talk show. "I shot a pilot for my own show last summer," he says. "It was the John Salley show, a late-night talk show." It was slated to start last June. "Buena Vista television [a subsidiary of Disney] decided, with 95 percent of the country sold, that they would rather have Keenan Ivory Wayans do five days a week and me on Saturday."

A spokesperson at Buena Vista, who did not want to be named, said, "Buena Vista had hopes of doing both shows, but it wasn't feasible. We settled amicably."

"John's very smart," says Joy Dolce, Salley's manager and a talent executive for the ABC show "Politically Incorrect." "He thought that Buena Vista would be putting all their marketing resources and talent into Keenan's show and not his." So Salley decided that it would be better not to swim against the tide and that he'd try a talk show at a later date. He settled for $250,000 with Buena Vista.

Salley, who was renting a home in Beverly Hills, continued working with people like Malcolm Jamal Warner and Eddie Griffin on "The Malcolm and Eddie Show," a sitcom on UHF cable. Then the call from NBC Sports came. The high-flying Doctor, Julius Erving, had flown his studio perch to become the executive vice president of the Orlando Magic. NBC thought that Salley would be a good fit.

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