• Mike Ricci

DeAndre Wasn't the First One


*Photo via Getty Images

Things got weird last night, didn’t they NBA? In fact, the entire 12 hours or so leading up to when free agents could officially sign with teams got out of hand rather quickly. DeAndre Jordan going back on his word to the Dallas Mavericks and resigning with the Los Angeles Clippers has overtaken LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs as the major story during the free agency season.

While this has certainly been high profile thanks to Twitter, it isn’t the first time someone has gone back on a verbal commitment in the NBA to sign with another team. Although there weren’t emojis, the DeAndre Jordan situation isn’t all that different from the free agency of Antonio McDyess in 1999.

To put this in proper perspective, understand that the free agency period in question was technically the 1998 free agency period, but thanks to the NBA lockout which didn’t end until January 6, 1999 the league had one month to get rosters in order before the season officially tipped off on February 5th. This led to an expedited free agency session that allowed for roughly four or five days between when teams could start talking to players and when they could sign on the dotted line.

Antonio McDyess was drafted second overall in the 1995 draft by the Los Angeles Clippers and immediately shipped to the Denver Nuggets in a draft night trade. McDyess spent the first two seasons of his career in Denver before being traded to Phoenix because Denver feared they wouldn’t be able to re-sign McDyess the following summer (this was back when a core of McDyess, Jason Kidd team finished fourth in the Western Conference and rookie deals weren’t a thing).

The Suns were a franchise on the rise but lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. With McDyess heading into free agency, re-signing their young power forward was Phoenix’s top priority.

However, once the lockout ended McDyess met with the Nuggets and agreed to sign with his original team. A big selling point for McDyess was his friendship with his former Nuggets teammate LaPhonso Ellis. However, after reaching a verbal agreement to return to Denver, McDyess found out that Ellis was going to be released before the season began.

McDyess felt betrayed by the Nuggets and began to reconsider signing. He called Jason Kidd on the phone to tell his running mate in Phoenix that he was beginning to regret giving Denver the commitment. Kidd, before hopping on a plane to Denver, advised McDyess not to do anything he didn’t want to do. Kidd flew to Denver with fellow Suns George McCloud and Rex Chapman immediately.

Word quickly got to Denver GM Dan Issel that some Suns were headed to Denver to try and snag McDyess so he arranged for Antonio to attend a Colorado Avalanche game that evening. The Nuggets party watched the game from the owner’s box at the Pepsi Center and continued to woo McDyess, even arranging for Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy to stop by and say hello before the game began.

During the game, Kidd and company arrived and tried to get into the arena but were turned away by security at the direction of Issel. In fact, they even waited outside the player’s entrance hoping to gain access after the game finished. An exchange between Rex Chapman and a security guard was told to Sports Illustrated in 1999:

Chapman says he asked a security guard to tell McDyess they were waiting. After a few minutes a different guard returned and told him, "I just talked to Antonio, and he said, 'Beat it.'"

"I told the guy, 'You're lying,'" Chapman says. "I pressed him and then he finally said, 'Look, I'm just telling you what I was told to come out here and say.'"

The Suns were unable to meet with McDyess at the arena and were denied a meeting at the hotel later that night. The next day, the Nuggets signed McDyess to a six year, $67.5 million dollar contract and the Suns were forced to sign Minnesota Timberwolves All Star Tom Gugliotta as a backup plan.

Meanwhile, McDyess would go on to play four more seasons with the Nuggets including his only All-Star season, 2000-01. He would eventually be traded to the New York Knicks on draft night in 2002 for the rights to Nene.

If you’re looking for further reading on this story, I found the story significantly easier to research thanks to this piece and this one as well.

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