Marques Johnson said Friday that he understood why the Clippers are seeking to nullify the trade with the Milwaukee Bucks that brought him to Los Angeles but that he has been hurt by the team’s action and feels somewhat unwanted.
The Clippers’ action, which was taken because the Bucks allegedly withheld information on Johnson’s former drug use, will be heard by National Basketball Assn. Commissioner David Stern next week in New York.
“With the things the team is trying to accomplish, it’s almost like my reputation and my name has been dragged through the mud just to achieve those legal goals they have,” Johnson told a group of reporters at the Sports Arena during the Clippers’ media day, on which the team signed former Laker forward Jamaal Wilkes.
“It’s extremely distracting,” Johnson said of the negative publicity connected with the action, “and I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude. I guess I can see their side.”
Johnson, coming off the least productive of his eight NBA seasons--16.4 points a game--said he is appreciative of support from Clipper Coach Don Chaney and General Manager Carl Scheer. But Johnson has not discussed the matter with owner Donald T. Sterling and team President Alan Rothenberg, who initiated the action against the Bucks.
“No, Marques and I haven’t sat down and talked,” Rothenberg said. “But I think he realizes it is a business decision, something the club felt it had to do. It’s nothing personal at all, really.”
Forward Junior Bridgeman, who came to the Clippers along with Johnson as part of last season’s six-player trade that sent Terry Cummings to the Bucks, said: “Anyone in Marques’ situation would have felt disillusioned and hurt.” Yet, Bridgeman said Johnson has handled it well.
Until recently, Johnson had declined to comment on any aspect of the suit or his past drug involvement, which was made public last February in The Times.
Why did he wait so long to comment?
“I hesitated because of the confidentiality that was supposed to be involved,” Johnson said. “Through the story that appeared in The Times last February, that (confidentiality) was shot to pieces. So, I just didn’t say anything in the hopes that everything would blow over. But it hasn’t and it won’t, I feel, until I’ve made some type of comment to let people know what was going on.”
A Times story last Feb. 9 reported that Johnson had undergone treatment at St. Mary’s Drug Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis in the summer of 1983. The story also quoted Rothenberg as saying that the club would have “thought twice” about making the trade had it known about Johnson’s previous drug problem.
Friday, Johnson told reporters that his hospitalization at St. Mary’s had been in the summer of 1982. In the 1981-82 season, Johnson had missed the first 20 games in a contract holdout and averaged only 16.5 points a game in 60 games.
“It goes back to 1981-82,” Johnson said. “I talked to people in Milwaukee, and they told me they heard rumors about me involved in drugs. And I had experimented, to a small degree, with some drugs. I told (the Bucks) I’d be willing to go through whatever they wanted me to go through because they invested a lot of money in me. I had signed a new contract and so I felt obligated to do so.
“I didn’t think I had a problem before, but I went through that program, and they showed me I did. I came out a better person for it.
“I also want it known that during that season in Milwaukee, I didn’t miss any games or practices, or anything like that, that was drug related. I think I played below par that year because I missed training camp and 20 games as a holdout.”
Last season, Johnson’s statistics were the lowest in his career. He said Friday that it was because of a broken hand in training camp, several nagging injuries during the season and “outside distractions” that contributed to his poor showing.
“First, it was the style of ball played here (under former Coach Jim Lynam) that was different than what I was used to in Milwaukee,” he said. “Missing training camp and playing with a hand that didn’t heal until the latter part of the season (hurt, too). All those outside distractions also contributed.”
Scheer and Chaney also said that the Clippers put too much pressure on Johnson, a former UCLA star, to carry the team in their first season in Los Angeles. Johnson, who made $900,000 last season and will earn $1 million this season, was used as the Clippers’ main marketing tool. Scheer was quoted as saying that, with the addition of Johnson, the Clippers could challenge the Lakers.
Said Scheer: “Marques had a great deal of pressure, not only coming here with the idea that he’s going to lead our team, but also returning back to your hometown. There was pressure to prove to the home folks that you’re still as good as when you left. . . . And the idea that Terry Cummings and the Bucks had a great year was another thing to distract him.”
Yet another distraction was a disagreement over Johnson’s contract. The Clippers claimed that Johnson orally agreed to their withholding 30% of his $900,000 salary as a deferred payment. But Johnson said that he never agreed to the deferral. An arbitration date will be announced after the Clipper-Buck arbitration is decided.
“That is an avenue I still have to pursue,” Johnson said. “I will pursue it.”
Clipper Notes General Manager Carl Scheer said that no progress had been made Friday in contract talks with first-round draft choice Benoit Benjamin. The reason? Larry Fleisher, Benjamin’s agent, was not in his New York office because of Hurricane Gloria. Scheer said that the Clippers will negotiate with Fleisher throughout the weekend and, if necessary, will meet with him in New York next week. Scheer, President Alan Rothenberg and general counsel Arn Tellem will be in New York next week for the arbitration hearing with the Bucks. . . . Jamaal Wilkes, who signed his contract Friday, will be practicing with the team today at Cal Poly Pomona. “My biggest adjustment is going to be attitude,” Wilkes said. “I’m going from an organization that had extraordinary success--and that energy feeds on itself--to one that hasn’t been successful--and that attitude feeds on itself.” . . . There also has been no progress with free-agent guard Norm Nixon, who will not be in camp today. . . . The Clippers signed five players to fill out their training-camp roster--third-round draft pick Anicet Lavodrama, free-agent veterans Franklin Edwards and Dane Suttle and free-agent rookies Bobby Parks and Nigel Lloyd.