Future Is Uncertain, but the Money Isn't

Harold Miner and Tracy Murray. They play basketball in a city populated by certain neighbors so desperate, so destitute, that, roughly a week ago--can it possibly have been that long?--thousands of them went on a window-smashing, business-torching rampage, some looking for vengeance, but others looking for a VCR or a new pair of shoes.

And you wonder why a young person today might be tempted to reach out and grab a million dollars when someone is offering it? When, rather than waiting, he could collect that money right now? When, rather than charity, this is money that is rightfully his, money that he already has gone out and earned?

Harold Miner and Tracy Murray owe nobody anything. Their universities? Their scholarships? What were Miner and Murray supposed to do--say no? Put themselves through college? Say: "Thanks, anyway, but I better not take any money because I might not stay four full years?" What fool would do that?

Miner and Murray went to college because they had to. If you want to make a living as a basketball player, what other option do you have? Unless you are Moses Malone or Darryl Dawkins or Shawn Kemp or some similar physical marvel who can make an NBA roster right out of high school, what choice is there except to accept a scholarship from some university?

These guys did USC and UCLA favors, not the other way around. Miner and Murray made their schools' basketball programs more successful, made them money. The more the Trojans and Bruins won, the more publicity they got, the more TV appearances they made, the more tournament appearances they made, the more blue-chip recruits they attracted, etc.

Nobody should begrudge Harold and Tracy their eagerness to open new bank accounts. Had Hank Gathers turned pro sooner, his family would not have needed lawyers to subsidize the future. Had Danny Manning hurt his knee at the University of Kansas, rather than in his infancy with the Clippers, he never would have been the No. 1 choice in the NBA draft, never would have socked away millions.

No, Miner and Murray did the right thing. It might sound cold and calculating to say, "Get it while you can," but at least it is realistic and human. With all the turmoil in our city and in our world, this is a good time to be thinking of self-preservation. Then, if they choose to, of course, Harold and Tracy can turn right around and sink some of their newfound riches back into L.A.'s economy, do some good.

Within the last few months, even the last few days, we have seen how quickly careers can be cut short, how our futures are never assured.

Aside from athletes rich and famous, ranging in age from Mike Tyson to Bo Jackson to Tracy Austin to Fernando Valenzuela to Magic Johnson to Arthur Ashe to Bill Shoemaker, all of whom discovered in wildly varying ways how quickly something precious can be taken away, we also have seen in the last 48 hours auto racers Rick Mears and Nelson Piquet involved in crashes at Indy; seen one of our greatest jockeys, Angel Cordero, forced to retire after a terrible spill; seen one of our greatest hockey players, Mario Lemieux, forced to the sideline by an opponent who made a scalpel of his stick.

Ask Lenny Dykstra if he feared never playing baseball again; ask Ozzie Guillen. Ask Larry Bird what his life would have been like had his back spasms occurred during his last year at Indiana State, or ask Bill Walton what he would have given for five more pain-free years. Ask Joe Montana about the Super Bowls he might have missed had his injury happened 10 years sooner, or ask Joe Namath about those plastic kneecaps a doctor gave him just last week.

Bleak? Pessimistic?

Possibly, but Miner and Murray are not psychic. They have no way of knowing what happens next. Look at how long it took the Clippers to become a playoff basketball team, while waiting for Manning and Ron Harper to heal. Look at Murray's own college teammate, Ed O'Bannon, and the doubts about his future earning capacity that hinge on a full recovery from a fouled-up knee.

Nothing is guaranteed Miner and Murray; nothing but the money they can make if they immediately turn pro. Both might soon have major adjustments to make--among them, adapting to riding the bench. They might think they will be playing pro basketball, but, like Bo Kimble, Kenny Anderson, Danny Ferry, Stacey King and so many others, what they might be doing next season is practicing with pro basketball teams, working harder in empty gyms than in sold-out ones.

Neither one might be the best NBA prospect within 30 miles. Some of us prefer the chances of Doug Christie of Pepperdine. Yet, both Miner and Murray will be first-round draft choices, both will be well paid and both the Lakers and Clippers would be lucky to have them.

"I just decided to do what I've always wanted to do," Miner said Thursday after announcing his decision.

And what else did he say? That he would be donating part of his salary to the athletic department of USC. That he wanted to give something back.

What better way of ending this week after what we went through here last week?

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