Basketball can be a heartless business, which is why it's so refreshing to see a guy in John Paxson's position show a little warmth. The Bulls general manager has caught a lot of flack for asking center Eddy Curry to submit to a DNA test. Many see it as a gross invasion of privacy, and maybe it would've been if Pax's motives over the years had been anything but earnest.
Since the former Bulls guard/assistant coach/broadcaster was installed as the team's vice president of basketball operations three years ago, he has fought tirelessly to undo the team's unfavorable reputation around the league. The rep has its roots with Paxson's predecessor, Jerry Krause, a callous talent evaluator who once famously attributed the Bulls' success to his exemplary leadership in the front office. ("Players don't win championships," Krause once mused. "Organizations do.") It is precisely this institutional hubris that spurred the fall of the Ring Dynasty and turned Chicago, once a regular (and raucous) stop on the NBA's playoff tour, into scorched earth. The perception that MJ,Scottie and Phil had been run out of Dodge didn't exactly score the team many points among prospective free agents. Or in the win column.
But when the Bulls brought Paxson back into the fold, they exorcised a lot of that distrust. He proved as much in the investment he made in Jay Williams. Paxson didn't draft him (Krause did) and could have easily done away with the rookie guard after he crashed his motorcycle into a utility pole back in June 2003. But where other GMs would've punished Williams for his boneheaded act by finding a way to recover a portion of his signing bonus, Paxson bought out the final two years of his contract for $3 million.
The DNA test only follows in Paxson's compassionate M.O. The test came into play after Curry was sidelined the last couple months of the regular season and playoffs with an irregular heartbeat. Back in March, the center had complained of symptoms that were later diagnosed as heart arrhythmia. Until last October, it was believed to be an isolated incident. A DNA test, medical experts told Paxson, would show if Curry was predisposed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the same heart disease that struck down Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers in their primes.
Paxson attached two conditions to the test: pass it, and we'll pay you the maximum; fail it, and we'll pay you $400,000 for the next 50 years of your life. "That was not a basketball decision," Paxson told SI.com's Ian Thomsen back in October. "That was a personal decision, and we made it because we care about [Curry] as a human being. To not have that seen as an important thing is very painful to me."
Even more painful was watching Curry get traded to New York, where sympathy for his situation isn't likely to come as readily. In Chicago, Paxson had more than Curry's back; he had his best interest at heart. That's grounds to make him my Sportsman of the Year.