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Terry's faith is rewarded

Contract gamble about to pay off for Mavs guard

Posted: Monday June 12, 2006 11:17AM; Updated: Monday June 12, 2006 11:41AM
After toiling in obscurity with Atlanta for his first five seasons, Jason Terry is on the verge of the ultimate turnaround in Dallas.
After toiling in obscurity with Atlanta for his first five seasons, Jason Terry is on the verge of the ultimate turnaround in Dallas.
John W. McDonough/SI
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DALLAS -- The first time Jason Terry drove a car, he was 14 years old. He didn't have a learner's permit, and had only the vaguest idea of what the respective pedals represented: go, stop. So he inched his way through the streets of Seattle, slogging along, trying to focus on getting from point A to point B.

Point A was his home, a single-parent household that would eventually swell to include 10 children. "[It seemed like I was] changing diapers while I was still in mine," Jason, the second-oldest child, remembered. He was often charged with keeping an eye on his siblings while his mother was at work. When his younger brother was jumping on his bed and fell and cracked his head open, a nine-year-old J.T. walked him to the emergency room.

But we digress. Back to the car. Point B, at that moment, was again the hospital, though progress was being impeded by his mother, Andrea, sitting next to him in the front seat in the throes of labor. "Man, I was nervous, going about 15 miles an hour," Terry recalled. "She's kicking me, going, 'Come on, pick it up! What are you doing?' She was having the baby right there! That was wild."

Terry told me that story in the summer of 2001. He had just finished his second season as a member of the Atlanta Hawks and was in New York City to tape a guest appearance on one in a long line of ill-fated ESPN game shows. While most shows scramble to find guests, for Terry this was a big moment. The Hawks had won a total of 53 games over those two seasons, which had included a brief taste of the gruesome Lon Kruger era. Maybe this would be the appearance that would help everybody know Jason's name.

Five years later, there likely isn't any NBA fan who doesn't know his name, especially now that Terry has helped his current team, the Mavericks, to a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals. His timing couldn't be better; he's about to be a free agent.

In the summer of 2003, Terry and his agent turned down Atlanta's offers of a five-year, $36 million deal and a seven-year, $49 million deal. He then signed a three-year deal worth about $22 million with Utah, which the Hawks matched to retain him. So he basically took the same amount of money Atlanta was offering per season, though he turned down the security of getting four more years of guaranteed money. At the time the Hawks' front office was shocked. "The money is almost exactly the same," a Hawks front-office member told me at the time, "but why wouldn't they want that extra four years of guaranteed money? Who would turn down about $30 million?"

Didn't Terry know how the NBA works? You sign as long and as lucrative a deal as possible, and then you get fat and happy and spend the first two thirds of your contract underachieving, only to wait until a contract year to start playing well. You never leave money on the table and gamble.