"It really didn't hit me about what had happened until I was in the shower later," he says. "LaSalle Thompson had arranged for some of the rookies to use cars. He was saying that now that contracts were guaranteed, the rookies were going to have to pay for the cars. It was then I realized I wasn't part of this anymore. It was the first time I'd ever been cut from a team."
He called his mother and she said, "Well, if you're not there, then just come on home, baby"—words that he still remembers. He came on home and played the rest of the 1985-86 season for the Bay State Bombardiers in the CBA. Then the Washington Bullets signed him as a free agent. Again, he was an end-of-the-bench afterthought, making the team, being cut, then being brought back when Frank Johnson was injured. He was traded, along with forward Jay Vincent, on Nov. 2, 1987, to Denver for forward Mark Alarie and guard Darrell Walker.
"Most people at the time thought he was a throw-in, but that was far from the truth," Doug Moe, the Nugget coach at the time, says. "Michael Adams was an important part of that deal for us. We really wanted him. We liked his speed. He had the ability to go fast and sort of bring everyone else with him. Then, he started hitting that three-point shot. It was such a weapon. He didn't even have to hit it that much; he just had to have it. People had to play him out there, and it opened everything up for us. We wanted him, but he turned out to be so much more than we ever thought he would be."
The three-pointer became Adams's little-man equalizer. Moe let him shoot it whenever he wanted. He shot. He became the NBA's alltime leader in three-pointers, both made and attempted. He ran off a streak of 79 games over two seasons with at least one three-pointer, a league record. In three years under Moe he became an offensive threat on an offensive team. In his sixth year, last season, he became part of the doors-open, all-offense circus of new coach Paul Westhead. He became the lead acrobat. Out of control? What's out of control? This was an offense based on lack of control. Adams, who observers expected would sit behind Jackson, wound up as the sixth-leading scorer in the NBA at 26.5 points per game and led the Nuggets in assists, steals and minutes played. The 54 points that he scored on one memorable night against the Milwaukee Bucks were the most by a NBA player in a single game last season.
Denver, alas, was terrible. The Nuggets went 20-62. Changes were promised. Changes were made. Adams noticed he had superstar numbers. He asked if perhaps he also could have superstar pay. He is now a Bullet.
"I haven't bought many extravagant things," he says. "My one extravagance was the Mercedes. I always wanted a Mercedes. It was a dream. I didn't buy it until last year. Even then, I called my agent, Frank Catapano, and asked if I could do it. He said I could, that I deserved the car. I had to ask him again. I wasn't sure. He told me to go ahead. I'm proud of that car. I'm going to drive it for the rest of my life."
Adams's yardsticks for success are the normal-sized yardsticks that the rest of the world uses. There is the four-bedroom house he bought three years ago, which is located about a mile from the Capital Centre. Michael's wife, Kris, is from Washington, and they wanted to live in the area, even before he was traded to the Bullets. In the playroom are a pool table and a video game and a giant television. There is a volleyball court in the backyard. There is the car. There also is a house purchased in Windsor, outside Hartford, for Grace and Oliver.
"My dream house," Grace says. "I always wanted a house with a big porch and a big backyard, and now I've got it. Michael just said, 'Find what you want, and I'll buy it." Well, we didn't find anything, so we had it built. Everything I want is in here. When the kids want to visit, they can, and when they're through, they go home. That's good. There's some quiet."
The closing on the house was in August. In November, there was another pleasant moment. The Bullets were playing the Boston Celtics in Hartford in the 14th game of the season, and Adams was off to the best start of his career. He was second in the league in scoring behind Jordan, third in assists behind John Stockton of the Utah Jazz and Tim Hardaway of the Golden State Warriors. He already had hit the Celtics with a 40-point night in a 126-118 overtime win. When he was watching television a few days before the trip to Hartford, he saw a story about Mike Tyson donating turkeys to needy families in different cities. Adams bought 200 turkeys and distributed them himself in his old neighborhood.
"It was a nice thing," he says. "It really worked out. I liked that."