The letter still exists, tucked away in a box with the keg taps and Greek memorabilia of my college days. It arrived on May 27, 1993. The night before I had gone out with my best friend to celebrate his 21st birthday. We were two college juniors confronting the reality of 9-to-5 futures. When I returned to my University of Delaware dorm in the morning, I found an envelope with the NBA insignia in the corner. "Maybe they want you, Pearl," my roommate joked. "The Sixers need help."
About two months earlier, at the urging of some fellow staffers at The Review, the college newspaper, I had informed the NBA of my intention to leave school early to pursue a pro basketball career. "I have nothing more to gain from playing at the University of Delaware," I wrote to commissioner David Stern. "I believe I have what it takes to make it in your league."
I identified myself as a 6'2", 175-pound shooting guard. No lie, this. I said I had played at Delaware—and, indeed, I had, as a proud member of the Tools, two-time intramural runners-up. I also ran a year of track and cross-country.
Dear Mr. Pearlman:
As you know, the NBA requires any undergraduate basketball player who desires to become eligible for the NBA draft to forego, completely and irreversibly, his remaining collegiate basketball eligibility.
This will confirm that, by letter dated March 24, 1993, you notified the NBA of your decision to renounce your remaining collegiate basketball eligibility with the intention of inducing an NBA team to select you in the NBA draft scheduled to take place on June 30, 1993.
If the foregoing does not coincide with your understanding of the purpose and effect of your March 24, 1993 letter, please contact me in writing at the above address at least ten (10) days prior to the draft.
Joel M. Litvin
Suddenly the blood rushed to my head. Not only was I going to duck out of school a year early, but I would also be making big bucks! Everyone knew Chris Webber would be the top selection, but after that, it was a toss-up. Shawn Bradley. Anfernee Hardaway. Jamal Mashburn. Jeff Pearlman. Two years earlier the Washington Bullets had used their first pick on LaBradford Smith. If they could spend $3.45 million for four years on a future CBA player, why not go cheap for an unknown like me?
A week later there was a message on my telephone answering machine from Rod Thorn, the NBA's senior vice president of basketball operations. "Call me," he said. "We need to talk." Thorn is a man with big concerns. Was he worried that I was too much for the league to handle? Like Dennis Rodman, I was an outlaw. I had a pierced ear; I shaved my head. Or perhaps Thorn wanted to warn me of the sharklike agents waiting for future stars to swim into their jaws.