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TANGLED WEB
Phil Taylor
September 15, 1997
MARCUS CAMBY WAS BOTH VICTIM AND VILLAIN IN HIS ILLICIT DEALINGS WITH AGENTS WHILE AT UMASS
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September 15, 1997

Tangled Web

MARCUS CAMBY WAS BOTH VICTIM AND VILLAIN IN HIS ILLICIT DEALINGS WITH AGENTS WHILE AT UMASS

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Marcus Camby stood in his suite at the Sky Dome Hotel in Toronto, staring out at the expanse of green in the empty stadium outside his window. For a moment there was silence. No agents, no friends, no publicists buzzed around him, competing for his attention, for his affection. You could not help but wonder if his recent past would have been different, if it would not have become such a twisted mess, if he had enjoyed more moments like this one, if he had just been alone more often.

Camby, the Toronto Raptors' 6'11" second-year forward, admits that he was at least as much villain as victim in the scandal involving him that has come to light, bit by sordid bit, during the past year. He acknowledges having taken thousands of dollars in cash and gifts from agents, in violation of NCAA rules, while he was an All-America at Massachusetts. But he also offers as some small defense the chaos that can overwhelm a star college athlete and warp his sense of right and wrong. "It was a crazy time," he says. "People were coming up to me, offering me things, trying to get close to me. The phone was always ringing. Everything was happening so fast my head was spinning, and I did some things I'm not proud of. I did some things I shouldn't have done."

Camby became deeply entangled in the seamy world that exits behind the scenes of big-time college athletics. The agents supplied him with money, jewelry, rental cars and prostitutes, which he willingly accepted and in some cases requested. Two agents, John Lounsbury of Wolcott, Conn., and Wesley Spears, a lawyer in Hartford, Camby's hometown, believed, or at least hoped, that Camby would allow them to represent him when he turned pro if they lavished gifts on him as a collegian; they were left in the lurch, feeling like jilted lovers, when he exited UMass after his junior year and signed with a high-powered agency, ProServ, which helped him negotiate a three-year, $8 million contract as the No. 2 pick in the 1996 NBA draft.

But the Camby story goes beyond his association with Lounsbury and Spears. It is about how so many people tried to cash in on an All-America, how the payoffs and under-the-table deals became so widespread that they may have been far out of Camby's control—perhaps, in some instances, even beyond his knowledge. It is about how, despite the efforts of the NCAA and school athletic departments, agents can infiltrate a player's inner circle of friends and family. In Camby's case nearly everyone close to him was drawn in, some of them unable to resist the lure of easy money, until before long almost everyone was playing the angles, shading the truth to fit his own motives. "This would make a great movie," says one friend of Camby's. "And the funny thing is, I don't even know if Marcus would be the main character."

Lounsbury and Spears paint Camby, now 23, as the ultimate greedy athlete, constantly with his hand out. "Marcus was good," says Lounsbury, 42, who estimates that he gave Camby more than $40,000 in cash and gifts between December 1994 and March 1996. "I would call him all the time, and he'd have a few sentences, a little time. But when he wanted money, he increased the amount of time he gave me. He knew how to play me. He'd ride around in my car, tell me what I wanted to hear, then take the money. 'I'm struggling, man.' Those were Marcus's famous words. That's what he said anytime he called and needed something. 'I'm struggling, man.' " Lounsbury says he often rented cars for Camby—always in his own name, to keep from raising suspicion—including one occasion in March 1995 when he rented a car for Camby for what was supposed to be a weekend. Camby kept the car for 17 days, until Lounsbury went to Camby's mother's apartment, in Hartford, to reclaim it. The bill was nearly $2,000. Lounsbury produced a copy of the rental agreement for SI, and Camby's name is on it as an additional driver. "It's obvious I was taken for a ride," Lounsbury says. "And it's obvious I wasn't the only one."

Camby and his close friend Tamia Murray, who Lounsbury says was present when he came to retrieve the car, dispute Lounsbury's account. Both admit to accepting rental cars from Lounsbury, which in Camby's case would have been contrary to NCAA rules, but both also say Camby never kept a car nearly that long. Camby says the story is typical of the ray Lounsbury has sometimes rewritten history. "Every day I find out some new lie that someone is telling," Camby says. "It's like they think because I've admitted to doing some things wrong, they can just accuse me of anything and everyone will accept it as the truth."

Camby does acknowledge that many of Lounsbury's allegations ire true. He admits that while at an electronics store with Lounsbury in March 1995 watching an NCAA tournament game, he asked the agent to buy him a stereo as a birthday gift. Lounsbury bought it for him on the spot at a cost of $1,066. Then there were the roughly 40 trips Lounsbury made to meet Camby, often in the parking lot of a McDonald's near the UMass campus, to hand-deliver money, usually between $300 and $500. Camby doesn't deny that such payments occurred, but he and Lounsbury differ over one important detail. "I never made an unsolicited trip with Marcus or gave him money or anything without him asking for it," Lounsbury says flatly. "He never had a problem with asking for it, though."

Camby and his friends, family and associates dispute Lounsbury's assertion that he gave only when Camby asked. "The guy was a walking ATM machine," says ProServ's Alex Johnson, Camby's agent. "He was giving out money to anyone he thought could help him land Marcus. No one had to ask for anything."

Says Camby, "I didn't have to ask for anything. I had so many people offering me things without asking. I got offers from big-time agents, names you would recognize. I got offered cars, houses for my mother, college tuition for my sisters. When you're getting all those offers, why would you need to ask for anything?"

Camby's mother, Janice, recalls Lounsbury coming to her Hartford apartment, uninvited, at Christmastime in 1995. "He looked at my tree and said it didn't look like I had many presents under it," she says. "I told him my tree was just fine. But he said he wanted to help. Then he went in his pocket and took out $500. I said I didn't need it, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. He just kept saying, 'Take it. Take it.' "

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