Up and Vanished
Bison Dele left behind $36 million and a lot of troubling questions
How many times have you heard an athlete say, "It's not about the money"? How many times have you believed him? Well, you can take it to the bank in the case of 30-year-old Bison Dele, the center formerly known as Brian Williams, who skipped training camp with the Pistons, announced he was retiring and hopped a plane to Beirut, jettisoning a guaranteed contract with five years and $36.45 million left on it.
Want more proof? Dele's agent, Dwight Manley, structured his client's contract so that the payment for the 1999-2000 season was due up front, in a lump sum of $5.67 million. In other words Dele could have shown up for a month, gone through the motions and then flown the coop with his pockets full of cash, daring the Pistons to retrieve it.
Instead, citing a lack of passion for basketball, Dele filed retirement papers with the league office in mid-October. His last confirmed location was on an island off the coast of Africa, from which he E-mailed Manley on Monday to say that his decision was final.
The Pistons were hardly shocked by Dele's retirement. He had expressed ambivalence about playing as early as July, and in September, Detroit signed free agent Terry Mills as a potential replacement. Dele suffered through a torturous 1998-99 season in which his commitment was continuously questioned by his coaches and teammates. Still, he averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds a game, looking nearly comatose one night and almost brilliant the next.
The Pistons placed Dele on the suspended list, so if the reluctant big man has a change of heart, they can plug him back in the lineup—or trade him. Had they put him on the retired list, he would have been unable to play for one year.
"If Bison changes his mind," says Rick Sund, the Pistons' vice president of basketball operations, "we would gladly take him back." A more realistic scenario would be for Detroit to trade Dele. Team and league sources confirm interest from Portland, Denver and the Lakers.
In a recent chat with reporters, L.A. coach Phil Jackson—who coached Dele on the Bulls for 2� months during the 1996-97 season—made a not-so-subtle attempt to lure Dele back. "I had a special relationship with Brian Williams," Jackson said. "I don't know Bison Dele. I've never met him. Williams was one of the best students I've ever had, and one of the brightest kids I've ever had as a basketball player." The Pistons probably would be willing to deal Dele to the Lakers if they could get Glen Rice, as opposed to Robert Horry, whose cap number also matches up with Dele's.
Detroit forward Christian Laettner said last month that the erratic Dele was often a distraction to many of his teammates. Yet a lack of chemistry doesn't satisfactorily explain Dele's departure, since a clause in his contract would have enabled him to become a free agent next summer.
It's easy to dismiss Dele as an oddball, but his stunning decision may stem from a more sobering cause: depression, which has plagued him all his life and nearly led him to retire in 1993, while he was with the Magic. Williams received counseling and medication then, and he appeared to have righted his career; in 1997-98, with Detroit, he averaged 16.2 points and 8.9 boards a night. Yet sources close to Dele confirm he has not been on medication for at least four years, and friends fear that depression has overtaken him again.