For a player who had been virtually ignored by his Greek club—he has taken fewer than five shots per game during his four-year career with AEK—Tsakalidis, picked 25th by the Suns, is sure causing a lot of turmoil. His lead agent in Athens, Gus Polites, recently received death threats from Greek fans for trying to guide Tsakalidis to the NBA. Such threats are not to be taken lightly in Greece, where basketball fans can be soccer-style hooligans. "I was trying to tell my wife that there was nothing to worry about," Polites says. His comforting words were interrupted by a TV news report that one of the top free agents had left his Greek team for a rival club offering a better deal. "They're showing this basketball star being chased by the Greek fans in front of his own house," Polites says. "My wife is saying, 'Yeah, sure, we have nothing to worry about' "
Tsakalidis maintains that the contract is invalid because he never signed it—that it is an illegal extension tacked on to the original deal he signed with the club in 1996, when he was 16. When Tsakalidis arrived in Phoenix last week, the Suns presented him with a T-shirt that read FREE JAKE. The hope is that he can develop to the point where he can someday contain Shaq. It helps that Phoenix coach Scott Sidles spent 1996-97 playing and coaching in Greece, where he was represented by Polites and became familiar with Tsakalidis. Not only does Sidles have insight into Tsakalidis's personality, but he also is unlikely to be intimidated by the Greek club's tactics.
The Suns were considering two options. One would be to contest the contract with an arbitrator in London—an all-or-nothing proposition that could result in the AEK deal's being upheld. The other would be to not dispute the contract's validity and to negotiate Tsakalidis's early release, meaning he might have to spend one more year at home in Greece, which is nothing to cry about.