Look, Gatling's not asking anybody to run a telethon for him. He knows he's outrageously paid. It's just that putting your head down on a pillow mint every night gets old.
"It's hard to figure," he says. "If I were just a mediocre player, I could see it. But I dive for loose balls. I take charges. Coaches seem to like me. Fans seem to like me. Maybe I should do what other guys do, the bad guys. You know, show up late, cause trouble. Those guys get all the endorsements, stay on one team. I know we get paid a lot of money, but sometimes you just feel like a piece of meat."
Gatling has a home in Oakland he rarely sees, a home in Dallas he rarely sees, a seven-year-old daughter in Chicago he rarely sees. (Her mother, whom Gatling never married, takes care of her.) He doesn't get involved seriously with women. "I won't do that to someone," he says. He doesn't make close friends anymore, either. "Why? Two months later you're somewhere else," he says. "I got one best friend: myself."
Hate the coddled NBA players all you want, but these are still people being shipped around like Christmas hams, people with lives and problems, just like anybody else. When Gatling was traded to New Jersey in February 1997, it was a godsend because his mother was dealing with breast cancer and he got to stay near his parents' home in Warren, N.J., a house he had built for them. A season later the Nets shipped him to Milwaukee. "It's not right," Gatling says. "There ought to be a rule about it. You shouldn't be allowed to do this to a person."
That's why what happened to Gatling last Thursday, trade-deadline day, was such a complete and utter shock. Nothing. Twenty-two players in the NBA were traded that day, yet somehow, Gatling wasn't one of them. He was so happy, he had a bakery make up a giant cake for what he called a "not traded" party he threw the next night.
First staying in Cleveland party ever thrown.