•Last spring, Big 10 and Southeastern Conference representatives checked into the possibility that some players involved with Walters might have attempted to shave points in football and basketball games. Harmon fumbled four times in the first half and dropped a pass in the end zone in Iowa's 45-28 loss to UCLA in the 1986 Rose Bowl. Conference officials say they have found no evidence of point shaving.
Clearly, no ordinary man could have created so much commotion. But nobody has ever accused Norby Walters of being ordinary, least of all himself. The white-haired, deceptively mild-looking Walters has made a name for himself over the last two decades as a booking agent for such entertainers as Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, Janet Jackson, Kool and the Gang and Ben Vereen. "I've become Norby Walters, the premier seller of black entertainment in the United States of America, maybe in the world," he likes to brag.
The premier seller of black entertainment in the world (maybe) grew up in Brooklyn as Norby Meyer, the son of Joseph Meyer, a onetime lightweight who boxed in the Army under the name of Soldier Meyer. After World War II, Meyer owned a jazz club called Soldier Meyer's Brooklyn Bop House but sold it in 1953 to Norby and his older brother, Walter, who renamed the place Norby & Walter's Bel-Air. As the two brothers tell the story, the ampersand on the club's neon sign didn't work and everyone came to know the club as Norby Walter's. Eventually both Meyer brothers changed their last name to Walters.
The Brooklyn club featured such notable jazz musicians as Davis, Charlie Parker and Zoot Sims. The Walters brothers later owned other clubs offering everything from the Latin rhythms of Tito Puente to the nightclub act of transsexual Christine Jorgensen to belly dancing, the last at an establishment in Queens called Arabian Nights.
In January 1966 Norby Walters' Supper Club opened next door to the Copacabana on Manhattan's East Side. Norby was the greeter at night. "He could bull——and rap with anybody," says Walter Walters admiringly. "He could talk with a Mafia captain. He could talk with a hooker off the street. He knew how to handle everybody. Best up-front man in the business, maybe in the whole United States."
After nearly two years in operation, however, Norby Walters' lost its liquor license because of what a New York State Liquor Authority report obtained by SI describes as "a highly adverse police and license history for assaults and prostitution activities." The establishment continued to operate for another three months, during which time two mobsters, Oresto Joseph Bruni and Rosario (Sonny) Parisi, were shot to death at the bar by a third man after an argument on March 22, 1968. The establishment was then closed. Norby then decided to try his hand as a booking agent. He began with bands in New Jersey and Long Island. Smart and hardworking, Walters built an extremely successful business. "For a kid to come from a cold-water, third-floor flat, I think he did pretty good," says his brother, a booking agent in Florida.
Entertainment agents have occasionally ventured into sports, and Norby Walters was receptive when, in early 1985, Bloom suggested they team up to recruit and represent college athletes. Bloom, a cocky and persuasive sort, had variously worked as a bouncer at New York's Studio 54, as a professional party giver for New York companies and celebrities and as an employee at his father's collection agency in nearby Westchester County. He had played tight end and linebacker at Irvington (N.Y.) High and, according to coaches, had been disappointed when no major college recruited him. Says one of Bloom's former coaches, "His dream was always to own a pro football team." Bloom's proposal to Walters was simple: Bloom would use his sports knowledge to recruit athletes and Norby would be, well, Norby.
The athletes Walters and Bloom sought fit a pattern. All were black and many were needy, often with a sick relative or a single parent. After introductory phone calls, Walters and Bloom would meet with a player, usually in a hotel room. Players interviewed by SI say that Walters would launch into a high-velocity sales pitch. Ordinarily, he talks very much like a Borscht Belt comic, but he came across to the players as a curious mixture of social activist and street-corner jive artist.
"Norby would do this," says Rogers. "He'd shake your hand and say, 'I'm Norby Walters.' Then he'd snap his fingers twice and say, 'agent of the stars!' "
"I thought he was black, having spoken to him on the phone," says Simmons. "I was very surprised when I met him. He told me he had marched with Martin Luther King, that he has marched with minorities in the South—Alabama, Georgia. He said he grew up in the slums, that all his life he has been around black people and he knew how they thought."