"He had the speech patterns down," says McGee. "He talked like the black guys on the corner, the same junk."
"He seemed to know the time to turn on his black speech, like, 'Hey, what's happening, man?'—the brother lingo," says Mott. "The coaches who recruit you for college do the same thing. Norby sounded more believable, like he had been doing it a long time."
"His actions were black," says St. Louis Cardinals rookie George Swarn, a former Miami of Ohio running back, who told SI he turned down an offer of $2,500 from Walters. "Like, he walked with a slight limp. You know, how a lot of blacks walk, kind of cool. A strut."
In dealing with the young athletes Walters shamelessly dropped the names of his famous clients, sometimes producing copies of Billboard stories alluding to himself. He was full of big talk and big promises. "He said he could introduce me to Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson. He said he managed them," says Mark Ingram, a former Michigan State wide receiver and the first draft pick of the New York Giants. Ingram says he signed with Walters after his college eligibility expired. Simmons recalls Walters telling him "that from now on I'd be at every Grammy Awards. I was going to go to everything. I was also told that I could go to New York or Los Angeles anytime I wanted to. And Norby told me he'd pay for it. He never told me I'd have to pay him back."
As often as not, the pitch worked. Paul Palmer, the Temple running back chosen in the first round of the draft by Kansas City, said that after Walters rattled off the names of his show-biz clients, "I was impressed. With the millions of dollars they represent with those clients, I figured they could handle my pennies." They did. Palmer signed July 17 with the Chiefs for an estimated $1.35 million over four years. Bloom handled the negotiations.
Walters and Bloom also went to great lengths to ingratiate themselves with the athletes' families, especially their mothers. Bloom became so comfortable at McGee's house in Cleveland that he would lie on the floor and watch TV with the family. "He [Walters] said he wanted to become the Number 1 agent in the NFL for negotiating contracts for black athletes," says McGee's mother, Atheree. "His selling pitch was that he didn't need the athletes' money."
On the contrary, Walters appeared to be willing to give away money. And, according to several players, he did it with flair, spreading money out on a table. In Mott's case, he spread it across the floor at his feet.
Some signed eagerly. "The minute he opened the briefcase I said, 'Gimme the pen!' " Simmons says. There were also more cautious souls, like Mott. "Norby came out of his pocket with a bunch of money—a wad," he says. Mott holds his thumb and forefinger about four inches apart. "It looked like ten thousand dollars or more. My eyes just got big." According to Mott, Walters spread the money across the floor. Then Mott said, " 'No, it's against the NCAA rules. It's illegal. I might get in a lot of trouble.' And Norby said, 'Well, you can't get in trouble.' He said that it was April, but that he would postdate the contract till December 1—after the final game.... He said that it was perfectly legal. And that there would be no way to trace it back. The school and the NCAA would never know." McGee apparently did not care if his school found out. "Face it," he says. "Where is the risk? If I got caught by one of the coaches, do you think they would tell on me? No way." Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey said, "If we know he's ineligible, we would report it."
Simmons told SI that he took $4,000 in 20's from Walters at their first meeting and received at least $10,000 in subsequent compensation; Mott said he took $4,500; McGee, $3,500. Others who acknowledged signing early with Walters said they received these amounts: Rogers, $5,000; Fullwood, $4,000; Harris, $6,000.
In explaining why they took the money, some athletes cited family need. Mott said his mother was in debt and on the verge of losing her house. Rogers's mother, Loretha, who has had heart and back problems, had bills piling up and virtually no source of income after the June 1986 cocaine-induced death of her son Don, the Cleveland Browns safety.