"I had to take money from Norby," says McGee. "There were bills to be paid. My mom ain't working. I have no dad. I have two nieces and two sisters to support. Norby took me from rags to riches in one day."
Yet not all the money went to feed the poor, hungry relatives: Harmon's $54,000 debt reportedly includes a $25,000 down payment that Walters and Bloom made for him on a leased Mercedes. Harris says he spent none of the cash he received on his family. Asked why he didn't hold off signing with an agent until his college eligibility expired four months later, Harris replied, "It's hard to wait when you have something in front of you."
Besides lavishing money on the athletes, Walters made good on his promises of trips to New York and L.A. He put them up in places like the Beverly Hills Hotel and took them to concerts, parties and clubs, where they rubbed elbows with recording artists and movie and TV stars. Palmer got to go to the Grammy ceremonies. While on these trips, the athletes were encouraged to spend; at least one says he was given the use of Walters's American Express card. "I bought a Louis Vuitton billfold and gold jewelry," recalls Harris, who claims to have gone to New York four times and L.A. twice at Walters's expense. "Some people even got video cameras. They bought whatever they felt like. It was like Christmas."
One of the sober realities behind Walters's dealings with college athletes was the apparent one-sided nature of the contracts they entered into. Few, if any, of the athletes were represented by lawyers at the time they signed. "I didn't have a chance to think, he was talking so fast," says Fullwood. Adds Mott, "[Walters] wouldn't let me read [the contract]. He read it to me. He never showed it to my mom. It seemed like when he was reading it, it sounded good."
It wasn't. Walters's contracts typically gave the agent full power of attorney over the players' financial affairs. A typical contract guarantees Walters 6%, up front, of the total value of any NFL deal signed by the player (including all bonuses) and 10% of the player's endorsement income. By contrast, the NFLPA advises a player never to pay his agent a percentage of his entire contract, but to pay him yearly; the percentage should be no more than 10% the first year, 5% the second, 2% the third and none thereafter, and it should be based only on the amount of salary earned each year above the NFL minimum.
Mike Duberstein, director of research for the NFLPA, has seen two of the Walters contracts. "They're atrocious," he says. "In terms of dealing with the players, I'd call them a rip-off." Duberstein says he is "shocked" that so many players sign power of attorney to agents. "What's unsound is that it gives control of a player's destiny to someone other than himself," he says.
From the start, some athletes were less than enchanted with Walters. Swarn, for one, refused to sign with him, explaining, "He told me he understands the soul of the black man. I think it was their pocket he understood." However, others players became disillusioned only after signing. Some had been led to believe that Walters was the personal manager of black entertainers and were shocked to learn he was actually a booking agent. Others came to see the light about the contracts they had signed. Still others got turned off by Walters's style.
"I didn't want to be one of many," says McGee. "Lloyd would call and say, 'We're talking to such and such.' That was fine. But when I got to the Hula Bowl [in Honolulu on Jan. 11, 1986], I found out that Norby was talking to everybody at every school." Rival agents were still courting McGee, and they had him doubting Walters and Bloom all the more. "I said [to Walters], 'You have never once told me who is going to manage my money,' " McGee recalls. "IMG and ProServ [major agent firms] came in on weekends and gave me their pitch. That was the first thing they told me. But with Norby, all I heard was, 'Want to go to a concert?' "
At the 1987 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last January, Walters and Bloom were marked men. "Everyone's gunning for me," Bloom told SI. "Rumors are all over. I'm supposed to be a dope dealer." One day during Senior Bowl week a group of WSE clients and ex-clients happened to be sitting together on a team bus. Walters's name came up. "Everybody put his head down and shook it," recalls Harris. The tide had clearly shifted. The players on the bus began mocking Walters, laughing at him. "He's full of——!" declared one.
One by one, players abandoned Walters in favor of other agents. One of the defectors, Simmons, says he quit Walters partly because of concerns about Norby's image. "Look, my reputation isn't the best in the world, either," Simmons says. "I figured my being represented by Norby Walters wasn't going to help me in the NFL draft. I didn't want people to think worse about me than they already did." Simmons wasn't drafted, but later signed as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts. He retired last Friday.