Indeed, they were. In July, Koncak became a restricted free agent, meaning he could bargain with any team, though the Hawks retained the right to match any offer he received. As fate would have it. the NBA champion Detroit Pistons had lost power forward Rick Mahorn to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the expansion draft, and they promptly came after Koncak as a replacement. "We think he's an emerging star in this league," said Piston general manager Jack McCloskey. Koncak had played reasonably well (6.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game) at the end of the '89 season, starting the final 16 Hawk games after starter Cliff Levingston suffered a back injury. Atlanta went 13-3 in those games, and Koncak was seen as a comer, one of those hustling guys who could look bad while making the team look good. For the season he had more blocks (98) and steals (54) than in any other year, but he averaged only 4.7 points a game, the lowest of his career.
Still, such is the demand for big men in the league that the Pistons offered him the wacky amount of $2.5 million for one year. "We were only going to ask for two million," says Koncak, still amazed. Had Koncak accepted the offer and Atlanta not matched it, he would have been an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and able to search freely for some really big dough from any team. But Atlanta raised the bid with its six-year deal, and Koncak opted for instant millionairehood rather than more gambling.
"You just don't let assets of yours walk away and get nothing back for it," said Atlanta coach Mike Fratello, once Koncak was safely back with the Hawks.
Portland coach Rick Adelman called the deal ludicrous, and Golden State general manager and coach Don Nelson said there "must be some sort of war between Atlanta and Detroit." Certainly the Hawks didn't want to see Koncak go to a team in their own division and have him come back and beat on them five times a year. But Fratello says that the Hawks needed him simply because he is "the consummate team player. He'll take a pounding, be our third or fourth scoring option, play team defense, hit the boards, change opponents' shots. Someday our Hall of Fame center [ Moses Malone] isn't going to be here anymore, and Jon will fill in."
The Pistons insist they weren't deranged in their bidding, either. Even All-Star Isiah Thomas, who makes a paltry $1.1 million a year, understood the niche Koncak could fill. "I look at it this way," says Thomas. "You're baking a cake, and you want it to be the perfect cake. The recipe calls for four cups of sugar, and you only have three. O.K., how much are you willing to pay for that fourth cup of sugar? Our position was he could help us win another title."
Koncak now drives a new Porsche, one of the few concessions he has made to his sudden wealth. He and his family—pregnant wife Darlene and 3-year-old daughter Jessica—plan to move into a bigger house soon, but there aren't too many more material things he wants. Koncak bought Darlene a large diamond ring after he signed the contract, and when he surprised her with the gift on a silver platter covered with orchids at a dinner party, she burst into tears. "When he said in front of all my friends how much he loved me, well, even the men were crying," says Darlene.
Koncak pulls into his driveway and looks at his lawn. One of his pleasures in life is mowing the grass; he can't imagine having somebody else do it, no matter how rich he may become. He has had to change his phone number a couple of times to keep the investment guys and money leeches from hounding him. "John's such a nice guy that he was talking on the phone all day long after the contract," says Darlene. "Everybody had a deal for him."
Koncak goes into the house and pulls out his contract. He looks at the simple math, all the zeros behind the dollar signs, the six-year total, and shakes his head. He looks at the contract often, as baffled as anyone could be. "Even after taxes, after paying Steve, after living expenses and the ring, I still can put a million dollars in the bank," he says.
Koncak's economic and sporting past is rather unremarkable. Raised in Kansas City, Mo., in a middle-class home, the third of Don and Helen Koncak's four children, Jon was, as he says, "the classic late bloomer." He went to Southern Methodist on a basketball scholarship and slowly developed into a fine rebounder and defensive force. He finished his college career as SMU's alltime leader in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage and its second-leading scorer. He played on the 1984 U.S. Olympic gold medal basketball team and was the fifth choice overall in the 1985 NBA draft, by the Hawks.
When Darlene, whom Jon had known since high school, first went down to SMU from Missouri to live with him—they married after his junior year—she slept in a sleeping bag in the dorm room he shared with two roommates. They had to borrow $2,000 from a friend to pay for their wedding, and it was with great delight that they read the numbers on Koncak's first NBA contract. "I was an industrial engineering major at school, and I still have a semester to go," says Koncak. "I'll get my degree, but tell me—isn't this a better-paying job?"