For a long time I have publicly said and personally believed that I would never play professional basketball. As the past season at Ohio State ended I was all the more convinced that I could not further my educational development or career goals by becoming a professional athlete. I felt that all any professional team would or could offer me was money—a big lump of money to be sure, but just money—and that they would have no interest in my education, my off-court future or in helping me achieve some of the many aims that are quite important to me. Now I have received a far different kind of offer from the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League, and I am accepting it. I am signing a contract, and will play for Cleveland for two years.
This decision comes after five of the most difficult months of my life. Everywhere I went people were asking me, "What are you going to do, Jerry, what are you going to do?" Since the season ended, the phone has been ringing incessantly. Wire services, reporters, friends, all asking the same thing. Lately my wife Treva and I have had to leave the phone off the hook at night.
I told everyone that I would be willing to listen to representatives of the professional teams that drafted me, Cleveland and the Cincinnati Royals of the National Basketball Association. But my attitude had not changed. NBA teams play as many as 116 games a year. The season is six months. You hopscotch your way endlessly around the country. My friends in the league had told me it was murder, mentally and physically. I have never wanted to live like that. I still don't.
My first real contact with the professional aspects of basketball came the week we lost the NCAA basketball championship to Cincinnati. Abe Saperstein, commissioner of the ABL, offered me $10,000 to play for two weeks on a team that would barnstorm against his Harlem Globetrotters. I told him no, because I already had another commitment that could not be changed. It was something I wanted badly to do—to make a series of banquet talks at schools in the Ohio area. I ended up scheduling 50 talks in as many days, as well as playing an exhibition series with some of my Ohio State teammates.
Though I had to drop out of school for a quarter to do this, I made several thousand dollars. For the first time Treva and I had some cash. She wanted a new bedroom suite. "O.K.," I said. "But after that the lid goes on the bank account again."
Two weeks after I turned down Mr. Saperstein I had a meeting with Pepper Wilson, general manager of the Cincinnati Royals. He made an offer. It was a three-year contract, and I can't disclose the amount. [ Ohio rumors place the figure at about $100,000.—ED.] That was it. Just that lump of money, which would not last too long, especially when you consider taxes. What's more, I would not be able to finish at Ohio State in the near future. I now had two quarters to complete before getting a degree. I could not graduate until December, and the NBA season starts much earlier. Nor did the Royals have any specific thoughts or suggestions about my future. I told Mr. Wilson that this was not the kind of contract I was interested in.
Shortly after that George Steinbrenner, the president of the Pipers, contacted me through Joe J. Hardy, a Columbus man who advises me, and a meeting was set. Mr. Steinbrenner arrived carrying briefcases filled with reasons why I should sign with Cleveland. There was a maroon folder with page after page analyzing my future there. There was a chart showing what Piper attendance was expected to be if I played, what that made me worth and, therefore, how much 1 might logically be offered. There was a report that regional television was a certainty and an ABL national TV package an excellent possibility if I signed. There was also a Piper balance sheet. "You should have the facts," Mr. Steinbrenner said. The facts showed the Pipers lost $170,000 last season.
He told me the group he heads, made up of 17 Cleveland businessmen, bought the Pipers in 1960 largely because they hoped to sign me, and they had been working since with that goal in mind. He said he had insisted when the Pipers joined the ABL that their territorial draft area must be all of Ohio and that each team should get two territorial picks. You see, they also wanted Havlicek. [Teammate and fellow All-America John Havlicek probably will join Lucas at Cleveland.—ED.] "If we don't sign you," Mr. Steinbrenner said, "I doubt we will keep the franchise."
The Pipers had carefully studied my objections to professional basketball. They came armed with answers. Mr. Steinbrenner began at once that first day talking about education. He knew Ohio State representatives had done that four years ago, and that had been the reason I had selected OSU over 150 other schools. He said the ABL schedule had been cut to about 70 games—at his suggestion—and would not open until December. Therefore I could finish school. He offered a two-year contract instead of three. After two years, he said, the club would see that my way was paid through the graduate school of my choice. He said I wasn't expected to play more than two years. He offered what amounted to a portfolio of stocks and investments that virtually assured me an income for years. Some of these were with firms that were also interested in hiring me on a career basis, once I stopped playing basketball.