- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

Leonard Hamilton is looking to jump from the college ranks to the NBA, specifically to Tony Cheng's neighborhood.

No one begrudges Hamilton's interest in improving his quality of life, although it could be argued that being dependent on Rod Strickland usually undermines your quality of life.

But that is Hamilton's choice, and the NBA's bright lights certainly are appealing, especially if you are in Miami, where Elian, while he was there, was the No. 1 spectator sport.

Miami is one of those warm-weather cities that sometimes holds sports at a detached distance, as Pat Riley and the Heat could attest. Everyone is seemingly from somewhere else, and you can't beat the sunshine and palm trees, if not the blue hair and support hose.

Hamilton has done well with this previously dormant program, which is why he received a contract extension from the school in April before he became Michael Jordan's latest best friend.

Hamilton signed the contract extension to protect his financial interests over the next seven seasons. That is how business is conducted in Hamilton's volatile profession, and you can't fault a person for accepting assurances from his employer.

But this is where the business becomes tricky, if not hypocritical.

The ink on Hamilton's contract extension is barely dry, and now he is looking to leave the student-athletes and recruits who, like him, signed their names to a contract, only theirs is called a letter of intent.

Unlike their coach, the student-athletes and recruits can't walk away from their signatures without being penalized by the NCAA suits.

The way the suits see it, at least when they are not peeking into Erick Barkley's closet, a prospective student-athlete does not sign a letter of intent because of the coach. He signs it because of the school.

The NCAA suits know this is a convenient lie. They know impressionable teens are persuaded by the men who patrol the sidelines. In many cases, the teens have followed the men on television and read all about them in newspapers and magazines. But the vapors of fame are irrelevant to the NCAA suits. You are signing with the school and not the coach and his assistants.

So now you know why all these teens with overactive pituitary glands wind up in Durham, N.C. It has nothing to do with Mike Krzyzewski's name or the powerhouse basketball program he has built or his ability to close a deal in a recruit's living room. No, Elton Brand attended Duke because of the medical center. Just call him Dr. Brand.

Crazy as it is, the NCAA suits and school presidents, in effect, hold the student-athletes and recruits to a higher standard than they do the men who make their living in college basketball.

That is hard to explain and justify, considering the age discrepancy between coaches and players.

Hamilton is 51 years old, seemingly a settled age. He probably would be the first to tell you that he is wiser, smarter and savvier than when he was 21. That's how it usually works as a person ages.

Being a teen, of course, is often a synonym for goofball. As a teen, you are required to wear your shorts down to your ankles and ignore the zits on your face while you strut. Teens routinely make questionable decisions, and signing with the wrong college basketball program is often the least of it.

Yet teens, despite their lack of insight, are bound to a piece of paper in a way the coaches are not.

Miami's players are hardly the issue between Jordan and Hamilton. The only sticking point between Jordan and Hamilton is soothing the hurt feelings of the third party, in this case the school that awarded Hamilton a contract extension two months ago. Fortunately, the school has put a dollar figure on its hurt feelings, an estimated $2 million.

This is just so much bookkeeping. Hamilton is at that point in his professional life, where his signature, his word, can be bought. It is only business, and how can you object to a person trying to better himself? It is the American way.

The objection is with a stinking, rotten, manipulative system that does not grant Hamilton's players the same latitude.

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