Bitter Thoughts

Initially, it was the best news I had received in years.  My owner and coach pulled me aside after I had helped my 2nd division team win its 5th straight game.  They told me that I was being called up to the first division.  I could not believe my good fortune.  I had been waiting for this day since the second I landed in Israel last year, and I really did not think it would come until next season.  But, a confluence of circumstances allowed my chance to come early.  Haifa suffered some guard injuries and were playing terribly, and I was playing my best basketball since like 2007.The stuff I went through in Tivon has been well catalogued, but let me just briefly go over some of the highlights (lowlights?):
-Suffering a serious knee injury in my 2nd practice ever
-Sharing a sometimes rundown apartment with a litany of aggravating people
-Sleeping on a glorified futon with a family of loud, angry pigeons right outside my window
-Finally getting healthy only to play out of position and poorly
-Having very few friends and generally being bored and depressed all the timeSo, even though I was finally playing well and having fun it is safe to say I was thrilled that my time in Tivon was coming to an end.  I can’t lie, I was most excited about the massive (by my standards) raise I was due to receive.  I went home, told my family the news and went to bed happier than I had in a long time.I had to meet people the next morning in order to sign my new contract and handle whatever other paperwork there was.  The reason it had to happen so fast was that there was a deadline that a player had to be signed by in order to play in European competition.  I was meeting with the 2nd division owner, another person from Tivon who was facilitating, and the team manager of Haifa.  I overslept but ran down the street to the office in time for everything to get started.We were all seated around the owners desk, and we got started right away signing papers for FIBA.  When it eventually came time to sign the Haifa contract the Tivon owner made a point of telling me that Haifa was paying me my final 7 months of salaries and that I was receiving the same amount per month that I was getting in Tivon.  This set off serious alarms in my mind, and then I went ahead and did what I now consider to be at least one of the top 5 dumbest things I’ve ever done.  I have a history of asking too many questions and trying to be too smart for my own good, and wow did it backfire here.

Not waiting, god forbid, until I had signed the contract, I pipe in with “Wait, I’m getting the same money I got in Tivon?”  They reply yes.
“But what about the $750 I am supposed to receive every game I am on the roster of Haifa?”
Everyone looks at me and goes “Huh?”
“Ya, I just want to make sure that is included in whatever I am signing, cause it is in my contract.”  Sigh. I was so self-assured at this point.
They respond: “What are you talking about? We don’t know about this.”

Uh oh.  This is when I start to get that sinking feeling in my stomach.  Whyyyyyyyyy oh why couldn’t I have just kept my mouth shut?  I thought that I was protecting myself.  I have had too many bad experiences out here to trust that they wouldn’t try to screw me into signing some weird contract, so I went on the offensive and tried to make sure they gave me what I was owed.  I never in a million years would have thought that they would sign me WITHOUT EVEN READING MY CONTRACT OR KNOWING WHAT THEY WERE PAYING ME!  What kind of organization does that?

At first they tried to make me think I was crazy by flat-out denying that this clause existed.  I assured them that I knew what I was talking about, when I really should have tried to back pedal and save myself somehow.  I could have said “Oh man you’re right, I was thinking of some other contract, I don’t know what came over me, lets just hurry up and sign.”  But I had got the ball rolling on something I could not stop, and now they were rifling through my contract.  One of them goes “maybe it is 750 shekels.”  But, lo and behold they eventually find it and sit there for a second looking dumbstruck. Someone says “You have a really good agent.”  They were also quick to inform me that as far as the 2nd division goes I have a great contract.  Thanks, that is totally pertinent. Oh wait, it has absolutely nothing to do with anything.

At this point  I really should have just grabbed the contract, locked myself in the bathroom,  initialed every page and got the hell out of there, cause it only got worse.

Phone calls started to be made.  First to the team lawyer, who comes back with the heartbreaking news: They cannot pay me this much money.  They simply say it, just like that, and stare at me.  Then the Haifa manager begins to explain to me how the person who made this contract has since been fired for making horrendous business decisions and that the owner has lost a lot of money making up for them.  All I’m thinking is “Not my problem buddy!  Let him pay for one more mistake.”

Then they pull out calculators and start number punching and tell me with a straight face that if they honored this contract I would be the highest paid player on the team!  Haha what?!?!  Now I don’t know what everyone makes, and I’m not great at math, but I am 100% positive an extra $750 a game would not make me even close to the highest paid player on the team.  We have 1 (rarely 2) Israeli games a week and at this point only had 6 guaranteed games in Europe. They were talking about how Israelis have special taxes and the difference between net and gross salaries and just outright lying about how we can have 4 games a week for a month or some crap.  They stopped just short of trying to convince me that honoring this contract would not only bankrupt the team but that the sheer magnitude could quite possibly destabilize the entire fragile Israeli economy and cause financial tremors from Australia to Canada and did I want that on my filthy, selfish conscience?  I was not buying it and insisted that they pay me my money.

Some more phone calls were made and the sobering hammer was dropped: I can either sign the contract without the game bonus’ or I could stay in Tivon.  I really, really did not want to stay in Tivon.  The whole reason I came to Israel was to try and make it in the 1st division.  That seemed like the only way to advance my career and to test my self against high level competition.  Now I was the one dumbstruck.  I asked to be able to call my agent.  They reluctantly agreed.  It was a long shot to get a hold of him considering it was 4 AM on the East Coast, but I had to try.  I ran back to my place, tried him on Skype, and did not reach him.

I went back to the office and remembered that I had an Israeli agent that my agent works with.  I had recently met him after a game.  I asked to be able to call him, and their stance on agent contact abruptly changed.  They decided that they would no longer allow me to speak with people and I had to make a decision.  Hmmm, now that I might be able to actually reach someone they change policies?  The only reason I even had to ask was because I foolishly had not taken the guys number when I met him.  But, I knew that at least 2 people in the room had his number because this guy represents other players on the team and is well known in Israel.

I turned to the Tivon manager, my one friend in the room, a man who has had me over for dinner multiple times, and pleaded with him to let me use his phone.  It was a sad moment, because I could tell he kind of wanted to let me use it, but that he was bound by the presence of the Haifa manager to obey their orders.  Thus, I was barred by my own management from getting the number of the one person who might have been able to help me out in this critical situation.  It was starting to feel like I was in Guantanamo or something.  Documents were being changed, people were being coerced and contact with the outside was withheld.

All while this is happening I am asking if they can let me think about it for a few hours to at least get my bearings.  They insist that they have someone in Tel Aviv who needs to get my papers faxed to him within 20 minutes so he can send them to FIBA or I won’t be able to play in Europe.   This seems ridiculous in retrospect because it was only like 10:45 AM and what kind of office would end their business at such a time. Furthermore, I should have not cared whether I played in the one European game.  Further furthermore, I went all the way to Germany for this game and didn’t even get to play 1 second.  Getting this whole thing straightened out should have been priority number one, and I could still play in all the Israeli games.  But, they used this Tel Aviv fax thing to make the whole situation even more pressurized.

I finally get to talk with the team vice president.  He said that if agents got involved at this stage everything would be slowed down and that if I insisted on talking to my Israeli agent they would have to rescind the offer and let me stay in Tivon.  He then gave me this big talk about how his word is all he has and that I have to trust him that they will give me a fair raise but that I have to understand they simply cannot pay me all that extra money.  He said they would resolve the whole thing in a week. Tired, stunned and finally defeated, I had no choice but to bow to their demands and amend my contract.

The ultimate humiliation was having to do it in my own writing, making a little note next to the paragraph saying “I understand I will not be receiving $750 a game and there will be a different raise worked out.”  I should have signed it in tears.

I finished up signing what I had to sign, and hung around for a few minutes talking with the Tivon owner.  He did his best to assure me that even if I had not alerted them to the presence of my impending raise, they would not have had to pay me.  This is because the contract I was signing right then and there had no mention of anything other than my original salary.  If it went to court they could say that all I signed on for was my normal contract and everything else was just in the pre-contract.  But, the English contract as I knew it said loud and clear what the raise would be, and if they were so confident that they could pay me whatever they pleased then why would they have been so worried about it to begin with?

If there is one major problem I have, I would say it is my conscience eating away at me as I ruminate over my recent mistakes, no matter how minimal.  I can be kept up at night thinking of all the different ways a single turnover could have been prevented, or the millions of positive outcomes (usually ending with me catching fire, getting a quadruple double and earning a fat salary next year off of one game) that may have resulted in the future if those 2 shots hadn’t rolled off the rim, or how I can’t believe I lost the receipt to that goddamn hardware store because I had 50 shekels (14.128 dollars!) of store credit on it.  So you can imagine the mental burden this contract stuff dropped on me.  I can be in the middle of doing something and just stop dead and get really angry at myself.  Often it is the last thing I think about as I fall asleep and one of the first I ponder as I wake up.  Like, some seriously unhealthy mental stress going on right there.  But, I am getting better in terms of just moving on, and it helps that I have many more people to hang out with and a lot more things to do this year.  Ultimately I lead a pretty awesome life that not many people get to experience, but goddamn that extra money would have been nice.

So a month went by and my next paycheck came and there was no raise whatsoever.  Way to live up to your end of the bargain, Mr. Vice “My Word Is All I Have” President!  One week to settle everything my ass.  I talked to my agent about it and the result of the talk was so disheartening it was almost comical.  He basically told me they were having some budget issues and can see why they were reluctant to pay me and that he was not optimistic about them being very generous in the raise department.  Super!  The one and only time I ever needed him to do anything and the outcome already looks bleak.  I got to talk to my Israeli agent too and he came at me with the same bs angle of “Well, you know you were one of the best paid players in the 2nd division.” Whooooooooo gives a flying f?  I am not in the second division anymore!  Why do they think this makes me feel better about getting screwed out of what would have been a seriously awesome payday in my young life?  It would make as much sense for me to respond with “Ya, but a blue whale can eat up to 40 million krill in a day! That’s 1.5 million kilocalories!”  And we could have a grand old time making statements to each other with no relevancy to the situation at hand.  But I should hold off on agent related judgement until the next paycheck because I have been assured some sort of raise will be worked out by then.

Anyway, I put off writing this venom laced post because I was quite happy with the way things were working out.  I was playing a decent amount and even got to start a couple games.  I was singled out by the coach for playing my ass off after one win, I was on the court for the whole 4th (after not playing basically the whole game) of an almost epic comeback against Tel Aviv, and I was having fun.  The bad part was we only won twice in like 8 games, and the head coach, who I had just won over, was fired.  The assistant is a great guy but he has a different way of doing things that does not involve me so much.  We are on a 2 game winning streak so I obviously can’t say anything, but the new coach coupled with people returning from injury and the impending signing of yet another point guard leaves me as kind of the odd man out at the moment.  My game tonight was a less than stellar line of 3 minutes, 1 turnover 1 foul.  As I saw before, things can change in a heartbeat, so maybe I will get more chances, but as of now I am upset and bitter.  A healthy way to live it is not, but the life of a pro basketball player has tons of ups and downs so I am sure an upswing is on the horizon somewhere.

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One thought on “Bitter Thoughts

  1. Hang in there, Drew. Your hard work, excellence and talent with shine through.

    Unfortunately, it’s a Middle Eastern tradition that they sign a contract, and THEN begin the negotiations.

    This experience will just make you stronger.

    –a fellow Southern California H Alum

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