Excerpt from 'Tarnished Heisman'
Exclusive to Yahoo! Sports
January 10, 2008
The following is an excerpt from the book "Tarnished Heisman" by authors Don Yaeger and Jim Henry, reprinted with permission from Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
The book includes transcripts of recorded conversations between Bush, his stepfather LaMar Griffin and Lloyd Lake, one of two financiers of New Era Sports & Entertainment. In Chapter 1, the authors open the story on Dec. 10, 2005, the day Bush was awarded the Heisman Trophy, following his junior season at the University of Southern California.
Bush eventually signed with other agents before being drafted by the New Orleans Saints. Lake subsequently filed a lawsuit against Bush and the NCAA is investigating the matter.
"Tarnished Heisman" is scheduled to be released Jan. 15.
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Chapter 1: Thanking All the Wrong People
Reggie Bush stepped to the podium, flashing one of the most electric smiles in all of college sports. Past Heisman Trophy winners served as a historic and humble backdrop. An adoring audience stood and cheered as an elated yet poised Bush beamed with pride.
Bush, a junior running back from the University of Southern California, did what had never been done in the history of college football: He won the Heisman Trophy by beating out a teammate who had won the prestigious award the year before and was in the front row with him. It told the world that Bush was a young man whose future was endless.
The Nokia Theatre Times Square, a 2,100-person venue that officially opened three months earlier, was wired for sight and sound as ESPN televised the 2005 Heisman Trophy presentation live to the country from New York City. An elegantly dressed, energized crowd had waited in anticipation for this exact moment during the 60-minute broadcast.
Sitting next to each other in the second row near the center aisle were Bush's parents, Denise and LaMar Griffin; Bush's younger half-brother Javon was also in the audience. The group was dressed to the nines: Denise in a spectacular long silk brocade jacket with a mandarin collar, offset by gold chandelier earrings that brushed her shoulders; LaMar and the 14-year-old Javon in stylish, striped suits with color-coordinated pocket silks.
The Heisman Trophy – a bronze statue that depicts a football player sidestepping and straight-arming his way downfield to a mythical touchdown – sat handsomely on a stand to Bush's right. The framed, lighted canvas portraits of past Heisman Trophy winners, including Bush's USC teammate, Matt Leinart, would soon make room for Bush on their hallowed walls.
Chants of "Reg-gie, Reg-gie" reverberated off the theater walls moments after Bush climbed six quick steps onto the stage. One past Heisman winner could be heard saying "welcome back" to Bush, a finalist for the award a year earlier in 2004, as he approached the wooden podium that featured a bronze plate on front for all to read: The Heisman Trophy Award.
As Bush began his acceptance speech, it became an instant ESPN Classic. By all accounts, it was one of the most well-received acceptance speeches in the history of the Heisman. Everyone in the room recognized this 20-year-old man just didn't have only football talent. Soon the appeal, the flash and the dash that was good for him on the field was going to take its course off and he would be a significant endorser of major products, rivaling the very best in the NFL, even as a rookie.
Dinner was being prepared three time zones away on the West Coast on December 10, 2005. Lloyd Lake was sitting in his television room with buddies at his home in Southern California, watching the Heisman Trophy presentation to his friend Reggie Bush. But it wasn't a sight that Lake enjoyed as he shifted uncomfortably on the couch and muttered to himself. Actually, he couldn't believe what he had seen and heard. About everything that Bush owned at that point, Lloyd Lake had helped pay for. And yet, as Bush was accepting college football's most prestigious award and getting ready to play in the most important game of his career – the national championship against Texas in 25 days – Lake realized that Bush had turned on him.
It had become obvious to Lake just days earlier that several promises he thought Reggie had made to him were suddenly not coming true. Lake, his family and his business partner had provided Reggie Bush and his family nearly $300,000 in benefits as Reggie was finishing up his career at USC. They did it all with the complete understanding that Reggie was going to be the face and part-owner of a company they intended to build around him, a sports marketing firm called New Era Sports & Entertainment.
"We were happy for him, but I knew at that time it wasn't the same," said Lake, who co-founded New Era Sports along with San Diego businessman Michael Michaels in late 2004. "I knew everything was unraveling, but I still wanted to see Reggie win, him being from San Diego and all that. I never knew at the time that we would be in the position that we are right now. I thought anybody with common sense would say, 'I'm wrong, I did this, let me make it right,' and shake hands and go on our separate ways. But it didn't happen like that."
Michaels, meanwhile, also had to feel betrayed as Bush accepted the Heisman.
More than a year earlier, in October of 2004, Lake and LaMar Griffin had approached Michaels, a friend of Lake's and a business development officer for the Sycuan Indian Tribe, in the tribe's luxury suite in Qualcomm Stadium after a San Diego Chargers football game. It was suggested to Michaels that he, Lake and Griffin could be partners in a sports and entertainment agency, along with the Sycuan Tribe.
While Lake and Michaels had no known history as agents prior to being with Reggie and starting New Era, the opportunity seemed too good to pass on. Since Michaels had money available, he became the financial cornerstone of the agency. Michaels immediately paid off $28,000 in debt for Bush's parents so they could concentrate on helping the fledging agency sprout wings and fly.
New Era wouldn't stay in the air for long.
Larry Pierce, who played high school football with Bush at Helix High in Le Mesa, California, intended to watch the Heisman presentation with Lake. Pierce considered Bush a good friend, and Bush had actually introduced Pierce to Lake at a USC football game months earlier. Pierce attended all but one of the Trojans' home game in 2005 as Reggie left Pierce's name on the team's pass list for recruits – even though Pierce had played college baseball for two years and had been recently hired at the San Diego Gas & Electric Company – and Larry often mingled with Bush in the locker room following games.
By hanging with Lake and Bush, Pierce quickly learned of the wide array of benefits that Lake had provided Reggie and his family. "I know there was money involved," Pierce said. "I never knew the total amounts. But I knew it was money given to help (him) out personally – things he needed personally. Like any struggling kid in college, you might need some money to go buy a couple things here and there."
As he stepped forward to accept the Heisman Trophy, Reggie Bush knew he didn't meet the criteria on the Heisman ballot that reads any winner of the award "must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student-athlete." In fact, Reggie knew he was probably the highest-paid amateur in college football in 2005. As Lloyd Lake sat and watched the charade, his blood pressure began to rise. The mixed signals Bush and his family were sending Lake regarding their business agreement rang loud and clear through the hills and canyons surrounding his four-bedroom home in El Cajon.
Believing it was the best way to protect his financial investment, Lloyd Lake, at the urging of his mother, Barbara Gunner, secretly taped with a digital recorder hidden in his front pocket more than two hours of conversations with LaMar Griffin and Reggie Bush over a two-week span beginning December 5, 2005.
Lake's two conversations with Griffin were face-to-face. The first was on Dec. 5 before the Heisman presentation, when Lake met Griffin in the parking lot at Morse High School, where Griffin is a security guard. Lake's former girlfriend, Maiesha Jones, accompanied Lake but remained inside Lake's Mercedes Benz as Lake and Griffin talked outside the car.
The second conversation between Lake and Griffin followed the Heisman ceremony and was in the parking lot of a Rally's Hamburgers near Griffin's home in Spring Valley, Calif. There were also two telephone conversations recorded with Reggie. The conversations between Lake, at his home in El Cajon, Calif., and Bush were after Bush returned from the Heisman ceremony in New York City.
Agent David Caravantes also joined the second conversation near the end after being called by Lake. Lake could not recall the specific dates when he talked to Bush.
Excerpts of these transcripts appear throughout this book. In a select few instances, a clarification is provided in parentheses to establish context.
In this first excerpt, Bush indicates that he intends to repay Lloyd.
Lloyd: Okay, let me ask you this. Why would I have to mention something I think you know? Get your dad on the phone right now if you want to. We can get it out in the open if you want. I'm not going to lie to you. I have no reason to lie to you, chief. I'm thinking you know your dad told you, 'I told Reggie, you know. Reggie said thanks, and he appreciates the way you're looking out for us.' Man, that's what he told me, so what am I supposed to do? Why am I supposed to tell you something I think you know? You know what I mean?
Reggie: I'll make sure you get all that back. I don't know how much it is, I am not going to say it, but I'll make sure you get it all back.
Lloyd: What about the time and the effort, Reg?
Reggie: What do you want me to do? You all got to (inaudible) get a decent chance just like all the other agents.
Moments before William J. Dockery, president of the Heisman Trophy Trust, announced the recipient of the 71st Heisman Trophy, ESPN cameras focused on the three candidates in the front row – Texas quarterback Vince Young was on the end seat near the center aisle, Bush was next to him and Leinart was to Bush's left. The trio, impeccably dressed in dark suits, sat expressionless, each with their hands clenched together as if in prayer. Denise and LaMar Griffin sat directly behind Young and Reggie, their eyes centered on the stage and Dockery.
When Dockery finally said, "And now without further delay, the Heisman Trust is proud to announce the winner of the 2005 Heisman Memorial Trophy, the winner is … Reggie Bush, USC," Bush immediately lunged forward in his seat as the crowd exploded in celebration. A grinning Leinart leaned towards Bush and extended his right hand in congratulations; Young, reacting as if surprised by the announcement, stared straight ahead and graciously applauded.
In the second row, LaMar Griffin, holding a small, white towel in his left hand, leaned back in his chair as if to gain momentum, then stood and thrust his arms triumphantly skyward. To his right, a smiling Denise Griffin stood at the same time and clapped. As the revelry spread throughout the theatre, the two turned away from each other when it came time to share in the moment.
LaMar looked left and shook the hand and hugged Bob Leinart, Matt's father, while Denise reached out for Javon, who made his way up front. Following a hug from Leinart and handshake from Young, Reggie walked around and hugged LaMar first, then his mother. Denise could be heard saying, "Oh my God, Oh my God," as the two embraced. Reggie reached around and pulled Javon close to him as they shook hands.
A smiling Reggie then made his way to the stage to receive the most prestigious individual player honor in American college sports.
Darryl Hartzog, nicknamed "Bandit," was relaxing in his suite at the Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square early Saturday night. The Heisman Trophy presentation had just started, and Hartzog was excited for Bush and his family. A night earlier Hartzog had partied with Reggie, Denise and LaMar Griffin, Vince Young and others including veteran marketing agent Mike Ornstein, who, much like Lake, was positioning himself to work for Bush when he declared for the NFL as expected.
Hartzog said the group ate a late lunch at the ESPN Zone on Broadway and arrived in limousines that evening at the trendy 40/40 Club, owned by hip hop mogul Jay-Z and partner Juan Perez, in Manhattan. As could be expected, Bush was in great spirits as evening rolled into morning.
"Reggie and I were sitting there and he was asking about the music industry – what it takes to get in the music industry," Hartzog said. "He said he also wanted to open up a Soul Food restaurant in San Diego, and we talked business ideas concerning my clothing line. He was fine, kind of nonchalant. If he was nervous about the Heisman, you certainly couldn't tell."
Hartzog, 34, first met Reggie in 1999 through his younger cousin who attended Helix High with Bush. Hartzog, in the music and design-wear business in San Diego, said he and Bush immediately connected. Their friendship quickly flourished, and Hartzog said Bush even went as far as to introduce him as his cousin. In turn, Hartzog helped Bush get a summer job at Boogaloo Records in Los Angeles prior to Bush's freshman season at USC.
When the Heisman Trophy Trust announced Bush as one of the three finalists for the Heisman on December 7, Hartzog knew he wanted to be in New York City that weekend to support Bush. Plus, it was the Big Apple and Times Square, which has long been a mecca for music and the arts. It's also defined by its large animated and digital advertisements that rival Las Vegas. One of the first things Hartzog did when he arrived in the city was take a horse and buggy ride around Central Park.
Lloyd Lake, who also is good friends with Hartzog, was being taken for a ride, too. Lake could only wonder what was going on in New York City during the weekend of the Heisman presentation.
"When I really knew we were in trouble was when at the Heisman, when a friend of mine (Darryl Hartzog) was in the room with them," Lake said. "We go way back. Bandit was telling me how (Mike) Ornstein was running around and out there saying, 'Yeah, I do all of Reggie's marketing.' Reggie wasn't saying nothing. I knew then you are not going to let somebody make this presentation and represent you like this if you are really not considering or already locked in to doing it. So I was like, 'Okay.' At this point I am just trying to sit down with Reggie now to figure out what we're going to do about my time and my money. It's no big deal, but you are going to compensate me for my time. At this time, I am trying to sit down and talk with him. Now he's playing hard to get. This is when all the arguing starts.
"LaMar told me that Reggie said that when he goes to the NFL he's going to forget about you (friends) and not deal with you. LaMar was telling Reggie, be careful of the people you get around you. He was like, 'Oh, dad, when I go to the NFL, I am going to leave all those people alone and get rid of them.' But you don't play with people like that. You don't get people to run around and do things for you and then you just abandon them because you go to the NFL."
Lloyd: I get with Reggie when he took money from other people, that's going to get ugly. Somebody doesn't get him, it's going to get ugly if they can prove it.
LaMar: It's hard to prove they gave cash, it's hard to prove. You can't prove cash. Somebody give somebody cash, because I can say right now you gave me something, no you didn't. I got cash, you can't prove nothing.
Lloyd: Just because it's cash, don't mean you can't prove it. I'll give you an example. Say when we bought the car, I gave you the $12,000, right, you go give it to Reggie when he bought his car and then look at my bank account right then. How would I know the $12,000 that came out my bank account was what he put down on his car. You see, that's how you can prove it, circumstantial evidence.
LaMar: Well, that was so long ago, you must have kept a receipt or something.
Lloyd: No, I went to the bank, and the bank always keep records. When I went to the bank and pulled out the $12,000 – like your bank, if you go pull out money, it never go anywhere. You pulled out $12,000 this day.
LaMar: When did Reggie say he'll pay you the $12,000 back?
Lloyd: I never talked to him about it. I wasn't even looking for it back. I just wanted him to come to the company. I told him everything we did for you, because right now it's about two hundred grand. He can keep that or give it to you. If we get Reggie, he can keep that $200,000 we spent over the year and a half, whatever, see what I'm saying? He can just say, 'Okay pay that back to my dad' or he can give it to us, and we'll give it to you.
LaMar: I'm not going to say that I talked to my wife about this, because if I do, she's pissed.
Lloyd: She pissed off with me already. But she shouldn't be mad at me.
LaMar: She's mad at everybody. She's mad at the whole situation.
Lloyd: I wish I never got involved, too. The same way you're feeling, I told Maiesha (former girlfriend) today, I wish I had never got involved in this (expletive). I thought it was going to be good, and it should have been good.
LaMar: It might still be good, but you see what I'm saying, and I'm going to say this and then I'm just going to leave it, if we're friends and it doesn't go out there like the way it should be, it just should be left alone. Everybody get together, pay the money back that was out and let it be that, and everybody stay friends and keep it moving because we don't need to be trying – all black folks always trying to go do something against somebody because something didn't happen for them. You can't do that. The credibility is going to be lost a little bit, my credibility, your credibility, everybody's credibility is going to be lost a little bit. But when we get together with so-called friends, see that's when the motive of getting together and turning into friends come in, you know what I'm saying. Because if it was vice-a-versa, I'd say, 'Look man, whenever you get a chance, give me my $22,000 back or whatever, $30,000 or whatever it is, and we'll just clean the slate.' Because like I said before, the decision is if Reggie said you all can come out and do your presentation, I got no problem with it. If that's what he wants, I'm going to call him tonight and find out that's what he says.
Copyright 2008 by Don Yaeger and Jim Henry. Printed by permission. Excerpted from the forthcoming book "Tarnished Heisman" by Don Yaeger to be published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Available January 15, 2008 at your local bookstore and at www.simonsays.com. ISBN: 1-4165-7756-4, $26.00)
Updated on Thursday, Jan 10, 2008 8:48 pm, EST