Bullets and Magnay fallout
This is a story about a good ol' shakedown at one of Australia’s sporting teams. I am confident it’s legally questionable and I am damn sure its ethically bankrupt. But maybe that opinion depends on whether you are the bagman.
In the early hours of a November morning some six months ago I woke in London to an urgent message from Brisbane. My brother Brett Magnay was unusually downbeat. He had sent me this: "Turns out the Bullets are not releasing Will, they don’t get any payout money as Will has been offered a lower contract. They are demanding money now or future tie ups. Devastated.’’
My basketball playing nephew Will Magnay was the NBL’s most improved player in the 2019-20 season and he had been courted by several NBA teams. The New Orleans Pelicans had tabled a two-way contract and wanted him in the US as soon as possible.
Earlier, Will had re-signed with the Brisbane Bullets on the express understanding by everyone, that it was an interim contract until he, hopefully, secured an NBA deal. Before committing, he had offered to play for the Bullets for nought, wanting to remain a free agent given the upheaval and unpredictability COVID-19 had had on the US basketball season.
Brisbane insisted on a signature, but it was clear in the contract that Will was free to go to the NBA.
Coach Andrej Lemanis even publicly remarked that Will’s contract extension had an NBA out clause. Lawyers then and since, poring over the contract, agreed. Will could leave without any penalty.
But come late November when senior Bullets executives had the paperwork to release Will for the two-way contract with Pelicans, they wouldn’t do it. From Sunday through to Wednesday, they stalled and held off signing Will’s player release form. They refused to say what their concerns were.
Then around November 25, just as pressure was exploding from the US, the Bullets said they weren’t going to release Will unless he paid a fee of around $70,000. In other words they wanted fresh cash in exchange for their signature.
The Bullets officials knew the Pelicans had a tight deadline of Thanksgiving - which was the next day – for the release to go through: the NBA needed players on the court as a matter of urgency for a compressed season that started with training on December 3 and games beginning December 22.
And the Bullets were apparently quite happy to let the clock tick down without putting pen to paper; thus destroying a young basketballer’s prospective livelihood; knowing full well there was no time for Will to begin urgent legal proceedings.
Although Will didn’t know it at the time, his stark choice was to pay this shock financial demand or forfeit his American dream.
I am still uncertain what the Bullets’ motivation was other than to save face because their officials had previously agreed a legal contract that potentially rewarded them with no money. Perhaps the board didn’t know? It certainly appeared odd.
But I know this. Throughout that November day in between writing stories on Meghan Markle’s miscarriage and the wonderful release of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert from her Iranian hell hole, I was scrambling my bank account to find the fastest international transfers to contribute to my nephew’s future career.
There was less than 24 hours to agree a hefty sum for a Bullets signature that I, and others believed, should have been freely given.
Calls bounced around the world. A restored car was readied to send to the wholesale auctions in Brisbane to raise immediate funds. Friends and family poised to chip in.
Incredibly, throughout those tense negotiations Will was oblivious to the drama. Both his Melbourne agent and his father wanted it sorted so he could continue to concentrate on his training, and Will was blissfully unaware of the backroom dramas. He was head down trying to get his US visa organised.
On that Wednesday, Will was even ringing various Bullets officials – some of whom he has known for 10 years and whom he regarded as mentors – to try to get details for a COVID-19 test, but was perplexed as to why no one was taking his calls or responding to messages.
But of course, by Thursday morning he discovered their volte-face when presented with paperwork to pay the money. He was utterly shocked and shattered.
That Will – a most generous person – only thanked his teammates and fans in the official release announcing his departure from the Bullets, was telling.
Fast forward six months and the aftermath of that November day is playing out while Will is in a Sydney hotel room in quarantine. Incredibly, after Brisbane’s astonishing corporate bullying, the Bullets were maintaining that Will was tied to them as he sought to play for the Perth Wildcats.
In the past few days a new contract between the NBL, the Perth Wildcats, the Bullets and Will has been formulated which supersedes all of the previous nonsense.
Yet through all this I know someone was rumbled.
Who of Australia’s star players will now commit to a domestic player’s contract knowing of such an imbalance of power? While the financial amount is not the issue, for top basketballers’ potential earning capacities are huge; the most basic human principle of freedom is.
And the Bullets, who had the chance to trumpet a fantastic NBL to NBA pathway for Australian players, have fallen disgracefully short.
JACQUELIN MAGNAY; EUROPE CORRESPONDENT