Editor's note: This article appears in the July 18 issue of ESPN The Magazine. Since it was published, Bobby Simmons agreed to a five-year, $47 million deal with the Bucks.
You've heard of the Players Club, Club Med, the Mile-High Club. I just became a charter member of the Cut-the-Check Club: dine with a soon-to-be-rich NBA star hours before free agency begins, and you're in. Extra points if he's about to 15-tuple his salary. If he deserves every cent that's coming, even better.
Why Cut-the-Check? Because that's what Bobby Simmons jokingly kept saying to me. Simmons is the likable Clipper who spent four seasons waiting for a door to open, then stormed through like a SWAT leader when it finally did. One Most Improved Player award later, we were sitting at the Cheesecake Factory in West Hollywood. In a few hours, lots of NBA teams would start to court him, many of them the same ones that had shunned him three years earlier.
What was the worst part of playing in the NBDL?
"Everything," Simmons said. "Goin' from the NBA to there -- it was like going from a Benz to a pickup. I didn't belong there."
He shook his head in disgust, but Bobby never stays unhappy for more than two seconds.
"You know who else was tearing it up?" he asked, brightening. "Mikki Moore! We were the two best guys in the league. At the time, I was like, 'Who the hell is Mikki Moore?'"
Moore was a teammate of Simmons last year in Los Angeles.
He was laughing again. Simmons' trademark shot is a 20-footer in front of the opposing bench, followed by his turning and smiling at the players on his way back up the court. ("Guys always yell stuff when you shoot.") I attended 30 Clippers games, and not once did I see him scream at a ref. He's the guy everyone loves to play with, the guy who doesn't care about stats, the guy who does "All the Little Things." You win with guys like this. That's why -- well, other than his fantastic last name -- he was my favorite player on the team.
"I learned at a young age," Simmons says, "if somebody has something you don't have, you just have to work twice as hard to get it."
After a rough childhood on the South Side of Chicago, a Jesus Shuttlesworth-like run at Simeon High and a productive career at DePaul, Simmons received the dreaded "tweener" tag before the 2001 draft: too small to play down low, too slow for small forward.
"Meanwhile, I'm killing everybody in the workouts," he recalled. "I killed Shane Battier. I killed Brian Scalabrine. Didn't matter. I went 42."
Landing with the Wiz, Simmons impressed Michael Jordan in MJ's supersecret Chicago summer games. But Doug Collins never gave him a consistent chance, and even kept the immortal Ratko Varda instead of Simmons before the 2002-03 season (hence, the NBDL trip). When MJ was pushed out of Washington, so was everyone associated with him, including his favorite protégé -- and Bobby was back to square one.
But as he will point out, "I've seen my family struggle my entire life. It can't get worse than that."
The Clips signed Simmons as a defensive stopper in 2003, and then he caught a break when they traded for Kerry Kittles and his bum knee last summer. When Kittles did his annual DL stint, Simmons had a starting job and a coach, Mike Dunleavy, who believed in him. He started making jumpers and Clips fans started bringing "WE LOVE BOBBY" signs to games. Just like that, he was worth $45-50 million.
Now he might be leaving Cali. He loved the guys on last year's team, thinks they're headed somewhere, thinks Shaun Livingston can be special. And he loves the fans. He absolutely doesn't want to move on. But he's not taking a discount to stay, either. Not after making $2.1 million total over the past four years. If the notoriously cheap Clippers lowball him -- which seems inevitable -- he'll look for a winner with deep pockets.
"Cut the check!" he giggled again.
I paid ours and we walked outside. The sun was shining -- another beautiful day in California. Bobby was heading home to wait by the phone. His whole life was about to change. Every drop of sweat was about to pay off.
"You sure you want to leave this?" I asked, waving a hand at the blue sky and the gorgeous women. "You could be freezing your butt off in Cleveland or Milwaukee next year."
"That's fine," he replied. "As long as somebody wants me, I don't really care where I go."
We shook hands. I thought about wishing him luck, but Bobby didn't need any more luck. He was cashing in. So instead, I said, "Congratulations."
"Thank you," Simmons said. "I appreciate it."
And with that, the Cut-the-Check Club adjourned for the summer.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.