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Curry's DNA fight with Bulls 'bigger than sports world'

9/29/2005 - NBA Eddy Curry Chicago Bulls + more

CHICAGO -- Until last spring, Eddy Curry was just another
cautionary tale about kids drafted before their time.

The Chicago Bulls plucked the 6-foot-11 manchild out of high
school in 2001, and he played his first three seasons more flabby
than feared. But Curry showed up for the final year of his rookie
contract 40 pounds lighter, converted some of that enormous
potential into production, and made the Bulls think they might yet
see a return on their considerable investment.

Then, before a March 30 game at Charlotte, Curry's heart skipped
a few beats.

And then, a few more.

Nearly six months later, after a diagnosis of benign arrythmia
sent the 22-year-old scurrying to cardiologists from coast to coast
and cost him the rest of the season, Curry finds himself in a fight
with Bulls management his lawyer calls "far bigger than just the
sports world."

At issue is the one-year, $5 million deal Chicago offered Curry,
with this proviso: before he sets foot on the court, Curry must
submit to DNA testing.

"Think about what's at stake here," said Alan Milstein,
Curry's attorney. "As far as DNA testing, we're just at the
beginning of that universe. Pretty soon, though, we'll know whether
someone is predisposed to cancer, alcoholism, obesity, baldness and
who knows what else.

"Hand that information to an employer," he added, "and
imagine the implications. If the NBA were to get away with it, what
about everyone else in this country looking for a job."

Chicago general manager John Paxson insists the Bulls can test
Curry as part of a routine physical when training camp opens next
week. Milstein calls that notion "flat-out wrong," and one
already rejected by the players' union during the last collective
bargaining agreement.

"Besides, there are privacy laws on the books, both state and
federal, so there's no way they'd win," he added. "It makes you
wonder what they're really worried about."

Milstein isn't the only one asking. Miami Heat forward Antoine Walker, like Curry a Chicago native, played pickup games alongside
the youngster the last three weeks, and the dispute has him shaking
his head.

"He looked fine, but a lot of teams seem concerned with risks
nowadays. Maybe because the investments in players have become so
big," Walker said. "Maybe the Bulls want Eddy long-term, and
maybe this is some kind of bargaining chip. Either way, DNA testing
is taking things a little too far."

Paxson says the team's only motive is to learn whether Curry's
genetic makeup leaves him susceptible to cardiomyopathy, a heart
condition that combined with arrythmia, could prove fatal. He said
the DNA test was suggested by Barry Maron, a world-renowned
specialist in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and complained the
team's stance is unfairly being portrayed as though "we have some
other motive.

"The bottom line," Paxson added, "is if Eddy had not had any
incident and a doctor hadn't suggested it, we wouldn't be asking
for it."

Curry has already been cleared to play by several prominent
cardiologists, but he can't get disability insurance for his
contract should he be sidelined again -- or worse -- with heart
problems.

"There's one guy who isn't sure," Curry told the Chicago
Tribune on Tuesday, making his first comments in a while. "I can
live with that because of what the other doctors say."

If this was a private medical dispute, chances are the hype
would be less and the stakes lower. But because of the liability
issues, Curry's high profile, and the value a healthy, motivated
big man can command in the NBA marketplace, it's become an
expensive, mean-spirited mess.

Besides arguing over medial opinions and the science
underpinning DNA testing, both camps have recently invoked the
deaths of former Celtics star Reggie Lewis and Loyola Marymount's
Hank Gathers. Both suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy when
they collapsed and died; what the Bulls and Curry's advisers
disagree over is whether he is treading the same path.

"My best guess?" Milstein said. "Eddy shows up at camp,
refuses the test, we go to arbitration and the arbitrator tells the
Bulls they simply can't compel him. We'll find out soon enough."

That's what scares Jerome Stanley, Lewis' agent. He recalled the
ride through Boston with Lewis' family in a limousine on the way to
the funeral as one of the toughest things he ever had to do.
Stanley said Tuesday he wishes now that DNA testing had been an
option.

"I've seen this movie before," he said. "Eddy Curry and his
family and his agent do not believe he can drop dead and die. You
know what? He can drop dead and die. It goes just like that.

"If I'm the team, let the insurance be your guide," Stanley
said. "The insurance won't insure it, that should tell you
something. They've got the biggest group of risk managers.

"Now maybe they're wrong," he added. "But if you lose the
bet, you don't just lose the player. The player dies."