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 knew no limits.
The Nokia Theatre Times Square, a 2,100-person venue that had officially opened three months earlier, was wired 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 sixty-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 fourteen-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 its 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 twenty-year-old man didn't have just football talent. Soon the appeal, the flash, and the dash that were good for him on the field were going to take their 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 twenty-five 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 going to be honored. Lake, his family, and his business partner had provided Reggie Bush and his family with nearly $300,000 in benefi ts 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 cofounded 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 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 history as agents before 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 La 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 games in 2005. Reggie had 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. Larry often mingled with Bush in the locker room following the 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 Lloyd Lake sat and watched, his blood pressure began to rise. He knew this was all a charade. Reggie Bush didn't meet the criterion on the Heisman ballot that reads any winner of the award "must be in compliance with the bylaws defi ning an NCAA student-athlete." In fact, Reggie was probably the highest-paid amateur in college football in 2005.
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 December 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 Griffi n 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, California. There were also two telephone conversations recorded with Reggie. The conversations between Lake -- at his home in El Cajon, California -- and Bush took place after he 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 brackets 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 me, "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.
William J. Dockery, president of the Heisman Trophy Trust, stood to announce the recipient of the seventy-first Heisman Trophy. The ESPN cameras focused on the three candidates in the front row -- Texas quarterback Vince Young was on the end seat near the center aisle, Reggie Bush was next to him, and Matt Leinart was to Bush's left. The trio, impeccably dressed in dark suits, sat expressionless, each with his 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.
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 toward Bush and extended his right hand in congratulations; Young, reacting as if surprised by the announcement, stared straigh...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.