The view was clear from DeAndre Jordan's house in the Pacific Palisades on the morning of July 3. This time of year, the marine layer that keeps the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean cool burns off early in the day. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and forward Chandler Parsons arrived at Jordan's house just after breakfast, ready to make one last pitch to the man they hoped would anchor their team for at least the next four years.
Parsons had been wooing and partying with Jordan for weeks in an elaborate, "Entourage"-style recruiting trip through the hottest clubs and most exclusive haunts in Los Angeles and Houston. On the first night of free agency, Parsons, Cuban and Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki took Jordan out for a gluttonous sushi feast in a private room at Nobu in Malibu, a few miles up the road from Jordan's house. After that, Parsons and Cuban had been in constant contact with the 26-year-old center. Other teams had gone to meet with Jordan at the offices of his agent, Dan Fegan, in Beverly Hills. But their pitches had been self-contained: an hour or two of the typical marketing presentations and basketball discussions that start to sound the same if you hear too many in too short a time. The Mavericks' pitch was all-inclusive and all-consuming.
It was working too. But Cuban and Parsons felt they needed one last grand gesture to seal the deal. So Thursday night, not long after the Clippers wrapped up their pitch, Parsons sent Jordan a text message with a photo of him and Cuban boarding a private jet from Dallas to Los Angeles.
"Flight time, 2 hours and 30 minutes. Coming in hot."
Jordan responded right away. "No way. "
Parsons texted: "Haha yessssssir, FaceTime me real quick."
Parsons and Cuban landed in L.A. and checked into the SLS Hotel. On Friday morning, they had breakfast with Fegan (also Parsons' agent) at the Polo Lounge inside the Beverly Hills Hotel, then drove across town to Jordan's house in the Palisades. This last meeting was to be the rose ceremony. After months of courtship, the Mavs and Jordan would seal the deal.
They had pitched Jordan on a larger role in the offense and told him they believed he could be the best center in the NBA. They pumped him up and said they'd help him become all the things there wasn't room to become in Los Angeles, playing in the shadows of L.A.'s superstars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They had shown him love, attention and respect. It was exactly what Jordan had said he wanted from this free-agent process, and Cuban and Parsons tapped into it brilliantly.
Cuban repeated the pitch as he walked alone with Jordan into the backyard of his house overlooking the Pacific.
"Then I said to him, 'Are there any other questions? Now is the time to ask me anything. but if you're telling me what you want is what you want, I will do my best to get you there.'"
Cuban recalls it was silent for a few moments as Jordan processed it all.
"Then," Cuban said, "he says, 'I love that. I love that. I'm going to Dallas.'"
Parsons was in the house with Jordan's family, friends and agents.
"I hear this scream in the backyard, and it's Cuban, walking inside with his hands up like, 'We got him!'" Parsons said. "It was unbelievable. I was so hyped because he really is a franchise-changing type player. They don't come around very often. It was awesome. His mom was crying. I think Cuban might have even cried."
Cuban offered to fly Jordan and his family to Dallas to celebrate. Fegan had dropped $30,000 to charter a private yacht, complete with a captain and first mate, to take them anywhere they wanted to go for the holiday weekend. He had done something similar for another client, Dwight Howard, when he was making a huge free-agent decision a few years earlier. Fegan flew Howard to Aspen, Colorado, where he holed up for 48 hours in a luxury cabin before choosing to bolt the Los Angeles Lakers for the Houston Rockets.
Jordan declined both offers, saying he'd prefer to fly back with his family to his home in Houston on a 1 p.m. flight.
Before they all parted ways, the group gathered for a toast.
"They all had tequila," Cuban said. "I had vodka. It was still morning."
It was the last time they were all happy together.
"Never in a million years did I think I had to quarantine the guy," Cuban said.
John Lucas could tell something was wrong the moment Jordan walked into his gym Sunday morning.
"I consider him one of my children," Lucas said. "When they come home to see me, something's wrong."
Lucas has worked with the lanky 7-footer since Jordan was a ninth-grader at nearby Episcopal High in Houston. Jordan has put on 40 pounds of muscle since then. He dresses better and carries himself with more polish and poise. But deep down, Lucas says, he hasn't changed much.
"He's still very much the same DJ," Lucas said.
Two days had passed since news broke that Jordan had verbally committed to a four-year, $80 million contract with the Mavericks. But he didn't say a word about it as he walked into Lucas' gym in suburban Houston.
"He just wanted to work on his free throws," Lucas said.
In his later years, the former NBA point guard and head coach has become something of a life coach for wayward basketball souls. Everyone from Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Baron Davis has passed through his doors in search of new skills or spiritual help. Just about every NBA player with Houston ties calls him a friend and mentor.
Lucas' voice is perpetually hoarse from hard living in his playing career and these past three decades of coaching. He's from the tough-love school of instruction. But on this day, Lucas and Jordan said very little.
"A lot can be said without saying a word," Lucas said. "During the season, when he had a great run while Blake Griffin was out [with an elbow injury], I'd told him he was about two games away from getting double-teamed on every play."
The message was implicit: Jordan didn't have the post moves or experience to deal with the kind of double-teams stars regularly see. If he were going to live up to the contract he'd just agreed to, if he were really going to be the man and play a larger role, he needed to work on everything: post moves, footwork, free throws, everything.
Jordan is comically bad at the free throw line. The past season, he shot 39.7 percent. He is so bad at shooting free throws that, in the playoffs, the Rockets and Spurs resorted to intentionally fouling him to force Clippers coach Doc Rivers to take him out of the game. On Tuesday morning, Lucas challenged Jordan to make one thousand free throws. When Jordan finished, the coach tweeted a picture.
To the outside world, it looked like Jordan was working on his craft and taking seriously the responsibility of living up to his new role with the Mavericks. Those in Jordan's inner circle knew differently.
"This was really the first time he had been recruited like that, and I think it was really exciting for him," Lucas said. "Everybody wants to go through free agency to see if they're really liked and wanted."
But when the excitement wore off and his new reality set in, Jordan started to question if he'd just gotten caught up in the process. It has happened to him before. He is notoriously impressionable. Friends tell stories of his buying luxury cars and gadgets, only to return them a month later. He is now on his third agent in seven years. Each of the first two relationships ended badly, including a lost arbitration hearing with his first agent, Joel Bell, after a dispute over the percentage Jordan was obligated to pay him.
Lucas told Jordan to be honest with himself and answer one question: Did he say yes to the Mavericks to please himself or others?
Twelve hours after Lucas posted the photo of Jordan shooting free throws, he tweeted this:
By the time Lucas posted the picture of Jordan making a thousand free throws on July 7, Griffin was already en route to Houston to help his friend sort through a jumble of emotions. Jordan had called Griffin on Monday to say he was having serious misgivings about his decision. He had built a life in Los Angeles. Why was he leaving? Had he just gotten caught up in the frenzy of the recruiting process? Did he really want to be the face of a franchise? Griffin told Jordan he had made a commitment and needed to live up to it. They'd still be friends, regardless of whether they were teammates. But Jordan seemed troubled. Griffin told him he needed to call Rivers if he really wanted to revisit his decision.
Rivers had started to get wind of what was going on that Sunday night. Jordan started texting and communicating his misgivings through Snapchats and direct Twitter messages with dozens of people within 24 hours of landing in Houston. Word that he was having second thoughts started spreading around NBA summer league in Orlando and Utah. Eventually, it got back to Rivers.
At first, the coach didn't believe it. He had been stung by Jordan's decision to leave. He felt close to the young center and didn't understand why such a deep rift had developed. It didn't help that the Clippers were so far into the luxury tax that they had few options to fill the gaping hole at center that Jordan's departure had created.
"It was hard for me when I first heard he was [leaving] because I felt like I could've done something different," Rivers said later on a conference call. "In my gut, I never felt like he wanted to leave."
Eventually, the coach found reason to trust what was in the wind. Jordan had grown close to all four of Rivers' 20-something-year-old children: Spencer, Jeremiah, Callie and Austin. Over the weekend, he communicated with all of them. Jordan confessed to them that he was having second thoughts.
By Monday afternoon, Jordan and Rivers were on the phone. It remains unclear who called whom. To spurned Mavericks fans and those around the league with misgivings about the ethics of what the Clippers did to win Jordan back, that's a key detail. There's a sort of gentleman's agreement during the NBA's moratorium period to not mess with a player who has verbally committed to another team.
The NBA established this period in which no contracts can be signed or trades completed for several reasons. Free agents need time to make real decisions, so multiple teams could pitch them and agents could shop offers to other teams. The period also protects scrupulous teams who adhere to the July 1 opening of free agency and don't try to circumvent the process or their rivals. But in establishing the moratorium period, the NBA also created a house of cards that depends on an honor code but is always vulnerable to changes of heart.
"It's an imperfect system. There's no question about it," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Sunday in an interview with NBA TV. "The question is: Is there a better system? That's something the league office and in discussions with the owners will always look to do things better."
Rivers and Jordan are the only ones who know for sure who placed the call, and neither is likely to offer his phone record. But it proved to be a critical event.
Jordan asked Rivers to speak to his mother, Kimberly Jordan-Williams. The 6-foot-2 former college basketball player and mother of four has always been the guiding force in Jordan's life. At Clippers games, she often wears the jersey of another player so as not to be recognized if she cheers a bit too loudly.
Jordan-Williams told Rivers how unhappy her son seemed and wanted to know if his decision to sign with the Mavericks had burned the bridge back to Los Angeles. Rivers told her it had not. She told the coach there were still issues they all had to work through. Issues, quite frankly, they should've addressed during the initial free-agency process. Jordan's agents had sat Clippers executives down once during the season and again right afterward and laid out all his frustrations and concerns. The team had been advised that Jordan had developed trust issues with Paul over the past three seasons and that he wanted a bigger role in the team's offense. He wanted to be the team's third star -- not third wheel. Nothing in the Clippers' first pitch to Jordan really connected on those issues. Instead, the Clippers talked about things such as beefing up their marketing efforts in China to help him get more All-Star votes.
Deep down, Jordan's preference had always been to stay. He wanted things to change, to reset the relationship -- not to leave and start over. Rivers asked if they could redo their pitch. Jordan-Williams said to come over to the house and she would pick up dinner for everyone at Raising Cane's.
What makes this so hard for Parsons and Cuban to understand is they gave Jordan absolutely everything he said he wanted.
"There is nothing more that we could have physically, emotionally or possibly done to make him feel more comfortable," Parsons said.
Jordan said he wanted to take the next step in his career. The Mavericks showed him how he could do that in Dallas. They broke it down in the clearest analytical terms.
"He got 0.8 post-ups a game last season," Cuban said. "That's less than Kyle Lowry and Khris Middleton. His usage rate was 18th on the Clippers and sixth-lowest in the NBA. I said to him, 'DJ, if you want to be a brand, you have to separate yourself.'
"We didn't talk bad about the Clippers. We just said that there aren't enough balls to go around for you to reach your potential there."
Jordan said he wanted to be wooed. Parsons and his friends jumped in his car immediately after returning from a trip to Vegas with several Mavs staffers and drove from Dallas to spend the weekend with Jordan in Houston. This was June 19, more than a month after the Clippers had been eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
Parsons and Jordan had exchanged hundreds of text messages and FaceTime calls during that time. It was time, Parsons thought, to get some real face time. It was such a priority to him that he didn't mind making the four-plus-hour drive while running on fumes after a few days of Vegas fun.
Parsons and pals arrived in Houston a little before midnight and checked into the Hotel Zaza. Jordan, accompanied by some high school buddies and other acquaintances, picked them up in a party bus.
"The atmosphere is crazy, [and] the music is loud," said Pausha Haghighi, Parsons' childhood best friend and personal assistant. "There was no room on that bus. I remember thinking, 'Oh, this is where the night's gonna go?' It was a fun night."
Over the next couple weeks, the
group went on an epic romp. On June 26, they met up in Los Angeles with another of the Mavs' free-agent targets, Wesley Matthews. The trio worked out with trainer Robbie Davis at his gym near LAX and made plans for the evening.
The night started with dinner at Boa on the Sunset Strip and ended across the street at a swanky club called Bootsy Bellows, where Cuban just happened to be entertaining a group of associates from his TV show, "Shark Tank." With Cuban across the club, Jordan, Parsons and Matthews sipped on drinks and discussed the possibility of playing together in Dallas.
The next night, they ate dinner at Baltaire, a steakhouse in Brentwood, and clubbed at Hyde in Hollywood. A few days later, Jordan invited Parsons and his entourage to his house in the Palisades. They ordered pizza, watched a movie and played basketball in the pool with Jordan's football-playing brothers.
"After spending time with him, Paush and I realized that this guy could go to Milwaukee, and we're still going to be friends with him. We're still going to be boys," Parsons said before things went south. "We just established this friendship so quick and so strong, so fast that it made sense for him to come to Dallas."
Maybe that was the problem, though -- how quickly it all went, how quickly they all fell for one another. It was hard to separate the actual steak from the fancy steakhouses.
Like most torrid affairs, emotion overwhelms at first. But once the initial excitement wears off, you have to deal with the reasons you started to stray from the marriage.
Jordan had been telling the Clippers what he wanted for months, and he didn't feel he was being taken seriously. Between his own conversations and his agent's discussions, Jordan had been clear about his feelings. He felt underappreciated, like his only value to the team was to rebound and play defense. He felt like he could do more, but the Clippers didn't need or believe he could.
So he strayed. He flirted with four other teams, cheated with the Mavs and broke up with the Clippers to prove his point.
Was it immature? Yes. Inconsiderate? Absolutely. Within the rules? Unfortunately for the Mavs, probably.
"If he's in this situation again, which he will be, he'll probably be better at it," Rivers said. "It happens."
The Mavericks were furious, and rightly so. They had been played and then dropped without so much as an explanation or an apology.
"This is something I've never seen in my career," Parsons said. "When a man gives you his word. it's just very unethical and disrespectful."
That friendship Parsons thought would endure anything, even if Jordan chose to play in Milwaukee?
"Um, you know it's. we did develop a really good relationship, and we got close over the last few weeks," he said. "I just think the decision was much bigger than that. It was something that he wasn't ready to handle.
"He's complacent in L.A. and I think that was a safer bet than for him to make a big decision and branch off and go do his own thing. He was probably nervous. He was probably scared. I don't know because I haven't talked to him. He's a good dude. I don't think he's a bad person for this. I think he's just confused. This decision was just way too big for him, and he wasn't ready to be a franchise player."
What is ironic is that the most exciting part of this saga for everyone else was actually boring and uneventful for those on the inside.
There might never be a day as entertaining on Twitter as the Wednesday when ESPN's Marc Stein broke the news of Jordan's change of heart. Rivers, Paul Pierce and Steve Ballmer were all already in the air, flying from Los Angeles to Houston on Ballmer's private plane, by the time the story posted around 10 a.m. PT. Griffin and assistant coach Armond Hill had spent the night at Jordan's house. Guard J.J. Redick drove over in the morning from his offseason home in Austin and was waiting at the Four Seasons with Chris Paul and his wife Jada, who had cut short their Caribbean vacation with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony to fly in for the meeting.
Nevertheless, when Parsons tweeted an emoji of a plane as if to signal he was going to fly in to help save the Mavericks' cause, all of the Clippers played along.
Redick tweeted an emoji of a car. Griffin tried to throw people off the scent by tweeting that he was in Kauai. Paul poked fun at a picture of himself, James, Anthony and Wade on a banana boat that had surfaced on the Internet by tweeting emojis of a banana and a boat. Pierce tweeted a picture of a clip art rocket that didn't quite make sense but was even funnier because of that.
Like so much of this saga, it was hard to decipher from the outside what was real and what was just part of the rush.
What appeared to the rest of the world to be some sort of hostage crisis inside Jordan's house was actually pretty chill. The team hashed out a bunch of issues they should have dealt with long ago. As she had in her conversation with Rivers, Jordan's mother wanted to make sure there weren't going to be any hard feelings with lasting effects on relationships. Ballmer talked about how often this happened in the business world.
Former NBA center Marcus Camby, who played for the Rockets in 2012 and has been close to Jordan since they were teammates from 2008 to 2010, was also there and told a few stories about retirement. Paul told Jordan he didn't realize how much their relationship had deteriorated and that he would work on repairing it. Griffin had said what he needed to say at dinner the night before.
Where was all this affection and attention the first time around?
Apparently, it took getting spurned for Jordan's teammates -- none of whom attended the meeting at Fegan's offices on July 2, the night before Jordan committed to the Mavs -- to realize they needed to step up. They admitted to him that they were mad he left, but ultimately they wanted him to be happy, so they stayed away. Pierce, who hadn't officially signed his new contract, told everyone that was stupid because they almost lost him.
Jordan had decided to return to the Clippers by mid-afternoon. Then they all hung out for five or six hours to make sure he signed the contract after 11:01 p.m. local time. Rivers watched summer league games. Redick, Pierce, Paul and Jordan played spades and video games. Hill went outside to smoke a cigar. Jordan's mom went to get more food. Knowing how tense the situation seemed to the outside world, Griffin started Google-searching images on his phone to play up the drama. He found a picture of a chair blocking a door and tweeted it. He found a picture of a tent and tweeted it with the message, "Alright everybody, goodnight!"
"It was really funny how that thing was portrayed," Rivers said. "It made for a good story."
It wasn't funny to Cuban, Parsons or Jordan's agents, Fegan and Jarinn Akana. Jordan had been texting all of them through the weekend and into Monday as though nothing were amiss. Cuban and Jordan texted about other free agents who might be good for the Mavs. Jordan was even asking Parsons about the best places to live in Dallas.
The problem is it's easy to conceal what's really going on in text messages, and none of the men Jordan was about to turn on was with him between Friday night and Sunday night, in the roughly 48 hours in which he changed his mind.
Parsons and Cuban spent Friday night in L.A. bar-hopping in Manhattan Beach, where they ran into Griffin, who lives nearby. They were celebrating landing Jordan, Griffin was lamenting losing him, and they shared a drink together just because.
"Blake told me DJ did the right thing," Cuban said. "[And] that he was happy for him."
Griffin remembers the conversation slightly differently: It was more that he had to accept Jordan's decision and he understood why Jordan would want to leave and grow into a bigger role. Earlier that week, Jordan had asked Griffin if he would stay in L.A. when he had the option of becoming a free agent in two years. Griffin told him to make his own choice. He would be happy for him either way because that's what friends do for each other.
Cuban and Parsons left Los Angeles on Saturday feeling victorious. Both continued to text and reach out to Jordan, but they had no reason to believe anything was off until Monday.
Parsons flew to Las Vegas on Monday to celebrate the birthday of his supermodel girlfriend, Toni Garrn. Then he got a call from Cuban saying he thought Jordan was getting cold feet.
On Tuesday, Jordan texted Parsons, "Something in my heart is telling me to meet with them again."
Parsons and Cuban began to strategize. Parsons would fly back to L.A. on Wednesday, a trip he already had planned, so he would be in town in case Jordan went there. Cuban would fly to Houston on Tuesday night to check on Jordan.
"I drove by his house on Tuesday night, and no one answered," Cuban said. "He texted me saying that he was on a date. I was like, 'Hit me up when you're ready.' That's how we left it at 11:43 p.m. on Tuesday night."
Cuban said he checked into the Westin Galleria hotel and waited for word from Jordan, which never came. Jordan, of course, was out with Griffin and had already invited Rivers, Paul, Ballmer, Redick and Pierce to his house the next day.
At some point Tuesday night, Jordan finally told his agents he wanted to meet with the Clippers again. Fegan and Akana booked a flight for the morning. But their flight was delayed, and they didn't land until around 3 p.m. local time. By then, the Clippers were already in the house and clearly didn't plan on leaving until 11:01 p.m.
Why didn't Cuban just go to the house and knock on the door?
"What do you think I'm going to do? Cowboy it up and kick the door in?" Cuban said. "Come on. That's not how you do business."
By this point, Jordan was barely communicating with anyone on the outside. At 4:53 p.m. he sent Parsons a text saying he was still talking to Rivers. More than five hours later, he confirmed he was re-signing with L.A. and said he hoped they could still be friends.
Jordan didn't return any calls or texts from Cuban. He didn't invite his agents inside the house until after 10 p.m.
By then, Fegan had given up. He left around 9 p.m. to catch a flight back to L.A. Akana stayed and went in the house to witness Jordan signing the contract.
Akana and Rivers had some heated words when he entered the house. Akana felt the whole thing had been unethical. Rivers felt Fegan and Akana were representing Cuban more than their client. Akana stayed, though. After Jordan signed a four-year contract with the Clippers, another toast was organized. This time, they drank champagne and white wine.
Pierce tweeted a picture of the happy moment.
For years, teams and rival agents have griped about the friendship between Cuban and Fegan. Accusations and rumors of undue influence fly every time they do a deal together.
Cuban says he understands the concern but swears he received no advantage over any other team, other than through Fegan's positive reviews of his franchise.
"I know the supposition was that they did [Jordan's recruiting process] differently for me because we're friends," Cuban said. "But I can tell you the process was run exactly the same as it was for Dwight [Howard], and we didn't get him either."
Ultimately, Jordan is a 26-year-old multimillionaire who had to make a decision. No one could force him to do anything he didn't want to. Clearly, by the end, Jordan did exactly as he pleased.
He ghosted Cuban, cut out his agents, made up with the Clippers and tried to preserve his friendship with Parsons. The next morning, he left with his family on a planned, 10-day Caribbean cruise.
About an hour after he signed his new deal with the Clippers, Jordan responded with a brief text to ESPN: "Talk later?"
Over the next few days, the only explanation the world got was from Rivers and Redick, who each spoke publicly about the saga.
"Looking at different situations and being recruited, sometimes you can get enchanted with it all," Rivers said. "There's nothing wrong with that. But you also have the right to look at it again and change your mind. That's what he did, and there's nothing wrong with that as well."
The rest of the world didn't see it so kindly. Parsons criticized Jordan and said he felt "disrespected." Cuban blasted Jordan for not having the decency to take his calls and explain himself.
Eventually, Jordan issued an apology over Twitter, but Cuban didn't buy it.
"When is an apology not an apology?" Cuban said via Cyber Dust. "When you didn't write it yourself. Next."
In the end, it's difficult for anyone involved to know which parts of this strange saga were real. The text messages were misleading at times. Griffin was Google-searching images of a chair blocking a door, and a lot of people who saw it thought it was the inside of Jordan's house. Even the emojis were illusory.
Only the final result has lasting power. Jordan's reputation will never be the same -- and neither will Rivers' or Cuban's or Fegan's or Paul's. The Mavericks went from dreaming of contending in the Western Conference to scrambling to fill their starting lineup. The Clippers go right back to where they left off last year -- with Pierce and Lance Stephenson as upgrades over Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes.
Rivers believes something else happened, though. He hopes it has, anyway.
The Clippers ended their season with one of the worst postseason collapses of NBA history. After rising up to beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in an epic, seven-game first-round series, they choked away a 3-1 series lead on the Rockets. The meltdown in Game 6 of that second-round series will always haunt them. They were up 19 points in the fourth quarter, and then they were gasping for air after Houston rallied.
It was the kind of loss that can tear a franchise apart. Rivers barely had exit meetings the morning after the Game 7 loss. It was too awful and is still too raw to discuss.
"The way we lost, that projects you into a negative summer," Rivers said. "There's no meeting you can have the next day that's going to address your emotional damage. Sometimes, you never talk about it.
"We're just fortunate that now, this is our recovery. If DJ would've just re-signed with us, this wouldn't have happened. But now we've had our talk. We can start the season now."