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By Sean Pendergast
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And in the weeks that follow, things will only get worse. On Sunday, March 5, a 23-year-old woman went to a Chandler, Arizona, hospital, complaining of "bodily discomfort," police say. The hospital called police, who then announced that a sexual offense may have occurred that weekend at Jones's home in Westlake, a Cleveland suburb. The woman had visited Ohio that weekend, gone clubbing in Cleveland and spent the night at Jones's home, along with other friends of his, police say. The woman didn't name Jones – or anyone else, for that matter – and couldn't say whether a sexual offense had occurred. But the papers jumped on the story – "Jones implicated in sexual assault," the Cleveland Plain Dealerannounced – and Jones was left denying accusations that hadn't been made. At press time, police in Westlake, who have interviewed the woman, still couldn't say whether a sexual offense had occurred.
Just a year ago, Jones was a key figure on a championship-caliber team. He lived a short drive from Miami's South Beach, and was palling around town with Shaq. For the first time since college, people were talking about Damon Jones.
At 29, Jones is middle-aged by NBA standards. He spent his first seven seasons bouncing from city to city with little success. But in Miami, he struck shooter's gold. With defenses double- and triple-teaming Shaq, and spending the rest of their energy on budding star Dwyane Wade, Jones was left alone. He always was one of the league's better stand-still shooters; suddenly, he was always standing still, open, ball in hand. He knocked down shot after shot, averaging 11.6 points a game and finishing among the league's best three-point gunners.
As Miami streaked to within a game of the NBA Finals, Jones unleashed the joyful egomaniac that had festered under his warm-ups for years. A starter for the first time, he suddenly was announcing his status as "the best-looking man on the team" and "every woman's dream." He also was the "best shooter in the world," and "the funniest person in the NBA – and the world."
With credibility on the floor, Jones could finally be "Damon Jones to the fullest," he says. "And I never had to worry about anything...It was the ultimate."
But it didn't come with the ultimate payday, and this is what Jones pines for. He'd play anywhere, he says, "as long as I had a great contract." It's the contract that lets him send cash home to Houston for his three kids and their two moms. It's the contract that lets him drape his slight, six-foot-three frame with the finest Italian fabrics and the heaviest diamond wrist-wear he can find.
So last summer he activated a clause allowing him to look for more money. The Cavaliers needed to upgrade their three-point shooting. They saw Jones as a perfect fit.
Jones saw a chance to start alongside all-stars LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. A chance, once again, to spend the season wide open in the corner, arms flailing, calling for the ball.
The Cavs offered a four-year, $16 million deal. Jones signed in September, delighting the local media. Roger Brown, a tough-to-please Plain Dealercolumnist, called the Cavs "wise" for signing Jones, dubbing him "a bona-fide talent." The radio guys applauded the move.
Now, just six months later, Jones is on his back, staring at the ceiling while his teammates diligently knock down free throws. But here, away from the pack of reporters, he doesn't look so concerned about his alleged slump. For the last few minutes, he's been shuffling around the court, offering wagers on a variety of long-distance jumpers. He was up $1,600 just a minute ago – Suckers!– but he just missed a half-court shot, costing him $800. That dropped him to even, and dropped him to the floor in exaggerated amazement.
As usual, his teammates shake their heads, chuckle and keep shooting. It's tough to tell what they're thinking, just as it's tough to tell what head coach Mike Brown is thinking when Jones gets up from the floor.
"Damon," Brown says calmly, "you finish your free throws?"
"You talkin' about free throws?" Jones fires back, mouth agape in faux amazement. "I'm tryin' to get this cash!"
In 1993 the Houston Rockets held their training camp at Galveston Ball. The team was a loaded bunch that, starting that season, would win two straight NBA championships. But years later, it's a scrawny, mouthy little high schooler the old Rockets recall best.
"Do you ever go to class?" Sam Cassell, a rookie guard at the time, recalls asking the kid.
"I got a pass," Damon Jones would lob back. "The teachers know I'm gonna be in the NBA."
Jones had grown up 50 miles north, in Houston. He was raised by his mom, a saleswoman who helped her oldest boy develop a star swagger well before he had earned it. Mention her son's "world's best" nicknames, and Renee Jones-Lee, in a deadly serious tone, will say: "He is all of that. That's what he's been told."
But by 1993, Jones's mom had transferred him to Galveston's Ball High, a more stable environment than Houston. He lived on the island with his grandma, traveling back to Mom's when he could.
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