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Marques Postpones Surgery : Johnson Planning to Testify Against Clippers at Hearing

March 28, 1987|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

Injured Clipper star Marques Johnson called off his scheduled neck operation Friday so that he would be able to testify against the team at an arbitration hearing in their contract dispute.

Johnson said that he decided to postpone the surgery for the second time in three months on the advice of Larry Fleisher, general counsel for the NBA Players Assn., and his attorney, Sam Meyerhoff. Fleisher and Meyerhoff met with Johnson here earlier this week.

The Clippers stopped paying Johnson's $1.3-million salary last month, exercising a clause in his contract allowing them to spread one year's salary over two years in the event of permanent disability.

Johnson suffered a ruptured disk last Nov. 20 after he ran into teammate Benoit Benjamin in a game against the Dallas Mavericks at the Sports Arena.

The operation, scheduled Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was to have fused two vertebrae in his neck.

"(Fleisher) felt that I've got to make myself available next week for the arbitration hearing," Johnson said. "I thought Fleisher was going to announce it.

"I want to have a clear mind before I have the surgery. There are a lot of issues that are still cloudy. I want to know what my status is with the Clippers."

Fleisher wasn't available for comment, and Clipper owner Donald T. Sterling, President Alan Rothenberg and General Manager Elgin Baylor did not return phone calls Friday.

Said Meyerhoff: "We had a witness problem. (Johnson) has to be at the hearing and the hearing is imminent. It's coming up faster than we thought. We thought he should testify in his own behalf.

"The surgery has been postponed, not canceled. We think it is in Marques' best interest for him to postpone the surgery until he has testified. As far as I know, he's still going to have it."

Meyerhoff also said that Johnson has not been declared permanently disabled by any doctor.

"We don't think that condition exists," he said. "No doctor has ever said that. We asked them to show us a medical report that said that and they haven't.

"The issue is how much compensation he is entitled to and how it should be paid. The problem is the clause in the contract. Which clause are they pointing to?"

Johnson signed a $7-million, six-year contract with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1983. The first four years were guaranteed. Johnson was to receive $800,000 in the first year, $900,000 in 1984-85, $1.1 million in 1985-86 and $1.3 million in 1986-87.

The final two years weren't guaranteed, however. The contract called for Johnson to get $1.4 million next season and $1.5 million in 1988.

After the Clippers acquired Johnson--and his contract--from the Bucks before the 1984 season, they asked him to rework the deal. They agreed to guarantee the final two years of the contract if Johnson would defer the maximum 30% of his salary.

Johnson never signed the revised agreement with the Clippers, however. Despite that, the team has been deferring 30% of his pay.

Last month, however, the checks stopped coming. Johnson filed a grievance with the players' association and asked to have an arbitrator decide the issue.

Johnson met with Rothenberg last week in an effort to reach a settlement.

The team announced after the meeting that Johnson had agreed to undergo surgery and that they would meet with Johnson's attorney after the surgery to settle it.

"It appeared to me that the condition they imposed (to resume paying Johnson) was for him to have surgery," Meyerhoff said.

Johnson also postponed scheduled surgery last January.

Johnson said Friday that he hasn't rescheduled the operation, but that he probably would have it within the next 10 days.

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