A Brief History of Rolling the Dice

"I feel they have to roll the dice. It might be tough, but I feel we've got a great opportunity. But they've got to roll it." -- Dwight Howard, 48 hours prior to the 2012 Trade Deadline.

There was a general outrage at this comment, a persistent thread. Doubt, confusion, denial. Could Dwight Howard have really been so flip with the future of his franchise? With the emotions of his fans? It defied logic. Much like everything surrounding the Dwightmare that consumes us as we find ourselves barreling closer to the penultimate act in the sordid demise of Howard's everyman image. Nobody as nice as Howard portrays himself could've thought it wise to publicize that kind of a challenge. Unless, of course, it's an act -- a ruse not unlike that of every NBA General Manager in history.

You see, this comment is not one-of-a-kind. It's the latest in a long line of superstars asking their front offices to take a leap of faith. There is a secret handbook that every GM receives upon their ascension. It details many of the commonplace pitfalls and risks inherent in their new position. It tells of the failures of GMs long past, and the successes that they could emulate. It tells of the lines they cannot cross and the lines they can freely ignore. Most importantly? It contains a litany of warnings. One of them, word for word? "Thou shalt be forced to roll the dice. (Or, more likely, pressured into it by an unhappy star.)" True story. Otis Smith is not the first GM to be forced into taking his personal roll in the history of the league.

With this in mind, let's take a walk back through time and examine some prior rolls.

• • •

8:23 P.M. June 15, 1975. Milwaukee, WI.

Cigar smoke hung around the room. The lines in Wayne Embry's face told a story, if you knew how to listen. Unfortunately, the artist formerly known as Lew Alcindor did not. He sat across the desk, nose upturned with a bemused expression. Wayne was not as amused. "Come on. You can't be leaving me out to dry like this."

"I'm being honest. I'm not going to resign in Milwaukee. You knew that all along."

"I always thought you were joking, and besides, I'm your GM now. We have a different partnership."

Kareem sighed. "Look. I'll say it again. I want out. I told Sports Illustrated I hate Milwaukee. I'm doing everything I can to ruin my reputation with our fans. And if you don't trade me to the franchise I want, I'm going to go from the NBA to the ABA and jump ship to the Nets. You don't think that our new Commissioner might be a bit... say, mad at you if I do that? Might want to make you the fall guy? After all, it's a rare GM that damages the league so much as to let the league's reigning MVP -- and one-time champion -- jump ship to the rival league. And let's be honest. With me in the ABA, they'll be the better league."

"This is depressing."

"To whom? Me, or you? I think it's cruel to keep the best basketball player on the planet -- and arguably the greatest ever -- cooped up in this hell-hole. Let me out. Stop this nonsense and trade me. You can roll the dice, Wayne, and see if I follow through. Try for one more title, hoping it'll save your job. Or you can do the right thing and make the trade. Everyone will understand. I've given you more than enough deniability for the board of directors. You'll keep your job. I enjoy your company that much. We're still friends, Wayne."

"Do I really need to take this terrible Lakers offer? You're worth much more."

"You can't trade a star for a star, Wayne. Especially when everyone knows how the story ends. Just take the peanuts. It'll pay off later, I'm sure. The Bucks will be back. But it won't be with me, it won't be with Oscar, and it sure as hell won't be with Dr. J. Why did you draft him, again? You really thought you'd pry a man like him up here if I can't take it?" Wayne motioned for Kareem to leave. He shrugged, took a cigar for the road, and left.

The next day, Kareem was a Laker.

• • •

11:31 P.M. June 10, 2000. San Antonio, TX.

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