It’s no secret most great college players get paid under the table. Al Harrington openly talked about $450,000 being offered to him. It used to be different. There were times when basketball’s greatest icons would knock on your door and put $1 million on the table. Ralph Sampson knows what it feels like to say ‘no’ to such an indecent proposal.
From the very begging of his collegian career, it was evident that Sampson had outgrown the NCAA competition, not just with size but also with his skills at both ends of the floor. The fact that the professional teams from all over the country are luring him at every corner had his teammates nervous about the team’s future. One of them, 5’10” point guard Rickey Stokes, reportedly felt relieved every time they saw Stick in his old car. That meant that Sampson didn’t accept the gifts from his potential NBA employees.
Now, forty years later, Sampson had finally confirmed that he was offered a million dollars by one of the 1981 NBA champions, the mighty Boston Celtics. More precisely, their legendary President, 1980 NBA Executive of the year – Red Auerbach. Sampson offered a vivid memory of the meeting in his parent’s house in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“I considered it in my first year in college when lovely Red Auerbach and his crew came to my parent’s house bringing a million dollars in a briefcase on the table and said, ‘You can come to play for the mighty Boston Celtics, and here’s a million dollars. If you don’t take this, you’ll never get it again.’ True story. Now, I didn’t get to touch it. It had a hundred dollar bills in a stack. I didn’t know what was under it, but he said it was a million dollars. I’ll never know.”Ralph Sampson, Legends of Sport
As Sampson’s collegian career evolved, the Celtics and several other NBA teams continued to lure the three-time College national player of the year (1981, 1982, 1983) to the professionals. If the basketball Eighth wonder of the world, the one before Shaquille O’Neal, decided to make that jump to the pros earlier, that would have undoubtedly altered the NBA history course.
“If I had come out, Kevin McHale wouldn’t have gone to the Boston Celtics that year, right? If I came out, Isiah Thomas might not have gone to the Detroit Pistons, and James Worthy wouldn’t have gone to the Lakers.”Ralph Sampson, Legends of Sport
The idea which is still intriguing to Sampson is what it would be like if it was him, not James Worthy, joining forces with the Lakers superstars Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Teaming up with them would undoubtedly create the team that would be predominant for all Western Conference rivals. But also the one which might have been prevailing in the Lakers championship countless battles with their biggest 1980s nemesis, Boston Celtics.
“Imagine me playing with Magic and Kareem, two seven-footers that could play, and Magic throwing me the ball. I won the All-Star game MVP award one year (1985), and I said to him: ‘Do the magic, pass me the ball.’ He had no choice, and he made great passes. I would have loved to play with him.”Ralph Sampson, Legends of Sport
However, Sampson stayed immune to the pro’s incentives and decided to stay with Virginia for a full four-year collegian career. After all, he was selected by the Houston Rockets as the 1st pick overall in the 1983 NBA draft. After winning the 1984 NBA Rookie of the year award, he joined forces with Hakeem Olajuwon, forming the original Twin towers combo. That remarkable team, coached by Bill Fitch, reached the NBA finals back in 1986. In the promised land, they lost to a team that had offered Sampson a million $ five years earlier, while he was still in college, the Boston Celtics.