No Longer A Big Shot, A Disgraced Tate George Sits In Jail

Tate George made the shot. The Shot made Tate George.

I must have watched the 1990 play on YouTube a dozen times Wednesday. There's Hubie Brown saying on CBS, "Marion Cash has just left Chris Smith. … Nobody's playing him. Maybe this is a con."

Oh, there would be a con all right. The con is why George is behind bars today, 23 years after hitting a buzzer-beating shot against Clemson in the NCAA Sweet 16 at the Meadowlands. The con is why George, found guilty Monday of four counts of federal wire fraud in a $2 million Ponzi scheme, is looking at a max of 20 years for each count. The con is why we are compelled to add four words to the memorable rhyming Courant headline, "It's Late, It's Tate, It's Great." Those words? "It's Inmate, It's Incarcerate." When George is sentenced on Jan. 16, prosecutors are figuring he's looking at six to nine years in prison.

The Shot would be George's great blessing. The Shot, I would argue, became George's great curse.

You talk to people who knew Tate from his UConn days and they all say he never lacked for confidence. He never lacked for smooth verbiage or magnetism. The few times we met, once doing a WFSB appearance together at the 1999 Final Four, I found George to be exactly that. I got the feeling Tate could charm a dog off a meat wagon. You change a few circumstances, though, and smooth becomes slick. Maybe Tate always had it in him to be a little too slick, a little too selfish, a little too conniving.

Yet it is The Shot that turned out to be his perpetual accomplice, the moment in his life that aided and abetted him. It was a seminal moment for UConn basketball … "There goes the long pass with one second to go," said Dick Stockton on CBS. "The shot. Yes! The shot's going to count! The shot by Tate George wins it!" By the time you saw Jim Calhoun throw a bear hug on former sports information director Tim Tolokan and Howie Dickenman throw a paw around Scott Burrell, who had made the improbable length of the court pass, the shot was The Shot.

Tate George became a hometown hero down the road from the Meadowlands in Newark. He became a hero all over Connecticut. He wasn't Tate George. He was Tate George The Shot.

He knew it. He knew we knew it. The Shot was his calling card. It empowered him. He got drafted in the first round by the New Jersey Nets. If you had told somebody after his junior year that would happen, they'd have looked at you cross-eyed. Even as a senior, his 11 points a game were third on the team. If you were making an all-time UConn team you'd have to go 15 players deep before you considered him. George averaged 4.2 points a game over three seasons with the Nets. He was a nice player. The Shot made him a famous one.

The Shot entitled him. He used it to use people. And George clearly exploited it, right down to his 2012 testimony in the massive lawsuit involving the NCAA over the commercial use of an athlete's likeness.

Reading George's testimony in his wire fraud case, he seemed to have an answer for everything: An office worker mistakenly sent key correspondence for Charlie Villanueva to Rochester, Minn., instead of Rochester, Mich. He got scammed by a Nigerian. A Jersey development fell through because of minor zoning issues and that cost him the Bridgeport development. He didn't falsify documents. His company really did have $500 million in assets.

Prosecutors repeatedly called him a liar and in the end the jurors didn't believe George had the answers for anything. They needed only four hours to convict him on all four charges and, afterward, the prosecutors said there actually were at least 10 victims with as much as $7 million lost.

Villanueva, the former UConn forward, said he was in for $250,000. Former NBA player Brevin Knight said he was in for 300 grand. Randal Pinkett, a winner on the reality show "The Apprentice," said he was taken for $145,000. Yet it wasn't until I read about the tearful testimony from local Jersey planning official Naima Fauntleroy, who said she lost a $46,000 inheritance she'd invested to help pay off her college loans, that I began to understand how badly Tate had hurt people.

What did he do with the money? The evidence showed he used it on home improvements, back taxes, girlfriends, on his daughter's Sweet 16 party. He spent $3,000 on a video to promote a reality show that never happened. Unlike Newark Mayor Corey Booker, who was captured on the video singing George's praises, UConn coach Kevin Ollie was talking to kids at a camp. I'm interested if Ollie was paid for the appearance, promised to be paid or even knew about it. Ollie was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

George testified how he'd gotten a big lump sum pension from the NBA and money also would be rolling in from the NCAA case. Among those court documents, however, was an assertion that he was getting $1 million from the NBA. It turned out to be $200,000. He said the money was there to repay Villanueva. He said everybody "easily" would be paid off in a couple of months.

Nobody believes him. No former UConn players showed up in court to support him. Deemed a flight risk, George is being held without bail. As you sit there, Tate, I want you to know I believe in miracles like The Shot. Since you are indeed able to pay back everybody in a couple months, do it. The judge should take a better view of you at the sentencing.

When EA Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Co. last week settled out of court for a reported $40 million to players whose likenesses were used in their video games, it also was reported anywhere from 125,000 to 300,000 players could split the money. That's somewhere between $133 and $320 per player. So why did George tell the court the payoff from the NCAA is going be "pretty big?"

Because the lawsuit now is all about television money and college sports aren't going off the air like EA killed its college video games. That's why the NCAA says it is ready to battle all the way to the Supreme Court. Currently, the athletes' case is under the umbrella of Ed O'Bannon. Judge Claudia Wilken has not yet ruled on allowing it to be a class action suit. If she does, the NCAA could be looking at billions in damages from hundreds of thousands of current and former athletes.

Here's the rub with George. He filed a lawsuit in early 2011 with Oscar Robertson and former Ohio State defensive back Ray Ellis against the NCAA. George was deposed by lawyers of the defendants in early 2012. He testified that the better players should be paid more than the lesser ones. It was viewed at the time as damaging to the class action advocates.

"I don't know how to structure it, but ideally ... that's this country," George said in testimony later made public. "The best get paid the most."

Only he's not the best. Not even close. His moment is his great accomplice. He made the shot. The Shot made him. The Shot has been resold in DVD form and featured in several commercials. George obviously is not interested in an equal split among all the athletes.

In a vain and bizarre answer, when asked by NCAA lawyer Gregory Curtner whether the No. 32 avatar in UConn uniform in 1990 on an EA game looked like him, George responded, "No, I'm cuter." He said the same face also appears on players from other schools. At the time, too, that was looked to be helping the other side.

George wants to be part of a smaller group that gets a much bigger cut of the pie. Only when he said what he did last year, I doubt he was making hard plans to give it all to those investors he screwed. He just figured The Shot was the gift that never stopped giving.

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