Let's say you're sitting at your desk at the Acme Widget Co.
You're happy. You like your job. Like your coworkers. Like the
city. Just bought a house. Boss says you're doing a good job.
Except now the personnel manager walks in and says, "Pack your
stuff. You're moving to Milwaukee. Tonight."
You're stunned. You won't even have time to say goodbye to your
friends. You'll have to pay someone to move your Buick and all
your stuff. You'll have to sell the house, get a new bank
account, stop the newspaper delivery. How are you going to tell
your girlfriend? Either you move or you get out of the lucrative
widget game entirely--and make one hundredth of what you're making
So you go. You're in Milwaukee for five months. You're happy,
until the boss walks in and says, "Pack up. You're moving to
You go to Orlando. Six months later it's on to Denver. Then
Miami. Then Cleveland. You go. You go. You go. If you don't go,
then you don't work. You're beginning to hate widgets.
Welcome to the life of NBA power forward Chris Gatling, who has
been traded more often than Yahoo! stock. He has been traded
seven times in five years. Seven! He's been traded four times in
the last year and a half! "I know what my next tattoo is going to
be," says Gatling. "A little Bekins moving van. Right on my
The U.S. Post Office is about six change-of-address cards behind
on Gatling. His mother isn't quite sure where he is. He doesn't
even get telephones installed in his apartments anymore. He just
has a cell phone.
Come to think of it, Gatling gave up getting apartments. He stays
in hotels. All the time. Road hotels. Home hotels. Road room
service. Home room service. If he ever got a real phone, he'd
probably dial 9 for an outside line.
Right now he's staying at the Residence Inn in Cleveland, after
racking up checkout bills the size of the Pentagon Papers at
hotels in Miami, Denver and Milwaukee. Sure, the Cavaliers'
general manager told Gatling, "Relax--you're home now," but
Gatling stopped trusting general managers a long time ago.
The last time he trusted one was in Dallas, in 1997. The man said
Gatling was part of the family there. Why wouldn't he be? He'd
just made the All-Star team! So he built the house he never had
as a kid--wine cellar, big Jacuzzi, everything. The Mavericks
traded him to the New Jersey Nets in midseason.
Look, Gatling's not asking anybody to run a telethon for him. He
knows he's outrageously paid. It's just that putting your head
down on a pillow mint every night gets old.
"It's hard to figure," he says. "If I were just a mediocre
player, I could see it. But I dive for loose balls. I take
charges. Coaches seem to like me. Fans seem to like me. Maybe I
should do what other guys do, the bad guys. You know, show up
late, cause trouble. Those guys get all the endorsements, stay on
one team. I know we get paid a lot of money, but sometimes you
just feel like a piece of meat."
Gatling has a home in Oakland he rarely sees, a home in Dallas he
rarely sees, a seven-year-old daughter in Chicago he rarely sees.
(Her mother, whom Gatling never married, takes care of her.) He
doesn't get involved seriously with women. "I won't do that to
someone," he says. He doesn't make close friends anymore, either.
"Why? Two months later you're somewhere else," he says. "I got
one best friend: myself."
Hate the coddled NBA players all you want, but these are still
people being shipped around like Christmas hams, people with
lives and problems, just like anybody else. When Gatling was
traded to New Jersey in February 1997, it was a godsend because
his mother was dealing with breast cancer and he got to stay near
his parents' home in Warren, N.J., a house he had built for them.
A season later the Nets shipped him to Milwaukee. "It's not
right," Gatling says. "There ought to be a rule about it. You
shouldn't be allowed to do this to a person."
That's why what happened to Gatling last Thursday, trade-deadline
day, was such a complete and utter shock. Nothing. Twenty-two
players in the NBA were traded that day, yet somehow, Gatling
wasn't one of them. He was so happy, he had a bakery make up a
giant cake for what he called a "not traded" party he threw the
First staying in Cleveland party ever thrown.
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
"I know what my next tattoo is going to be," says Gatling. "A
little Bekins moving van. Right on my butt."