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How a $3 million blunder brought an NBA player and his agent closer: The power of owning our mistakes

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Anthony Carter Miami Heat
Miami Heat guard Anthony Carter (25) drives towards the basket around New York Knicks guard Charlie Ward (21) before putting up the game-winning shot in Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference semi-finals at Madison Square Garden in New York Friday, May 12, 2000. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Anthony Carter was never really a household name despite a thirteen-year NBA career that eventually led him into coaching. In fact, the part of his legacy he’s most famous for is largely due more to a mistake his agent, Bill Duffy, made after the player’s fourth season. 

Carter, twenty-seven at the time, planned to exercise his $4.1 million player option to stay with Miami, but Duffy failed to submit the paperwork in time. As a result, Carter was forced to sign a minimum contract with the Spurs at a loss of roughly $3 million

Such an error would normally spell the end for the player/agent relationship, but, as Sopan Deb writes, Carter “wasn’t even mad . . . I didn’t think anything of it until lawyers and stuff called. I didn’t jump to any conclusions. I didn’t say, ‘What happened?’ Because I knew what type of person he was. Things happen.”

Few players would have likely responded as Carter did. But, then again, few players had the kind of relationship with their agent that Carter did as well. 

After dropping out of high school following his freshman year, Carter was a long shot to ever make it to the NBA in the first place. But, after a series of events eventually led him to the University of Hawaii, he was starting to get on the league’s radar—until a shoulder injury before his senior year left most agents assuming he’d never get a shot to play professionally. Duffy was the only one who believed in him enough to sign him as a client and helped guide him to the Heat after going undrafted. 

Despite that much history, though, $3 million is still a lot to lose because of a clerical error. However, the mistake gave Duffy yet another chance to show what kind of person he is. 

Shortly after the error was recognized, he flew down to talk with Carter and promised to pay back the lost money. As a result, for the last seventeen years, Duffy has slowly reimbursed Carter for the lost salary, with the last check just recently cashed. It was an unprecedented move, but one that helped cement his status as one of the league’s most prominent agents. 

As Duffy describes it, “When this happened, I was hearing from a lot of people because I took responsibility . . . I’ve had Wall Street people call me and say: ‘Man, that happens all the time. Everybody tries to hide from it. They try to pass the buck. You stood up for it. You took care of it.’ I actually gained a lot of respect from people.”

That’s what often happens when we own our mistakes rather than trying to hide them. 

When do you admit you’re wrong?

One of the most foundational teachings in Christianity is the importance of repentance. As such, we’re often well-versed in admitting our mistakes to God and asking for his forgiveness. Far too often, though, we are not nearly as comfortable with admitting our mistakes to others. 

And that’s understandable. After all, it’s rare that we are solely responsible for the things we do wrong. If we look hard enough, there’s usually someone else with whom we can at least try to share the blame. 

Just because we might not be the only one at fault, though, doesn’t change the fact that we are at fault. And owning that responsibility is the first step in partnering with God to experience his redemption for our mistakes. 

I don’t know if Bill Duffy is a Christian, but his actions with regards to Anthony Carter offer an excellent example of what biblical accountability looks like.

How do you need to emulate it today?

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