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Out of Bounds
Inside the NBA's Culture of Rape, Violence, and Crime
Besides money, life in the NBA offers vast amounts of two other things: free time and sex. A pro game takes two hours to play. Throw in a couple hours for preparation and travel, and that leaves a tremendous amount of discretionary time. Much of that time is spent on the road, where NBA players play a minimum of forty-one games a year and spend as many as a hundred nights in hotels. This lifestyle leads many players to spend great amounts of time at strip clubs, topless bars, and other such nightspots. And players' celebrity status attracts a steady stream of opportunities for consensual sex. It is an environment hot-wired to produce allegations of sexual assault. This environment also makes it nearly impossible for a rape victim to file a criminal complaint against an NBA player without being labeled a groupie or a gold digger.
To overcome these labels, a rape victim's reputation must be clean enough to survive a relentless, well-financed effort to discredit her. Simply put, it takes a victim nothing short of Snow White to obtain a conviction in a sexual assault case against a celebrated athlete and emerge with a reputation still intact. Twenty-three-year-old Jenny Stevens said yes when the owner of A Nanny For You -- a Seattle-area nanny agency -- called on January 4, 2000, and asked if she would accept an interim position with a family in nearby Bellevue. A permanent nanny had already been placed with the family but couldn't begin work for about two weeks. Jenny had previously done short nanny stints with two other wealthy families. She needed the money. She had finished two years of study at a community college, completing a medical assistant training program, and was trying to save enough to return to school.
The agency told Jenny that the husband in the family she would be working for was an NBA player on the Seattle Sonics named Ruben Patterson. The name meant nothing to Jenny. She didn't follow sports and had little interest in basketball. Despite growing up in Washington, she couldn't name one Sonics player.
The next day, Jenny went to the Patterson home for an interview and to meet with Ruben's fiancée Shannon and their three children: a thirteen-year-old boy, a seven-year-old boy, and a five-month-old baby girl. The oldest boy was, in fact, Ruben's brother (Ruben is his legal guardian). The seven-year-old was Shannon's child from a previous relationship. Ruben was the biological father of the baby.
Although they were close in age, Jenny and Shannon's situations were quite different. Jenny is white; Shannon is black. Jenny lived in a cramped apartment and hustled for part-time jobs. Shannon lived in a spacious home in a gated community in Seattle's wealthiest suburb and did not work. Jenny and her fiancé, who worked with at-risk youth, had just postponed their marriage plans. Shannon was about to marry a twenty-four-year-old celebrity making $1 million a year playing basketball.
Yet none of this seemed to matter. Jenny and Shannon hit it off instantly, as if they had known each other for years. And Shannon observed that the children were immediately comfortable around Jenny, an experienced daycare worker who handled the Patterson baby with ease. After talking for two hours, Shannon decided against hiring the other nanny and offered the permanent position to Jenny. Her duties would include being home during the day with the baby; picking the boys up after school; doing homework with them; cooking dinner; delivering the boys to doctor's appointments and sports practices; and doing the grocery shopping and housecleaning. There would be some overnights, as well as opportunities to travel with the family. Her hours would range between forty and sixty per week. The pay was $12 per hour. Jenny accepted on the spot, without even meeting Ruben, who was away.
When Jenny told her parents she had landed a full-time job, they were pleased. Her mother, a registered nurse, was glad her daughter was in a home with a baby. Mr. Stevens, a career social worker who investigated child-abuse cases for the state of Washington, was intrigued that his daughter would be employed by an NBA player. Mr. Stevens followed the Sonics and knew of Patterson's on-court reputation. An All-American out of the University of Cincinnati, Patterson had been drafted by the Lakers in 1998 before signing with the Sonics in 1999. In his first season in Seattle he had established himself as one of the league's premier defenders, considered one of the few players in the league capable of guarding Kobe Bryant one-on-one. He was nicknamed "Kobestopper." The scouting report on Patterson was that a "nasty attitude drives his game" and "he doesn't back down," both traits highly sought after by NBA coaches and fans.
Jenny's father knew nothing of Patterson's off-the-court reputation or his background. Neither did Jenny.
Before he became a wealthy NBA star, Patterson grew up in the Cleveland area, where he had experienced violence from all perspectives: as a victim, a witness, and a perpetrator. According to records on file at the Cleveland Police Department, Patterson was held up at gunpoint and robbed while walking on a Cleveland street during his senior year of high school. An incident report indicates that two men pulled up alongside him in a car, aimed a long-barrel handgun at him, and demanded that he remove his shoes and hand over the gold chain around his neck and the cash in his pockets. "Don't run or I'll shoot you in the back," one of the thieves threatened Patterson, who complied with their demands. The men then sped off.
In 1997 Patterson witnessed a vicious domestic-violence incident in which his mother was attacked by an individual armed with scissors and shouting: "I'll get all you f---ers." Patterson stepped in and was able to disarm the suspect and the police were called. Patterson's mother declined to press charges.
Also in 1997, police were called after Patterson's sister reported being assaulted by him. The report said that Patterson "punched victim in face with closed fist and when victim tried to defend herself, named suspect then grabbed victim by her throat and lifted victim up in the air and then dropped victim on top of her vehicle and she rolled off and fell to the ground." No arrest was made in this case, which was forwarded to prosecutors for review and dropped.Out of Bounds
Inside the NBA's Culture of Rape, Violence, and Crime. Copyright © by Jeff Benedict. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.