The Fall of Tate George


In 1990 Tate George was on top of the world.  In February he and his UCONN basketball co-captain, Steve Pikiell, sat in a nineteenth floor studio in downtown Hartford, waiting to appear on WTIC Sportstalk, when they were greeted with the news, hot off the wire, that the Huskies were ranked seventh on the weekly Associated Press poll, the first top ten ranking in program history.  An era of scaling heights once believed unattainable had begun.  Two months later, with all the madness of March reverberating around him, Tate hit the most memorable shot in UCONN basketball history, taking an inbound pass with one second on the clock and, in one motion, turning and sinking an arching 15 footer that sank Clemson in the regional semi finals of the NCAA tournament.  “It’s Late, It’s Tate, It’s Great” blared the front page headline of the next morning’s Hartford Courant.  “The Shot” made Tate George a millionaire, a first round draft pick of the NBA New Jersey Nets with a five million dollar contract.  This morning Tate George will take the stand in a courtroom in Trenton, New Jersey, to defend himself against wire fraud charges stemming from his arrest for operating a real estate scam federal prosecutors claim amounted to nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, as Tate lined up investors who became victims, each investor paying off the amounts owed to investors who went before.  George was scheduled to take the stand on Monday but in a stunning turn, on the eve of his appearance, prosecutors subpoenaed his public defender for some twenty boxes of records, the prosecution saying they needed those documents to dispute falsified records they say George hoped to use to validate his testimony.  The most compelling testimony in this case so far came from another former UCONN star, current NBA player Charlie Villenueva, who was one of Tate’s victims, to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars.  Prosecutors allege there was never any real estate involved in “Tate George Real Estate Development”, it was all about robbing Charlie to pay Tate, or Tate’s ex-wife, or Tate’s girlfriend.  The story of Tate George is a precautionary tale for all athletes at the height of their ability and earning power, a stage of life in which confidence and virility creates a feeling of immortality.  Pro sports are overrun with stories of falls from grace.  The percentage of former NFL stars alone who are broke 10 years after their earning peak is staggering.  At that peak they become seduced by a lifestyle they’ll do anything to reclaim.  Charlie Villenueva’s story, of a friend, someone who once idolized the man who blazed the trail for his college team, demonstrates the lengths to which someone will abandon their conscience, to the point of cheating friends out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to keep that lifestyle from slipping away.  It’s a sad story, the story of Tate George.  Unfortunately it’s a story that plays out hundreds of times a year in the tragic wake of crumbled athletic careers.  With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.



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