MIAMI (AP) — The attorney for plaintiffs seeking $25 million in damages from Dwyane Wade told a jury Friday that the Heat star "wanted a better deal and couldn't get it," citing that as the biggest reason why a planned restaurant venture fell apart shortly after getting started.
In an opening statement, attorney Richard Bales told the jury of two men and four women, along with one female alternate, that his clients Mark Rodberg and Lauren Hollander simply made a brilliant business deal, and when Wade wanted far more money than first agreed to, he simply walked away from the partnership.
"The evidence is going to show that Mr. Wade clearly, point-blank, abandoned his teammates," Bales said, turning and pointing at Rodberg and Hollander. "And these were his teammates. They were business teammates."
Wade's attorney, Michael Kreitzer, countered in his opening statement that the scorned partners made deals amongst each other without Wade's knowledge, tried to reduce his stake in the enterprise and damaged the player's brand by abusing his name and likeness.
"They just didn't care, because they were all about money," Kreitzer said. "They were just doing what they thought made the most sense for them to line their pockets."
Bales and Kreitzer each spoke for about an hour, before Hollander was called as the trial's first witness. The trial is scheduled to last through late May, with Wade expected to be called sometime next week.
Wade, just as he did through two days of jury selection, sat quietly at a table to the left of Judge Peter Adrien, almost never showing any emotion during Friday's proceedings.
A number of witnesses are expected next week, including former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., who once ran Kentucky Fried Chicken and previously owned the NBA's Boston Celtics and the ABA's Kentucky Colonels.
The lawsuit involves the defunct deal over what was to be a chain of D. Wade's Place sports-themed restaurants. Rodberg and Hollander claim Wade breached a contract by demanding higher compensation than first agreed to, then abandoning the deal in 2008.
Under terms of the original agreement, Wade would receive $1 million after five years of business, plus a 10 percent stake in the company. His longtime friend and business associate Marcus Andrews would receive a 2 percent stake, but the plaintiffs contend that shortly after the deal was first signed, Wade and Andrews wanted a total of 30 percent, plus a higher annual salary for Andrews.
"With nothing in exchange," Bales said.
It was during those negotiations, Bales said, that Andrews told the business partners they could have "a happy Dwyane or an unhappy Dwyane."
"Well, the evidence is going to show we got the unhappy Dwyane," Bales said. "That's why we're here. That's why we're here."
Kreitzer offered a different view, of course, telling jurors that Wade wanted to see the deal work, but ultimately needed to protect his name and marketability when he saw changes made that he did not like.
"He has worked and worked and worked," Kreitzer said. "That's what these people wanted from him, is to leverage the name that he has built up over time.
"That name has value. That name has value. It has value to him as a person because that's his reputation. It's very hard to build up your reputation, but we all know, it's very easy to lose it. We've all heard that growing up and it applies to Mr. Wade, too."
Wade is involved in a number of other legal matters this offseason, notably a divorce and custody fight in Chicago, and has said that the courtroom dealings are his priority — not his upcoming status as a free agent who will be courted by several NBA clubs starting July 1.
He has repeatedly said he would like to remain with the Heat, provided that the team is able to upgrade its roster and reach a championship-contending level again.