On September 1, former pro basketball star turned car dealer Sidney Moncrief dropped by the Glendale City Court. Moncrief was seeking an injunction to keep Kevin Taylor--a used-car wholesaler--off the lot of Moncrief's Glendale Mitsubishi. As it had twice before, the court refused to issue the order. Since Taylor and Moncrief were business associates involved in a dispute, there was no reason to believe things might get out of hand.

By 5 p.m., Taylor was hurting. His right arm was broken and bloody, injured, he says, by a golf club swung by Sidney Moncrief. Now it was Taylor's turn to involve the authorities. By 8 p.m., Glendale police had Moncrief in custody, booked for aggravated assault.

And because Arizona's criminal code requires those who use a weapon to commit a crime to do time, if he's convicted of beating Taylor, Moncrief faces a mandatory prison term. His trial, originally scheduled for December 2, has been continued until later this month.

To those who followed Moncrief's NBA career, the allegations may seem inconceivable. A quiet, steady performer whose formidable physical gifts were camouflaged by an economic silkiness, Moncrief always seemed one of the game's natural aristocrats. Few other players seemed quite as aloof from the sport's jostle and tug.

In his native state of Arkansas, where Moncrief starred for the UA Razorbacks, he is accorded folk-hero status. His Pontiac franchise near Little Rock was one of the state's top ten car dealerships in 1991, with gross revenues of nearly $35 million. He also occupies a seat on the board of directors of Arkla Gas, one of the largest utility companies in the South. It is a measure of his popularity that in November, in a story about the golf-club incident, the Little Rock weekly Arkansas Times called Moncrief a "soft-spoken man of principle who is still considered the most admired sports hero the state has ever produced."

But while Moncrief is beloved in Arkansas, he found life there a little dull after the bright lights of the NBA. A good Republican, Moncrief is also ambitious, eager to expand his business holdings and his personal income. That's why he moved his family to Phoenix and, in May, opened a Mitsubishi dealership on Glendale Avenue.

Moncrief admits he underestimated the competitiveness of the Valley automobile trade. And while summer is a big car-buying season in Arkansas, it's a big stay-inside-with-the-AC-blasting season in Arizona. Add to that the fact that while Mitsubishi isn't exactly the hottest marque going, there are four other Valley dealerships pushing the same line. Moncrief had problems hiring a stable sales staff and trouble building an inventory of good used cars to take the pressure off the slow-moving new-car end of the business.

Enter Kevin Taylor.
As part of Taylor's business as an auto wholesaler, he buys retired vehicles from rental-car companies in Colorado for resale. Some local dealers won't do business with him; they say Taylor has sold them cars with hidden damage. Taylor's lawyer, Michael Scott, denies those claims.

Bud Thurston, the owner of Honda Car Company of Mesa, says he and other people in the business cautioned Moncrief against getting involved with Taylor.

"I warned him, I said I wouldn't do business with that son of a bitch," Thurston says. "I don't travel on the same wavelength as Kevin does."
But Moncrief, eager to build up a used-car inventory, did agree to do some business with Taylor, who also happened to be the roommate of Moncrief's then-used-car manager.

By midsummer, Glendale Mitsubishi was having serious cash-flow problems. And, Thurston says, Taylor was walking around the used-car lot like he owned it or soon would. Something had to give. On September 1, something did give: Taylor's left forearm.

Taylor told Glendale police he arrived at Moncrief's dealership about 4:15 p.m. According to his statement, about two weeks before, Taylor had given Moncrief two vehicles on consignment. Moncrief had sold the cars and Taylor wanted to be paid. Since Moncrief had told him he was having financial problems, Taylor suggested he take a late-model Mustang as payment.

According to the police report, Taylor said Moncrief told him he would have to discuss the deal with Ed Barrett--Moncrief's brother. Then, he claims, the former NBA all-star began to rant.

"I can't think straight. I'm losing my fucking mind from losing all this money," Moncrief allegedly yelled as he walked toward a golf bag in the corner of his office and pulled out a putter in a black-leather case.

"Sidney was still behind his desk at this time and [Taylor] was still sitting in a chair in front of the desk," the police report reads. "As Sidney raised the golf club above his head and came towards him, [Taylor] raised his left arm and blocked his head. The golf club then struck him on the left forearm."
Taylor told police that Moncrief swung at him two or three more times as he scrambled out of Moncrief's office. Taylor felt one swing brush his back. His arm bloody and broken, Taylor got in his car and drove a few blocks to a Texaco station, where an attendant called for help. First Phoenix police showed up, then an officer from Glendale. Taylor indicated that he wanted to press criminal charges and then drive himself to a hospital. His arm was broken cleanly; the doctor who treated him later described it to police as a "nightstick fracture" because it was consistent with the type of injuries suffered when victims use their arms to ward off blows.

On September 16, Taylor filed a civil lawsuit against Moncrief seeking compensatory and punitive damages. In that suit, Taylor claims his injuries were suffered as a result of Moncrief's "negligence" rather than intentional assault, a legal maneuver that could make it easier for Moncrief's insurance to pay a claim.

Booker Evans, the Phoenix attorney who is defending Moncrief in the criminal action, wouldn't allow his client to talk about the incident. But Evans disputes Taylor's version without getting specific. In a countersuit against Taylor, Moncrief--again providing no details--claims he acted in self-defense.

Moncrief also claims Taylor owes him $133,904. The countersuit alleges Taylor agreed both to sell some of the stock off the Glendale lot and provide "quality used vehicles" for resale. But instead of "quality," Moncrief alleges the cars Taylor sold him were frame-damaged. He says Taylor hid these problems from him, and he subsequently repaired some of them and sold them at a loss. Moncrief also claims he paid Taylor for five vehicles that were never delivered.

Taylor--through his attorney, Michael Scott--declined an interview. But Scott says Taylor denies all Moncrief counterclaims. "Discovery hasn't begun yet, so I can't tell you what he's relying on, but it's ridiculous for him to claim that my client owes him money," says Scott.

Bud Thurston, meanwhile, says the whole incident is "sad and stupid."
"By coincidence, I had lunch with Sidney the day it happened," Thurston says. "And we were talking about Kevin. And Sidney was upbeat, he told me, 'I have no one but myself to blame, but it'll work out.' . . . Sidney is always such a calm person, such a nice man. But he did a terrible thing, he really used poor judgment. We all get where we'd like to take a swing at somebody, but you just can't do it."
Booker Evans says that because of the state's mandatory sentencing laws, it will be difficult to work out a plea bargain. He maintains his client's innocence, but he acknowledges that "everybody knows, Sidney knows, this is a serious injury."

Still, Thurston's sympathies lie with Moncrief.
"I'm not sure Kevin was the victim here," he says.

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Philip Martin