Monday, May 31, 2010

Wade returns to witness stand

MIAMI — In his NBA job, Dwyane Wade follows a rulebook. The people suing him for $25 million want the same concept applied to his business dealings.

With opposing attorney Richard Bales often referring to the contract related to a failed restaurant venture as "the rulebook" and grilling Wade for hours, the Miami Heat star spent a full day on the witness stand Monday in a breach-of-contract suit brought against him by two scorned ex-business partners who say he walked away from the deal and cost them millions.

In short, plaintiffs Lauren Hollander and Mark Rodberg say Wade didn't follow the rulebook <emdash /> the contract <emdash /> and, because of his estimated $30 million salary through basketball and endorsements, could simply walk away from the deal. Wade says their side is guilty of the foul, and that he was committed to having the restaurant plans work.

"I didn't want to end it," Wade said Monday on the witness stand. "This is something I was excited about, outside of basketball, something that thrilled me to think about the possibility."

Wade also testified for about an hour on Friday. He will be back on the stand Tuesday, still questioned by Bales.

One of the central issues in the case deals with why Wade and longtime associate Marcus Andrews originally accepted a deal where they would accept a 12 percent stake in the planned chain of D. Wade's Place sports-themed restaurants, then increased their request to 30 percent shortly after the paperwork was signed.

Only two of the restaurants opened, both closing relatively quickly. Rodberg and Hollander filed suit in December 2008. Wade is also seeking damages, contending that his likeness and name were used in ways he did not approve.

Wade seemed relaxed much of the day, smiling often and chatting with court personnel during breaks while sipping water. He and Bales were even downright conversational at times, confiding in each other that neither views math as a personal strength.

When asked by Bales about certain percentage increases in the contract, Wade replied, "Mr. Bales, I left school early and this would be a reason why. I'm lost with the percentages. I don't think I'll get the percentages analogy."

Bales wanted to know why Wade and Andrews asked for a substantially higher interest in the venture, something Wade said happened only after another former partner in the failed deal, Richard von Houtman, allegedly did not "do what he said he would do as a partner."

Wade originally was to be paid $1 million as well as receive 10 percent ownership in the venture, with Andrews getting a 2 percent stake. The rest would go to von Houtman and Rodberg.

On the stand, Wade testified that he and Andrews eventually proposed that Rodberg receive a 70 percent interest, with them splitting the remaining 30. The business relationship broke down quickly from there.

"The conversations with Mark, it was just mutually agreed upon that Richard wasn't doing his job," Wade said. "So we came back and asked for an increase in our percentages because as we knew and as Mark knew, we were doing our fair share <emdash /> if not even more <emdash /> to make sure of making sure that these restaurants were being successful and we had a partner that wasn't."

The original plan to market a line of T-shirts, according to von Houtman and court documents, quickly turned to talk of upscale, sports-themed restaurants that would sell all sorts of Wade memorabilia. Von Houtman brought in Rodberg, who had experience in developing restaurants, and the two of them inked the D. Wade's Place deal with Wade and Andrews on Aug. 6, 2007.

"I didn't want to terminate the joint venture agreement," Wade testified. "As I stated, getting involved in these restaurants was something that I always wanted to do, so I just trying to find a way to make it work, Mr. Bales, not terminate it."

The trial will continue Tuesday and Thursday this week, with Wednesday off for a juror to attend a family funeral and Friday off so Wade can appear at a hearing related to his ongoing divorce and custody fight in Chicago.

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