According to organizers of the Collectors Showcase of America show, held June 10-12 at the NJ Expo Center in Edison, Bryant failed to appear and offered no excuse for his absence.
"You get cancellations and re-schedulings in our business, but it's very rare to get the total no-show like that one," CSA president Marco Rol, in the memorabilia business since 1987, told the Observer. "There's a professional code that most players adopt. They feel a responsibility to their fans, not to mention they're paid handsomely to show up. What Dez did happens probably only one out of 100 times."
Bryant was scheduled to receive approximately $10,000 for two hours of signing his autograph on helmets, photos and footballs. Instead, he irritated and alienated organizers and fans who purchased tickets to the show, and broke a contract with a veteran liaison who for years has worked in a similar capacity for various Cowboys.
That deal included, according to the liaison, round-trip flights for Bryant, his adviser (David Wells) and a friend (Carl), three hotel rooms in Edison, an 80-mile limo ride to Atlantic City and two hotel rooms there, including a luxury suite.
The liaison, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, claims to be out $7,000 because of Bryant's actions and says he'll sue the receiver if he doesn't reimburse him for his losses.
"I gave him the benefit of the doubt and a lot of folks are laughing at me for trusting him," said the liaison. "Turns out Dez says lots of things that don't come true."
Among the show's 70 NFL players were Terry Bradshaw, Bo Jackson, Ray Lewis, Frank Gifford, Joe Greene, Ray Rice, Prince Amukamara, Larry Allen, Earl Campbell, Brian Urlacher and Cowboys of past and present Tony Dorsett, Jay Novacek, Miles Austin and Jason Witten. Among the Bryant-autographed items CSA promised buyers to attract them to its show:
A 16x20 photo for $95.00, 8x10 photo for $65, replica helmet for $175, pro helmet for $225, mini helmet for $95 and football for $180.
"If I deal with him again it will be much more carefully," CSA's Rol said. "It's a big nuisance for all of us. A lot of people were cursing him. But honestly? Considering his track record, not a lot of us were surprised."
Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff also didn't appear as scheduled in New Jersey, but Rol said he personally called to inform organizers of a family emergency and even volunteered to sign extra items for free in a show of good faith.
After initially, flatly denying the story Tuesday afternoon, Wells did not return a phone call to the Observer Tuesday night. The reason offered by Bryant and Wells for his no-show? Dez' father suffered a heart attack in Houston.
"That's news to me," Rol said last night. "First I've heard of it."
According to the liaison, Bryant was scheduled to fly from Dallas to New Jersey in the afternoon of Friday, June 10. But at the airport, he and Carl called the liaison and began asking detailed questions that were clearly outlined in the show's contract signed by Bryant a month earlier.
"He's asking me how long he had to sign, how many fans will be there, complaining about the money, things like that," said the liaison. "Next thing I know his father is sick and dying and he's not coming to Jersey because he has to go to Houston. David came up, but that's like a jockey showing up with no horse."
The following weekend -- on June 18 -- Bryant Tweeted:
*I'm thinking about going somewhere to post up and sign autographs for my fans...no profit just love...but where?
*Going to Houston tx tomorrow to visit my dad in the hospital for Fathers Day....can't wait to see him
After a tumultuous rookie year in which he refused to carry Roy Williams' pads, paid for a $55,000 players' dinner, was kicked out of a local mall and was sued multiple times for outstanding debts surrounding the purchase of jewelry and sporting event tickets, Bryant's summer had seemingly quieted down before this controversy.
He had recently paid one of his jewelry bills, gone to dinner with Cowboys veterans Tony Romo, Keith Brooking and Andre Gurode, dunked in a charity basketball game (for Josh Howard) and danced "The Dougie" at a charity baseball game (for Mark Cuban).
But just this week, Bryant, whom I profiled last summer as a talented yet temperamental kid, lost the support of former confidante Sanders. The Hall of Fame cornerback told an Atlanta radio station on Tuesday that he gave up on Bryant in March yet continues to fret about the young player.
"Everybody is worried," Sanders said. "I think the Dallas Cowboys are more concerned than I am."
Sanders claims that Bryant lied to him, leading him to decide that the receiver would be a negative influence on his youth camps.
"I had to cut my umbilical cord with him," Sanders said, "because a lot of things people do not know about."