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A player the NBA could not afford

8/3/2011

He didn't even play high school basketball, let alone college, but it didn't matter. In the memories of those who were present at the time, Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond killed some of the best in the world at the Rucker league in the Harlem of his youth. He was so dominant that the Lakers, despite his lack of a verifiable record, selected him in the hardship draft of 1971.

That's when the Lakers, and Hammond, became aware of a certain market imbalance that would keep him out of the NBA. Vincent Mallozzi told the story for The New York Times in 1990:

"They thought they were offering the world to this poor kid from the ghetto, but I didn't need the money," Hammond said. "I was dealing drugs and shooting dice on the street from the age of 10, and by the time I was 15, I had my father hiding $50,000 for me in his bank account.

"By the time the Lakers made their offer, I had over $200,000 stashed in my apartment. I was making thousands of dollars a year selling marijuana and heroin. What was I going to do with $50,000?"

Was he ever intrigued by the thought of playing on the same team with star players like Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor? "At that time, I owned a night club, two fancy cars, three apartments, and a house," he said, recalling his arrogance. "I thought I was a star player."

By the time of Mallozzi's story, nearly two decades later, Hammond certainly would have known what to do with $50,000. Having long battled addiction, he was reduced to walking the streets trying to hawk address books and greeting cards to get something to eat.

(Thanks to TrueHoop reader Ted for making me aware of this story, which is well worth reading.)