John Lucas' Newest Project

August, 24, 2009
8/24/09
5:14
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

As Michael Beasley checks into a facility for psychological and substance-abuse counseling, his friends, family, and those who care about him the most will be among the most important people on his road to recovery. But in the coming weeks, there may be nobody more vital to Beasley's well-being than former NBA player John Lucas, who will be the primary counselor to the 20-year-old. 

Lucas' own battles with addiction are well-documented, and he's called upon that experience to build a career advising athletes and helping them cope with the burdens of recovery. 

Here are some stories that highlight Lucas' general philosophy, as well as some specific stories of his working with troubled athletes. 

A description from Lucas' website that enumerates the services he offers at his "Athletes After Care Program": 

... During his treatment Lucas developed and proposed a program based on exercise and treatment. After his own treatment Lucas really got to work developing this concept of fitness as a component of treatment and getting hospital-based treatment centers to buy into it. The aftercare and counseling program that John Lucas helped to develop became the model used by the NBA to help recovering players maintain sobriety when attempting to return to the NBA.

... The challenge for returning players who are fighting their addiction(s) is to maintain sobriety. Lucas helps to prepare players to stay sober when going back into the bad environments and lifestyles that helped to contribute to their problems in the first place. A large part of the solution comes when players learn that, as Lucas frequently states, that "basketball is what you do, it is not who you are." Free time, bad environments and bad influences only hold sway on you if you have no life outside of the game. Athletes in recovery need to attend Twelve Step meetings, visit with counselors about problems and emotions, and continue to keep their personal life in order. Sobriety, and maintaining that sobriety, can be the greatest gift that a recovering athlete can attain. When they see that no problem or situation that they may face in this life will ever be reason to go back to that former negative lifestyle, that's when they are really back on track. The gift is the sobriety, the ability to enjoy life to its fullest, to enjoy being who you are and waking up to face the next day. Helping people to recover their lives has become Coach Lucas' passion.

"As much as I love to help people recover from addiction, I get even more joy from working with kids to help prevent them from getting on this road in the first place." With that in mind Lucas came up with the idea for an organization called STAND, Students Taking Action Not Drugs. STAND was first a crisis center that later expanded services that included a hot line for teens that offered crisis and emergency counseling as well as peer support groups. That work in prevention led to programs that were put in place when the NBA and the NBA Players Association began to deal with drug issues. John Lucas has since been involved in helping the league and the Players Association develop these programs.

Coach Lucas has thrown his entire heart into his work, or better yet, his life's work. "I wanted to be there for others. I was always an assist guy in basketball, but now I give people assists in life, and there's nothing like that. I didn't get sober to get on with my life. I wanted a plan for living and to move forward, and that's what I got." As Lucas' program helps to ease recovering people and professional athletes back into their profession he helps to provide the ideal step, imitating the pro lifestyle and workout regimen while still providing the clinical support and aftercare that they need.

If you are, or if you know of someone in need of drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation, get in touch with John H. Lucas Enterprises.

In 2000, erstwhile major league superstar Darryl Strawberry sought Lucas' counsel. The New York Times' Harvey Araton wrote this story

... For me, the most sensible take on this debate from any enlightened source has always been John Lucas's. On the likes of Strawberry, pro basketball's addict-cum-counselor/coach long maintained that the man doesn't have a drug problem as much as he has a ''living problem.''

We all do, to some extent. Most sportswriters I know stress out on deadline by ingesting serious quantities of cholesterol, caffeine or nicotine, and afterward, wish they hadn't. In those moments when Strawberry has sought escape from whatever haunts his sense of self-esteem, preservation and respect, he apparently resorted to the demon powder, and afterward, has been painfully sorry he did.

Yo
u can smartly argue that enough apologies were accepted, though it is useful to remember that the more moral among us were voicing objections before he ever played a game for the Yankees. Lucas has often said that it is easy to call for one's banishment until it is your loved one...

A sobering piece by Larry McShane of Associated Press that tells the story of the late Eddie Griffin rebuffing help from Lucas: 

There were missed practices and a missed team flight, along with a November 2003 arrest for allegedly shooting a pistol at his girlfriend's car; he had punched her in the face, and she was rushing to get away from him, authorities alleged.

Griffin was waived the next month - and quickly signed by the Nets, although he never played a minute in New Jersey. Griffin was instead jailed for a violation tied to the shooting incident and linked to a late-night fight at a New Jersey hotel.

He also spent six weeks in the Betty Ford clinic. When the Nets released him after two months, Griffin was enrolled in a residential alcohol treatment facility run by ex-NBA star John Lucas.

But the man once described by Rockets teammate Cuttino Mobley as a "lovable, quiet cat" still had at least one professional life left.

Minnesota signed him for the 2004-05 season, and took immediate steps to help the new arrival. He was assigned the locker alongside one-time MVP Garnett, the latest in a long line of people who tried to steer Griffin toward sobriety.

It worked -- for a while. Griffin became a useful presence, and signed a three-year, $8.1 million contract extension in August 2005. But within months, he was involved in a car crash where he dodged drunken-driving charges. In January 2007, he was suspended for violating the NBA's anti-drug program.

He was released by the T-Wolves in March. Kevin McHale, Minnesota vice president of basketball operations, recommended Griffin get in touch with Lucas once again.

Griffin declined.

"In my business, that's not a good sign," said Lucas. "If you isolate yourself, you forget where you've come from. You remember the sad things and the sad times. You become your own worst enemy."

Peter May of the Boston Globe wrote about Lucas' work in 2007 with the troubled Boston College standout Sean Williams just before Williams entered the NBA draft:

The 6-foot- 10-inch Williams takes the floor as John Lucas takes the ball, set to begin the hour long workout ... Williams won't discuss the particulars of the so-called Final Straw decision by Skinner, nor will the coach. Williams did say he has been up front with any NBA team that asks -- and they all do.

"The first thing they ask me is, 'What happened at BC?' I just try to give them the rundown and be as honest as possible. I made some mistakes," he says.

Lucas, who makes a living working with players like Williams, was much more forthcoming. He has been handling Williams on a daily basis for the last two months and feels he has a good handle on the 20-year-old.

"Sean doesn't have any real-life issues," Lucas says. "There are other guys I've had here who have had real-life issues. He doesn't. His issue is, he just wants to smoke some weed sometime -- and you can't. We're learning how to handle life issues without smoking weed to medicate. I would venture to say, he hasn't smoked any more weed than a lot of the other guys who are going to get drafted. The difference is, he got caught. Now, the question is, do you have an addiction? That's another issue. If it's worth it to you, if you have to have it, then you have an addiction, because look at what you've lost. If it's not worth it to you, then we're on our way. And I think he's more than on his way."

Does he worry about Williams?

"He worries me from the standpoint that he's going to get a speeding ticket or a ticket for running a red light," Lucas says. "That's it."

Lucas speaks with the Los Angeles Times in 1990 about the grueling process of recovery, both his own road, and that of athletes in general:

John Lucas of the Houston Rockets needed two trips through rehabilitation and a year away from basketball to get clean. He remembers the last time he did drugs. You might say it was rather unforgettable.

"I wound up at 7 o'clock in the morning in the middle of downtown Houston wearing a fancy suit, five pairs of athletic socks and no shoes," he said. "I was wearing shades because, hey, I didn't want to be recognized."

The disguise didn't work. Lucas was discovered, probably because on that particular morning nobody else was running around the downtown area with five pairs of athletic socks and no shoes.

The disguise never works, Lucas said. Sooner or later the addict gives himself away. He's liable to do just about anything when the craving gets to him.

"This disease has my utmost respect," Lucas said. "It's patient. It's always waiting for me. My disease hates to lose. It wants me back and it's a constant battle."

... Lucas qualifies as an expert. After two rehabilitations, the first in 1980 before the NBA drug policy was in place, the second in 1986, he now heads the NBA Players Association drug program and has had a number of athletes in his care through the John Lucas Fitness Systems for chemical dependency patients.

... So every morning when the Rockets are at home, Lucas is up at 6:30 a.m. for a support group meeting. And every day at practice, he attends another impromptu one with the Rockets' other recovering addict, Mitchell Wiggins. A third, Lewis Lloyd, started the season with Houston but was placed on waivers last month and was just signed to a 10-day contract by the Philadelphia 76ers.

... Why turn to drugs?

"It was the thing to do, the greatest lie ever told," Lucas said. "I lost conscious contact with myself. I didn't know who I was. On the court with all those people watching me, I was a lonely man."

Then Lucas summed up the problem of the recovering athletes in simple terms.

"The game lasts 2 1/2 hours," he said. "There are 21 1/2 more hours in the day that you've got to deal with."

A 1993 piece from Ebony that captures the very early stages of Lucas' life as coach and counselor, only a few years removed from his career as a pro player:

On March 14, 1986, Lucas began a new life of sobriety and during his treatment realized that his experience could be valuable to others and a good business opportunity for him. At the time, no professional sport had an aftercare program to help recovering athletes ease their way back into the rigorous lifestyles of their sports.

Lucas decided to start one. He talked to Houston area hospital officials about developing a workout program for recovering athletes after noticing that several hospitals had gym equipment that went unused. One hospital agreed to develop the program if Lucas would follow his recovery schedule.

He returned to pro basketbal
l in 1987. Abandoning his once-reckless lifestyle, he routinely visited counselors and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in each NBA city. Along the way, he also built a network that would become the prototype of the league's current substance-abuse program.

He retired from the NBA in 1990, but the league thought enough of his efforts to name him as a consultant on drug abuse policy.

"I've never been banned," he says with a laugh. "I got cut. They dropped me from the team, but I've never been in violation of the NBA's drug policy. In fact, I was the guinea pig for the league's anti-drug policy."

... Twice a week, Lucas returns to Houston to see Debbie and their three children, Tarvia, 14, John III, 10 and Jai, 4. A few hours and a short flight later, it's back to basketball. Another national anthem and tipoff, he says. It seems so daunting, even for the energetic Lucas. His season with the Spurs could stretch into June, if the team makes it to the finals. Then, there's his off-season work coaching the Tropics and overseeing his recovery and treatment program.

"This is how I relax," he says, anticipating the question almost as if reading an opposing team's defense. "Being in service to other people, there's no greater gift to me than that."

 

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