TrueHoop: John Lucas

When John Lucas hit a blind free throw

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
3:17
PM ET
Goldwein By Eric Goldwein
Special to ESPN.com
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John Lucas
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesAmong John Lucas' most enigmatic moments? A free throw attempt with his eyes wide shut.
Renee Richards was sitting front row the night her doubles partner, John Lucas, put on a show at Madison Square Garden.

As Richards recalls, the Milwaukee Bucks are blowing out the New York Knicks. It’s “an exhibition like you wouldn’t believe,” she says.

The 33-year-old Bucks point guard is running up and down the court screaming “No way, no way,” and in the closing moments he does something outrageous.

“He’s right in front of the basket where we have our seats, and he stands there at the free throw line and he yells, 'No way Renee, No way Renee,'" she said. "And he closes his eyes and he makes the free throw.”

It's a quintessential Lucas performance, but to Renee it was so much more.
 

Lucas was a two-sport prodigy. He landed on Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” as a 14-year-old tennis phenom, topped Pete Maravich’s scoring record in high school and was an All-American in both sports at the University of Maryland. Lucas was selected first overall by the Houston Rockets in the 1976 NBA draft -- a rare feat for a point guard. Three days later, he was signed by the San Francisco Golden Gaters to play World Team Tennis -- a rarer feat for a point guard.

Richards, now a practicing ophthalmologist, was the transsexual tennis player who stirred international controversy after the former Richard Raskind appeared in tournaments as a 41-year-old woman. The United States Tennis Association barred Richards from competing in the 1976 US Open but Richards challenged the USTA in New York State Supreme Court, which ruled she could enter the tournament without submitting to chromosome testing. In 1977, she played in her first US Open as a woman. A spectacle ensued.

The next summer, Richards joined forces with Lucas on the New Orleans Nets. An NBA point guard and a 43-year-old transsexual -- both lefties -- playing mixed doubles.

“It was like being at the wedding of a transvestite and a dock worker,” quipped one reporter after watching them at the 1978 US Open.

Lucas, who says the pairing went 28-1, saw it differently: “We were two lefties that both hit sliced serves. Our height was very good and we created problems.”

The Lucas-Richards duo was perfect for the quirky but competitive World Team Tennis. They did things -- chest bumps, for instance -- that would have been frowned upon in other tennis venues.

“I put a basketball game on a tennis court,” Lucas said. “That’s how I played tennis. I tried to make it an athletic event.”

Off the court they were partners in mischief. Richards recalled a road trip in Indianapolis when they were in a weight room and some men started making offensive remarks about her sex change. Lucas, protective of Richards, threatened them with a 200-pound barbell.

“And he says ‘Listen, Dr. Richards is my friend and she’s my doubles partner. I don’t want you to say anything more against her,’” Richards said, laughing. “And this guy just looked up at him and John’s holding this 200-pound weight over his head, and that was the end of that.”

Richards mentioned another time when Lucas walked into a redneck bar in Lakeland, Fla., and asked for a six-pack of Heineken.

“A black guy in Lakeland, Fla., in the middle of the night in this hot, scalding road house, the door won’t open, the neon light in front of it and guys playing pool inside, not a black guy in sight. I said, ‘You’re not going in there,’" Richards said.

Lucas didn’t listen. He walked in, asked for the beer, and the bartender froze; he couldn’t comply since the customers were watching, but he couldn’t outright ignore the request. Richards broke the silence, asking the bartender for the six-pack. The bartender gave it to her. Problem solved.

“He was very na´ve in some ways but brilliant and sophisticated and educated and all that, but in some respects he was a kid,” Richards said.
 

Renee Richards’ notoriety was fading when she joined John Lucas on the Nets. One year removed from the saga of the 1977 New York Supreme Court ruling, she was gaining recognition on the pro tennis circuit as a competitor, not a sideshow attraction.

Lucas, meanwhile, was starting to lose control of his life. Drug problems surfaced after he was sent to Golden State in 1978. In his third and final season with the Warriors, he missed three team flights, six games and more than a dozen practices. Whisperers around the league said cocaine was the problem. Golden State, then in postseason contention, suspended Lucas for the final eight games of the season.

Jack McCallum profiled Lucas the following offseason in a 1981 Sports Illustrated story titled “Picking Up The Pieces.” Lucas’ psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Strange, said the troubled point guard was “emotionally and physiologically fit to continue his profession.” Depression, not drugs, was thought to be the cause of his problems.

“It’s just an unfortunate accident that happened to a good guy. I’m not a bad guy. I’m nobody’s problem child. Never have been, never will be,” Lucas told McCallum.

The Warriors shipped Lucas to the Washington Bullets for two second-round picks that summer and the problems escalated. Donald Dell, then Lucas’ attorney, said his client approached him about hiring a personal security guard to fend off drug dealers. So Dell arranged for a former D.C. policeman to trail the NBA star.

“And guess what?” Dell said. “It was not successful. After a couple months, somehow people would always still get drugs to him, even though this guy was traveling with him and living with him in his apartment.”

The Bullets waived their problem child in 1983, but in spite of the off-court antics, other teams could not resist the talented point guard. Lucas -- after a brief tennis stint -- joined the Lancaster Lightning of the Continental Basketball Association. A 20-point, 14-assist performance, in one half, caught the attention of San Antonio Spurs general manager Bob Bass, who signed Lucas for the remainder of the 1983-84 season.

San Antonio traded Lucas to Houston, where he played alongside Hakeem Olajuwon and 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson on the greatest team that never was. He failed a drug test that December and “retired,” but completed a 40-day rehab program and returned to the court that season.

The next year with the Rockets, Lucas averaged 15.5 points and 8.8 assists through 65 games. But his season was cut short when on March 11, 1986, he awoke from a cocaine-induced blackout in downtown Houston. Instead of trying to make it to practice, he took more cocaine. He was released after failing a drug test a few days later.

The Rockets reached the Finals sans their starting point guard, losing to the Boston Celtics in six games.
 

The drug relapse in Houston turned out to be Lucas’ last. Months later, he launched a substance recovery program which has evolved into a network of drug treatment centers for athletes. Today, he has a cult following as a training guru and life coach. Recent pupils include ex-Rutgers coach Mike Rice, Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland and NFL rookie Tyrann Mathieu.

The blind free throw happened in 1987, a year after he was cut from Houston. The Milwaukee Bucks signed him midseason and he averaged a career-high 17.5 points playing under Don Nelson.

That night, in his 12th game with Milwaukee, Lucas records 27 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and seven steals in a 127-104 win over New York. He sits out much of the fourth quarter, but subs back in with four minutes remaining and the Bucks leading 110-94. In his first possession, he sinks a jumper over Gerald Henderson. A couple of minutes later, he is sent to the foul line and hits the first of two freebies.

The second one, the blind free throw, doesn’t go exactly how Richards remembers. Before the shot, Lucas smiles, glances at his doubles partner -- who he hasn’t seen since 1978 -- and shouts “No way.” But if he closes his eyes, it’s barely noticeable. It’s only for a split second.

The shot goes in, he backpedals, and hustles through the 48th minute. He’s prancing around like he’s a rookie, MSG Network announcer Greg Gumbel says.

The Bucks have last possession and they’re running out the clock. An unguarded Lucas is standing in the paint, calling for the ball. Forward Junior Bridgeman finds the slick lefty, who converts a mid-air, catch-and-shoot just after time expires, and disappears under the stands.

Renee hasn’t seen him since.
By D.J. Foster

Chase Budinger is no stranger to being the most athletic guy in the gym. As a top-rated basketball and volleyball prospect in high school, Budinger was loathed by opponents (including your narrator) for being graced with otherworldly athletic ability. The way he could run the floor and soar through the air effortlessly seemed downright unfair, especially from a ground-level perspective.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Is Chase Budinger starting to put it all together?


The playing field in the NBA, of course, is a little more even. Summer league has its quirks, but there are plenty of ridiculously athletic prospects who can jump out of the gym and knock down an open 3 floating around. Budinger fits that billing, but he also has a firm grasp on what it will take for him to rise above the pack. Essentially, Budinger knows he needs to start playing chess instead of checkers.

"You always have to be thinking on the court," Budinger said. "That was probably one of the biggest things I learned right when I got to the NBA. On the defensive end you have to be in the right spot at the right time, because if you're not there then it's going to be tough."

Long gone are the days of players getting by solely on their athletic ability. After a solid yet unspectacular rookie campaign with the Rockets, Budinger came to Vegas, to loosely quote Jackie Chan, more focused on his focus.

"There were games last year where I should have been more aggressive," Budinger said. "In summer league, I had to be more aggressive."

That level of assertiveness often unseen in his rookie season came out in spades on Wednesday as Budinger led all scorers with 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting. The tell-tale play for Budinger came late in the fourth quarter when for a brief moment he seemed to piece it all together.

It started with an impressive display of leaping -- over a crowd of defenders to snatch a defensive rebound. Then came the aggressiveness when he immediately pushed the ball up the middle of the floor. Lastly came a wonderful show of confidence that manifested itself in a fancy around-the-back dribble and gorgeous no-look pass to a streaking Jermaine Taylor for the flush.

You could almost see the light bulb pop over Budinger's bushy head of hair as he ran back up the court. It was the perfect blending of ability and confidence and of body and mind that the Rockets can only hope Budinger can retain going forward.
  • DeMarcus Cousins filled the boxscore with 22 points, including the game-winner, but it's a single technical that's going to raise a few eyebrows in Sacramento. Cousins got mixed up with T-Wolves big man Greg Stiemsma in the first half and earned a quick T from the ref after a little jaw-jackin'. As the Kings went to the tunnel at halftime, assistant coach Mario Elie had some words for Cousins after watching his brush with the Wisconsin big man: "He's trying to get a job, you already have a job. Forget him."
  • Ish Smith is a 5-foot-11 point guard who weighs 155 pounds. In his senior season at Wake Forest, he shot a DeAndre Jordan-esque 49.4 percent from the free throw line while converting on 22.2 percent of his three-point attempts. Can a player like that survive in the NBA? Just maybe. Smith showed impeccable court vision, speed, and playmaking abilities, running the Rockets offense more like a seasoned vet than a prospect. Smith had six assists to just one turnover in 29 minutes and went a long way in showing he's not a completely incompetent scorer by going 7-for-8 from the field.
  • D-League all-star and former Utah Jazz draft pick Morris Almond continues to get buckets wherever he goes. The 25-year old scored 14 points in just 14 minutes for Chicago in their shellacking of the Clippers, showing off impressive range and a good first step in the process. Almond is too selfish for most offensive systems, but a bad team looking for instant points off the bench could do much worse for themselves.
  • The young Clippers can't hit the broad side of a barn right now, scoring just 50 points against the Bulls on 28 percent shooting from the field. Meanwhile, superfan "Clipper Darrell" remained right at 100 percent on his "U-G-L-Y" chants producing laughter from opposing players on the free-throw line.
  • The path for Joey Dorsey has already been paved by Raptors' dirty worker and possible future teammate Reggie Evans. Dorsey is a nasty screen-setter and a banger on the block, but similar to Evans, it's his offensive rebounding that could be his meal ticket on the next level. The big man out of Memphis is averaging nearly five offensive rebounds a game in Vegas through his first three games. Dorsey's solid frame and nasty disposition could lend itself well to a Toronto team short on toughness.
  • The best musical selection of the day by the DJ at the Cox Pavilion? The SpongeBob SquarePants theme song, played in its entirety. Media row was completely baffled.
  • Courtesy of Land O' Lakers, here's David Thorpe on Derrick Caracter: “The guy clearly should have been a first-round pick. A bunch of teams messed up. There’s really no other way of saying it.”
  • John Krolik of Cavs The Blog on J.J. Hickson: "Hickson had one of the most dominant performances of Summer League, putting in 34 points on 12-19 shooting from the field. He's really trying to add new aspects to his game, and the results have been fairly mixed. On one possession, he'll drain a smooth step-back jumper. On the next, he'll walk trying to execute a post move or force an off-balance shot over a waiting defender. What really allowed Hickson to dominate was the Cavs' focus on getting out in the open-court. Fast-break basketball has been the buzzword for the Cavs during this summer, and Hickson really thrives in an up-and-down game. He ran the court all day long, and he was usually rewarded with a pass for an easy dunk or layup, either from the break or the spacing the threat of early offense created. He's so much better as an athlete than most summer league bigs are, and it really shows in the uptempo game."
  • Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball on John Lucas: "In 60 career NBA games, Lucas has hit exactly one quarter of his 3-point attempts. But his last NBA game came in 2007. Since then, Lucas has turned himself into quite a shooter, hitting 44 percent of his threes in a 2008-09 D-League stint and then 45 percent last year with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association. Lucas was showing off that refined stroke Wednesday night, hitting all six of his 3-point shots en route to 25 points."
  • Joe Gerrity of Hornets247 on J.R. Smith: "Smith surprised the Vegas crowd by not only showing up at the Cox Pavilion, but actually suiting up and playing significant time against the Houston Rockets. Asked why, Smith cited his 'love of the game.' Early on he knocked down a silky smooth three-pointer and a rolled in a sweet reverse-layup in traffic, but that would do it for the Nuggets sixth-man. Despite the lax summer league defense, Smith finished 2-for-12 from the floor (1-for-8 from deep) with four fouls, three turnovers, two rebounds and only a single assist."
  • Surya Fernandez of Hot Hot Hoops on Garret Siler: "With Duke guard Jon Scheyer going home due to an eye injury and most of the starters for the Miami Heat summer league roster taking the day off, there wasn't much to take out of the Heat's game against the Detroit Pistons. Well, maybe there was one 'big' reason to watch: The steady play of 6-foot-11, 304 pound Garret Siler who is raising his game with each opportunity. Over on the Pistons end, center Greg Monroe also had a solid game by getting to the free-throw line regularly. Most impressively, both big men kept their turnovers down while remaining active in the paint -- a rarity in summer league where most bigs try to do too much and commit unforced errors."
  • John Krolik of Cavs The Blog on Christian Eyenga: "Eyenga is invisible for long stretches of play, but he does have his moments. He had an offensive rebound and putback where he just came from out of nowhere, and a crushing fast-break tomahawk that took the air out of the building. He's a ways away from harnessing his talent, but it's there."
  • Kevin Arnovitz on Alonzo Gee: "Never underestimate the power of being the most assertive guy on the floor in a summer league bout. That's how the Spurs' Alonzo Gee was able to dominate the floor in the Hawks-Spurs game. Not only was Gee the focal point of the offense, he was also the guy making sure the 5-man unit was on the same page coming out of a timeout. In transition -- but increasingly in the half court -- Gee can change direction on a dime. Pressuring him out on the perimeter just gives him an invitation to drive. If you play off Gee, he'll bear down, draw contact and finish."
John Lucas has been much-discussed lately as a key figure in the Houston-based, collective bargaining agreement-mandated drug rehabilitation of Miami Heat forward Michael Beasley.

Lucas, the former NBA player and coach, and current trainer and counselor, was just named a Clippers assistant coach.

So, you might be wondering: If Lucas is off in Los Angeles getting himself a new job, who's watching over Michael Beasley's inpatient rehab?

Lucas is but one person in a larger rehabilitation enterprise -- so the program rolls on whether he's there or not. Nevertheless Beasley's time as an inpatient is also almost over. Sources say that Beasley will be free to go at the end of this weekend.

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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