In the spring of 1993, Richard Dumas appeared to be the sort of dynamic young talent prepped to finally put the Phoenix Suns over the top. The franchise was the NBA’s latest hot thing, basking in the popularity of the southwestern suburb boom, falling behind MVP Charles Barkley and appearing set to dethrone a weary Chicago Bulls club in the Finals. The Suns lost in six to the three-time champs, but with Michael Jordan retiring the next fall and a wide-open NBA landscape about to hit, Dumas figured to be the wing element needed to support Barkley on his way to a first NBA championship.
Instead, as was the case throughout his childhood and college career, Dumas’ cocaine use got in the way of him contributing to the Suns. He’d miss the entire 1993-94 season, and be out of the NBA by 1996 as a result.
His grades were fine. He never got in a fight. Dumas’ energy outlet was petty crime, busting windows and stealing candy from stores. His idle time turned him to drugs and alcohol. He said he tried alcohol at age 5 and marijuana at age 9.
He blames his increased drug use, including cocaine, on former first lady Nancy Reagan.
“She said ‘Just say no,’ so it got me interested,” Dumas said of the slogan that came out when he was 17. “It brought it to the forefront. We didn’t have any big drug problem until Nancy said to say no to drugs. Nobody knew about half of it. Now they’re showing it on TV about what it does.”
Dumas is fidgety and scattered at times in conversation but exudes an overall calm. He said he has been clean for so many years that he does not recall when he took his last drug hit.
“He turned out to be a good kid until he got in trouble,” said Ted Hooks, 59, a Tulsa neighbor and friend of Dumas’ grandfather.
Before you dismiss the addict for blaming others or possibly making things political, one has to understand the broad swipe of the “Just Say No” campaign from the 1980s.
Drug education, a needed thing, swings both ways. A couple of generations of children from that time would have had no idea what a joint looked like, or what that rolled-up dollar bill was for if it weren’t for the “Just Say No” campaign. Nancy Reagan’s instinct was pure, as the drug culture was quickly becoming a terrifying thing by the time the 1980s hit, with a generation full of baby boomers who had become familiar with recreational drugs to an exaggerated degree now bringing children into the mix. The country needed to update the 1960s and 1970s-styled cartoons featuring pictures of syringes or pills to scare kids away from the bad stuff.
(Mind you, I’m just talking about the education portion of the proceedings. We can take other thoughts about the other aspects of the war on drugs elsewhere.)
So, with government funding, a lot of children and young adults of a certain time were exposed to videos and books full of color pictures depicting very specific drug use. And any parent will tell you, the minute you tell a child to stay away from something, that kid’s interest in the “something” (be it the part of the closet where the Christmas gifts are hidden, or pure Columbia flake) goes way, way up.
The most frustrating part of the interview is the part where we remember – as it is once every August or so, when NBA TV replays old Phoenix Suns games – how great Richard Dumas could have been.
He may not have been nor turned into “Dr. J with a jump shot,” as the excitable John Lucas (himself a former addict, and eventual Dumas coach at Philadelphia) once predicted, but Richard did put up a Player Efficiency Rating of over 18 in his rookie year. Dumas averaged 15.8 points on 52 percent shooting in only 27 minutes a game during that year, impressive numbers considering that he had been jettisoned from his Oklahoma State team two years before his rookie year because of continued drug use.
Dumas didn’t make it through the summer with Phoenix, though, and was suspended for the entire 1993-94 season. He played just 167 more minutes for the Suns following the 1993 Finals, and the team (which was hit hard by a cocaine scandal in 1987) let him join up with Lucas in Philadelphia for 1995-96. From there, Coro explains, Dumas both lost his zeal for the game, while continuing to struggle with his drug issues. By the time he was arrested for cocaine possession in 1998, sympathy for coke users (a decade after its boom years) was at an all-time low.
Sort of where Dumas was at. He’s since moved on, and works in both Phoenix and his hometown of Tulsa as a floor wax stripper. His life reversed, with the fun part out of the way early, Dumas at least has the right attitude moving forward, and the last note in Coro’s feature is a warming one:
“I’m enjoying life,” Dumas said after a long pause of reflection. “I traveled the world. I’ve done what a lot of people wanted to do.
“I did it the opposite way. Now I’ve got to work for a living.”
Dwight Howard, reportedly, is not happy with is coach. This is not a recycled column, though most of Howard’s complaints are.
The free agent center was granted an extended, private discussion with Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak following the typical, season-ending interviews with both Kupchak, and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. According to the quite trust-o-ble Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, the former Orlando Magic big man expressed frustration with D’Antoni’s coaching style, putting some doubt into Howard’s expected return to Los Angeles during this offseason.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard's frustration with D'Antoni -- particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard's voice.
"We had to just sell out to whatever he wanted, whether we liked it or not," Howard said of D'Antoni following his exit interview. "We had to do what was going to benefit the team, and being one of the leaders on the team, I had to make sure I kept the guys in line to what the coach wanted us to do."
A source said Howard was very careful with his public comments about D'Antoni after the season, wary of attracting a "coach killer reputation" after how things ended in Orlando with Stan Van Gundy losing his job. Despite the frustration Howard had with D'Antoni last season, there is nothing to suggest the partnership is irreparable. "It's not a, 'It's me or Mike,' situation for Dwight," said a source.
McMenamin went on to report that the Lakers’ loss of Chuck Person and expected loss of Steve Clifford – two of the league’s more respected assistant coaches and Howard confidantes – could further frustrate Howard. Person wasn’t retained and Clifford is one of the top candidates for one of the many open NBA head coaching jobs, and the removal of “buffers” between Howard and D’Antoni, according to ESPN Los Angeles’ sources “is a bad thing.”
Our thoughts on the Lakers’ coaching fits haven’t changed since the season, and Dave’s report doesn’t mess with a whole heck of a lot. Mike D’Antoni didn’t do an awful job with this group, but he also didn’t adapt to his team. It’s true that he had no bench, his point guard was hurt, and the roster didn’t suit his style – but it’s not the roster’s job to suit the coach. It’s the coach’s job to adapt to the roster. In an unfair but apt comparison, Phil Jackson was the guy that returned to the Lakers in time to work the triangle offense – an offense predicated on post passing and movement – with two of the worst passing big man of the era in Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown. Jackson modified the offense, waited out Andrew Bynum’s development, and utilized Pau Gasol expertly.
D’Antoni? He’s still hoping Pau Gasol can turn into Shawn Marion.
Perhaps that could change by October – and it better, because while Dwight Howard might be moping off to another team (though we doubt it), D’Antoni’s not going anywhere. Laker top cat Jim Buss dug in his heels with the D’Antoni hiring last fall, and he’s not going to show what he probably perceives to be weakness in dropping the former Suns and Knicks coach for another candidate. If Buss were open to player influence, Brian Shaw would be readying himself for his third year as Lakers coach right now.
(Or, perhaps, still coaching the Lakers deep into May of this season.)
The Lakers modified their offense by the end of the season into weird, somehow winning (because “Kobe” that’s why), amalgamation that seemed to make nobody happy. None of the team’s stars were really put in a good place, as Nash was still injured and taken out of dominating the ball, Bryant was playing way too many minutes, Pau was still out of place, and Howard wasn’t featured. All-around sacrifice is needed if a team full of very good players wants to evolve into a winner, but this version was so joyless and such an affront to the basketball gods that D’Antoni pleased so much in Phoenix, that the more spiritual of hoop followers may wonder if it was some sort of karmic reaction to various previous misdeeds from Mssrs. Howard and Buss.
Dwight doesn’t care about karmic reactions. He wants the ball, and he wants a lot of help so that nobody picks on him when things go wrong. The guy turned 27 this season, he’s been in the NBA since 2004, and this is pretty much what he is. Those waiting for the Long Awaited Big Grow-Up should just quit it.
Sadly, guys like this are power brokers in the NBA. Worse for Howard, he’s going up against one of the more well-heeled and stubborn power brokers in the NBA, and Jim Buss won’t go changin’ just to please him.
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