Infamous Vince Carter combatant Frederic Weis attempted suicide in 2008
Frederic Weis, the center whose selection in the 1999 NBA draft by the New York Knicks shocked the NBA, the player on the losing end of perhaps the greatest in-game dunk in basketball history, attempted suicide in 2008. The New York Times reports that Weis, who survived, had been suffering from depression following his son’s diagnosis with autism and the subsequent dissolution of his basketball career and marriage.
The infamy that began with the 1999 draft and hit fever pitch following this dunk …
… had nothing to do with it. It was the bad off-court habits that began following the birth of his son Enzo and separation from his wife Celia that pushed him into the spiral.
Off the court, he was erratic, moody and, as he admitted, “too interested in doing all the bad things.” On the court, he was sluggish and ineffective; during the 2004-5 season, he averaged fewer than 3 points and 16 minutes per game, both career lows for any season in which he played at least 30 games.
Weis struggled to balance his emotions about Enzo with his need to continue playing basketball. He tried to visit Celia and Enzo as often as possible but could not hide his disappointment at not being able to do what other fathers did with their children. He could not take Enzo to the movies (films were too long for Enzo). He could not play board games. He could not do puzzles.
Enzo liked basketball — he would come to Weis’s games sometimes and sit in the stands for short stretches — but he could not play. On the court, when it was just the two of them and Weis was hoping for anything, just a shot or a pass, Enzo only ran, around and around, while his father held the ball.
By January 2008, Weis hit bottom. Shortly after New Year’s, he decided he wanted to “stop it all,” as he said. And so he took the box of sleeping pills, drove to the rest stop in Biarritz and closed his eyes.
Weis recovered, and he and his wife reconciled soon after he acknowledged his depression and stopped drinking. The center went on to play a few more years professionally, but he still suffers from depression and refuses to see a therapist. He and his wife Celia currently own a tobacco store and bar in France.
The circumstances that led to Weis being drafted by the Knicks marked a chaotic point in the team’s history, even by Knicks standards.
The team seemed prepared to clean house after a miserable regular season during the lockout-shortened 1999 term. With Phil Jackson acting as a coaching free agent and general manager Ernie Grunfeld’s two big offseason moves (dealing Charles Oakley for Marcus Camby and John Starks, among others, for Latrell Sprewell) having failed initially, coach Jeff Van Gundy seemed on the outs with Grunfeld not far behind following the season’s end. The Knicks finished with the eighth seed in the East that year, barely making the playoffs.
Behind the work of Sprewell and Camby, however, a late-season run had given the Knicks confidence enough to consider themselves the equal of the rival Miami Heat, their first-round playoff opponent. The Knicks went on to upset the Heat in the final game of the best-of-five series when Allan Houston’s game-winner fell in with just a second left, creating the first eighth seed playoff series win over a top seed in Eastern Conference playoff history. The group would rally to make the NBA Finals that season behind an unorthodox lineup, the coaching of Van Gundy, and the play of two formerly beleaguered stars in Camby and Sprewell that were traded in exchange for two Knick legends.
Van Gundy hung on, though Grunfeld (with a gig in Milwaukee awaiting him, free from Dave Checketts and the MSG-styled rumors) left the franchise. Longtime NBA staffer Ed Tapscott took the GM job on an interim basis, as the Knicks looked forward to acting as one of the rare championship contenders that would be able to select an immediate contributor in the draft by virtue of the team’s underachieving regular season.
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Tapscott, to the shock of all, selected Weis 14th overall. One can’t overstate how genuinely surprising this was back then.
The 7-foot-2 center had been listed in some mock drafts as a first-round selection, but never this high, and certainly not in front of Queens and St. John’s standout Ron Artest (who would go with the next pick to Chicago). A poor 1999 Summer League showing and a chilly initial reception from Van Gundy (reported then, reported by the Times this week, JVG swears he doesn’t remember much) further soured Weis on the Knicks and vice versa. As did the hiring of the ultra-orthodox Scott Layden as GM, as did the work of his agent at the time – an agent the Times reports later went to jail “on charges related to financial impropriety and conflicts of interest.”
By the time the 2000 Olympics rolled around, Weis ranked with Andrei Kirilenko as the top overseas prospects that NBA fans were curious to watch in real time. After all, Weis was still 7-2 and a fixture on several international All-Star squads, and the Knicks had been rumored to be in the business of dealing center Patrick Ewing in a bid to stay relevant (Ewing would be traded to Seattle a month after the Olympics).
Instead, Vince Carter did what he did to him. The idea that a dunker could scale an actual player on his way to a throwdown was just about unprecedented (and, depending on your angle, unrepeated), and once Weis’ size and draft infamy came into the conversation it was just about over. He was and is basketball’s biggest go-to punch line.
And yet, that didn’t drive him to drink and depression. The distance between Weis and his wife and son did, however.
The basketball is gone, but at least Enzo and Celia are back with Frederic Weis as he attempts to move forward. Do yourself a favor and read the rest of the feature.
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is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops