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'86ed
Phil Taylor
January 08, 1996
Many of the NBA's first-round draft choices of 1986 sank, often tragically, out of sight
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January 08, 1996

'86ed

Many of the NBA's first-round draft choices of 1986 sank, often tragically, out of sight

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One of his few regrets about his NBA career is that he is often confused with another former Net, Duane Washington, who was banned from the NBA for cocaine the year Pearl went to Miami. "My drug was basketball," says Pearl. "I never needed anything else."

He doesn't seem to need the NBA, either. Washington appears to have little trouble coming to grips with the fact that he was a professional flop, but he hasn't given up his basketball persona. When he is asked for an autograph, he still signs "Pearl." He says, "I would never sign 'Dwayne.' " And maybe it is not just because his medication sometimes clouds his mind that Washington recently gave a visitor unusual directions to his apartment. The route was not the most direct, but it did include Pearl Street.

What went wrong with the class of '86? "You hear a lot of stories about how teams should have checked guys out more," says Blake. "But mostly you're dealing with two very different kinds of failure: injuries on one side and addictions on the other. It's hard to throw a blanket reason over both those things. Best explanation? How about fate?"

Or could it have been an epic mis-judgment of talent, which created expectations for players who, as their career stats attest, simply did not have the ability to meet them? Whatever the cause, it did not extend to the draft's second round. In retrospect, the two rounds should have been reversed, since the players picked in round 2 included Mark Price, Dennis Rodman, Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan.

The first-rounders of '86 may also have represented the end of a certain kind of innocence. They were the last players who could be forgiven if they considered themselves invulnerable to drugs. "It was just a bad crop of decisions made by a bunch of different guys," Daugherty says. "They lost millions of dollars—or much worse. Len lost his life, and others are just about as bad."

Daugherty's back woes began when he landed awkwardly after a layup in a February 1994 game against the New York Knicks. What he thought was just a muscle spasm worsened, and when he went to the hospital a week later, doctors told him two disks were herniated. "They didn't say I'd never play again, but they wouldn't put a timetable on my return," he says. Daugherty realizes, however, that even if he never plays again, he has been more fortunate than most of his fellow first-rounders a decade ago.

On draft day in 1986, after Cleveland had chosen Daugherty with the first pick, it was the Celtics' turn. Washburn leaned over and whispered to Bias, "You better get ready to go." Bias put his hand on Washburn's shoulder, as if anointing him with similar good fortune. Bias smiled. "You get ready too," he said. "Because you'll be next."

When Bias's name was called, he slapped Washburn's hand. Then Bias extended his hands to the other players who were sitting nearby, waiting to be chosen. He touched as many of them as he could.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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