Yet, despite a prescribed regimen of 1,500 milligrams of lithium every day, since moving back to New Jersey in 1995 Wright has been hospitalized six times for a chemical imbalance. In '96 he spent a month at Essex County Hospital Center, a public psychiatric facility in New Jersey. Sleeping on two mattresses pushed together to accommodate his frame, Wright was often placed in restraints for fear that he could do harm to the staff or to himself. Wright's predicament has been compounded by financial hardships, including a lack of health insurance. The Jazz guaranteed Wright $153,000 annually for 25 years as part of his severance, but thanks to bad investments, back taxes and child-support payments—friends say that Wright has four children; he contends that he has two—the annuity has been all but wiped out. When Wright sold his Salt Lake mansion, the proceeds went to creditors. Today he and his mother and his brother and sister live in a two-story brick house in Irving-ton. "We're doing O.K. now," says Wright, who hasn't worked since his diagnosis, "but it's not like when I was in the NBA."
During a stay in Essex County Hospital last year, Wright realized he missed basketball. "It wasn't the money, and it wasn't the lifestyle," he says. "I just missed the game itself." He phoned Pyonin, who had coached him in New Jersey AAU ball more than a decade before, and told him that he was desperate to give the NBA one more shot. More than a year later Wright's comeback is still incubating. While Wright runs sprints or shoots turnaround jumpers at the Y, he is oblivious to the puzzled onlookers, dozens of Jewish boys, their heads covered with yarmulkes, wondering why a former NBA player is sweating in their gym. At a glacial pace, Wright's body is becoming less convex, his touch is reappearing, and it takes longer and longer for his huffing and puffing to kick in.
It's nearly unfathomable, the distance between playing in the NBA and laying your 400-pound body on an institutional-style bed in a psychiatric hospital. Yet for all Wright's baggage, he's surprisingly agile, he can shoot—and he remains 86 inches tall. "It's one of those 'you can't teach height' things," says Layden. "This league is always looking for centers."
Wright is unmoved by the optimistic speculation. "Maybe I make it and maybe I don't," he says with a shrug. "It would be great to be in the NBA, showing that people with bipolar disorder can be productive. But just being out here, I feel like I've made a big comeback already."