Bobby Phill's death is the latest in a string of North Carolina woes
Few people were happier to see the dawn of the new year than fans in North Carolina. Throughout 1999, sports pages there were dominated by tales of tragedies and turmoil.
Judging by the early returns, however, 2000 isn't looking any better. On Jan. 12, Hornets swing-man Bobby Phills (right), one of the NBA's most respected players, was killed when his black Porsche convertible crashed as he drove home from practice. Police believe Phills was drag-racing with teammate David Wesley, who was driving his white Porsche despite a suspended license. As of Monday, Wesley had yet to speak to investigators.
Phills entered Southern University in 1987 as a 6'3" center and left as a 6'5" shooting guard. He was picked by the Bucks in the second round in '91, but his college coach, Ben Jobe, a former NBA assistant who knew about life in the league, advised Phills to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, his major at Southern. "It's far more important than hitting a jump shot," Jobe said. But Phills stuck with hoops and eventually became one of the league's top defenders and a capable scorer—all while maintaining his poise and dignity. "He could have been one of the foremost black leaders in the country," Jobe said last Thursday. "He had the brainpower. He had the great family background. He had everything."
Among the mourners at a memorial service for Phills last Friday was Charlotte guard Eldridge Recasner, making his first public appearance since suffering a broken shoulder and a collapsed lung in an October car accident. That wreck occurred when teammate Derrick Coleman, who was charged with driving under the influence, tried to turn in front of an oncoming truck. Recasner, who was in the passenger seat, won't play again until at least late this month.
One of the speakers at Phills's service was Hornets owner George Shinn, an outspoken born-again Christian, author of Good Morning, Lord! and the defendant in an ugly sexual assault civil suit that dragged on from February '98 to December '99. Shinn won the case. Two weeks later accuser Leslie Price's husband, Jeff, killed himself with a shotgun.
Not every unseemly or unfortunate incident has involved the Hornets, though.
?On May 1 three spectators at an IRL race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte were killed when debris from a crash flew into the stands.
?Two days later Hurricanes defenseman Steve Chiasson was killed in a one-car accident. His blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit.
?On Dec. 15 Panthers receiver Rae Carruth was charged with orchestrating the murder of his pregnant girlfriend.