A few hours before he left office Bill Clinton signed 176 grants of clemency. While the nation has focused on the higher-profile pardons, such as the one for fugitive billionaire financier Marc Rich, one beneficiary has quietly restarted his life and, maybe, his basketball career. Derrick Curry, 31, isn't a household name, but for 8� years he has been a big-house legend, perhaps the nation's best player behind prison walls.
In the fall of 1990 Curry was in his first year at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md. A mesmerizing 6-foot shooting guard who had starred at Northwestern High in Hyattsville, Md., he caught the attention of Georgetown coach John Thompson, who told Curry there could be a spot for him on the Hoyas' roster the following autumn. But Curry's hoop dream was shattered on Oct. 17 of that year when police uncovered a rock of crack cocaine weighing a little more than a pound in a car he had been driving. Curry claimed he had been duped by a friend into transporting the drug. A federal jury didn't buy the story: Curry, who had never before been arrested, was found guilty of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and given a mandatory sentence of 19 years and seven months in prison, with no chance of parole. "The judge apologized to me," says Curry. "He said he wished he'd had discretion."
Curry's father, Arthur, a Ph.D. in education, testified to Congress about the unfairness of mandatory sentencing. His son's tale was told in several magazine articles and in Pickup Artists, a book I wrote with Chad Millman. Arthur passed these accounts to lawmakers and eventually persuaded several Maryland politicians to sign a letter urging Clinton to set his son free. "I've prayed for this day," says Arthur, a professor at Bowie (Md.) State University. "I wasn't sure, but I just felt it was going to come."
Nate Peake, the agent for Rockets guard Steve Francis, has already contacted Derrick about trying out for the CBA, the ABA or a team overseas. Curry, who says he's in the best shape of his life, is pondering his options—which are suddenly far more numerous. "I feel I was robbed of my basketball career," he says, "but at least now I'm free."