The article appeared in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED two years after that magical night in Lexington, under the byline GARY MCLAIN, AS TOLD TO JEFFREY MARX. At the time Marx was an investigative reporter with the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, and he had shared a 1986 Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles exposing corruption in the Kentucky basketball program. McLain's story remains one of the longest single pieces published in SI—and one of the most incendiary. The text began on the cover with the chilling line: "I was standing in the Rose Garden, wired on cocaine." McLain went on to describe his drug habit in vivid detail, including his account of being high while playing against Memphis State in the national semifinals and while visiting the White House. With two sentences McLain brought every player on the national championship team under suspicion: "Some of my teammates and guys in my dorm knew I did drugs. Some of them did drugs with me."
He wrote that Massimino knew about his drug use but didn't try to expose him because that might have led to the discovery of other users and damaged the team. "Coach Mass cared about us a lot," wrote McLain. "I don't think he wanted to lose us."
Massimino read the story in his office at The Pavilion, surrounded by his assistants. "It absolutely gutted Rollie," says veteran NBA coach and TV analyst Mike Fratello, an early Massimino assistant and longtime confidante. "And he carried the hurt with him for a long time." Villanova players from '85 publicly disputed the details of McLain's account and claimed they knew nothing of McLain's drug use. Some tell a different story now. "I knew Gary was using drugs in college," says McClain. "Sure, I knew that. But I never thought he had a drug addiction."
Stack says, "After the article students came up to me and said, 'Well, everybody knew it.' There was a perception that the administration knew it. Would I have bet my golf clubs that Gary McLain was using cocaine? Well, probably. But not in a way that I could take action. I'm sure his story was largely accurate."
McLain had not just been a rock of consistency in the championship game but also was the emotional center of the team for four years, the guy who kept bus rides alive with his sharp wit and lacerating humor. "He was hilarious," says Pinone. Now he was the traitor who besmirched the Cinderella story. "If I saw him right now I'd put a fist through the back of his head," says Maker. Most others have moved past their initial anger and forgiven McLain. Pinckney has loaned him money on several occasions. McLain did not return to Villanova until 1995; he received a warm ovation at a reunion of the '85 team. He came back again four years ago, when the team was inducted, en masse, into the Villanova sports hall of fame.
The 85s remain an extraordinarily close group. Pressley talks to Pinckney on the phone at least three times a week. Plansky and Jensen chat all the time. Everson stays in touch with everybody. ("The social director," says Massimino.) Jay Wright runs a summer golf-alumni basketball tournament that brings many former Wildcats together. McLain has yet to attend. He occasionally goes on phoning binges with old teammates and then seems to disappear.
"I have been humbled in this life," says McLain. "For years after the article came out, there were a whole lot of times when I said, Damn, man, I wish I didn't write that article. But if you ask me right now, in 2004, if I regret writing that article—hell, no, I don't regret it. It was real. I was 22 years old, and I came hard at people. I said things, and I paid the price for saying them."
He has had numerous jobs in the last 17 years, with a few of what he calls "employment gaps." He once lived on a horse farm in rural Florida and once was in a relationship with a woman who ran an escort service. He says he has lapsed into drug or alcohol use "a couple of times" but is currently sticking with a 12-step program and attending meetings. "How long have I been clean?" he says. "Just say today. I'm clean today." He has been divorced for six years, but his 11-year-old daughter, Jade Alexis McLain, lives nearby in Florida and stays with McLain every other weekend. He has worked since October for a company that places doctors in temporary positions. He says he wants to write a book about his life and perhaps to deliver his cautionary tale to kids. On Sunday mornings he plays pickup basketball on a West Palm Beach playground.
McLain says SI paid $35,000 for his words in 1987, but after he'd shared the fee with Marx and paid off some debts, he had $6,000. "Maybe people thought I was a rat or I did something bad just for money," he says. "But one incident doesn't determine who I am."
And there is this, from somewhere deep in his soul: "I am incredibly thankful to Coach Mass for the way he ran that program. The discipline. The sense of family. That was no joke. I've got nothing but love and respect for Villanova University. I do look back sometimes. And damn, I was a champion."