An account of Lloyd Daniels's life should be posted by every playground court and in every school gym. Known as Sweet Pea for his resemblance to the Popeye cartoon character, the 6'8" Daniels, now 21, was once hailed as the most talented New York City basketball player to come along since Lew Alcindor. He was said by some to be Magic Johnson with an even better outside shot, and coaches and recruiters praised and pampered him from the time he was in eighth grade.
But Daniels has little self-discipline, and he may be dyslexic. He quit or was kicked out of four high schools, one junior college and one college, Nevada-Las Vegas, which had accepted him even though he read on a third-grade level. Since Daniels pleaded guilty in Las Vegas in 1987 to attempting to buy crack, he has undergone drug rehabilitation three times. He was suspended by the CBA's Topeka Sizzlers last year for failing to abide by his drug-rehab program or get in shape. After that, he was booted off a pro team in New Zealand for alleged heavy drinking. Friends feared for several years that if Daniels didn't change, he might end up dead on the street.
Last week he almost did. At about 2 a.m. on Thursday, Daniels was shot three times—twice in the chest and once in the neck—during a reported drug dispute with two men outside his grandmother's home in Queens. Daniels owed the men $8 for what his agent, Tom Rome, maintained was an old crack purchase. He was listed in critical condition for two days but as of Monday was able to walk.
Daniels's sad saga reflects the failures of both society and Daniels himself. He grew up in a depressed neighborhood, and by the time Daniels was three his mother was dead and his father had abandoned him to the care of relatives. As he grew older, Daniels seldom applied himself. No matter what he did wrong or how infrequently he went to class, however, someone gave him another chance—almost always because he was a basketball star. There are reports that he got more than just extra opportunities: The NCAA is investigating UNLV for alleged recruiting violations involving Daniels. News-day reported that Daniels received a car, cash and other improper emoluments while he was prepping for the Runnin' Rebels in junior college.
"Those bullets may save Lloyd's life," said Rome last week. "He can't go any lower or closer to the death on the streets that was always lurking." Rome said that five NBA teams had shown an interest in his client before the shooting. He believes a pro team will still be willing to sign Daniels if he can straighten himself out—and fully recover from his wounds.