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"The problem was that I never had the time to stop and think about the deaths until I was alone and by myself," says Lucas. "Those were the first two people close to me who had ever died. I didn't cope with the deaths as well as somebody else might because I had always had somebody with me since I was 10. My parents. Coach Easterling. But this time I was out in California alone, nobody to check up on me, and it made a big difference. Yes, there was Al [Attles]. I felt I could talk to Al. Al is one of the finest men I've ever worked for. But he was my coach. He really wasn't the man to go to in this instance."
The depth of Lucas' dilemma was perhaps impressed upon Attles for the first time when John missed a home game against the Knicks on Jan. 24, the fourth game from which he had been AWOL. Just the night before Lucas had assured Attles there would be no more trouble. Attles, who had been taking heat in the press for being overly patient with Lucas, agreed with the subsequent decision to punish Lucas by leaving him behind when the team made a three-game trip to Chicago, Indiana and Detroit. That was the first official action the Warriors had taken.
Lucas' contract was another problem. The Warriors had the right to pick up the option on his contract by Jan. 15. By that date Lucas had missed three games and several practices and hadn't shown himself to be a good risk, so they didn't exercise the option—and at present Lucas is a free agent.
Woven into the fabric of Lucas' woes was what Dell calls the "bad crowd" theory. "The biggest problem in pro basketball today in my opinion-and Fm not an expert on drugs so I wouldn't know about that-is what I would call the 'hanger-on' environment in every NBA city," he says. "Not just the drug situation that can result but also the bad advice. People saying, 'John, look. Golden State doesn't appreciate you but somebody else will. You don't need them.' "
Falk agrees. "I think some of the people around John, the floaters, told him, 'Don't worry about what you do. No matter what, they're going to pick up the option,' " he says. "We kept telling him, 'John, it's not going to happen. They're not going to pick it up.' But the floaters were saying, 'Yes they are, John, yes they are.' "
Tom Nissalke, who was Lucas' first pro coach, at Houston, agrees that Lucas' main weakness is playing follow the leader off the court. "On the court he's got charisma, leadership, whatever you want to call it," says Nissalke, now the head coach of the Utah Jazz. "But off the court he will let himself be led." Nissalke agrees with Dell about the hangers-on; he calls them the "nitwit element."
And Lucas now admits that he got some bad advice. "I guess I was getting in with some wrong people," he says. "Really, I don't know what the wrong crowd is. I like everybody. But it's a big problem. I've lent more money out than I should have ever lent out. [Dell estimates Lucas has made a dozen loans of between $500 and $800.] I'll never get it back. Yes, I have to admit I do have people who were my friends six months ago who aren't now."
And so, for all these reasons, and maybe others that only he knows about, John Lucas stopped behaving like a professional. "It just got so that nothing mattered," he says. "I'd go in to Al and say, 'Al, it's as if I lost my desire.' But I knew that wasn't it, either. Maybe at 3 o'clock I'd feel like going to the game. At 4 o'clock, no. At 5 o'clock, yes. At 6 o'clock, no. I tell you, I wish I had a recording going on in my mind because I couldn't explain it myself." And Lucas was constantly called on to do exactly that-to explain, to his parents, his attorneys, to old friends like Renee Richards (his former mixed doubles partner in World Team Tennis).
Lucas, however, didn't do much explaining to the Bay Area media, and the inevitable bad press exacerbated his situation. All the factors leading up to his depression were probably mentioned at one time or another in the newspapers, but the whole package just didn't add up. The drug theory seemed to be the most plausible, so drug innuendos began to creep into stories about Lucas; gradually, it became widely accepted that cocaine was bringing him down.
Except for one radio call-in show in late February, Lucas stopped doing interviews. "The thing was, what could I say if I did try to answer the questions?" says Lucas. "I didn't know why I was acting like I was."