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Gearon and Kasten both became so alarmed by Johnson's behavior that they called Baccus and suggested he see Johnson. The next day Baccus signed a commitment order to have Johnson placed in Grady. Practice was called off that day only after the team had shown up at the Civic Center, so when Johnson was picked up—in Georgia commitment papers are served by police in the form of an arrest warrant—it was done in front of his teammates. When one of the policemen began baiting Johnson, he resisted. "I thought they were crazy or something," Johnson says. "One of them said he was going to make me go somewhere, and I said, 'You ain't making me go nowhere.' " When Johnson began to scuffle with the policemen. Center Steve Hawes came to his teammate's aid, and he was almost arrested, too.
Johnson was taken away for another week's confinement and he's still bitter about the way the incident was handled. "They were behind it," he says, referring to Gearon and Kasten. "Who are they to make those kinds of decisions? I felt I had a legitimate gripe, but they felt that because I was upset I was manic. That's the way it's been all my life—people trying to make things easy for me. But it only makes things worse. It's easy for them to say what's right for me because they've never been in my situation."
Though Gearon is legally powerless to have anyone committed to a mental institution, he admits that he called Baccus. "It's easy to ignore something and not get help," Gearon says. "Somebody's got to get doctors there and make sure help is available. Sometimes you may have to do things that appear oppressive." Gearon says that whenever possible he consulted Johnson's wife and family before taking action. "He's a very complex guy," Gearon says. "I think I know a lot about him, and yet I'm not sure I know him well. I don't know how much is manic depression and how much is other emotional problems in his background."
To what extent those problems stem from a troubled family life is difficult to say. Frank Johnson steadfastly refuses to talk about his brother's problems.
The Hawks took Johnson off the suspended list on Nov. 21 after only three full practices with the team. After Atlanta's 94-92 overtime victory over Cleveland last week, a game in which Johnson scored 17 points and had six assists, Ted Turner burst into the locker room and said to Johnson, "Now we've just got to find something for you to do to keep busy in the summertime."
"Yeah," joked Fast Eddie later, "he suggested maybe I could work on his plantation."
The Hawks, meanwhile, had won five in a row before their 98-90 loss last Saturday to Boston, in which Johnson scored 15 points and played a good floor game. "I think in all honesty that Eddie is on trial," says Loughery. "His position with the club is slightly different than the other players'. But I don't foresee any more problems."
"What other business is there in which a guy can be exposed to the kind of personal scrutiny you have in professional basketball?" asks Gearon. "You're out there in your underwear with no place to hide. The fans feel that these guys are heroes and, because they're making a lot of money, that they shouldn't have problems like other people. But all the money and attention just make it more difficult for them to function. If they have a problem, it's harder for them to seek help."
The Hawks receive periodic reports on the lithium level in Johnson's blood, and though no one with the team will say whether his blood tests are also screened for other drugs, Gearon does say, rather astonishingly, "As a general matter, I think it would be a good idea for all athletes to be screened regularly."
Johnson is confident that his skills and his speed will bring him through whatever lies ahead. "People are fickle," he says. "When you're going through it, people don't care what happens to you. When you make it back, everybody's got a pat on the back for you. They say, 'Well, he can still play.' That's their cop-out. Well, I can still play. They can't take away my God-given talent to play basketball. I've been successful at that all my life. It's these other little obstacles that have derailed me from time to time."