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A Bad Trip
Gary McLain
March 16, 1987
The Downfall of a Champion
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March 16, 1987

A Bad Trip

The Downfall of a Champion

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I was standing in the Rose Garden, wired on cocaine. Nothing new about my being that way. I'd been high on cocaine a lot during my college days at Villanova. I'd even played wired in some games, including our semifinal win over Memphis State in the NCAA Final Four in Lexington, Ky., five days earlier. And now that we were the best, the team that had just upset Georgetown for the 1985 national championship, it was business as usual for me. President Reagan was welcoming my teammates and me at the White House and giving his little speech about how inspirational our victory was. And the cocaine had me floating in my own private world.

I was wide awake even though it had been an exhausting few days. We had been allowed to go home after the victory celebration in Philadelphia. But as soon as I walked through the door of my parents' home in Hempstead, N.Y., someone from the school called to tell me to come back. The President would see us. I had to return to Villanova to join my teammates for the bus ride to Washington.

But I didn't want to see the President yet. Are you kidding? I wanted to see my home boys. I wanted to hang out. I wanted to get high, to mess around with them, to laugh and hear them tell me what it was like to watch me on TV. We were national champions. We could do just about whatever we wanted. And I wanted to do cocaine.

And I did. I did lots of it, all night, even though I knew I had to get going soon. I did it in the car with the friends who drove me at two in the morning from Long Island to Villanova. And I did it by myself in the bathroom of the team bus that left Villanova at seven, headed for. the White House. I used up half of the gram one of my friends gave me for the bus ride.

When we reached the White House, I began freaking out. All these paranoid thoughts started going through my mind. What if they send a dog on the bus, where I'd left the rest of the coke under my jacket? Oh, my god, there's a little wooden archway I have to pass through. Could be a cocaine detector. All these guys are walking around "with earphones. Must be the CIA. And I thought they were looking at me, speaking into their radios, "Gary McLain is high. Let's get him." I was scared and confused, just as I was so many times while my addiction to drugs dragged me lower and lower.

I was the first player President Reagan mentioned by name. He used a quote of mine in his speech, something about how hard we had worked to achieve our goal of a national championship. But I wasn't concentrating on what he was saying. I was standing a couple of feet behind him, looking in his hair, thinking, this guy has more dandruff than your average man. Thinking thoughts like, I could push him in the head, just a little tap, and make news across the world. That's how high I was. I was looking at Reagan, thinking, this guy is the smoothest con artist in the world. He's reading from a piece of paper, and America thinks he is so cool.

Actually, I wasn't a bad con artist myself. I had spent years lying so I wouldn't get in trouble for doing drugs. I had manipulated people around me, schemed and scammed when I needed to. And now I was high at the White House. After Reagan finished his talk and took off, the team had a big press conference on the North Lawn. Coach Mass, Rollie Massimino, was talking. The question just flew out from a reporter: What are your feelings on drugs? What advice would you give to young people about them? Coach Mass said his advice would be simple, just to "stay away from them." And all the while I was standing there freaking. A teammate was standing behind me. He knew I did a lot of coke so he gave me a little nudge. Sort of a little joke.

It wasn't funny, though. Looking back, things had gotten scary. I was trying to put on this image of Gary McLain, champion, when I was really Gary McLain, drug addict. It would be this way until I reached my alltime low and finally went for help. It might still be this way right now except for my mother, who offered her support and love when I went away to a rehabilitation center. I'm lucky to be clean. Lucky to have real friends who stood by me when others turned their backs. Lucky to be alive.

Some of my teammates and guys in my dorm knew I did drugs. Some of them did drugs with me. It was no big deal to us. I doubt they thought of me as an addict. Back then, I didn't myself.

Even today, my neighbors in Hempstead don't know I'm a recovering drug addict. A lot of people I've been around don't know. I was good at hiding it or lying when I had to. I was always saying things that people wanted to hear. It had reached a point where I didn't know what was the truth and what was me just saying something to please.

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