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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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"Okay, if your leg feels better you can report a day or two late," he said. "Thank you. Bye." Click. It seemed so abrupt. I felt a little chill come over me. I had lost a dream. Just like that. Click.

If I hadn't been so messed up with drugs, I would have called three weeks in advance to work something out with the Nets. I could have rehabilitated the ankle, then reported to the Nets. Or they could have helped with my ankle. But I couldn't go to the Nets the way I was; I would have been kicked out for drugs. I would have been in the papers. There was no way. Instead, I lied to myself. To them. To everybody.

My ankle didn't cost me that tryout. My drugs did. I felt worthless.

I had gotten to the point where I was powerless over cocaine and drugs in general. My life was unmanageable. I couldn't save money. I would read about other people getting in trouble with drugs, and say to myself, No way. This will never happen to me. Everybody does cocaine. Everybody gets high. I just enjoy it.

People I was hanging out with reinforced these thoughts. They would say, "You'll be all right." But I'd be all right only if I had enough money to chip in for the next free-base. They always wanted somebody else to join them in their misery.

I didn't want to give up basketball, but it was time to put my Villanova degree to a test. Unlike so many players, especially at other schools, I had graduated.

It was time to enter the job market. I majored in communications arts, but I didn't want to deal with some small-town radio station doing the midnight-to-6 a.m. shift or the morning steer report. And I didn't want to deal with any rinky-dink TV station. It just wasn't me. I decided to be a salesman. Everybody always told me, "You've got the mouth. You've got the looks. You've got the energy. Why don't you be a salesman?" I wanted everything right away. Buy some clothes that would look good. Not worry about anything like a bank account. Just drink and drug now.

I took a job in Delaware as a salesman for a food company. I received expense money but went through it fast, turning in phony receipts. I called in sick when I was only tired or hung over. I was fired. I had interviewed for some jobs on Wall Street. In mid-January, I finally got the offer I wanted. I was hired by Richard Jackson, a successful broker with RMJ Securities Corp. in New York City, who would train me to be a broker in Treasury bills. I was psyched. With its fast pace and high rollers. Wall Street was everything I expected it to be. It was like a clubhouse in there, like a locker room, full of hard workers and bad language, and I was loving it.

Before I started work, Mr. Jackson told me he didn't tolerate drugs. He had fired people for using them, and he would again. Drugs were prevalent on Wall Street, he told me. Get caught and you're out. He wasn't telling me this because he suspected me of anything. He brought it up just as he would with any new employee. But he could just as well have been Coach Mass in Coach Donlon's living room. I didn't think anything of it. I would probably party a little, but I thought my years of craziness were over.

I was wrong. My first couple of weeks on Wall Street I was out every night, drinking. A couple of nights I went drugging. Some other guys on Wall Street did cocaine with me. They would tell me, "Listen, down here all you have is your word and your reputation. Anybody finds out about this, man, you're gone. So whatever you do, never tell anybody."

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