SI Vault
 
A Bad Trip
Gary McLain
March 16, 1987
The Downfall of a Champion
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 16, 1987

A Bad Trip

The Downfall of a Champion

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

In my house you'll find basketball trophies and posters, photo albums that seem full of good times, not bad. But if you know the whole story, you can see where the good and bad came together. Only a few people know the whole story. It's kind of strange now to look back on everything that has happened. Strange, and scary.

We lived in the projects during my early years. Chances there are hard to come by, but people like to help a kid with athletic ability, in the hope that he can get what they didn't have. I was an only child with an only parent. My mother and father had argued a lot, and they got a divorce when I was nine. We lived then in a housing development in Tarrytown, in Westchester County, N.Y. After we moved to White Plains I didn't see much of my father, but my mother soon started dating a Long Islander named Lorenzo Garrett. He became my stepfather.

I hung out with older kids, and my mother used to tell me I was 9 going on 20. As an only child, I always wanted a lot of friends. So I'd try pleasing other people. I was the class clown, always making people laugh. Everyone said I looked like Flip Wilson. I felt talented and special, full of the confidence to tackle life without my father being around.

My mother had raised me to be strong. After all, she was. She started out working as a domestic, cleaning houses for rich people, doing whatever it would take to make things better for me. She now works as a personnel specialist at IBM in Jericho, N.Y.

I looked to her, and I looked at sports as my way out of the projects. I knew that if you excelled at sports you could go to college for free. I always dreamed that I would make it to college even though a lot of kids I was hanging out with wouldn't. At age 11, I could already see myself there, wearing a leather jacket, nice jeans and, always, brand-new sneakers. I always had to have fresh gear, always the latest clothes.

By fifth grade we had moved to Long Island to live with Lorenzo. We weren't in the projects anymore, but in a nice residential area, on Lawson Street in Hempstead. It was hardly a neighborhood that suggested drugs.

I tried pot for the first time during junior high, while I was back in Tarry-town visiting my father. I did it with a friend there who was a little older, and he kind of pressured me to do it. Everybody else I hung out with was doing it. It was like I was accepted, finally, because I got high.

Jerry Greenblatt, my junior high coach, always told me I was "the worst," that I would get better only if I went to basketball camp. I didn't care what he said. I was going to college to play ball. But I told my mother I had to go to a summer camp.

She paid for a session at All-American Basketball Camp, a day camp at St. Anthony's High School in Smith-town, Long Island. I really caught on to basketball there. Most important, I met a man on the staff named" Bill Donlon. He preached discipline and couldn't tolerate anybody with talent who didn't know the fundamentals of the game. So he started teaching me how to play basketball the right way. That fall I enrolled at Maria Regina, a Catholic high school on the Island where Mr. Donlon was varsity coach. I started on the junior varsity team as a freshman, and for the first time since summer camp found myself really working hard.

Like many of the other students at Maria Regina, I was also smoking a lot of marijuana. Sometimes we got high in the morning, before school would start. Sometimes I would cut classes and walk through the woods with a friend and get high. I usually had a little money, and we would buy bags of reefer.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19