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The NBA / Thomas Bonk : Fitch Brands League's Drug Policy as Archaic

March 18, 1986|THOMAS BONK

What did cocaine cost John Lucas? When Lucas tested positive for the drug last week, he lost his job with the Houston Rockets, blew his $300,000 contract for next season and probably any chance for future employment in the NBA.

One night Lucas is the star point guard of one of the NBA's top teams, and three days later, he wakes up in a bed in Van Nuys Community Hospital. Those who know Lucas said it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Really.

"That is the tragedy of this down and dirty, strong and vicious white stuff," Rocket Coach Bill Fitch said.

Lucas is paying the bills for his own treatment of the cocaine problem that has surfaced four times since 1981. According to the NBA drug guidelines, Lucas still has one strike left before he is banned, but the Rockets aren't interested in him anymore, and it is doubtful that any other team is willing to take a chance on a 32-year-old point guard with a history of drug abuse.

Ralph Sampson, one of Lucas' closest friends among his Rocket teammates, said he hopes something good can come out of Lucas' problem.

"I don't know if you can find anything positive or not, but at least it didn't get crazy, with police and all," Sampson said. "Now he's getting help and hopefully it'll be for more than 30 days this time."

Fitch could not mask his disappointment in Lucas. Fitch didn't want to take Lucas back after Lucas had gone into a drug treatment center in December, 1984 but was overruled by team owner Charlie Thomas and General Manager Ray Patterson.

"I'd like to choke the little bastard right now," Fitch said.

But Fitch also said that the NBA is behind in its rules on drugs.

"You can't do it in the little amount of time those guys are in treatment," he said. "You can't be treated during the season and then come back the same season.

"Five years from now, they're going to look back on what we're doing and say they can't believe we were so archaic. What if Walter Davis goes back? He's the greatest guy in the world. If Walter Davis goes back, then what? He's the last great hope for this system."

In what might be considered an unusual move for just about anybody else, Sam Schulman, former owner of the Seattle SuperSonics, has publicly apologized for selling the team to billboard baron Barry Ackerley.

Schulman, who was always outspoken when he owned the SuperSonics, told Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he never should have sold the team to Ackerley, who bought the SuperSonics for $21 million and assumed $8 million of debts in October, 1983.

"I want to express my apologies to the city of Seattle," Schulman said. "I made a terrible mistake selling the Sonics to Barry Ackerley. I'm very sad, very disappointed in what has happened."

Schulman blamed Ackerley for the general decline of the SuperSonics, whose attendance has dropped from an NBA-record 21,750 a game in 1980 to about 8,000 a game this season. The last team other than the 76ers, Celtics or Lakers to win a championship, the SuperSonics will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. They won the NBA title in 1978-79.

Schulman also took issue with the SuperSonics' trade of their first-round draft choice to the Celtics for Gerald Henderson. With Seattle's first-round pick, the Celtics, who have the best record in the NBA, are going to be in the draft lottery and could wind up with the No. 1 pick in the draft.

"I have nothing against Mr. Henderson," Schulman said. "But he's only a second- or third-rate guard."

Ackerley has managed to anger many SuperSonic fans in the Seattle area with some recent policy decisions. He has put 25 road games on television, but they are done by a station in Bellingham, Wash., about two hours north of Seattle, and can only be received on cable in Seattle. The problem is that the cable channel is not available in Tacoma and several other areas near Seattle.

In addition, Ackerley bought KJR, a Seattle radio station, and put the SuperSonics' pregame and postgame shows on that station. But the SuperSonic games are broadcast by another station, KIRO.

Whatever mistakes Ackerley has made, Schulman may have forgotten he still owned the SuperSonics when they started nose-diving, principally because of his tight-fisted attitude.

Schulman isn't doing badly, though. He lives in Beverly Hills and is chairman of New Century Productions, which puts together financing for motion pictures. Some of New Century's latest ventures are "Cocoon," "To Live and Die in L.A,' and "Jewel of the Nile."

The president of New Century Productions is Irv Levin, the man who sold the then-San Diego Clippers to Donald Sterling.

Who is the hottest property in the NBA?

It's Spud Webb. The 5-foot 7-inch rookie of the Atlanta Hawks has quickly become a marketing dream. Corporate giants are throwing themselves at Spud's tiny feet to plead with him to endorse their products.

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