"We had just finished playing our games against Golden State right before the Boston game," Lucas said. "I thought I had made it because I'd always gotten into trouble when we played Golden State. But then we lost to the Celtics and, I don't know, I just didn't handle it."
When he showed up for the game that night against Portland, Fitch told him two things: submit to urinalysis and don't dress for the game.
"Sitting on the bench in street clothes that night was the low moment maybe of my entire life," he said. "I knew what the test would show. I knew what I had done and that I had let everybody down. It was an awful feeling. I just wanted to get away somehow, but it was too late."
As soon as the test results came back the next day, Lucas was waived. He left Houston right away to go to California, where he enrolled in a rehabilitation program.
After 45 days of rehabilitation, Lucas was ready to return home. But to what? The NBA playoffs were under way, and the Rockets were going to make it to the final, without him. Knowing he had let his teammates down, Lucas couldn't face them, or the games. He stayed away. But while he was in California he had an idea.
"The one thing no one was doing in rehabilitation was getting people's bodies back in shape," he said. "That was what I missed most of all. So I started a fitness program for myself. Then I began thinking that if I could put together a fitness program for others, it would be unique."
Looking both for a place to market his idea and a place he could go for his after-treatment, Lucas approached Houston International. The hospital was interested.
"The fact that John had been a drug user, that he knew from personal experience what he was talking about, intrigued us," said Darrell L. Pile, the hospital's senior assistant administrator. "We thought that if he could make the program work, we would have a true role model for the patients, especially the young ones who look up to athletes. Here was someone who had made the mistakes, taken the fall but come back."
A clause in Lucas' contract with the hospital provides for continued random urinalysis (he says he requested it) and sessions with a psychiatrist twice a week. Lucas also is president of STAND (Students Taking Action Not Drugs), a newly formed Houston group that counsels teen-agers against drug use. Lucas still clowns around on a basketball court every now and then, but for the most part, he is a businessman. He knows that a lot of people will be skeptical, because this is not the first time he has said drug use is behind him.
Lucas says he thinks he has a handle on his problem because he has finally accepted the fact that he has a problem.
"I feel like I'm back in high school right now," Lucas said. "I feel like I have a real future."