HOUSTON — Lewis Lloyd, the product of a broken home in a Philadelphia ghetto, evolved into one of the NBA's premier players and developed a penchant for luxury only to be banished from the league for using cocaine.
Lloyd, one of the most-feared players in the open court, was suspended Jan. 13 along with Mitchell Wiggins, his Houston Rockets teammate and close friend.
The two players were tested after the NBA received information that it claimed warranted drug testing. Those showed traces of cocaine in their systems. Because the two did not come forward to volunteer for help before being tested, the league automatically suspended them. The NBA will pay for treatment and the the two players could appeal for reinstatement in two years.
Wiggins has checked into the league's drug rehabilitation program in California. Lloyd had not been heard from in more than a week.
"Lewis Lloyd had better check into that place (drug rehabilitation center) if he is going to make it," said Dave Campbell, his former coach at New Mexico Military Institute. "I would hate to see what happens if he doesn't. If he goes to Europe to play, he'll be cutting his own lifeline and we would never see him again.
"You don't get a second chance over there. One mistake and you're on the inside looking out."
Lloyd's mother, JoAnne Lloyd, and grandmother, Willie Booker, declined to say much about Lloyd, who left his Philadelphia neighborhood as a teen-ager to attend New Mexico Military Institute.
He went on to a stellar career at Drake, then joined the NBA, living a life of style and luxury that eventually led to his downfall. Friends say he loved to drive around in his long, black Cadillac, complete with dark-tinted windows. He lost one agent, Dan Stamatelos, because Lloyd repeatedly failed to follow a budget.
Last year, he was accused of failing to pay a $50,000 bill he and friends ran up at a Houston luxury hotel. Then he was arrested in Philadelphia earlier this season for failing to pay child support.
Houston attorney Earle Lilly, who is defending Lloyd in the lawsuit filed by Stouffer's Greenway Plaza Hotel, said Lloyd has fathered two children out of wedlock, but had appeared to settle down after his marriage last August.
"Lewis Lloyd is a sweetheart of a guy," Lilly said. "He's a wonderful human being. But he does not deal with a lot of day-to-day issues that you and I deal with."
Campbell said Lloyd, a model student-athlete under the rigid program at NMMI, could not handle freedom once he left New Mexico.
"He was not a dumb kid by any means," Campbell said. "He scored very well on his GED. He did what he had to do and he didn't fight the system. It was a tough adjustment when he got here because of the regimentation, but he needed that. He was on a schedule and if he hadn't come out here, he would have squandered his life away a long time ago.
"When he left here, the freedom aspects entered into his life. I think when kids like him have freedom and some money, they're susceptible."
Lloyd's brother, Daryl, said he can recall Lewis slacking off in the classroom after he transferred to Drake.
"I think a lot of colleges are that way," Daryl said. "They don't try to develop the minds of athletes. They just don't push as hard, maybe. When you're a basketball star, people tend to give you everything you want. They put everything at your disposal."
But former Drake Coach Bob Ortegal said he did not have problems with Lloyd at the school.
"Lewis loved to play basketball," Ortegal said. "Unfortunately, you have to get down to the mundane things in life, like going to work and paying the bills. We talked about all the temptations, not just drugs . . . People were willing to do whatever they could do to stay by his side."
Ortegal said he never had any indication Lloyd used drugs in college, even though Lloyd is the second player from Ortegal's 1980-81 National Invitation Tournament team allegedly involved with cocaine. Rodney "Pop" Wright, who played two seasons with Lloyd, recently was sentenced to spend two years in a Nebraska drug treatment center after being convicted of theft.
Lloyd's mother said she heard her son had a drug problem.
"I had heard that he was taking drugs, but when I asked him about it, he said he wasn't doing drugs," she said. "I wondered because of the way he acted. I don't know where he is now. I was worried at first, but not anymore."
Another confidant of Lloyd's, Sonny Hill of Philadelphia, said he told Lloyd to tone down his "off-court activities."
"I warned Lewis over and over the people you are associated with aren't your friends," Hill said. "They were leeches. They were no good. They just used Lewis."
That was last summer and since then, Lloyd has slowly cut off contact with his family. Daryl, who was in Houston when the NBA suspended Lloyd, said he and Lloyd's wife, Cassandra, had not heard from the player since the announcement.