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Ricky Berry's Suicide Still a Mystery


Exactly one year after the suicide of former Sacramento Kings player Ricky Berry, joy, pain and frustration remain vivid among those the athlete touched most poignantly.

Berry's zest for life, combined with an apparently unlimited future, seemed to make him the least likely person to end his own life as he did -- with a single shot to the right temple from a 9mm semiautomatic gun he had purchased in 1988.

"If you look at his life," said Phoenix Suns guard and former Sacramento High School star Kevin Johnson, who had known Berry for nearly 10 years, "he had everything that you'd think would make somebody happy. He made a lot of money, had a beautiful wife, had a nice car, a nice home, a very promising career ahead of him, he was drug- and alcohol-free and in the prime of his life at 24 years old. What could he want?"

Bob Zuffelato, an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, was working for agent Bob Woolf when Berry was finishing his career at San Jose State and recommended Berry and his family to the agent, who eventually represented him. Berry had completed his rookie season with the Kings and had spent last summer working out to add weight to his slender body. He had confided to friends that he was going to excel in his second professional season.

"Ricky had a very bright future in the NBA," Zuffelato said. "His shooting had to become more consistent, and he would have gotten stronger as he developed. He'd had a good first year, and he had a chance to be a good, solid player. Hey, he was 6-8, could handle the ball, pass and shoot. He had a lot of great qualities and, I guess, maybe could have become a star. I know he surprised some people in the league."

The positive aura Berry exuded only intensified the stunning nature of the incident and provides the reason for the frustration felt since last Aug. 14.

Why did it happen? How could someone who appeared to have so much really believe or even consider, if even for that frightening instant, that life was no longer worth living?

Friends and family realize the numerous theories that have been formulated since then offer little reality and are of little value. For only Berry felt the internal pressures that eventually materialized in the sudden loss of a bright, talented and compassionate 24-year-old life. And such a desperate reaction to those pressures indicates an insolvable confusion.

Many of his friends and family have been so deeply hurt by the incident that they declined to be interviewed. Others spoke openly and willingly with the hopes that Berry not be forgotten.

Harold Pressley is in Barcelona, Spain, but says the memory of Ricky Berry is with him.

"I was probably his best friend on the team," Pressley said. "I was heartbroken when I heard about it. I was at my camp in Philadelphia with (former Kings forward) Ed Pinckney and (Villanova coach) Rollie Massimino. It was real tough for me to take and still is. I stayed in my room for the next two days. It really affected me."

Ricky's father, Bill Berry, now a Kings assistant coach and scout, declined and asked that his wife Clarice and daughter Pam also not be interviewed. Jerry Reynolds, the Kings' player personnel director and former coach, also declined to speak in deference to Bill Berry's wishes.

Jeff Logan, one of Ricky Berry's closest friends, declined an interview, as did Berry's widow, Valerie.

Valerie probably has the deepest burden to bear because she found her husband's body early that Monday morning after she returned home. Valerie and Ricky had quarreled the previous night, and she had spent the night elsewhere. Ricky Berry also made marital dissatisfaction the focus of a suicide letter.

Like the rest of Berry's friends, Johnson did not believe any one problem led to Berry's decision.

"I know his wife," Johnson said. "She's a very nice lady, and if they had some marital problems or a spat, it wouldn't be anything than any other husband and wife had. From what I saw, there was nothing extreme. It was just a good, normal marriage."

Berry's friends have wondered if they had seen a sign of distress and missed it.

Berry had a love for cars and an eye for the future. For a time he worked at Rapton Acura with the hope of learning the business and eventually owning his own dealership, said Al Joyner, a salesman with whom he became friends. Because of a Kings contractual agreement, Berry eventually had to give up his job at Rapton and worked during the off-season in a job at Campus Mazda Volkswagen in Davis. Valerie Berry also worked there as a receptionist.

Joyner; Bobby Gerould; Gerould's girlfriend, Kim Miura; Valerie Berry; and a cousin were with Ricky Berry on Sunday night at the couple's new home in Carmichael doing something he loved--playing games.

"We were playing video games -- Nintendo," Joyner said. "I used to call Ricky 'Inspector Gadget' because he was always playing with something. If it wasn't some video game, it was a new tape player or something. He was just a big kid."

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