Widely recruited in high school, Washburn settled on N.C. State, where he quickly ran into trouble. As a freshman in 1984, Washburn was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of assault after slapping a female student.
Only months later, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges after a dormitory break-in and theft of a stereo. He was put on five years' probation.
"My social group changed," Washburn said. "I went from positive people to people doing drugs. In high school, I was pretty well off. Everybody knew me, I was the No. 1 player in high school. I don't know if that kept the fringe group away, but every place I went, I got in free."
Once in the NBA, Washburn quickly wore out his welcome with the Warriors and was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in December of 1987, 11 months after his first stay in drug rehabilitation. But Washburn's worst moments occurred in Atlanta.
"The younger kids see me walking by and I'm probably high, you know, 90% of the time I was," Washburn said. "It got to a point where it was like going to work every day because I wasn't playing and I felt like I was the whipping boy. I couldn't wait until practice was over and I could get away from everybody."
Washburn owned a house in the suburbs, 45 minutes from downtown Atlanta, but he was rarely there. It was too far away from where drugs were bought and sold.
"I would go home and half an hour later I was back out there again," he said. "It just got monotonous. I would end up staying down there three or four days until I was out of money or just physically drained and I needed to go home and get some sleep."
The Hawks had already lost Washburn by then, the NBA having banned him for life for a third violation of the league's drug policy. Washburn was twice arrested by Atlanta police for drug-related offenses and his weight ballooned to more than 300 pounds.
Washburn estimated that he spent most of his $60,000 monthly salary on drugs, sometimes as much as $5,000 a day. He kept three apartments in downtown Atlanta for his drug use, figuring that no one would know, for sure, where he lived.
"The dope dealer would come, he wouldn't have to leave," Washburn said. "I would buy everything he had and then send him back for some more. So they would come sit in the room with me. I'm thinking they are my friends. But by the time he leaves, he's leaving with the dope \o7 and \f7 the money and I'm sitting there broke, wondering where I'm going to get some more money from."
Washburn played pickup games on playgrounds for drugs while wearing his street shoes.
"It was real funny from just going out to play basketball for fun to go out when I'm getting paid to playing for drugs," he said. "That was a real, real big drop."
After several months with Lucas and working out with Mackey and Price, Washburn was signed by the Tulsa Fast Breakers of the Continental Basketball Assn. in January, but was released last month. He returned to Lucas' care but then left last week, further clouding any possible return to the NBA.
Washburn, eligible to apply for reinstatement June 29, is one of six players who have received lifetime bans from the NBA. Wiggins, Lloyd, Richardson, John Drew and Duane Washington are the others. Wiggins, Lloyd and Richardson applied for reinstatement and got it. "I told him I don't care if he ever makes it back to the NBA," Lucas said. "He's just got to get himself right."
The hand-printed sign high on the wall near the door to one of the three John Lucas Treatment and Recovery Centers reads: "Oh, God, let me not be afraid of my loneliness."
Since he placed his first program in a hospital five years ago, Lucas has been fighting such a battle for others.
"I tell people all the time, when I did drugs, I got very paranoid," Lucas said. "I would be chasing my own shadow. I'd have a conversation with nobody. And guys start laughing in the audience.
"But you couldn't share the loneliness and that guilt and that pain that comes from using drugs, out of fear that your teammates know. I know about that. I can put that on the table pretty quick."
The John Lucas Fitness Program is available in eight hospitals, six in Texas. It is geared toward those hospitalized for drug problems and includes group therapy. His anti-drug program for school-aged youngsters is featured in 23 school districts in Texas, among them the state's biggest, the Houston Independent School District.
The John Lucas After-care Program is designed for recovering addicts who come out of his treatment centers and need counselors in every NBA or NFL city where his clients might play. In addition to the treatment and recovery center at the West Houston Medical Center and Spring Branch Memorial Hospital, there is another at the Ft. Worth Medical Plaza.
For Mackey, Washburn or anybody else who listens, Lucas will say it is a long road back. He remembers one of his comebacks with the Rockets, playing a game in Sacramento and someone sticking a sign on his back that read, "Things go better with Coke."