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In a Rush, Tears Turn to Joy

Lakers: Kareem Rush is expected to be able to achieve in NBA what troubled brother could not.

June 29, 2002|TIM BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For nearly two hours, two years apart, their NBA draft nights passed much the same way, one brother on the brink of career disaster, the other holding back tears, then finally letting them go.

Glenda Rush spoke Friday afternoon, sounding as though she still carried the weight of both experiences.

As her middle son, Kareem, held up a gold Laker jersey, No. 21, fresh from the box at a news conference in El Segundo, her oldest, JaRon, was at home in Kansas City, hoping for one more telephone call but facing one more court date.

"I'm still hoping maybe one day JaRon will get in there," she said wearily. "But it looks like maybe Kareem will be playing for the whole family if things don't get turned around here. I'm not afraid for JaRon. If he doesn't play basketball, I just hope he finds a decent career, a decent job. If he never plays another game of basketball it's fine with me."

Kareem Rush arrived at Laker headquarters Friday morning, wearing a casual tan suit over a black T-shirt, accompanied by agent Calvin Andrews. He stood outside a gate in the parking lot for several minutes while security personnel located someone who could confirm the identity of the 6-foot-6, square-shouldered Rush, who smiled at the inconvenience. If things go as planned for him, anonymity will be only a phase. There for a while, though....

Expecting to be drafted 14th by the Indiana Pacers, possibly even higher by another team, Rush went 20th to the Toronto Raptors. By the time Kareem's name was called in the tiny theater at Madison Square Garden, JaRon had left.

Two years ago, JaRon, known during his two seasons at UCLA for his talent and the controversy it brought, was ignored in the draft. On that night, Kareem, watching alone, left his apartment, walked alone, and wept for his big brother.

Late Wednesday night, as the picks fell away, and as Kareem's mood darkened, JaRon could no longer watch, either.

"It was horrible," Glenda Rush said.

NBA draft days have this habit of being life-altering events in the Rush family, though, and maybe this draft owed Glenda Rush one. Even as Kareem brooded and mulled skipping a draft party thrown in Manhattan for second pick Jay Williams, his rights were traded an hour later to the Lakers.

Kareem rejoiced and JaRon cried happily at the fortunate turn.

"It's a really exciting time in my life," said Kareem, seated beside Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak, that jersey spread across his lap. "I could [have been picked] No. 1. I'd rather be here."

The Lakers, who got out from under Lindsey Hunter's contract and added shooter Tracy Murray in the deal with the Raptors, were just as thrilled. Kupchak hardly expected Rush to be available at No. 20, so Rush was not on the list provided by the Lakers to Toronto General Manager Glen Grunwald. When it was the Raptors' turn, Kupchak called with the instructions to select Missouri's Rush, a left-handed forward the Lakers hope to turn into a shooting guard.

Said one longtime NBA observer, "They stole him. Mitch Kupchak ought to be in jail for getting that kid at 27 [the Lakers' drafting spot]," adding that Rush would be recognized as one of the top 10 players of the draft, even in a Laker system generally not favorable for young players.

Though contract negotiations cannot begin until Monday, both sides expect a guaranteed, three-year deal to be done in time for Rush to play for the Lakers' summer-league team. Players report for practice next Friday.

Had their lives proceeded as expected, Kareem would be only months from joining JaRon in the NBA. One day, maybe, they would have been on the same floor, as if they were back on the playgrounds of Kansas City, so smooth and skilled, with nothing but time and wealth ahead of them.

Instead, in the hours after the draft and trade, Kareem went to Los Angeles for a news conference and JaRon returned to Kansas City, where he'll soon be in court to defend himself against a drunk-driving charge. According to the Kansas City Star, JaRon was arrested early on the morning of May 21, after police had observed his car weaving. His blood alcohol tested at .31. Missouri's legal limit is .08. Slightly more than a year ago, JaRon, through his agent, revealed that he was a recovering alcoholic intent on maintaining his sobriety.

In the meantime, Glenda Rush said, "He's not been doing anything. Nothing. I am worried. I really am. I hope something happens for him pretty soon here."

The arrest was merely the latest in a series of uncomfortable episodes for JaRon, whose first extensive problems arose while he was at UCLA. He became the focus of an NCAA investigation into cash benefits provided by an AAU coach in Kansas City and an L.A agent, and was suspended for most of his sophomore season. With little other choice, he believed, he declared for the 2000 draft. In part because of the gathering controversy, Kareem chose to attend Missouri rather than UCLA.

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