Ex-NBA coach John Lucas: Drug, alcohol addiction turned me from cucumber into pickle


john-lucasJohn Lucas was the No. 1 pick in the 1976 NBA draft, and played 14 seasons in the NBA for Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Washington Bullets, San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks and Seattle Supersonics.

After his playing career was over, Lucas switched to coaching, and went on to coach three NBA teams – San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia Sixers and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Lucas has recently spoken to Bryan Benway on Yahoo! Radio, where he touched upon such issues as the European influence on the NBA, and his long-lasting alcohol and drug addiction.

Lucas said that one of the biggest things that today’s NBA has is the European influence, adding that there have been a lot of changes in how the game is played today.

“We didn’t think that the Europeans would catch up as quickly as they did with the game of basketball,” Lucas said. “This led to the fact that we’re calling “a rookie” someone, who has already played 3-4 years in a professional basketball club, but is only in his first year in the NBA.”

Lucas went on to add that current NBA is full of players who use a lot of three point shooting, more than 5-6 years ago, as the game has moved away to the perimeter.

“The NBA draft has changed as well, it used to be set up to make bad NBA teams better. Now it is set up for guys to make a second contract and a maximum deal,” he said.

He then went on to speak about coaching, and what it is like to coach in the NBA.

“When I speak to coaches, I always tell them that if they never dealt with an $84 million-worth pro, they’ve never dealt with the NBA. Because in college the player does whatever the coach says, and in the NBA the coach has to go along with the players,” Lucas said.

“Another thing is that you, as a coach, have to build a community around your team, so you could do the off-court coaching. This will eventually improve the overall atmosphere in the team, if you can blend the egos of players,” he said.

Lucas also underlined that injuries are a big part of what is happening in the NBA right now.

Speaking of his alcohol and drug addiction, Lucas was brief but sincere.

“March 14, 1986 – that was the day that I’ve finally accepted the fact that I have an addiction, and for the last 27 years I’ve been sober,” he said.

“In an athlete’s life, the worst moment is transition, when you have to decide which way to go. I was playing in the NBA against my heroes, I was playing in the Staples Center, Madison Square Garden, and when it was over I didn’t know what to do. I grew up as an athlete, not as an adult,” he explained.

“So I had to go back and grow as an adult, and my addiction taught me how to grow, and I was reborn again,” Lucas said.

“One of the most important things is to learn how to compete in your sport. But you can’t compete in life,” he said. “A thing that I’ve learned was to accept myself, and also accept something bigger than myself. And of course learn how to care about others.”

He then said that he had a problem – of learning how to live life on life’s terms.

“So when I talk to the kids I explain them my addiction like this: I am a cucumber, and my addiction turned me into a pickle. I can’t go back to being a cucumber, just to keep myself from making it even worse,” he said.

Lucas was no all-star, but the 6’3 point guard averaged career high 17.5 ppg for the Bucks during the 1986-87 NBA season. Lucas played a total of 928 NBA games, averaging 10.7 ppg, 7.0 apg in 27.5 mpg.

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