Ex-NBA drug-addict Richard Dumas blames Nancy Reagan for ruined career


richard-dumas-phoenix-sunsSuns coach Paul Westphal declared Richard Dumas to be a future Dream Teamer. John Lucas called him “Dr. J with a jump shot.”

From Dumas’ childhood idol Wayman Tisdale to his Suns teammates, Dumas was considered the most gifted basketball player.

In the spring of 1993, Richard Dumas appeared to be the sort of dynamic young talent prepped to finally put the Phoenix Suns over the top.

The franchise was the NBA’s latest hot thing, basking in the popularity of the southwestern suburb boom, falling behind MVP Charles Barkley and appearing set to dethrone a weary Chicago Bulls club in the Finals.

Suns rookie resuscitated championship hopes in Game 5 of the 1993 NBA Finals with a dazzling 25-point game against Scottie Pippen to postpone Chicago’s coronation.

The Suns lost in six to the three-time champs, but with Michael Jordan retiring the next fall and a wide-open NBA landscape about to hit, Dumas figured to be the wing element needed to support Barkley on his way to a first NBA championship.

Instead, as was the case throughout his childhood and college career, Dumas’ cocaine use got in the way of him contributing to the Suns. He’d miss the entire 1993-94 season, and be out of the NBA by 1996 as a result.

Dumas may not have been nor turned into “Dr. J with a jump shot,” as the excitable John Lucas (himself a former addict, and eventual Dumas coach at Philadelphia) once predicted, but Richard did put up a Player Efficiency Rating of over 18 in his rookie year.

Dumas averaged 15.8 points on 52 percent shooting in only 27 minutes a game during that year, impressive numbers considering that he had been jettisoned from his Oklahoma State team two years before his rookie year because of continued drug use.

Dumas didn’t make it through the summer with Phoenix, though, and was suspended for the entire 1993-94 season.

He played just 167 more minutes for the Suns following the 1993 Finals, and the team (which was hit hard by a cocaine scandal in 1987) let him join up with Lucas in Philadelphia for 1995-96.

By the time he was arrested for cocaine possession in 1998, sympathy for coke users (a decade after its boom years) was at an all-time low.

Dumas has since moved on, and works in both Phoenix and his hometown of Tulsa as a floor wax stripper. His life reversed, with the fun part out of the way early, Dumas at least has the right attitude moving forward.

“He’s probably the most talented player I ever played with, but he had those demons with the drugs,” Suns teammate Charles Barkley once said of Dumas.

“Richard could’ve been one of those guys like Kobe or LeBron,” said Oliver Miller, Dumas’ best friend on that Suns team. “He had that kind of talent.”

Today, he is trying to wipe the slate clean with basketball. He has started Richard Dumas and Friends Athletic Association, with the help of old friends for sponsors — Mark West and the Suns, Dan Majerle and his Majerle’s Sports Grill chain and Miller, who sells cars at Superstition Springs Chrysler Jeep Dodge. Dumas and Friends organizes sports camps and clinics, including Dumas coaching.

“I just played for fun and was blessed to do it,” said Dumas, who turned 44. “I didn’t get caught up in all that. People took it more serious than I wanted. Basketball ain’t my problem. Life was. It was off the court that I had my problem. That’s been a lifelong thing.”

Dumas had problems with alcohol and drugs since early age – he said he tried alcohol at age 5 and marijuana at age 9. Dumas also blamed his increased drug use, including cocaine, on former first lady Nancy Reagan.

“She said ‘Just say no,’ so it got me interested,” Dumas said of the slogan that came out when he was 17. “It brought it to the forefront. We didn’t have any big drug problem until Nancy said to say no to drugs. Nobody knew about half of it. Now they’re showing it on TV about what it does.”

Dumas became an All-American at Booker T. Washington High, starred at a national summer camp and signed with Oklahoma State. He was on the NBA path until he was suspended for substance abuse as a sophomore and then kicked off the team as a junior.

Dumas rerouted to two minor-league stops and a stint in Israel, where his drug use continued as “Saddam was bombing me.”

Having revived from a 1980s drug scandal, the Suns took the advice of Cotton Fitzsimmons’ friend, Oklahoma State coach Leonard Hamilton, that Dumas was a good person who made bad choices. Phoenix drafted him 46th in 1991.

Dumas’ selection followed five players who never made the NBA —and he nearly did not, either. He failed a drug test before he could get to the 1991 training camp. He was cleared in December 1992 and played brilliantly enough that the Suns might not have been a Finals team without him.

Dumas said his best moment in Phoenix was the birth of his son in February of that Finals season. He wound up with a police escort to the hospital after being pulled over for speeding in his Jeep Grand Cherokee that featured script of his “Doom Boom” nickname, which is tattooed on his left biceps. Former Suns teammate Cedric Ceballos said he still spots the car around town with another driver.

That son, Richard Jr., is now in the Air Force, while his older son, LaRon, works at a senior citizens’ home in Oklahoma City. Dumas divorced their mother 15 years ago.

Pressed for basketball memories, he cites that Finals Game 5 when he made his first nine shots and an NBC game that was remembered for a dunk by Orlando’s Shaquille O’Neal that collapsed the basket. Dumas correctly rattles off that he had seven dunks and 32 points as easily as his birth date but said he does not rewatch games.

“It ain’t going to change nothing,” Dumas said. “It’s only going to make me even more depressed.”

That season earned Dumas a five-year, $9 million contract, which he could not finish. Dumas, who was being drug-tested daily, was back at a rehabilitation center three months after the Finals.

He made a brief 1995 return before the Suns waived him. Dumas said the release came because he missed testing when he called to say he left for a vacation but could not reach anyone.

“I said, ‘I know they’re paying me a lot, but this is too stressful,’ ” Dumas said of the daily testing. “It was nerve-racking. They pay you to do that at work, but that’s work. After work, leave me alone. I just got tired of it.”

His NBA career closed a year later at age 26 with a 39-game stint for Philadelphia and Lucas, who had treated Dumas at his rehabilitation center.

“I lost interest,” Dumas said. “I got bored with basketball.”

Dumas went astray again in 1998 for a cocaine arrest. He tried comebacks in Croatia, where he played center until he hurt his knee, and the minors, where he never showed up to play because he said he hurt his knee a day before his trip to Westchester, N.Y. More honestly, he said he had lost his passion.

That kneecap sticks out of a bony joint today, but Dumas said hard-labor jobs have kept him in shape.

“I don’t want to be sitting there looking like Charles Barkley on a Weight Watchers commercial,” Dumas said.

Dumas said he lost all his NBA fortune on drugs, back taxes and a divorce but said he never played for riches.

Today, he is trying to wipe the slate clean with basketball. He has started Richard Dumas and Friends Athletic Association, with the help of old friends for sponsors — Mark West and the Suns, Dan Majerle and his Majerle’s Sports Grill chain and Miller, who sells cars at Superstition Springs Chrysler Jeep Dodge. Dumas and Friends organizes sports camps and clinics, including Dumas coaching.

At 6 feet 7, Dumas’ frame begs the question about whether he played basketball — most do not recognize him from the best season in Suns history.

“I used to, back when I was young,” Dumas tells them.

Dumas is living backward, finding joy on the court like a kid and reveling in chances to attend Suns games in the building he helped open.

“I’m enjoying life,” Dumas said after a long pause of reflection. “I traveled the world. I’ve done what a lot of people wanted to do.

“I did it the opposite way. Now I’ve got to work for a living.”

Dumas had a great rookie year with the Phoenix Suns in the 1992-93 NBA season, averaging career best 15.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg in 48 games (32 started). He then joined the Suns once again for the 1994-95 NBA season, appearing in 15 games (1 started), averaging 5.5 ppg.

The following year Dumas was playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 6.2 ppg and 2.5 rpg in 39 games (14 started), what was to be his last season in the NBA. Dumas in total appeared in 102 NBA games (47 started), averaging 10.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg in 21.8 minutes of time on the court.

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