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Ex-player fires warning shots

Published Oct. 18, 2005

Of the 2,446 free throws former pro basketball player John Lucas attempted in his 15-year NBA career, one in particular stands out: "I was standing at the free throw line and, you know the chicken that they have at the games, well, he's holding this big old thing that looked like a straw. And just when I'm about to shoot the free throw he put it up his nose.

"And 15,000 people laughed."

But no one in the crowd of community and business leaders laughed Monday when Lucas told the story during a luncheon at Andre's of Citrus Hills. And he didn't mean for it to be funny.

Lucas spent the morning in Citrus County, warning students of the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and encouraging adults to take action in the fight against them.

Lip service, he said, is not enough.

"If you don't want kids to drink, then put your beer away," he said.

A playmaking guard, Lucas, 36, failed three detoxification programs and was kicked off the Houston Rockets before getting sober on March 14, 1986. He has been sober ever since, and has made fighting drugs and alcoholism a top priority.

"My life is now dedicated to helping others keep their lives free of drugs and alcohol. My life is not basketball anymore," said Lucas, who two weeks ago opted to retire from the National Basketball Association rather than be traded by the Rockets to the Atlanta Hawks.

Using a well-timed mix of humor and chilling stories, Lucas delivers his anti-drug message, often three times a day, to students and adults nationwide.

Lucas told Lecanto High students of a man who stood to collect $1-million if he stayed sober for 30 days. He lasted one.

"How powerful is drug abuse and alcoholism?" Lucas said. "I can know the deputy is outside my house and that if I snort one line of cocaine, he'll come in and arrest me. And I'll snort that line of cocaine anyway."

Lucas' name was added a year ago to the New Spirit Chemical Dependence Program in Houston, where he under went post-detoxification counseling. He continues to bring patients to the facility.

Lucas also is the president of Students Taking Action, Not Drugs(STAND) based in Houston.

Lucas, who also spoke at Inverness Middle School, stressed action over lip service.

"This is a disease that attacks character," Lucas said. "And I'm here talking to you about helping others because my kids are prime candidates to be in trouble because for four years of their lives, their father's character foundation was Miller Lite and Bud Light.

"We have to build a foundation for character for our kids," he said. "I encourage each one of you; don't let the game pass you by. Get involved."