Chris Washburn was going to be a legend of his time. He was picked third overall of the 1986 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately his talent wouldn’t make it far past college because like his fellow draft-mates, he fell victim to the lure of drugs and alcohol.
Washburn was always told how much of a spectacular kid he was. Throughout his youth he could do anything he wanted without any sort of punishment. “Anything that I did that was wrong, someone would take care of it,” Washburn recalled in a Yahoo news report. “Not having brothers and sisters, everything I did, I had to learn on a first-hand basis. When I did something dumb, instead of me taking the fall for that, they would keep cleaning it up, allowing me to have more rope.”
He was accepted to N.C. State University on a basketball scholarship, despite scoring a 420 on the SAT, 400 of which were just for writing his name. Hours before practice you could find Washburn smoking Marijuana and drinking alcohol. He would show up to practice drunk and high, yet he would still manage to succeed. He scored 26 points in a game against the draft’s number one pick that year, Brad Daughtery.
Washburn announced to his fellow teammates that he would be leaving N.C. State two years early so that he would be eligible for the NBA draft. Bennie Bolton, a teammate of Washburn, said in an interview at the time, “I think he is ready physically. But I think a lot of things will be thrown at him in pro basketball and I think Chris is going to have to be strong mentally. Chris is the type of person that likes to experience a lot of things. I’m concerned about Chris.”
Despite his teammates concerns, he decided to stick with his decision. The Golden State Warriors would draft Washburn, but George Karl, the team’s new coach wasn’t entirely optimistic, “We looked at Ron Harper, we looked at the rest,” said Karl. “We saw this 6’11″ guy with talent. We had to take him. And I think he’ll be a good player, maybe, in three years. If he works. If he changes. But sometimes I wonder if we drafted the kind of player who will always break your heart.”
Washburn’s time at Golden State left the team heartbroken. He lasted three months with the Warriors before he ended up in a drug rehab facility for a cocaine addiction. The Warriors would trade him to the Atlanta Hawks the next season. He didn’t do any better, averaging a mere two points per game. The drug problems didn’t stop there either, in the 1988-89 season he would be suspended for a year after failing his drug test. In June of 1989 he was kicked out of the NBA for life after failing yet again another drug test.
Washburn would try to clean up his life, but he couldn’t. He was either homeless or in a rehab center for the next ten years. Washburn’s mother asked him to carry around the address of her house so that police would know where to ship his body when he was found dead. Eventually Washburn became, “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” and decided to clean up his act for real this time. He swore off drugs and alcohol, and decided to open up his own mortgage business in Dallas. He now speaks regularly at drug addiction centers across the United States.
Let Washburn’s story be a cautionary one to anyone interested in playing professional sports. His tale shows how drugs can quickly take you from the top of your game to rock bottom, with no way to get out.