Players walk tightrope of stardom


It is difficult for sports fans to understand how a professional athlete making millions of dollars and being worshiped by strangers can get hooked on drugs, suffer from depression and find too much pressure performing a job we consider a game.

It is especially hard to comprehend the mental problems that have NBA notebook

the Detroit Pistons' Dennis Rodman and the Orlando Magic's Brian Williams walking an emotional tightrope.

Rodman's history is much more familiar since he became an All-Star through his rebounding skill.

Seemingly, Rodman has been troubled for several years. But, last week, he was found on the parking lot of the Pistons' suburban arena at 6 a.m., sitting in his pickup truck with a loaded rifle by his side. Police were summoned, and psychiatric help was made immediately available. A team publicist suggested that the situation had been overblown by the media and that "this was just Dennis."

However, in less than a year, Rodman suffered a shattered marriage and separation from his daughter, and saw Chuck Daly, his former coach and father figure, leave Detroit for New Jersey. His closest teammate, John Salley, was traded to the Miami Heat.

The people he counted on for guidance and security were suddenly gone. As Rodman said a month ago: "You come home one day and say, 'Where did my life go?' "

On the surface, he appears stable. And in his first game back last night after being reactivated, he scored four points in overtime to lead the Pistons past the Magic. But beneath the calm exterior, all the anxieties are bubbling over.

"When people ask me how I'm feeling," he said recently, "I always say, 'Fine.' But I really want to say, 'I feel like s .' "

The Pistons are trying to be as supportive as possible. Owner Tom Wilson says that playing basketball is the best therapy for Rodman. But Wilson said he is not certain that it is in Rodman's or the team's best interest that he remain a Piston.

Wilson told USA Today: "I think we take a paternalistic view with Dennis. It's hard to cut the cord. . . . But I wouldn't say we're so hung up on it that we wouldn't trade him. It might help to move him to a different environment. It's not an easy call."

Just as Rodman is trying to get his life back in order, so is Williams, whose depression has kept him sidelined since Nov. 12.

Williams, who played one season at Maryland before transferring to Arizona, was a more celebrated collegian than Rodman.

The Magic made the 6-foot-11 forward the 10th pick overall in the 1991 draft. But his pro career has been sidetracked by injuries, fainting spells and even a reported suicide attempt last fall, when he supposedly swallowed 25 sleeping pills.

"Sometimes stuff happens," said Williams, "and sometimes it happens in a big way."

Teammates and management said they doubted the depth of Williams' mental problems until psychiatrists diagnosed his disorder.

"Doctors suspected depression since the end of the summer," said Orlando general manager Pat Williams. "But it wasn't until he fainted at one of our practices that they honed in on it."

He was placed on the injured list and prescribed Prozac, an anti-depression drug. Williams has shown rapid improvement and was reactivated last weekend.

"I've tried to deal with this honestly and with my head high," Williams told Newsday. "I know people don't like to listen to people who have wealth all their lives. But this depression is powerful stuff, and maybe I can help other people."

For Williams, the thought of playing again is a positive force. "I'm very comfortable putting basketball first in my life, and I've never been able to say that before."

Lingering shadow

Charges may have been dismissed against the three Portland rookies -- Dave Johnson, Tracy Murray and Reggie Smith -- and veteran Jerome Kersey, who were involved in a Salt Lake City sex scandal last month, but coach Rick Adelman said the team is suffering from the fallout.

After his team lost its fourth straight home game, Adelman said: "When this [scandal] happened, I thought it would have an immediate impact, but not a big one. But I think now it's put everybody in a negative mode and carried over to the court."

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