Suns' Dumas drug-free and looking unstoppable


PHOENIX, Ariz. -- He's "Doctor J. with a jump shot, a lock for the 1996 Dream Team," says San Antonio coach John Lucas.

He's the one man Detroit wanted in a deal that would have sent Dennis Rodman to Phoenix.

He's been called "unstoppable" by Charles Barkley. "He's just amazing."

He's Richard Dumas and he's the fastest rising Sun on the Arizona basketball horizon, and he's lucky he hasn't killed himself.

That because Dumas has a history of drug and alcohol abuse that dates back to when he was 12 years old.

"From junior high on, I don't think Richard ever played a game when he wasn't under the influence of something," said Suns coach Paul Westphal. "He thought playing high made him better, and that he couldn't play unless he used something."

For those who think there is nothing wrong with a 12-year-old having a few beers, that it is simply "experimenting," consider Dumas' story.

"For Richard, it all started with alcohol," said former Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. "But he started drinking at such a young age, then he moved on to the other stuff."

Add it up -- booze, drugs and dangerously mixing both nearly destroyed Dumas.

Many fans may not know Dumas, although those who saw him score 23 at the Coliseum last month had to be favorably impressed because he played a lot like Julius Erving or Scottie Pippen.

Dumas is 6-foot-7, 205 pounds. He has long arms, even longer legs and huge but nimble hands. He runs like an antelope and leaps like a kangaroo. If God wanted to create the perfect small forward, He would begin with a body like the one given to Dumas.

"Everyone knew that Richard was a talent," said Fitzsimmons, now a Suns broadcaster. "But he also had drug problems, and that was no secret, either."

Dumas is the former Oklahoma High School Player of the Year. He was the Freshman of the Year in the Big Eight at Oklahoma State in 1988.

But by the middle of his sophomore season, he was fading in a haze of drugs and drink. He left school. He drifted to Israel to play -- and stay high.

Eligible for the 1991 NBA draft, it appeared no one would touch him.

"[Former Oklahoma State coach] Leonard Hamilton is a good friend of mine and he told me that Richard was not a bad kid," said Fitzsimmons. "Problems. He had major problems. But Leonard had coached Richard and thought he might be worth a gamble for us."

The Suns had been ravaged by drugs in the middle 1980s, causing owner Jerry Colangelo and Fitzsimmons to trade everyone except Jeff Hornacek.

"We hadn't had a problem in five years," said Fitzsimmons. "We talked about Dumas and thought if we could surround him with good people . . . if we could get him some help . . . there were a lot of ifs, but we decided to draft him because there wasn't much risk."

Dumas was the 46th pick in the 1991 draft. He went to training camp with the Suns, impressing Fitzsimmons with his wonderful athleticism.

"But right before the end of camp, Richard tested positive for drugs," said Fitzsimmons. "In the long run, it turned out to be the best thing. He had to confront his problem head on."

It didn't matter to some basketball people that Dumas was an addict, a couple of European teams immediately offered him $150,000 contracts.

"What showed us that Richard was serious was that he passed on all that money in Europe and went to John Lucas' rehab program," said Westphal. "He didn't go into one of those 30-day wonder programs. This was three stages, nearly a full year with John Lucas and others in the rehab field.

"He played a little in the CBA [nine games averaging 29 points] and then with John Lucas' team in the summer [USBL] pro league. Richard is not a criminal. He is not one to hurt others. He is a nice, quiet person. He made a commitment to getting clean."

The NBA watched Dumas' progress. On Dec. 16, 1992, they cleared him to return to the Suns.

In his first NBA game, Dumas had 16 points in 17 minutes against the Lakers. In his fifth game, he scored 27 at Denver. He quickly became a starter on the NBA's best team.

"Richard not only is physically gifted, he really knows the game and is fundamentally sound," said Westphal. "For him to come in at mid-season and start for us, that's remarkable."

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