Ten years since he held a pair of silver scissors and snipped the white strings of the Georgia Dome net, life looks very different for former Maryland star Juan Dixon. He’s been humbled by attempted comebacks and failed drug tests, injuries and divorce, trips through Europe and fans who still approach him daily to let him know just how much he still matters in College Park.
Dixon will be inducted Friday into the University of Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame, a decade after he led the Terps to the NCAA national title. Much has changed since then. He played for four NBA teams, including two separate stints with the Washington Wizards. He played in Greece and Spain, before a positive steroids test got him indefinitely suspended by FIBA. So he went to Turkey and played there, too.
Dixon has returned to the States, hoping to revamp his NBA career, confident that the last ounce of ability hasn’t been drained out of his 33-year-old, 6-foot-3 frame.
His ascent from the Baltimore streets to Terrapins has been well chronicled. He was Maryland’s all-time leading scorer and a three-time all-ACC player. The memories still wash over him when he walks through the Comcast Center concourse, surrounded by banners, pictures and trophies.
Over the past couple years, Dixon has played on his brother’s flag football team. One day, when he was buying the jerseys in a Baltimore store, the owner, a woman named Mar, began speaking.
“Juan,” Dixon remembers her saying, “I don’t think you know how special you are. You’ve done so many special things for this state. People love you, people want to see you on the basketball court. You did something extremely special for the university and the state of Maryland.”
Dixon still looks at himself as “the kid from Baltimore who had a tough upbringing.” But sometimes he thinks. He and his teammates touched lives. Die-hard Terrapins fans supported him through the years, and he gave them something special. It’s an honor, he says.
With a healthy knee tested by workouts with the current Maryland basketball team, he feels ready to join an NBA team for the first time since the 2008-09 season. His agent has made calls. Now Dixon waits for a call back.
“I have a lot of hard work to do,” Dixon said. “Basketball’s my passion, and I believe I have a lot of basketball left in me. It’s a matter of getting out there and performing when I get the opportunity.”
But he’s been forced into a different type of reflection. Late last week, Dixon’s former teammate and best friend, Earl Badu, jumped to his death from an Interstate 95 overpass on the eastern side of Baltimore County.
They met in sixth grade, and Dixon convinced Badu to walk onto the Terrapins men’s basketball team. Badu rode the bench, nonetheless a crowd favorite. In the final game at Cole Field House, a blowout against Virginia, Badu entered to chants of his name, had an assist, then crossed up a defender and sliced to a nifty scoop layup on the left side.
“Earl was a great friend,” Dixon said. “That’s the Earl I remember, the Earl who was full of laughter, a great guy and very supportive. He touched a lot of lives, and a lot of people are going to miss him. It’s very unfortunate.
“It helps put everything in perspective. Basketball’s just a game, but this is my passion and I love it. It gives me a chance to give back and help others. People know my story, what I’ve been through. I believe in what I wanted to do for a living, and that was to play basketball.”
If everything goes his way, that time will come soon.
Those interested in attending the induction ceremony can call 301-314-2619. Tickets are $85 apiece, with tables of 10 available for $800.