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A Fallen Star Begins To Chart His Course

"When I picked Joe up, I laid it all on the line with him," Meyer said. "I said, 'Listen, you've got a horrible reputation, and here's what people are saying about you: You're lazy. You've got a big head. You're high-maintenance. This is going to be your only second chance, because nobody else is going to want you.' "

Disaster in Seattle

It's easy to pinpoint when Forte's fall began, some said, because he punctuated the occasion with so many angry outbursts. It was just a few months after the Boston Celtics made Forte the 21st pick of the 2001 NBA draft and offered him a guaranteed contract.

Former DeMatha and UNC standout Joe Forte, more than a year removed from a troubled stint in the NBA, is starting over with the NBDL's Asheville Altitutde. (John Coutlakis - Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times)

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Stuck behind players and between positions, Forte had an erratic preseason. The Celtics wanted Forte, a shooting guard in college, to play point guard, but he struggled with ballhandling. He quickly plunged down the depth chart, and the Celtics put him on the injured list to start the regular season.

"That's when all the mistakes started," said Guthridge, Forte's coach at Carolina. "Joe Forte was an all-American in high school and college, and suddenly he was a nobody in the NBA. He couldn't handle not playing."

Said Forte, "Instead of controlling my emotions about sitting on the bench, it controlled me."

Forte played in eight games during the 2001-02 season for a total of 39 minutes, and he let out his frustration in tantrums. He showed up late for three consecutive practices; he watched games on the locker room television instead of from the bench; he wore a Magic Johnson jersey, that of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics' biggest rival, to a pregame meeting.

Five weeks into the season, he fired his agent, Jeff Austin, for failing to convince the Celtics to give Forte playing time. "He blamed a lot of people for why he wasn't playing," Austin said. "But he was the only person who could have done more to get himself on the floor."

No wonder, then, that before his second season the Celtics eagerly traded Forte to the Seattle SuperSonics, another team that would soon become anxious to be rid of him. With no hope of playing in Seattle -- Forte was stuck behind all-star caliber point guards Kenny Anderson and Gary Payton -- Forte quickly distanced himself from teammates.

"I never talked to anybody and just stayed by myself," Forte said. "I definitely have to say that Seattle was the lowest point of my life. Before that, I'd been in tough situations, but I'd always had hope. In Seattle, I didn't have any reason to hope -- I didn't see a light -- so I didn't care what people thought about me. That's a dangerous thing."

Before a game against the Michael Jordan-led Washington Wizards on March 26, 2003, Forte walked into Seattle's locker room wearing a Jordan jersey. When a teammate asked him why he was wearing an opponent's jersey, Forte responded, "Man, I love the Wizards."

An entire locker room glared.

Forte did not play and the Sonics lost the game, 80-74. Afterward, in a shower filled with downtrodden teammates, Forte sang gleefully until 7-foot-1 center Jerome James attacked him. Teammates broke up the fight.

A day later, in a move that revealed much about the Sonics' feelings for Forte, Seattle handed down the consequences: Forte was suspended for a game and fined $11,000; James wasn't punished.

After the season, Forte's problems continued to mount. Less than a week after he left Seattle to spend time at home in Washington, Forte was arrested. On his way back from a trip to New York, during which he met his idol, rapper Jay-Z, and thought, just maybe, he could finally see a light, he was pulled over for going 90 in a 65-mph zone. Police found marijuana and a .22 caliber pistol in the car.

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