The National Basketball Association said yesterday that it will investigate John Lucas' admitted use of cocaine. At the same time, the Bullet organization and Lucas' teammates and friends have rallied around him.
Lucas, in a story in Tuesday's editions of The Washington Post, said his use of cocaine is the reason for his problems the past two seasons in missing games and practices--at Golden State last year and this season with the Bullets.
"I think I've gotten to know John Lucas and he is a very fine young man," said Bullet owner Abe Pollin yesterday. "I think he has a problem, but the problem is solvable. All of the Bullet organization, starting with me at the top, is going to help John solve his problems any way we can. Whatever we can do to assist him we certainly will do."
"Just because he admitted he had a problem, nothing has changed as far as we're concerned," said General Manager Bob Ferry. "We knew about it for a while before it became public. We just hope that whatever he does about it will really help.
"Our concern, and it has been from day one, is John Lucas as a person. The basketball part comes second. We are hoping the problem can be cured," continued Ferry.
"Hopefully, the negative publicity can end up positive and this problem will be solved and he can continue to play basketball."
Ferry said he hopes the league doesn't take action against Lucas, or direct the Bullets to do so. There is no precedent for such an action, but Commissioner Larry O'Brien said yesterday he was concerned about the situation and issued the following statement:
"The story in The Washington Post has been brought to my attention and has been reviewed by me and my staff. I have directed Jack Joyce, our director of security, to pursue the matter and we are in the process of contacting the parties involved. In fairness to those parties, we will have no further comment until that process is completed."
Said Ferry, "I don't know what the league will do. I've been in touch with them all day."
Despite the crush of media representatives who want to talk to Lucas, the Bullets attempted to conduct a normal practice yesterday at Bowie State in preparation for tonight's game against the Seattle SuperSonics at Capital Centre. A victory would put them at .500 for the first time since they were 1-1 in 1980.
Lucas, who is averaging 9.2 points a game, was enthusiastic at practice and said afterward he felt fine. Earlier this month he lost his starting job to rookie Frank Johnson. So far he has been fined more than $4,000 by the Bullets for his actions.
"I'll be all right," Lucas said.
"All of this coming out in the open has no bearing on how I look at John," said Bullet Coach Gene Shue. "As long as he does what we want on the court, it's not going to affect how I look at him.
"Players on every team have problems and as a coach I have to deal with them. John's problem is serious, but it's not a problem as far as dealing with him."
"He's still my main man," said center Rick Mahorn. "We're still family. We're all backing him. John is a good-natured person and just because he's having a problem is no reason for us to desert him. All of this isn't going to have any effect on us because we're a team and our minds are on working hard to get to .500."
Kevin Grevey, the senior member of the Bullets, said he hopes Lucas' admitting his problem doesn't have a negative effect.
"We've been aware of his problem for a while," Grevey said, "and we all care about him. He's a leader on the court and it's only his off-the-floor problem he has to work on.
"We hope he can control it. We're all here trying to do our jobs and so is John. He's contributing."
When asked why he thought Lucas would subject himself to all of this pressure by admitting his problems with cocaine, Grevey said that move by Lucas didn't surprise him that much. "John is glad to be back here and he wants to do his best and shake everything off his shoulders. To us, he's the same Lucas he always was. We all think a lot of John."
Lucas' coach at Maryland, Lefty Driesell, said: "I guess I'm as close to John Lucas as I have been to any player I've ever coached. If he's got a problem, I've got a problem."
Driesell said he had known about Lucas' problem with cocaine for some time, adding:
"It's a sign of strength on his part that he admitted it publicly and is going to try and lick it."
The Sonics, going into last night's game at Cleveland, had the third best record in the league behind Boston and Los Angeles. The biggest difference in the Sonics this year from last has been the return of Lonnie Shelton, out all last year after wrist surgery, and Gus Williams, who sat out the season in a contract dispute. Both have been voted to the starting West team for the All-Star Game. The San Diego Chicken will make an appearance tonight.