'86ED MANY OF THE NBA'S FIRST-ROUND DRAFT CHOICES OF 1986 SANK, OFTEN TRAGICALLY, OUT OF SIGHT

January 08, 1996

ON JUNE 16, 1986, the night before he would be chosen second in
the NBA draft, Len Bias, a strapping young forward from
Maryland, went to sleep in his room at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in
New York City and dreamed that something had gone horribly
wrong. He had overslept and was desperately racing to the Felt
Forum, the site of the draft. He ran as fast as he could, but it
was no use. In the dream he never made it to the place he had
been trying to reach all his life. Finally, at 5:30 a.m., Bias
woke up and was relieved to find that none of it had been real.

Several days earlier Philadelphia 76er general manager Pat
Williams had discussed the draft with the Sixers' director of
player personnel, Jack McMahon. Philadelphia had the first pick,
but Williams and McMahon were not very impressed with the top
candidates. They thought 7-foot center Brad Daugherty, who had
had an impressive career at North Carolina, was too soft, and
though Bias was widely considered to be the most dynamic player
in the draft, the 76ers never seriously considered him. They
didn't even bring him in for a routine predraft workout.
Philadelphia already had a promising young power forward in
Charles Barkley, but that wasn't the only reason for the Sixers'
lack of interest in Bias. "I don't know," McMahon told Williams.
"There's just something about him I don't like."

Twenty-three other players were drafted in the first round the
same day Bias was (chart, next page), and his fate did not
determine theirs. The fact that Bias came to such a tragic
end--two days after he was picked by the Boston Celtics he died
of cardiac arrest brought on by cocaine use--does not explain
the misfortunes that have plagued so many of the other 1986
first-rounders in the decade since. Bias's death didn't force
Chris Washburn, William Bedford and Roy Tarpley to turn to drugs
or alcohol; it didn't cause Daugherty's career-threatening back
injury or the pain in Johnny Dawkins's and Ron Harper's knees;
it didn't excuse Dwayne (Pearl) Washington's lack of initiative.
Still, there was something dark, something vaguely ominous about
the class of 1986 that was confirmed by Bias's death. "It will
always be the Len Bias draft," says Bedford. "Tell people you
were drafted in '86, and they get this look, like they can't
figure out which one that was. Then you tell them it was the
same year as Len Bias, and they know."

As the draft approached, some scouts and general managers had
taken to calling it the Paranoia Draft, so frightened were they
of choosing a player who would not only fail but also embarrass
them. The talent pool seemed deep--Tom Newell, then the Indiana
Pacers' director of player personnel, called it "one of the top
three drafts in modern basketball"--but deep pools can be the
most dangerous. Washburn and Scott Skiles had already had
brushes with the law, Washburn for stealing a stereo and Skiles
for marijuana possession and for driving under the influence of
alcohol. And there were whispers that several of the top players
in the draft besides Skiles had a fondness for alcohol and other
drugs.

Still, on that late spring afternoon in Manhattan, it was hard
to ignore the promise in the players. They were like princes,
dressed in all their finery and striding to the podium one by
one as their names were called. Each one accepted the cap
bearing the name of his new team and placed it on his head as if
he were adjusting his crown. What could a prince have that these
young men did not? Adulation? Washington, a New York playground
legend, beamed as the New York crowd chanted "Pearl, Pearl,
Pearl," urging the New Jersey Nets to select him, which they
did. The promise of great wealth? Bias, resplendent in a white
suit with gray pinstripes, told reporters that he planned to
spend part of his new fortune at the nearest Mercedes dealership.

That morning Bias and Daugherty had sat in the lobby of their
hotel, discussing the excitement that lay ahead. "We talked
about how anxious we were to get our NBA careers under way, the
thrill of being at the draft," Daugherty says. They also talked
about the endorsement contracts with Reebok they both planned to
sign a few days later that would make them rich men. At the
draft Daugherty went first, chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliers,
who had acquired the top pick from Philadelphia in a trade. Bias
went next; the Golden State Warriors took Washburn third, and on
it went.

After they were chosen, the players did interviews, hugged
family members, talked with their agents. But later in the
afternoon several of the young princes found a quiet corner in
which to congregate. Bedford recalls that Bias and Washburn were
there. Later Bedford would realize how cruelly ironic their
discussion was. "We were all talking about drugs," he says.
"Everybody was talking about how we were going to be coming into
money, and how easy it would be to fall into all that. We talked
about how we were going to make the NBA a new league, without
drugs, with a better image."

Less than 48 hours later Bias was dead. His, of course, is the
most tragic story of the class of '86, but the decade has not
been much kinder to many other members of that class. Of the 24
players drafted in the first round that year, only seven are in
the NBA--Daugherty, Harper, Skiles, Chuck Person, John Salley,
Dell Curry and Arvidas Sabonis--and, more important, at least 14
encountered serious injury, illness or drug or alcohol problems.
Some of the first-rounders just didn't turn out to be very good
players. One even ate himself out of the NBA. "The only
difference between that group and the Titanic," says Williams,
now the general manager of the Orlando Magic, "is the Titanic
had a band."

Earlier this season Tarpley was banned from the NBA for the
second time after testing positive for alcohol. Washburn played
poorly during his two years in the league and was banned for
drug use in 1989; in '91 he was sentenced to three years in
prison for cocaine possession. Bedford, who was suspended for
the 1988-89 season after admitting to cocaine dependency, last
played in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs in 1992-93.

The litany of misfortune and failure extends to 6'8" John
Williams, a versatile forward who swelled to more than 300
pounds, earning the nickname Hot Plate, in contrast to the
Phoenix Suns' John (Hot Rod) Williams. Waived by the Indiana
Pacers last season, Hot Plate is out of the league.

Then there were the injuries. Guards Harper and Dawkins were
both felled by torn anterior cruciate ligaments. Harper
eventually regained something close to his previous form and now
starts--as a role player, not a star--for the Chicago Bulls. But
Dawkins was never the same, and he was released by the Detroit
Pistons last March. Sabonis opted to play in Europe and did not
join the NBA team that drafted him, the Portland Trail Blazers,
until this season. But after surgery on an Achilles tendon, he
causes observers who remember him when he was healthier to shake
their heads wistfully. "At one time he was the best center
prospect I'd ever seen," says Marty Blake, the league's director
of scouting.

Even Daugherty, a five-time All-Star and the most successful
member of the class of '86, has not avoided the cloud that
hovers over the group. A back injury put him on the sidelines on
March 4, 1994; the following December he underwent surgery to
remove two herniated disks, and he has not played since. He
hopes to return to the Cavs this season, but it's possible that
his career is over.

"Was it that bad a group?" Blake asks of the class of '86.
"Every draft has guys who don't make it, for a variety of
reasons." But then Blake listens as the list is read, and he
interrupts when he hears Washington's name. "Wait a minute," he
says. "What happened to Pearl?"

Pearl Washington lives on Prince Street in Cambridge, Mass. His
apartment number is 1, the number he wore his first season with
the Nets, who drafted him with the 13th pick. He recalls the
players who were drafted with him in the first round. "Maybe
it's cursed," he says. And, later, "It never dawned on me that
all of us were in the same class. No one ever brought it up."

Washington is the most recent member of the class of '86 to
suffer a serious misfortune, but he considers himself more
blessed than cursed. On Nov. 12 he had a severe seizure as a
result of what was later diagnosed as a benign brain tumor, and
only the heroic action of 13-year-old Sean Howard, the son of
Washington's girlfriend, Anita Howard, saved his life. Sean
discovered Pearl lying on the floor of the apartment, choking on
his own blood. He called 911 and followed the dispatcher's
instructions to turn Washington on his side, allowing the blood
to flow out of his mouth. Two days later Washington underwent
six hours of brain surgery to remove most of the peach-sized
tumor. He is undergoing chemotherapy to eradicate the rest of
the growth and taking medication to prevent a recurrence of the
seizures.

As he sits at his kitchen table, the scar on his shaved head is
visible in the dying afternoon light. It stretches from ear to
ear, like a headset. Washington's voice is soft, his eyes
sleepy. His 6'1" frame seems to carry about 15 pounds more than
it did during his playing days. He hardly looks like the young
man who became a legend on playgrounds in the Brownsville
section of Brooklyn or who inspired T-shirts at Syracuse that
read and on the eighth day god created pearl, but then
Washington was always slightly rounded, like the gem whose name
he bears. As Rafael Addison, one of his college teammates, once
said, "If Pearl was in a police lineup and you had to pick out
the basketball player, no one in the country would choose him."

Washington says his doctors expect him to make a full recovery.
"They were saying the tumor was probably there since I was
born," he says. "It was a slow-growing tumor. I went to the
doctor so many times for team physicals, for X-rays, CAT scans,
I can't see how it was never detected." He dismisses the
suggestion that the tumor had an effect on his NBA career, which
ended after three years--two with the Nets and one with the
Miami Heat. He joined the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA during
the 1989-90 season but was injured in the first quarter of his
first game. While recuperating, he gained 30 pounds in a matter
of weeks and was traded to the San Jose Jammers. He finished
that season and the following one in San Jose. That was it.

The consensus on Washington is that once his poor shooting and
lack of speed were exposed in the NBA, he did not have the
determination to improve his game. He doesn't dispute that.

"The NBA wasn't what I thought it would be," he says. "It was
much harder, and I just didn't have the desire anymore. It
wasn't fun. It wasn't like college. It wasn't like high school.
It wasn't like summer league. It just wasn't fun. If you ever
watched me play when I was in college and in high school, I was
always smiling. In the pros you didn't see that."

Washington signed a three-year contract with the Nets for
$900,000 and a five-year endorsement contract with Avia for a
reported $1.1 million. He has not worked for pay since he left
basketball four years ago, but he says he has enough from his
playing days to live comfortably. After a Syracuse newspaper
published an article about Washington following his surgery, he
received more than 250 gifts from fans, including two $20
checks. "I sent them back," he says. "It was nice of the people.
I thanked them, but I didn't think at that point that's what I
needed."

One of his few regrets about his NBA career is that he is often
confused with another former Net, Duane Washington, who was
banned from the NBA for cocaine the year Pearl went to Miami.
"My drug was basketball," says Pearl. "I never needed anything
else."

He doesn't seem to need the NBA, either. Washington appears to
have little trouble coming to grips with the fact that he was a
professional flop, but he hasn't given up his basketball
persona. When he is asked for an autograph, he still signs
"Pearl." He says, "I would never sign 'Dwayne.'" And maybe it is
not just because his medication sometimes clouds his mind that
Washington recently gave a visitor unusual directions to his
apartment. The route was not the most direct, but it did include
Pearl Street.

What went wrong with the class of '86? "You hear a lot of
stories about how teams should have checked guys out more," says
Blake. "But mostly you're dealing with two very different kinds
of failure: injuries on one side and addictions on the other.
It's hard to throw a blanket reason over both those things. Best
explanation? How about fate?"

Or could it have been an epic misjudgment of talent, which
created expectations for players who, as their career stats
attest, simply did not have the ability to meet them? Whatever
the cause, it did not extend to the draft's second round. In
retrospect, the two rounds should have been reversed, since the
players picked in round 2 included Mark Price, Dennis Rodman,
Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan.

The first-rounders of '86 may also have represented the end of a
certain kind of innocence. They were the last players who could
be forgiven if they considered themselves invulnerable to drugs.
"It was just a bad crop of decisions made by a bunch of
different guys," Daugherty says. "They lost millions of
dollars--or much worse. Len lost his life, and others are just
about as bad."

Daugherty's back woes began when he landed awkwardly after a
layup in a February 1994 game against the New York Knicks. What
he thought was just a muscle spasm worsened, and when he went to
the hospital a week later, doctors told him two disks were
herniated. "They didn't say I'd never play again, but they
wouldn't put a timetable on my return," he says. Daugherty
realizes, however, that even if he never plays again, he has
been more fortunate than most of his fellow first-rounders a
decade ago.

On draft day in 1986, after Cleveland had chosen Daugherty with
the first pick, it was the Celtics' turn. Washburn leaned over
and whispered to Bias, "You better get ready to go." Bias put
his hand on Washburn's shoulder, as if anointing him with
similar good fortune. Bias smiled. "You get ready too," he said.
"Because you'll be next."

When Bias's name was called, he slapped Washburn's hand. Then
Bias extended his hands to the other players who were sitting
nearby, waiting to be chosen. He touched as many of them as he
could.

COLOR PHOTO: NANCY MORAN/OUTLINE Bias's death two days after the draft set the top choices of 10 years ago on their trail of tears. [Len Bias] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD DREW/AP On draft day it was hats off to (from left) Walker, Person, Daugherty, Bias and Washburn. [Kenny Walker, Chuck Person, Brad Daugherty, Len Bias, and Chris Washburn] COLOR PHOTO: JERRY WACHTER Tarpley (42) could play, but Washburn logged a lot of pine time, and neither could stay clean. [Chris Washburn] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [See caption above--Roy Tarpley] COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE Until his back betrayed him, the deft Daugherty was one '86er who justified his high draft position. [Brad Daugherty] COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Washington knows, better than ever, that basketball is not life-or-death. [Pearl Washington]

A STUNTED CROP
The NBA's 1986 first-round picks, in draft order

TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE

Cavaliers Brad Daugherty* North Carolina

NBA CAREER

19.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg; five All-Star Games; suffered herniated disks
in 1994 and has spent last two years on injured list

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Celtics Len Bias Maryland

[NBA CAREER]
Died from cocaine intoxication two days after draft

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Warriors Chris Washburn N.C. State

[NBA CAREER]
Two seasons; 3.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg; banned from NBA in 1989 for
repeated drug use; sentenced to three years in prison for
cocaine possession; last seen in action in South America

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Pacers Chuck Person* Auburn

[NBA CAREER]
17.0 ppg; '87 Rookie of the Year; still rifling them in as
valuable reserve forward for the Spurs

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Knicks Kenny Walker Kentucky

[NBA CAREER]
Six seasons; 7.2 ppg; nickname Sky; '89 All-Star Slam- Dunk
Contest winner; fell to earth and ended up a Bullet sub

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Suns William Bedford Memphis State

[NBA CAREER]
Six seasons; 4.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg; tore ligaments in right knee as
rookie; suspended for '88-89 after admitting cocaine problem

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Mavericks Roy Tarpley Michigan

[NBA CAREER]
Six seasons; 12.6 ppg, 10.0 rpg; '88 Sixth Man Award; twice
suspended for substance abuse; waived by Mavs last month

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Cavaliers Ron Harper* Miami (Ohio)

[NBA CAREER]
17.8 ppg, 4.8 apg; onetime star crippled by torn right ACL; now
rehabbed, starting for Bulls

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Bulls Brad Sellers Ohio State

[NBA CAREER]
Six seasons; 6.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg; never developed NBA muscle or
inside moves; ragged by teammate Michael Jordan

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Spurs Johnny Dawkins Duke

[NBA CAREER]
Nine seasons; 11.1 ppg, 5.5 apg; hobbled by knee injury

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Pistons John Salley* Georgia Tech

[NBA CAREER]
7.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg; top sub on two Piston title teams; now Raptor

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Bullets John Williams LSU

[NBA CAREER]
Eight seasons; 10.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg; tantalizing talent but
ballooned as high as 300 pounds

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Nets Pearl Washington Syracuse

[NBA CAREER]
Three seasons; 8.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg; finished up in CBA

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Trail Blazers Walter Berry St. John's

[NBA CAREER]
Three seasons; 14.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg; segued to Spanish league,
where he averaged 35 ppg and earned $1 million salary

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Jazz Dell Curry* Va. Tech

[NBA CAREER]
12.8 ppg; '94 Sixth Man Award; now a Hornet mainstay

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Nuggets Mo Martin St. Joseph's

[NBA CAREER]
Two seasons; 3.0 ppg; career curtailed by injury to right knee

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Kings Harold Pressley Villanova

[NBA CAREER]
Four seasons; 9.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg; failed to show up for year-end
physical in '90 and waived before next season

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Nuggets Mark Alarie Duke

[NBA CAREER]
Five seasons; 7.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg; damaged left knee ended career

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Hawks Billy Thompson Louisville

[NBA CAREER]
Six seasons; 8.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg; admitted cocaine use

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Rockets Buck Johnson Alabama

[NBA CAREER]
Seven seasons; 9.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg; suspended for cocaine use four
games into '93 stint with CBA Wichita Falls Texans

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Bullets Anthony Jones UNLV

[NBA CAREER]
Three seasons; 3.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg; four NBA teams

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Bucks Scott Skiles* Michigan State

[NBA CAREER]
11.2 ppg, 6.5 apg; '91 Most Improved Player Award; single- game
record for assists (30); now a Sixer

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Lakers Ken Barlow Notre Dame

[NBA CAREER]
Traded to Hawks on draft day but never signed

[TEAM PLAYER COLLEGE]
Trail Blazers Arvidas Sabonis* Soviet Union

[NBA CAREER]
After injuries and an eternity, is current NBA rookie

*active NBA player ppg: points per game apg: assists per
game rpg: rebounds per game

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)