Chris Washburn Rumors
After Stern took over as commissioner in 1984, other players permanently banned over the next decade included John Drew, Roy Tarpley and Richard Dumas. Players barred but later reinstated included Lewis Lloyd, Mitchell Wiggins, Duane Washington and Stanley Roberts. Years later, when the drug program was different, Chris Andersen was banned in 2006 and reinstated in 2008. Players always have been able to apply for reinstatement after two years, when they would need to prove having been rehabilitated. Washburn was unsuccessful in his attempt to be reinstated, while Richardson said he opted to remain overseas after he had been reinstated in 1988. “It’s a great story,” Washburn said of the relationship Richardson eventually developed with Stern. “I understand what Micheal Ray did (with drug use). I walked the same road as him.”
His motivation came when his father died in 2000. “I started thinking that I was the only person that my mom has now,” says Washburn. “I had all the book knowledge, but I didn’t want to apply it before,” Washburn says. “I’m on a program of ‘self.’ I don’t go to meetings. I don’t read big books. I still go to bars and hang out other places with friends and maybe I see them using drugs. “But I don’t have that taste in my mouth anymore.” As Washburn weaned himself off drugs, he moved to Dallas and began working in collections for mortgage companies. He met Richardson in 2009. Last year, they moved to Hickory to be closer to his mother.
When his playing days ended, Washburn landed in Houston, most of the $1.25 million he earned in the NBA gone. Destitute, he says he ate out of trash cans and slept in abandoned buildings and crack houses. He spent time in jail on drug charges. Washburn returned to Hickory for two or three years in the 1990s. He needed money to supply his habit. “My dad’s last visions of me were of a (6-foot-11) dope fiend sliding along the floor stealing money from his wallet,” Washburn says. “My mom kept her purse locked up in a filing cabinet at church.” Washburn returned to Houston, where he lived on the streets. He remembers a man sitting next to him being shot point-blank by a drug dealer. “I saw people get killed all the time,” he says.
After failing a third drug test in 1989, he was banned from the NBA. He had played 72 games over two seasons for the Warriors and Atlanta Hawks, averaging 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds. Washburn would play for a few years in the Continental Basketball Association and the U.S. Basketball League. He also played overseas in Argentina, Puerto Rico, Greece, Spain, Switzerland and Colombia. “The drugs were really good in Colombia,” he says.
Washburn, 45, says he is drug free now; has been for 12 years. This time, he says, his focus is on running a business and helping his community. That starts at the restaurant he opened in January with co-owner and girlfriend Monique Richardson. Prices are reasonable – mostly under $5 – for the wings, fried chicken and other items. And customers who are unable to pay can work for their meals. “If somebody doesn’t have a job, I can’t turn him away,” says Washburn. “There’s work to do around here – sweeping the parking lot, dumping trash… “A man doesn’t always want a handout. He wants to work for what he can get.”
Chris Washburn doesn’t have to go far to be reminded of the dark days when he was a 6-foot-11 addict wandering the streets of his hometown looking for drugs. As Washburn sits in the shade behind his recently opened restaurant on the fringes of downtown Hickory, he is able to briefly flash the gap-toothed grin that was so familiar to fans of Atlantic Coast Conference and N.C. State University basketball 25 years ago. “I would sit right here and do my drugs,” says Washburn. “This was a good spot for it.”
A local basketball phenomenon, once poised to become an NBA great before losing it all in a cocaine-fueled whirlwind of excess and squandered talent, has come back to his hometown. Drug-free for more than a decade, Chris Washburn is back in Hickory. And he’s easy to find – he spends just about every day behind the counter at his new restaurant: Washburn’s Wings and More.
Washburn, 45, and his partner, Monique Richardson, 36, own the business. It’s located on a hill overlooking U.S. 70 Southwest at 104 11th Ave. S.W. It’s in the building locals remember as Tasty Fried Chicken. They’ve been open since Jan. 30. “Business is good,” Washburn said. “This is something I never thought about doing.”
To Washburn, though, Bias’ death wasn’t that much of a wake-up call. While he says now that “any time in the 15 years (as a drug addict), I could have gone just like him,’’ he didn’t believe that then to be the case. “If you see that somebody is drinking and driving, people are going to still drink and drive,’’ Washburn said. “I didn’t think then it could happen to me. Len was really the first one ever related with crack to killing at that time. I was definitely not really affected by it. He was the only one who died that way… But when they started saying how much (cocaine) was found in his body, I made sure I didn’t use that much. If an ounce kills you, I don’t want to smoke an ounce.’’
Life is now much better for Washburn. Still, when asked his thoughts on it being 25 years since Bias’ death, Washburn said, “I tell people that he got off easy, that he died. I’ve had to live with it.’’ Washburn later clarified he’s happy to be alive. He’s referring to the burden he’s had to carry because of his drug problems. “When I said (Bias) got the easy way out, I mean he didn’t have to deal with the humiliation,’’ Washburn said. “I’ve let a lot of folks down. I’m still around, and I feel fortunate for that. But I’ve burned a lot of bridges. A lot of folks are not in my corner… I’ve seen my name associated as a bust.’’
Washburn didn’t have much to smile about after he was booted out of the NBA. The early 1990s were hard after he had squandered much of the money he made as a pro. “I was homeless,’’ Washburn said. “I was sleeping in crack houses and abandoned houses. I was going to grocery stores and I would go to the fruit section to eat things or go to the sandwich department and pull meat out because I hadn’t eaten in a few days. I would go out to eat somewhere and I’d sit near the back door and then make a run for it after I ate. I was eating out of trash cans.’’
Tarpley sued the NBA and the Mavericks in 2007, claiming it was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act that he was not reinstated as a recovering drug and alcohol abuser. The case was settled out of court in 2009 with terms not disclosed, but Washburn said Tarpley got about $5 million. “The three of us could give speeches,’’ Washburn said. “That would be a good thing for the third, sixth and seventh picks in the 1986 draft (who had careers derailed by drugs)… Maybe talk to guys who think they have a chance to get to the next level and help them understand everything you got to do.’’
Washburn doesn’t want to be the only troubled player from the 1986 draft trying to help others avoid a similar pitfalls. He visits Bedford about once a month at the Federal Correctional Institute in Seagoville, Texas, just outside Dallas. Bedford was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2003 for transporting 25 pounds of marijuana in Michigan, although he expects to be released later this year. “I see what I went through and then I see William in the penitentiary,’’ Washburn said. “When I see him, I try to encourage him. He gets out in November… He wants me to help him set up some speeches where he can go around and talk to high school and college kids and help them.’’
Washburn remembers the next morning speaking at a Police Athletic League event at a New York park. He said it felt odd because “you don’t want to be around police when you’ve been doing drugs all night.’’ Soon, though, Washburn received news that really rattled him. He was walking up a New York street when stopped by a stranger. “Someone recognized me and said, ‘Did you hear about Len?’’’ Washburn said. “He told me, and I said, ‘No. Stop lying.’ Then he went and bought a paper and showed it to me… It was on the back of the New York Post (that Bias had died)… I was extremely upset. I had never known anybody at that point in my life who had died so he was the first.’’
On the same night of June 18-19, Washburn said he also was doing cocaine. He had remained in New York, and was snorting it at an apartment in the Bronx. He said there were about 10 people with him, including three other NBA players he wouldn’t name. “I was up the whole night doing drugs,’’ Washburn said in an interview with HoopsHype. “I look back now and that could have been me. I could easily have been in (Bias’) shoes back then.’’
On the afternoon of the June 17, 1986 draft in New York, Washburn vowed he would visit Bias in Maryland while driving his new Mercedes back to his native North Carolina. But Washburn never would see Bias again. Tragedy struck when Bias, after returning from Boston, was celebrating his selection by the recently crowned NBA champions with friends and former teammates in a Maryland dorm room.