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[CHRON] Ex-Rocket Griffin wasted away world of potential

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by codell, Aug 26, 2007.

  1. codell

    codell Contributing Member

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    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5083903.html

    Aug. 26, 2007, 1:03AM
    The demise of a can't-miss kid
    Former Rocket Eddie Griffin's life ended in a fiery accident, but the No. 1 pick had been tortured for years

    By JEROME SOLOMON
    Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

    "I've seen great high school players lose their focus and wind up drinking on street corners from gin bottles in paper bags. I pointed this out to Eddie."

    —The late Marvin Powell, brother of Eddie Griffin. New York Times, Dec. 18, 2000.

    • • •

    Inside Stephanie's Ice House no one heard a thing.

    But seconds after what was surely a thunderous collision, patrons stepped outside to a horrific scene.

    About a block away, an SUV had slammed into a train.

    When the group walked out of the Eastside neighborhood hangout on Lawndale, across the street from the U.S. Post Office Eastwood Station, they knew it was bad.

    "All I could see was fire, a big fire," bartender Alice Rodriguez said. "It wasn't a ball of fire; it was more like a tall line of fire — straight up."

    It was the gruesome end to the life of someone who for so long appeared destined for greatness, yet so often seemed headed for a sad, premature ending.

    It was a half hour before closing time. About time to get one for the road. Last call for alcohol.

    Rodriguez didn't know a young man named Eddie Griffin. Never heard of him. Never met him.

    Millions of basketball fans around the country — from Philadelphia to New Jersey, Houston to Minnesota — had heard of Eddie Griffin. Thousands had met him. Most had marveled at his talent.

    Still, as is the case with Rodriguez, few really knew the young man whose life ended at night, at a railroad crossing, when it was just about time to go home.

    • • •

    "Besides basketball, his days are solitary."

    —Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 2000.

    • • •

    There was a time when most sports fans in the sports-crazed city of Philadelphia knew Eddie Griffin.

    Griffin was a can't-miss star in his hometown, where he used to wow them at Sunday afternoon Catholic League games.

    At least 9,339 of them (including NBA star Allen Iverson) could honestly say they were at the Hometown Hoops Classic, the day after New Year's Day in 2000.

    That day, Griffin's Roman Catholic High School squad took on the best team in New Jersey: Camden High, which was led by Dejuan Wagner.

    Griffin did his part to make the matchup live up to billing, making 12 of 17 shots with an electrifying eight dunks — to put up 29 points in a 25-point victory.

    "It's great to hear the noise on my dunks. These were some of my best," Griffin told a host of reporters on hand after the game.

    A 6-9 whirlwind with an almost unnecessary leaping ability, considering his height and reported 86-inch wingspan, Griffin had the outside shooting touch of a guard and the shot-blocking instincts of a great big man.

    Yes, he was as can't-miss as can't-miss can be.

    But he had a can-miss problem, something deep inside that never makes a scouting report.

    Griffin's high school career, one in which he was named National Player of the Year by Parade Magazine and chosen as a McDonald's All-American, ended on a sour note.

    A suspension following a fight left him to finish his classes off at home, barred from prom and other school activities and forced to pick up his diploma a week after the rest of the graduating class went through the ceremony.

    Griffin said he would never embarrass his family like that again.

    • • •

    "Griffin, a freshman who has gained notoriety as a troublemaker and had been suspended for one game after punching teammate Ty Shine in the face, showed why he was also one of the most coveted talents in the country."

    —Chicago Tribune, Feb. 19, 2001.

    • • •

    Griffin chose Seton Hall instead of the NBA because he simply wasn't ready.

    Griffin's lone college season was good in many ways. He led the nation and set a school record with 133 blocked shots, was fifth in the country in rebounds (10.8 per game) and averaged 17.8 points a game.

    That year was also difficult. The Pirates, at one point ranked No. 7 in the country, failed to make the NCAA Tournament and they were first-round losers in the NIT.

    The Pirates were 9-2 when during what would be a loss, Griffin exchanged words with teammate Ty Shine, and followed up with a punch in the locker room that blackened his six-foot tall teammate's eye and opened a cut that required stitches to close.

    Griffin went from spending time answering questions about his NBA future to fending off questions of internal strife between the veteran players and the heralded recruiting class of which he was the shining star.

    Eddie had a problem, and it wasn't just a bad temper, but nobody knew.

    Not his high school coaches, AAU coaches, Seton Hall coaches.

    "If something was bothering him, he hid it well," Roman Catholic coach Dennis Seddon told the Philadelphia Daily News. "And it's a shame that he hid it well."

    • • •

    "Marvin Powell, a former basketball player at the University of Hartford and brother of Seton Hall forward Eddie Griffin, died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack at his home in East Hartford. Powell was 34."

    —Hartford Courant, March 23, 2001.

    • • •

    Eddie Griffin hadn't spoken to his older brother for about a month before Powell passed away, possibly due to a spat over whether he should go to the NBA.

    But for years, Marvin Powell — 16 years older — had been his surrogate father. When eight-year-old Eddie Griffin needed a positive male role model in his life, Powell, a former basketball star at Hartford University, moved the boy in with his family in East Hartford, Conn. Griffin spent six years there, learning what it takes to be a man.

    Powell had been planning a family meeting to discuss whether Griffin was ready to turn pro. The day he died, hours before in fact, Powell called Griffin who didn't pick up the phone.

    Instead, the next time the family would meet was at Powell's funeral services.

    Eddie Griffin was never the same.

    Friends say Griffin might have experimented with drinking in high school, and certainly was drinking at times while in college.

    "But everything intensified when his brother died," said Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, whose firm represented Griffin in criminal matters. "He was a nice, gentle soul with an alcoholism that he could never lick. He's one of hundreds of thousands in this country with the same problem. The only difference is he struggled with his in a public was because he was an athlete and he had money."

    Twelve days after Powell passed away, Eddie Griffin told the athletic director at Seton Hall that he was leaving school to enter the NBA Draft.

    Griffin said his brother would have wanted him to finish school. He said that his mother Queen Bowen, who worked the graveyard shift at a nursing home to raise four children by herself, also wanted him to stay in college.

    But after reading newspaper reports that he would be a lottery pick in the NBA, Griffin thought he was ready.

    "I have to do it," he said.

    • • •

    "Eddie Griffin spends much of his time on the outside looking in."

    —Houston Chronicle, April 11, 2002.

    • • •

    The Rockets traded three first-round draft picks to acquire Griffin in 2001, less than a month after his 19th birthday.

    On that day, Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said the draft was "as big as any we've had in the history of the franchise."

    A lot of pressure on a teenager, whose first year in the league would be the franchise's first without Hakeem Olajuwon.

    Griffin would later tell several people that he should have stayed in school a little longer. Whether that would have made a difference is debatable, but the inner demons began to produce outer problems.

    He missed a game in his second season, and concocted a story about a dog biting a neighbor. A traffic stop that ended up in a mar1juana possession charge in April of 2003 was his first brush with the law.

    Midway through his third season, everything unraveled.

    He want AWOL for two days, missing a flight to a game and failed to contact the team to explain why or arrange to join them at the next stop. He was given a two-game suspension, but when the team returned to Houston, he missed the next practice as well and was suspended indefinitely.

    While he was suspended, Griffin brought more legal trouble to himself when he was accused with hitting a woman and shooting at her outside his home.

    The Rockets released him.

    The stories grew odder.

    Griffin signed with the New Jersey Nets shortly after being waived by the Rockets. That stint lasted less than two months, but while there Griffin was involved in a bizarre incident in which he would not stop banging on the hotel room door of a bride and groom whose wedding he had crashed earlier.

    While investigating that situation, the Nets came across a hotel bill in which Griffin had ordered 22 drinks sent to his room in one night, Hardin said. A Nets official couldn't verify that information.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves signed him, but he played only 13 games, while serving league and team suspensions. In Minneapolis he was involved in a car accident in which he was charged with inattentive driving after hitting a parked car. Witness said he told them he was drunk at the time.

    "There's not doubt that his behavior was tied to an addiction," said Derek Hollingsworth, an attorney at Hardin's firm.

    Griffin tried to get sober, even paying as much as $1,000 a day for a two-month treatment at a noted Houston clinic after the shooting incident.

    Griffin once failed a court-mandated alcohol screening, at twice the legal limit for driving a car, Hardin said. The test was taken early in the morning minutes after Hardin and Griffin had finished a breakfast at the Four Seasons downtown.

    John Lucas, former NBA player and coach, and a recovering addict for the past 21 years, said he had not seen Griffin since the spring. Griffin was once in Lucas' program, and worked out with Lucas' group in 2005 and '06.

    Griffin refused to seek Lucas' help per the Timberwolves' request before he was released in March.

    Friends and family - his mother and brother Jacques moved here with him in 2001 - point to as many as four treatment programs Griffin tried with varying success, but he never managed to stay sober for long.

    After an incident in May in which he was charged with assault (a case that was later dropped), the last few months seemed to be one of those rare sober periods.

    Every meeting with Griffin of late went as scheduled and Griffin was as on top of things as ever, Hollingsworth said.

    Calvin Murphy, a Hall of Fame player who was the Rockets television analyst when Griffin joined the team, said Griffin recently asked him to help him prepare for his next stop. A tryout with the Denver Nuggets was in the offing, according to Griffin, and Europe leagues were a definite fallback.

    "We went at it five days a week for two months, and he was on time and in time every day," Murphy said. "He wasn't in the best shape when we started, but he didn't have any injuries and progressed very quickly.

    "As for the alcohol, in all the years I knew Eddie I never once saw him drunk. But after learning of his problem, I asked him recently how he was doing and emphatically said don't (lie to) me Eddie. He said, 'Everything is a temptation Murph, but I'm fine.'

    "Everything was status quo across the board up until the Wednesday of the week he died."

    • • •

    "Eddie is free now."

    —Former Rockets guard and NBA coach John Lucas, Houston Chronicle, Aug. 22, 2007

    • • •

    The crossing where Griffin's life ended is well lit, guarded by barriers with flashing red lights. The tanker he hit, which was carrying plastic, is white in color.

    The train was chugging along at about 10 miles per hour when Griffin's Nissan SUV smashed into it, according to Joe Arbona, Director Regional Public Affairs for the Southern Region of Union Pacific Railroad

    There are no skid marks on the street and police said there is no indication Griffin ever applied his brakes, leading to speculation that Griffin's death was a suicide.

    "I just can't believe that; I choose not to believe that," Hollingsworth said.

    On the side of the road, near the train tracks, there is a small cross made of a wooden stake that was broken into two pieces and bound together by bundling strap.

    A few feet away there is a short stack of ashes, with burned and melted pieces of what was once a shiny SUV.

    The fire that night was so intense that Griffin's body was burned beyond recognition and it took dental records for the medical examiner to identify him.

    On Tuesday morning, Griffin's friends and family will gather for funeral services at First Avenue Baptist Church in Sharon Hill, Pa.

    There, they will say a final farewell to a young man they all knew, but no one could truly see.

    jerome.solomon@chron.com
     
  2. sushimaster

    sushimaster Member

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    When I got to reading the No skid marks part, I just wanted to cry. :(
     
  3. Shawndme7

    Shawndme7 Contributing Member

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    Who cares about the kid's Can't miss basketball potential---he's dead now--let him ARIP without bringing up his basketball skills, missed oppurtunities, failed potential, etc

    sheesh
     
  4. peleincubus

    peleincubus Member

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    life is tough
     
  5. Jturbofuel

    Jturbofuel Member

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    I wouldnt wish depression on my worst enemy,thats one thing that is not east to admit is going on much less add some type of substance abust to it. I just wish it didnt have to cost him his life.
     
  6. DreamRoxCoogFan

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    thats just terrible. I mean I felt mad at one point that we gave up so much for him and he didn't pan out, but this is altogether something else. I know that the NFL has really started to do like personality/background checks, but iono how strong the NBA is at that. Lets hope the NBA can catch these things the next time. RIP Eddie.
     
  7. thacabbage

    thacabbage Contributing Member

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    The article is well-written but in light of the fact that the guy isn't even alive now, I find it a bit distasteful that the main theme is harping on his inability to realize his basketball potential. That ship has already sailed. But that's just me.
     
  8. ROCKETS-CEO

    ROCKETS-CEO Member

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    this is indeed very sad... :(
     
  9. rofflesaurus

    rofflesaurus Member

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    really great article that detailed his struggles...rip eddie
     
  10. shipwreck

    shipwreck Member

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    Isn't talking about his potential, and his early displays of brilliance, the best thing we could say about him? It's not like the author sought out the black marks on Eddie's life, they were everywhere to be seen. He did omit the masturbation incident, or at least the embarassing details. Eddie was for the most part a laughing stock around here until he died. It a horrible horrible story, but it would be sham to talk him up like he was Len Bias or something. Is it distasteful that he mentions all his other legal demons? Eddie was his own worst enemy, and that is beyond sad.

    His death does put it all into context, and basketball is simply a game. Such a sad, sad life. Even the talented ones can be tormented.

    I'm a skeptic, and not one for conspiracies, but after reading this it seems like it had to be a suicide.
     
  11. OrangeRowdy95

    OrangeRowdy95 Contributing Member

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    Where did this accident occur? Was it in Sugarland or West U area, or an entirely different city?
     
  12. redefined

    redefined Contributing Member

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    It was in SE Houston
     
  13. RocksMillenium

    RocksMillenium Contributing Member

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    You missed the entire point of the article. That was a beautifully written article.
     
    #13 RocksMillenium, Aug 26, 2007
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2007
  14. Batman Jones

    Batman Jones Contributing Member

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    EG was a celebrity who lived a troubled life. The idea that his ups and downs wouldn't be included in a post mortem is kind of silly, I think. I'm not for bashing him in light of his tragic death, but I found the article to be a respectful retrospective of a sad life. There is a weird level of sensitivity here given all the bashing (deserved or not) he received on this board when he was alive. Be as sensitive as you want now; he's dead now and can't read the comments, good or bad. I agree with denniscd. The time to worry over such a person's feelings is when he's alive.
     
  15. RocksMillenium

    RocksMillenium Contributing Member

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    I think the point of the article was that we didn't know him. This part of the article speaks volumes:

    "Besides basketball, his days are solitary."

    —Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 2000.


    And this:

    Yes, he was as can't-miss as can't-miss can be.

    But he had a can-miss problem, something deep inside that never makes a scouting report.


    The point of the article are missed by some. I think the point is, just because you're a can't-miss prospect doesn't mean you have the perfect life. Basketball isn't everything.

    There, they will say a final farewell to a young man they all knew, but no one could truly see.

    The article talked about basketball, but it wasn't about basketball.
     
  16. RiceDaddy07

    RiceDaddy07 Rookie

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    If you, like me, believe it is most likely a suicide ( because of the lack of skid marks and the obviousness of the train crossing )...

    ...then it is worth noting that alcoholsim wasn't what ruined Eddie's life but it was actually depression that did. His depression led to his alcoholism, but ultimately depression was the root. One can't recover from alcoholsim if they don't first recover from depression.

    Eddie was probably depressed because he felt like he failed all the people who believed in him. He probably felt like he disgraced his family and the memory of his older brother. I'm sure this was the gist of his depression. He couldn't forgive himself.
     
  17. Dr of Dunk

    Dr of Dunk Clutch Crew

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    I don't know how lack of skid marks proves it was a suicide. The guy could've been drunk out of his mind and didn't realize he was about to ram a train. He may have never flinched. He may have also slammed the accelerator instead of the brakes by accident. I dunno, I've never been drunk, but the people I've seen drunk would probably try to hug you if came at them with a baseball bat. It's not like they're coherent and do what is expected.

    I just hate the fact he was still a kid and obviously from what everyone says a really nice kid, and it had to happen to him.
     
  18. MR. MEOWGI

    MR. MEOWGI Contributing Member

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    I know exactly where this was. What the hell was he doing over there?
     
  19. ThePrivate

    ThePrivate Member

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    if he was drunk enough that he would smash into a running train, don't you think he would have had an accident long before that incident? If he hit the accelerator instead of the brake, he sure did have his foot down long enough to get his SUV up to a high speed before slamming the train? Come on man, get real.
     
  20. MR. MEOWGI

    MR. MEOWGI Contributing Member

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    When you are drunk things are not that obvious. This is a part of town where train tracks intertwine with city streets. He could have had the music up and not heard it. Suicide is very possible but it's not a given.
     

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