It seemed that Chris Washburn had nothing but clear skies ahead when, as one of the nation’s top three high school recruits, he signed on with North Carolina State University in 1984. However, trouble came soon when the young athlete was charged with stealing a radio from a dorm room.
Although he spent a few hours in jail and served probation, Washburn’s grades indicated all was not well. During his freshman year, Washburn was suspended from the team after only seven games but returned for a much better season the following year. Washburn openly admits that the school enabled him by cleaning up his messes and telling him that SAT scores didn’t matter. It has been suggested that Washburn’s grades were padded to keep him in the university’s athletic program.
What authorities may not have known, however, is that Washburn’s promising career was already on the skids due to his experimentation with drugs, which began with beer and marijuana. Like many addicts, Washburn believed he could try cocaine just one time.
Red flags unheeded
In spite of the red flags and obvious questions about his work ethic, the fast, agile athlete was picked up by the Golden State Warriors after leaving college following the 1985-86 season. Washburn has since noted that he was friends with Len Bias, and was high when he received the new of Bias’ death due to a cocaine overdose just a couple of days after the NBA draft.
Washburn began to miss practices and arrive late for games, and it wasn’t long before his teammates suspected he was cultivating a serious problem. They were right. Washburn checked into a drug rehab center for a cocaine problem in early 1987 but didn’t perform well when he returned to the Warriors that spring. He was soon traded to the Atlanta Hawks. However, Washburn’s dedication to drugs and a party lifestyle led to a lifetime ban from the NBA in June 1989, after he failed three drug tests in three years.
Washburn attempted to revive his career and played for a few years in Europe and South America. However, his problems with substance abuse continued. (Washburn commented that good drugs were easy to find in Colombia.)
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Looks like rock bottom
Life went downhill fast after Washburn left the sport. He moved to Houston, where having burned through a huge amount of money in a very short time, he became destitute, later admitting that he spent much of his time in deserted buildings and crack houses. Washburn describes his life as wandering the street looking for drugs and eating out of dumpsters, relating that he witnessed murders from drugs deals gone wrong. Suicide seemed like an answer.
Washburn says he tried to kick the habit at more than a dozen rehabs, but it wasn’t until his father died in 2000 that he was finally able to stop using drugs on his own. A family is important for many addicts, and Washburn says that after the death of his father, he realized he needed to be there for his mom. He describes a “turning point” occasion when his mother refused to give him more money. According to Washburn, she told him to write her name and contact information and keep it in his wallet so people would know who to notify when they found his body.
Today: Making a positive difference
Today, Washburn is still clean and spends much of his time speaking to youth groups and working with disadvantaged kids, while working to mend the relationship with his sons. “I want to make a positive difference in the world,” Washburn says. As long as there’s life, there’s hope, and Washburn is proof.
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