SEATTLE -- The Seattle SuperSonics traded Lonnie Shelton to the Cleveland Cavaliers due to his questionable lifestyle off the court that Sonics Coach Lenny Wilkens said eventually affected his play, it was reported Sunday.
The Seattle Times reported in a copyright arti:le that Wilkens believed Shelton's lifestyle, which included late hours, an association with a convicted prostitute and rumors of drug use, was detrimental to the club as a whole.
Shelton, a starter during the Sonics' 1978-79 NBA championship season, always denied using drugs, Wilkens said, but the rumors persisted. A check with NBA security turned up no information of possible drug use, Wilkens said, although NBA officials have declined to comment on the probe.
Shelton has refused all comment on his trade to Cleveland. His attorney, Mel Monheimer, said Shelton thinks it is more dignified to leave Seattle without making any negative comments.
'I talked to Lonnie once about his lifestyle in general,' Wilkens said. 'Not once, but several times about whoever you associate with; it's guilt by association. I talked to him about his image, about being a leader on the team.
'When I began to hear things, I incorporated it into my talk with him about being a team leader -- about the people he's hanging out with, because there were rumors and so forth. I spoke to his attorney. So in talking with Mel a couple of times, I said, 'You know, the gal he's with, it's not good for him. It's not good for the image of the team.' And they knew it and they tried to talk to him, Mel and his wife.'
Wilkens identified through a photograph the woman he was talking about, Audrey Louise Johnson, 24, a convicted prostitute who the Times said is not welcome at several hotels along the 'strip' near the Seattle-Tacoma Airport.
'The whole thing is strange,' said a hotel security guard. 'You don't see many hookers in a Mercedes. She's real classy.'
When the Mercedes, which is registered to Shelton, is spotted parked in a hotel lot, it is assumed to be a sign that Johnson is on the premises, another hotel security official said.
Monheimer said he told Shelton that 'Lonnie is a public figure and should be discreet in his actions. It was Lonnie's feeling that his private life was his business. But I told him I didn't think someone in the sports field had a private life.'
'During the season, I say certain things to players,' Wilkens said. 'I talked to him one time after a game in Portland where he played real well. I told him right in front of the whole team, 'You have great talent, but the only thing holding you back is you.' I would have private talks and I would do it in front of his teammates so they would know that I am constantly on him to try to improve.'
When the plan didn't work, Wilkens resorted to fining Shelton for his repeated tardiness to practice sessions. Finally, he handed Shelton the Sonics' first suspension of a player on Nov. 3, 1980.
'Lonnie is not a malicious person. I told him at the end of the 1981-82 season his season wasn't good. I heard all these stories about him -- about the use of drugs, which he denied. I told him that, 'next year, it's going to be very crucial for you,'' the coach said.
Wilkens said he never asked NBA security to check on anyone other than Shelton and David Thompson. 'My other players haven't given me reason to,' he said.
Thompson was acquired by the SuperSonics last summer despite rampant rumors he had a serious cocaine habit. At the end of last season, Thompson admitted to it and voluntarily checked into a drug rehabilitation center for about a month.
Following the incident with Thompson, Wilkens decided he could no longer tolerate the uncertainty over Shelton.
'I told him that a trade was almost a sure thing,' the coach said. 'I knew he was hard to catch up with. That's why I talked to him when the season was over. I told him to leave us a number where he could be reached.'
Wilkens said he gave Shelton one last chance, asking him to see Sonics trainer Frank Furtado about starting a strict weight-reduction program. Furtado waited for a month, but Shelton didn't show. That, Wilkens said, was the last straw.
'You have to do things that will allow your team to grow,' he said. 'Sometimes that means you have to eliminate certain people because they do affect the team. If he stays here, maybe he goes down the tubes; his lifestyle isn't going to get any better here and it's going to get worse.'
Cleveland, which gave Seattle a large amount of cash and second-round pick in the 1983 NBA draft (used to pick Louisville's Scooter McCray), was the only team that expressed an interest in Shelton, Wilkens said. The deal was made at the time of the draft.