SEATTLE -- David Thompson, the NBA superstar who fell from grace into the depths of drug addiction, says he's kicked the habit because 'I didn't like what I was seeing in the mirror' and is looking forward to next season.
However, the question of what team he'll play for is still very much unsettled.
'I don't have any problem with drug clauses,' Thompson said in a copyrighted interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 'As a matter of fact, that would be a lot healthier for me. That would give me some real reinforcement to stop.'
In the interview, Thompson for the first time discussed his habit that had haunted his career for eight years and turned basketball's 'Skywalker' into a secretive, almost paranoid man.
'My problem was primarily ... cocaine,' he said, pausing before the final word. 'I wasn't a daily user or anything like that. I was more or less a splurge user. I'd go for long periods of time without using any, and then maybe one night or one weekend I'd use a lot.
'I would try to stop completely, but I just didn't have the willpower. I knew I needed outside help. I'd go for long periods of time and be OK, but a crisis would come -- I'd get hurt or something -- and it would lead back to drug use.'
Thompson was traded to Seattle from Denver last summer amid widespread rumors he was a cocaine user -- accusations Thompson nervously denied at the time. He finally admitted to the habit in May following the end of the Sonics' disappointing season and spent a month at a drug rehabilitation center in Thornton, Colo.
'They say you tend to strike back at the ones who are closest to you,' he told the newspaper. 'I took a lot of things out on Cathy (his wife). Not physically, but verbally. She was the easiest target. I know she's been through some real bad times, but she hung in there, and I really respect her for that.
'I feel bad about (Sonic coach) Lenny Wilkens believing in me and then letting him down. I think I've told him that indirectly, but I guess I'll do it formally when I get the chance. He went out on a limb for me, and I'd like to rectify it.'
While those around him urged him to quit cocaine, Thompson said he decided to take action to get rid of fear and loneliness.
'I'd decided I'd had it with that type of life -- living in fear a lot of the time. I was having to hid for fear that someone would find out about my problem. I was even hiding from my teammates.'
Only once since leaving the Washington House rehabilitation center has he slipped backwards. It came a couple of days after his early-June release.
'I was drinking,' he told the Post-Intelligencer, 'drinking beer. I didn't think beer was a problem. But what I want to do now is be free of anything. As I was taught, one drug can lead to another. If you have an addictive personality, eventually it can become a problem. So why take a chance?'
Thompson denied his problem started in 1978 when, after electrifying the fans of the Denver Nuggets, the two-time NCAA player of the year was awarded the largest salary to date -- $800,000 for each of five seasons.
'Everybody thinks it (drug use) started when I got the contract,' he said. 'But I didn't start doing a lot of drugs -- it didn't become a problem -- until about 1980.'
That's when a January foot injury, causing him to miss the final 36 games of the season, first forced Thompson to deal with life off the basketball court for more than just until the next game.
'I had a lot of free time with nothing to do,' he told the newspaper. 'It wasn't a good feeling not to be able to play and contribute. Most of my friends were team members, and it's always been that way. The team was out traveling, and even when I went to practice I didn't feel like I was part of the team. You feel a lot of loneliness and isolation.'
Thompson eventually was relegated to the bench. Nugget coach Doug Moe figured Denver would be better off without its failing superstar. When Seattle expressed an interest, Thompson was traded for Bill Hanzlik and a 1982 No. 1 draft choice.
'When I went to Seattle I had in mind I was going to stop drugs completely,' Thompson said. 'Most of last summer and the first part of the season I had stopped using it. When I started back doing it, I wasn't able to stop.'
Again it was an injury, an arthritic knee that forced him to miss seven games in November, that led to more drugs, he said. He managed to cut down during mid-season and play well, only to give way to his compulsion again in April.
'I was trying to stop completely, but after a game, I used it again. The next morning, I said, 'That's enough of this ... Why can't I live a normal life like the rest of the guys, like most of the world.'
Word got to Wilkens through Sonic psychological consultant Dr. Ulysses Whitehead in the weeks before the playoffs and Thompson checked in to the rehabilitation center within a few days after the Sonics were eliminated 2-0 in a playoff miniseries by Portland.
Thompson said the treatment helped.
'They make you make out a list of all your fears, and fear of failure was my biggest one,' he said. 'From my background, I had low self-esteem. I judged myself by how well I performed on the basketball court, or how people looked at me as a basketball player. You just can't do that.'
Now Thompson, a free agent, is hoping the Sonics, or some other team, will give him that one more chance he needs to make good on all his broken promises. This time, he says, he'll turn in another direction when the next crisis comes.
'At one point I was real close to God,' said Thompson, the son of a Shelby, N.C., Baptist minister. 'I've been getting kind of reacquainted with him again. I've learned to put things in His hands and let Him work them out for you.'