Chris Washburn once went from being selected third in the 1986 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors to coming off the bench on a prison basketball team.
That sounds more like imagery from The Longest Yard, rather than a real life story.
But sadly, Washburn’s story is true.
A 6’11 center, nationally Washburn was once mentioned in the same breath as Danny Manning.
With a soft touch around the basket and fluid jumper, Washburn joined future NBA players Vinny Del Negro, Spud Webb and Nate McMillan on an N.C. State team coached by late legendary coach, Jim Valvano.
Despite the talent-laden team, Washburn’s own work ethic was often called into question. He was also also getting into trouble off the court.
Thirty years after Warriors bust Chris Washburn was banned by the NBA, his son made his dad proud
He was caught stealing a stereo in another students dorm room.
A 46 hour jail sentence, a five-year suspended prison term and five years of probation.
“When you’re given everything at a young age you don’t see anything wrong with what you do,”
“When you start getting negative press and negative comments you really don’t know how to change that, you just keep on going and I was that case.”
Even with that distraction, Washburn still averaged 17.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in his sole season at N.C. State.
Washburn says his early years would ultimately influence his later years, however.
After being drafted by the Warriors in 1986, he’d only play two seasons in the NBA, playing only in 72 games and averaging 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
He partied a ton and didn’t master work/life balance. Mind you, this guy was drafted higher than Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper and Mark Price in the 1986 NBA Draft.
“I thought I was the best-looking guy in the world,” he said.
“Me and Denzel was on the same level. So When I would go places, I wouldn’t have to pay for anything and so I kind of lost focus and in the NBA, you can’t lose focus on why you’re there. I started wanting to enjoy more of the party life than the practice life. Sadly, the career was very short.”
In 1989, Washburn received a lifetime ban from the NBA after failing three drug tests in three years. He said the day that the NBA let him know that he was banned, he got high that evening.
“I sat back and said: Well, I guess there’s no practice tomorrow,” said Washburn.
Washburn said he went on a 2-year binge of drug use and easily spent $2,000- $4,000 a day on the habit.
Not just on himself either!
“I’m getting everybody around me high,” he said.
When his money ran out, he found his way on the court again. He’d bounce around the Continental Basketball Association and the U.S. Basketball League.
But it wasn’t the NBA!
Washburn also had stints playing in Argentina, Puerto Rico, Greece, Spain, Switzerland and Colombia.
All of those South American-area teams doesn’t sound like a good mix for someone who had prior issues with drug use. “You can’t send a drug person to Argentina because they got stuff down there that’s real good,” said Washburn.
“I didn’t put NBA time into playing overeas.”
Depression would end up getting in his way and more brushes with the law soon followed.
Things got so bad for Washburn that he said he ended up living in abandoned buildings and crack houses and ended up eating out of trash cans.
Rock bottom surely came when he faced 12- and 13-month sentences for drug-related offenses from 1991-94.
“I was very immature and again it took a long time to grow up and understand that,” he said.
Eventually, Washburn got his act together and says he has been clean for over 15 years. He’d once opened up a restaurant, Washburn’s Wings and More.
These days, he’s speaking across the country, encouraging others not to make the same mistakes that he did. “It was a lot of freedom in college,” he said.
Washburn’s journey is a cautionary tale for aspiring and talented athletes.
Washburn says that he was the big man on campus in high school and lacked accountability. That lack of accountability spiraled out of control later in life and almost cost him his life. “I was very unstructured,” he said.
“A lot of kids that don’t understand, when you go to college you have to be a grown man and handle the responsibilities of going to class and playing basketball and all that.”