ALONE IN THE DARK
At the time, it seemed of no consequence. It happened on a night in Chicago while the Suns were playing in the championship series against the Bulls.
The Suns had their backs to the wall after losing the first two games of the series here in America West Arena. And now they were in Chicago and battling back so hard that even Bulls' fans grudgingly admired them.
Tim Curtis, a bartender at Pippin's, remembers he was rinsing glasses at the bar located at Chicago Avenue and Rush Street.
Curtis remembers it was about 11 p.m. on a Sunday night. The game between the Bulls and Phoenix Suns had been over for several hours. The big crowd watching on television had departed.
A customer leaned over the bar to catch Curtis' eye. "Do you see the guy sitting alone at that table behind the pinball machine?" he asked. "I mean the one Melissa the waitress is serving a beer right now. Isn't that Richard Dumas of the Phoenix Suns?"
"I don't know," Curtis says. "Could be.
"But then, I see everybody in the place is staring over at him. They're nodding their heads to each other. They made him right away. For one thing, he had played so well that night against the Bulls.
"You know what I mean. Out on the street, he's really tall and he has that short haircut with the part cut into his scalp. You see him once. You remember him."
Curtis says Dumas seemed like a very pleasant guy. He was quiet. He never spoke a word to anyone and left in less than an hour.
"Nobody went over to bother him for an autograph or anything. Everyone played it cool," Curtis says. "He was just this tall, quiet fella sitting all alone and sipping a few beers by himself and obviously thinking things out."
Pippin's is a five-minute walk from the Weston Hotel on Michigan Avenue, where the Suns were quartered during the playoff finals. Some assume, because of the name similarity, that the place is owned by Scotty Pippen, one of the Bulls' star players.
It isn't. The names aren't even spelled the same way. In Chicago, Pippin's is the kind of place they call a sardine bar. It's small and so it makes a perfect hideaway. If you want to go off for a few pops without being spotted, Pippin's is your place.
While Dumas was off by himself, several of his teammates, including Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle, were downing great quantities of beer and making friends in other saloons not far away. Nothing wrong with that. Drinking beer is an accepted form of recreation in America and the NBA.
Barkley and Majerle both have outgoing personalities and they became great favorites in Chicago during the playoffs. But Dumas moved all alone. He was that way all season. It was better that way for him because he had a problem that was like a ticking time bomb.
His teammates never talked to Dumas directly about this problem. They drew the line. You wish a guy well, but you don't invade his space over something as sensitive as this. For Dumas, even drinking a few beers should have been off-limits.
For him, drinking beer always led to more serious forms of addiction. In his case, the ultimate and forbidden destination was cocaine.
Dumas had been forced to leave school at Oklahoma State after just two years. His excessive drinking problem there led to drug abuse. He went off to play in Israel for a year, trying to beat it.
And then he came back to this country and was signed by the Suns over Jerry Colangelo's objection. He was such a great prospect that Paul Westphal urged Colangelo to give Dumas a shot. Colangelo, who had been burned by Walter Davis, was wary.
Dumas was suspended from playing in his first year in the NBA. He tested positive for cocaine even before the season began.
But last season, Dumas seemed to put his addiction behind him. Thanks to help he received from John Lucas at a Houston drug clinic Lucas runs in Houston, Dumas was clean and ready to go.
No one was higher on Dumas during the past regular season than Colangelo.
I remember a night, early in the season, when the Suns took a big lead and Westphal decided to give Dumas significant playing time.
The game was a route, so I left early. Just before the next game, Colangelo came by my seat.
"You left too early the other night," he said. "You should have seen the things Richard Dumas did on that basketball court. He's a great talent."
You had the feeling that once Colangelo saw Dumas play that he became higher on him than anyone. And for a while, the enthusiasm over Dumas threatened to get out of hand.
Before he played a dozen games in the NBA, they were comparing him to Julius Erving and Connie Hawkins. It was if he were going right into the Hall of Fame.
The euphoria is over now. Dumas has been forced to admit that he has fallen victim once again to his cocaine addiction. Instead of heading for the Hall of Fame, he is back in Houston under treatment.
The other day, I played the tapes I had made of the Suns-Bulls series. I looked for Dumas.
It was sad. There he was, before the opening of the first game of the finals here against the Bulls. The crowd was going wild. The camera was on the Suns as they came down the chute and onto the floor just before the game.
Barkley led the way. Then there was Danny Ainge, and Dumas was right alongside them.
And then there were the introductions before the opening tip with the house lights turned down.
They announced Dumas' name. He jogged out onto the floor, seemingly in a trance. Negele Knight came up to Dumas and jostled him with his shoulder, once, then twice. Dumas pushed him off. He seemed annoyed, as if he were trying to remain focused. This was no time for horseplay.
Dumas headed for the spot on the floor where the rest of the starting team waited. He stood there, almost alone, chewing gum nervously.
Mark West, the giant pivot man, moved over to Dumas. He rubbed Dumas' head with affection. If Dumas was overly tense and insecure, West was letting him know that he was going to be out there on the floor with him.
They were all with him. But they couldn't be with him every minute of his life.
Some people fear success. Who knows, perhaps when Dumas signed that contract worth $9 million this past summer, it placed too much pressure upon him.
And now the sportswriters rush to their computers and tap out endless clichs about the horror of drug addiction. How many of them have walked the streets of a big city searching for a small bar to be alone in the dark?
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.