Coleman No Stranger To Trouble

Posted: December 01, 1995

If Shawn Bradley has become the symbol for the severely unmotivated and the strength-challenged, what is Derrick Coleman the symbol for?

Trouble. At least so far.

When Sports Illustrated did the big story on the new bad boys of the NBA, Coleman was on the cover. Coleman, a 28-year-old with the body of a Mack truck, the basketball skills of an angel and the attitude of the devil, has been called lazy and mean, surly and uncooperative, hopeless and clueless in his career as the cornerstone of the hapless, hopeless New Jersey Nets.

Coleman has called himself the best power forward in the league, and has called himself and Nets point guard Kenny Anderson the best one-two punch in the league. Coleman can break a backboard with his dunk, and the strength he has to rip away rebounds seems the kind of strength good enough to rip boulders from Mount McKinley. Coleman was the NBA's rookie of the year in 1990-91. He edged out, barely, Lionel Simmons.

But then here's a walk down the memory lane of the rest of Coleman's pro career:

Nets coach Butch Beard wanted his players to help erase a perception of a team full of spoiled, whining, unprofessional brats. He asked them to wear sport coats and ties when traveling as a team, and said there would be a $500 fine for anyone who didn't comply.

Coleman giggled, handed Beard a blank check, and told Beard it would cover him for the season.

And there was the time when Coleman and the Nets were back in Coleman's hometown of Detroit. Coleman missed the team shoot-around. His excuse? His car wouldn't start. His answer to the question about whether Detroit had cabs? ''Get real."

Or the time when Coleman and Jayson Williams did up New York nicely after a playoff game against the Knicks, did it up so well that they were arrested outside a New York City bar at 3 a.m. And, yes, there was a playoff game scheduled the same day.

Coleman is a real team player, too. When Chuck Daly, then the Nets coach, asked Coleman to reenter a blowout game with 40 seconds left, Coleman just said no.

"No" often seemed to be Coleman's favorite answer. He said it many times to attending practice or being on time. Once, after a missed practice earned Coleman a suspension and fines totaling about $70,000, he was not repentant. ''Whoop de damn do" was the exact response.

Last season, Coleman averaged 20.5 points and 10.6 rebounds. Over his career, Coleman has averaged 19.9 points and 10.6 rebounds.

This season there is no average because Coleman hasn't played a game. During the Nets' preseason workouts, doctors discovered Coleman had an irregular heartbeat. Originally, Coleman was expected to miss only the first five games, but it was only this week that Coleman was cleared to practice again.

And the good news? Coleman showed up for that first practice two hours early.

Even during his college career at Syracuse, it was common knowledge around the Big East that Coleman was at best late and often a no-show at Orangemen practices. When Syracuse lost the 1987 NCAA title game to Indiana, it was Coleman's missed free throw that set up Keith Smart's dramatic game-winning shot.

In his pro career, Coleman has never played more than 77 games a season after being the Nets' No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft. He always seemed to have an ache or a pain, which caused some murmuring about Coleman's desire and toughness. Once, Charles Barkley, that model of decorum, said that D.C., Coleman's initials, most likely stood for Disturbed Child.

Now D.C. is John Lucas' most talented, most confusing, most difficult reclamation project ever.

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