What a concept: Daniels goes legit

JOHN EISENBERG

December 02, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

LANDOVER -- As a concept, Lloyd Daniels was brilliant. Perfect. Illiterate, crack-addicted, shoehorned into the mainstream only because he could dazzle with a basketball, he was the perfect poster child for the darkness that so often prevails in college sports.

But what happens when the concept becomes a reality?

There he was last night at the Capital Centre, dribbling, darting, looking for the open man in the floodlit hully-gully of another Tuesday night in the NBA. The concept as a pro, and a pretty good pro. How about that?

It was a lot simpler when Daniels was just this peerless symbol of sin, sporting and otherwise. Now, as a 25-year-old rookie with the San Antonio Spurs, he is, well, there he was in the flesh last night: a person, not a name on a blotter. A reality, not a concept. Newly married, the father of a baby girl. Reportedly sober for two years.

"You got kids?" he said to a reporter after the game.

Yeah.

"Ain't that the greatest thing ever? Getting down on the floor and playing with 'em?"

So, what are we supposed to do now? Now that the perfect concept has lost 45 pounds, cleaned up his act and become more a symbol of perseverance than sin?

Well, this being pro ball, where, as you may have heard, morality does not get much playing time, what else is there to do but sit back, watch and say, "Wow."

Not necessarily because he is the greatest thing ever to hit the NBA, as some suggested he would be. He can't play a lick of defense or create a shot inside. He scored 12 points last night and probably gave up twice as many in the Bullets' 13-point win.

Still, there is much to recommend him. He has a touch from 20 feet, passes like a dream and looks like an All-Star in the open court. Had a 24-point game the other night. Averaging 16.

But see, the real point is that he is here at all. A friend once said Daniels' story would be made into a movie as soon as Lloyd was killed or made the NBA. He has taken just about every hard hit there is.

He was a 3-year-old in one of the roughest parts of Queens when his mother died of cancer. His father, an alcoholic, soon left. He grew up with his grandmothers, wandering the streets, smoking dope by age 10.

He would have fallen even harder if not for an obvious gift for the city game. He was a schoolyard legend by 15, another Magic, a big man who could dribble. Larry Brown, Rick Pitino and Jerry Tarkanian were among the coaches who lusted for his name on their roster. But see, Lloyd could barely read his name. He drifted through four high schools and finally just quit.

He wound up at a junior college in California, waiting to become eligible at UNLV, but was arrested at a crack house in Las Vegas. Then he drifted from the Topeka Sizzlers to the Miami Tropics to the Greensboro Gators, a minor-league pro for four years. He went through three drug-rehab sessions, got shot in New York over a crack deal, got fat, lazy and stuck with the worst label of all: Can't play.

But then Tarkanian quit at UNLV and went to the Spurs, and one of his first moves was to give Daniels a chance. Lloyd has been through John Lucas' rehab center in Houston, finally making headway. The Spurs assigned him a personal trainer who said that years of abuse had given Daniels a 45-year-old's body. But it wasn't too late. From the first day of training camp, it was apparent Daniels had the team made. The passes, the jumpers, the floor sense. Everyone could see it.

"If God gives you a gift, it doesn't just go away," Daniels said last night. "Maybe it gets rusty. But it's still there. Everyone knew I could play in this league. The question was whether I was serious off the court. I just had to come to understand that the street life was no good anymore."

He is friendly, and possesses a certain sweetness that would shock anyone accustomed to his name in the headlines.

"People tell me all the time how great it is I've turned my life around," he said. "There are some waiting for me to slip. But as long as I recognize I'm going to have an [addiction] problem the rest of my life, I'm going to be fine."

He slipped into jeans and a leather jacket, the unlikeliest rookie. No college ball. Barely any high school ball. Just trouble. Just a concept. And now, suddenly, this.

"We played bad tonight, but the beauty of this [league] is there's another game tomorrow," he said. "I'm just so happy to be here. This is the greatest life. I can't wait to get to the hotel and call my little girl."

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