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Coleman, Derrick

Derrick Coleman

1967-

American basketball player

Derrick Coleman represents the kind of elite athlete that achieves such success and notoriety so early in his career that he develops a seriously skewed view of his own importance in the world, and even in his sport. The undeniably talented power forward has a record marred by questionable choices that have affected him both on and off the court. Coleman has worn out his welcome with two of the three teams he has played for professionally, and his "bad boy" behavior has landed him in legal trouble as well.

Number One Draft Pick

Coleman was born on June 21, 1967, in Mobile, Alabama, but considers Detroit, Michigan his hometown. Coleman first attracted national attention as the star of the Syracuse University basketball team; he was the number one draft pick for the NBA in 1990, and signed with the New Jersey Nets.

Coleman, who has a rare love of the history of basketball, seemed determined early on to place himself in the pantheon of the game's greats. His professional career started off spectacularly: he won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1991 while playing for the Nets, and was chosen for the Dream Team II, which captured the gold medal at the World Championships in Toronto in 1994. He also played in the All-Star game that year.

Coleman's early fame was sullied by accusations in 1994 that he had raped a woman in Detroit. Although no charges were brought against him, Coleman was embittered by the incident; it proved to him that people were out to get him because of his fame and outstanding talent.

Coleman has a real love and talent for the rhythm and flow of basketball; as Raad Cawthon wrote in the Sporting News, "Coleman has an acute understanding of how

the game works, of the spacing and geometry of a play, and so can easily spot a breakdown." Sometimes this ability leads Coleman to make the shots, the assists, the rebounds, the three-pointers. Sometimes, though, Coleman's abilities are channeled into deriding his teammates and second-guessing the coaching staff. During his years with the Nets, Coleman's vocalizations about what the team should be doing soured his relationships with teammates and coaches. By 1995, the team was ready to unload him; a former coach told the Sporting News, "I did all with Derrick that I could do. But with Derrick, you are only going to get so far, and you might as well understand that."

New Start in Philadelphia

Coleman was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1995, and the season got off to a slow start. Coleman, while maintaining a great respect for the game, seemed to disdain practicing as somehow beneath him. During his last months with the New Jersey team, he was misdiagnosed with a heart ailment and had to sit out two months of the season. He gained weight during his time off the court, and when he got to Philadelphia, he rushed into play before he was back in shape. This anxiousness to get back in the game led to a sprained ankle and more time on the bench.

While 76ers coach John Lucas admired Coleman's talent, he also hated the attitude. He told the Sporting News, "I told [Coleman] no one wanted him any more. I told him if he was unhappy and wanted to get out of Philadelphia, he needed to play to earn back the respect that he thought he deserved." Coleman took Lucas's advice and made the most of ownership and coaching changes on the team to work hard during the next two seasons. Things seemed to be improving for the forward, and in 1998 Coleman signed a five-year, $40 million contract to play with the Charlotte Hornets.

Trouble in Charlotte

In November 1999, Coleman drove his truck through a tractor trailer. His female passenger suffered lacerations, and his teammate Eldridge Recasner sustained a partially collapsed lung and a fractured shoulder socket. Coleman refused to take a Breathalyzer after the accident, claiming that he was being singled out because he was a celebrity. Showing little remorse, he told the press, "People act like nobody ever had an accident before. I understand that we as athletes are under the microscope, but we're human beings just like everyone else. If one of you guys goes out and has an accident, nothing is ever said. But as soon as one of us does it, it's magnified."

Charlotte fans seemed to have different ideas about the situation. Coleman was enthusiastically booed during the team's season opener, and coach Paul Silas publicly acknowledged that Coleman's attitude and behavior posed problems for the team.

Things didn't improve much for Coleman in Charlotte. When he showed up 30 pounds overweight at training camp in 2000, his coaches were concerned. The extra weight likely contributed to various injuries during the season, including a knee injury that required surgery, a sprained ankle, and a strained back. Coleman had an awful season, and his attitude remained sullen. Some Hornets spoke out publicly, indicating the team would be better without Coleman. Coleman did act as a mentor for some of the younger players on the team, but overall his presence was not appreciated. By 2001, the Charlotte team was looking to dump Coleman.

Back to Philadelphia

In a three-team swap, Coleman was traded back to the Philadelphia 76ers in October 2001. Coach Larry Brown expressed unprecedented support for Coleman, saying, "He's talked to me for two years about coming back here and it's no secret how much I like him, what a terrific player I thought he was."

Career Statistics

Yr Team GP PTS FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG TO PF
CHA: Charlotte Hornets; NJN: New Jersey Nets; PHI: Philadelphia 76ers.
90-91 NJN 74 18.4 .467 .342 .731 10.30 2.2 .96 1.34 2.93 2.90
91-92 NJN 65 19.8 .504 .303 .763 9.50 3.2 .83 1.51 3.82 2.60
92-93 NJN 76 20.7 .460 .232 .808 11.20 3.6 1.21 1.66 3.20 2.80
93-94 NJN 77 20.2 .447 .314 .774 11.30 3.4 .88 1.84 2.70 2.70
94-95 NJN 56 20.5 .424 .233 .767 10.60 3.3 .63 1.68 3.07 2.90
95-96 PHI 11 11.2 .407 .333 .625 6.50 2.8 .36 .91 2.55 2.70
96-97 PHI 57 18.1 .435 .269 .745 10.10 3.4 .88 1.32 3.23 2.90
97-98 PHI 59 17.6 .411 .265 .772 9.90 2.5 .78 1.15 2.66 2.40
98-99 CHA 37 13.1 .414 .212 .753 8.90 2.1 .65 1.14 2.43 2.60
99-00 CHA 74 16.7 .456 .362 .785 8.50 2.4 .46 1.76 2.34 2.60
00-01 PHI 34 8.1 .380 .392 .685 5.40 1.1 .29 .62 1.24 1.60
01-02 PHI 58 15.1 .450 .337 .815 8.80 1.7 .72 .88 2.05 2.70
TOTAL 687 17.6 .448 .298 .768 9.60 2.7 .78 1.40 2.75 2.70

Chronology

1967 Born June 21 in Mobile, Alabama
1986 Begins playing for Syracuse University
1990 Graduates from Syracuse University
1990 Number one draft pick in NBA, signs to New Jersey Nets
1991 Named Rookie of the Year
1994 Plays in NBA All-Star game
1994 Accused of rape (never charged)
1994 Plays on Dream Team II, wins gold medal
1995 Traded to Philadelphia 76ers
1998 Traded to Charlotte Hornets
1999 Involved in traffic accident, charged with DWI (later acquitted)
2000 Turns himself in on a warrant for driving with suspended license
2001 Traded back to Philadelphia 76ers
2002 Arrested for speeding, DUI in Detroit; pleads no contest

Coleman's troubles weren't over with the trade to Philadelphia, though. In July 2002, Coleman was pulled over in a Detroit suburb for speeding; he had been clocked going 120 miles per hour on a freeway. He refused the Breathalyzer test, but later pleaded no contest to the DUI charge. Again, Coleman felt singled out because of his celebrity status. After the sentencing (which some felt to be inappropriately lightthree days of community service and nine months of no-report probation), Coleman stated publicly, "If I was a regular Joe Schmo, they probably would have just given me a ticket and sent me on my way. We, as athletes, are in the public eye. That's the bad thing about it."

"Bad Boy"

Another basketball player with an uneven reputation, Charles Barkley , weighed in on Coleman's "bad boy" reputation. He said, "I don't think anyone has ever questioned the talent he has, but sometimes he has let outside distractions take away from what he is doing on the court." Other commentators, though, have had a different opinion: that Coleman is a narcissist, spoiled by his fame and talent to the point of not noticing anything in the real world. Whatever the cause, Coleman's reputation continues to be problematic, and interferes at times with how well he plays the game that he has such talent for.

Awards and Accomplishments

1991 Named NBA Rookie of the Year
1994 Plays in NBA All-Star game
1994 Wins Gold Medal at World Championships

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: Derrick Coleman, Philadelphia 76ers, 3601 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19148.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Periodicals

Adande, J.A., Gregg Hoffmann, and Raad Cawthon. "Looking Out for No. 1," Sporting News (February 10, 1997): 9-13.

"Coleman Returns to 76ers in Trade." New York Times (October 26, 2001): 12.

D'Alessandro, Dave. "Coleman Needs to Get a Grip On Himself and Life," Sporting News (November 15, 1999): 14.

Lyon, Bill. "Coleman Never Will Be Designated Driver." Philadelphia Inquirer (October 5, 2002): S1.

"Nets' Coleman Cleared of Rape Allegation after DNA Test." Jet (August 15, 1994): 46.

Smith, Stephen A. "NBA Endures Disastrous Off-Season." Philadelphia Inquirer (September 29, 2002): S1.

Wertheim, L. John. "Players and Staff Only." Sports Illustrated (May 21, 2001): 52-69.

Sketch by Christine M. Kelley

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