Gus Gerard: A Life on the Rebound

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Gus Gerard: A Life on the Rebound

Postby rlee » Sun Apr 06, 2008 6:55 pm

A Life on the Rebound
By Jerry Ratcliffe

Countless nights passed by when Gus Gerard’s heart was thumping so hard that he felt it would pop through his chest.
The cocaine had kicked in, so much in fact that the former basketball star, former millionaire, former husband, father, son, prayed a false prayer. He would ask the Lord not to let him die, that if he should be spared, he wouldn’t get high anymore.
Each time, maybe a half-hour after the prayer, Gerard would be smoking or snorting cocaine again.
Once an All-Star in the old ABA and later a starter in the NBA, Gerard let it all slip away: his career, his money, his family, and his dignity. He had lost everything in a fog of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.
Well, almost everything.
He still had what was left of his eroded life. In his mind, it was time to end that, too.
The former Virginia basketball star had reached new lows, stealing $10 bills from his mother’s purse to get one more hit. He had burned bridges, had nowhere really to go and figured this world would be better off without him.
So, after going on a three-day binge of vodka and cocaine, Gus Gerard figured it was time to end his life. He drove around Cleveland for most of those three days before showing up at a friend’s house, a place where he was usually found a welcome couch to sleep off his problems.
This sleep would not end. Gerard eased his beat up, $200 jalopy into the house’s garage and lowered the door. He left the engine running, asked the Lord to take care of his children, laid the car seat back and went to sleep.
The fumes would do the rest, just as he remembered how former Kansas City Kings’ teammate Bill Robinzine had done. Gerard drifted off into a carbon monoxide sleep.
“Just like the drug addict I was, and as stupid as I was, I didn’t check to see if I had any gas,” Gerard said with a chuckle. “I ran out of gas during my suicide attempt.”
He can laugh about it now, looking back on life with more turns than a West Virginia mountain road.
When he woke up from the haze and realized what had happened, or rather what had not happened, Gerard had a moment of clarity. He walked into the house and prayed for help. This time he was serious, no take backs.
Help from an old friend
He saw a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on the kitchen table and on the cover of the Parade Magazine was his old friend, John Lucas - the first person kicked out of the NBA because of drug use.
The story told how Lucas had wandered around the streets of Houston in socks - no shoes - in drug-induced stupors. But the real story was how Lucas bounced back, was six years sober, was coach of the San Antonio Spurs, and had opened his own drug rehab center in the same city where he was once a lost soul.
Gerard, who will speak to a large crowd at the University of Virginia tonight (7 p.m., Newcomb Hall Ballroom) about his life and the path to recovery, will talk about how he called his sister, Roxanne (who will be in the audience this evening) and told her that he wanted to go see Lucas. She bought him a one-way ticket to Houston for the best trip he made in his life.
“I’ve been there ever since,” said Gerard, who not only ended his drug and alcohol abuse and straightened out his life, but has since become CEO of Extended Aftercare Inc. to help others deal with their problems.
Maybe it was divine intervention or just sheer luck that the car ran out of gas, and that Lucas’ story was there before his eyes on the kitchen table. Whatever it was, he watched Lucas’ Spurs lose to Charles Barkley’s team that day, called the Spurs office and left a message for Lucas, with whom he had been roommates during the World University Games between his sophomore and junior years at Virginia.
Lucas called him back immediately and asked if Gerard was willing to come to Houston to spend time with him. He was welcomed with open arms on May 26, 1993.
He hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol since.
“I just want to let people know during my talk [entitled ‘The Long Way Home: Gus Gerard’s Path to Recovery’] that they’re not bulletproof,” Gerard said. “The progression of drugs and alcohol is that it starts off as fun and escalates until you cross the line.”
That’s the way it was for Gerard, a fun-loving player who was part of a bidding war between the ABA and NBA in 1974.
The kid from Uniontown, Pa., the same town that produced former UVa player Jim Hobgood, had made himself a star in the ACC for Coach Bill Gibson. He was runner-up to N.C. State great David Thompson in ACC scoring with a 20.8 points per game average as a junior.
At 6-foot-8, 205 pounds, Gerard was a freakish athlete for the Cavaliers. He defied the old adage that “White Men Can’t Jump.”
“The guy could get up,” said UVa legend Barry Parkhill, who was two years ahead of Gerard in school. “He had some serious hops — legendary jumping ability. He had some of the biggest calves you’ve ever seen on a basketball player.”
In fact, when Gerard went to the ABA, his leaping ability rivaled that of Julius Erving.
It was at those World University Games where scouts first noticed him and so did the agent of Parkhill, who by that time was already in the ABA.
When Gerard came back to school from the Games, Gibson had left to take the job at South Florida and Terry Holland had been hired to replace him. But at the same time, the ABA came calling. Parkhill’s agent said the Carolina Cougars, coached by Larry Brown, would pay him $300,000 to come out early.
Holland told him that if he waited a year his value would rise. But the Cougars folded, became the Spirits of St. Louis, and the next offer was staggering to a kid who never had more than 30 bucks in his pocket.
“They flew me to New York and offered me $950,000 and gave me a check for $75,000 as a signing bonus right on the spot,” Gerard said. “In 1974, that was pretty big money for a kid who grew up poor.”
The first thing he did after signing was to help his parents, a good beginning for a sterling rookie season. He made the ABA All-Rookie team, averaging about 16 points and eight rebounds per game.
However, the Spirits were a team of free spirits, including Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, who later admitted to snorting cocaine under a towel while on the bench during games.
On a trip to New York, Gerard said a friend from college came to see him play and said he should give cocaine a try, that it would give him a lift. Immediately, he was hooked.
With the ABA about to fold, he was traded to the Denver Nuggets, one of the four teams absorbed in a merger with the NBA. There he played for Brown and with Thompson, Bobby Jones, Dan Issel and others. He made the All-Star game his second year and was part of a solid franchise.
Throughout his seven-year career with seven different teams, Gerard was a clever addict. He carried on a secret life of drug use, but never caused any problems. He was never late for practice, never missed a plane or a bus.
Because there was no drug testing in those days, he managed to stay under the radar, as did many players. Gerard estimated that more than 50 percent of all the teams he played on had players that got high on drugs or alcohol or both.
When his pro career ended, Gerard returned to Charlottesville, built a nice home, had a nice family and continued his secret lifestyle. That’s when he began to fly to Vegas and Atlantic City, always footing the bill for his friends because he didn’t want to be alone and because they weren’t in his league financially.
Eventually, the lifestyle led him to squander away the $2 million fortune he had accumulated as a basketball player. The family moved to Northern Virginia and that’s when his marriage hit the rocks.
“I was manipulating, lying and my secrets started coming out about the life I was leading,” Gerard recalled. “She put me out and told me to not come back and not to plan on seeing my children unless I got some help.”
Running from his problems
He packed up his car and moved back to Uniontown to live with his mother.
“She had no idea what kind of monster was coming back there,” Gerard said. “I was blaming everything on everybody else, just lying to my family and friends. I was a hero in my hometown because I had made it to the NBA, but it didn’t take me long to burn my bridges and I had to leave there. I was stealing from my mom to support my habit.”
He moved to Madison, Ohio, with his brother’s family and that didn’t work out. His problems followed him wherever he would go. He always found the bars and the drug dealers that inhabited them.
“Meanwhile, I had gotten a divorce, never thought about child support,” he said. “I would think about my children and I knew what I was doing was wrong. But I was so deep into it that anytime I would think about my kids, it annihilated me and I had to medicate myself so I wouldn’t have to think about it.”
He owed $26,000 in child support, but had no way to pay. He wanted to make things right, he just didn’t know how.
That’s when he decided to kill himself.
When that failed and he ended up at Lucas’ rehab center, Gerard’s life turned.
Forty years old at the time, part of his recovery was two hours in the gym every day - the same gym in Houston where all the pros, former pros and wannabes would show up for pickup games. He had gotten himself in shape, was 90 days clean, and with no serious injuries, he still had amazing athletic ability.
One day he was in the gym, dunking on pros and a coach of a Mexican pro league team asked Lucas, ‘Who is that guy?’
“Oh, that’s Gus,” Lucas said. “He’s been out of the league since 1981. He’s 40 years old.”
The coach said, “He’s better than anybody I’ve got on my team.”
After the workout, the coach offered Gerard $10,000 cash to play the next two months, and he agreed. Upon completion of the season, Gerard started writing to his kids weekly and sent the $10,000 to his ex-wife as part of the support payments.
He then realized he had an NBA pension he hadn’t tapped into. He paid back all the child support, eventually sent his two kids to college and set up a trust fund for them. He got to meet his kids again and his ex-wife.
He remarried eight years ago and renewed a relationship with many of his old friends and colleagues as a member of the Legends of Basketball group.
Gerard wanted to help others, went back to school and became a drug counselor, eventually joining a friend to buy the facility that helped save him. Extended Aftercare Inc., in Houston, is the place’s name, a 60-bed facility that has a waiting list. Some of the nation’s top companies send employees there, including doctors and lawyers with similar problems.
Last December, tragedy struck when his 24-year-old stepson died of an overdose, leaving Gerard and his wife emotionally destroyed.
“Being a counselor made it even harder because I couldn’t help this kid, I couldn’t reach him,” Gerard said. “I guess I was too close to make a difference.”
That is the unfortunate part of his business, telling the stories of the ones who don’t make it. They are few but leave an indelible memory.
“My reward is to see families get back together like mine did,” Gerard said. “I used to think I could save everyone, but I realized I can’t.”
“It could have been a story with a sad ending,” said Parkhill, his old teammate. “The story isn’t over, but what he has done with his life is a happy story. I’m really proud of what he has accomplished.”
Gerard won’t consider the trip back to his old town successful Monday night unless he reaches some tortured souls. He can’t save everyone, but if he saves a few, it was worth the trip.
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Postby rlee » Thu Apr 10, 2008 3:34 am

By Doug Doughty

Roanoke Times

When the e-mail alert flashed across the computer screen, there was every temptation to think the worst.

Only the words "former Virginia basketball standout Gus Gerard" appeared in the subject line.

To some, the name might have been unfamiliar. To others, long forgotten. People who had attempted to keep up with him had heard disturbing rumors.

"There was a time when the phone would ring," one-time roommate Dan Bonner said, "and, depending on who was calling, I would think, 'Something really terrible has happened to Gus.' "

Bonner, now a broadcaster, hadn't seen Gerard in close to 25 years until he turned a corner at Newcomb Hall Ballroom on the U.Va. campus Monday night. And there he was.

Gerard, who hadn't been back to Charlottesville in 22 years, took part in a program sponsored by 'Hoos in Recovery, a group of U.Va. graduates, faculty and former students who have battled addiction.

Gerard spoke for 45 minutes, detailing a basketball career shortened by his abuse of alcohol and drugs and a botched suicide attempt that may have saved him. He said he has been in recovery since 1993 and serves as CEO of Extended Aftercare Inc., a treatment facility based in Houston.

"It feels like I've gotten some closure," Gerard, 54, said at the end of a four-day stay in Charlottesville. "I've been able to make amends to some people whose lives I came into like a tornado. I've been a bundle of emotions all week."

Gerard arrived at Virginia in the fall of 1971, the season before freshmen became eligible. He was a two-year starter before signing a pro contract with the American Basketball Association.

Gerard, a 6-foot-8 forward from Uniontown, Pa., was the first U.Va. athlete to turn pro before the end of his college eligibility. As a 21-year-old rookie, he averaged 15.7 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Spirits of St. Louis and remained a double-figure scorer after being traded to Denver the next year.

The Nuggets were 1 of 4 ABA teams that joined the NBA following a 1976 merger and Gerard went on to play in 240 NBA games for five teams over five seasons. His pro career ended just before his 28th birthday, in 1981.

Gerard might have continued to make good money overseas, but he returned to Charlottesville, intending to live off his NBA millions.

Although Gerard's drug use had escalated while he was in the NBA, he was no saint when he left Virginia. "If there was a party, I had to be the first one there and the last one to leave," said Gerard, whose alcohol and marijuana use started in high school. "I was doing a little bit more than having fun on Easter's weekend. I had this secret little life going on."

That was also the case when he returned to Charlottesville with family after his NBA "retirement." It was three years before he took a job, and then he became a beer-truck driver.

He moved to Northern Virginia, where he sold security systems for cars but mostly tried to satisfy his cravings for drugs and booze. His marriage ultimately collapsed when his family returned from church one Sunday and was greeted by a Falls Church policeman investigating the passing of bad checks.

That initiated a series of moves that took him back home to Uniontown, Pa., where he took a job delivering pizzas. He was so embarrassed that he would wear a ski mask to hide his identity, "but how many 6-8 pizza-delivery guys are there who have size-17 feet and wear glasses?" he said. "People figured it out."

Things got so bad that Gerard was stealing money out of his mother's purse, and eventually, his family told him to hit the road. He surfaced as a bartender in Madison, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie.

Gerard said he was driving a car that may have been worth $200, with two windows missing, when he stopped at the home of a girlfriend.

"I pulled the car into a garage, said a prayer, reclined the seat and waited for the fumes to kill me," said Gerard, who had closed the garage door and left the engine running. "Like the fool I was, I never realized, after driving around for three days, the gas would run out.

"I tried to kill myself and I even screwed that up."

Gerard's sister, Roxanne, put him on the road to recovery after reading a Parade magazine article on John Lucas, himself a former basketball star and drug abuser. Roxanne sent her brother a one-way ticket to Houston, where Lucas had opened a treatment facility.

Gerard, who had played on a team with Lucas at the World University Games, arrived at Houston with a bag that contained a change of underwear and a T-shirt and stayed for more than 100 days. He subsequently returned to school and was certified as a chemical-dependency counselor, a field in which he worked for nine years before getting his own facility.

He also got remarried, to a woman he met in recovery. He reconnected with children from his first marriage, but his travels never took him back to Charlottesville. "That would have meant re-addressing his demons," Bonner said. "This is the place where the demons really got him."

By the time Gerard finally made it back, many of his former teammates knew that he had turned a corner to sobriety. Barry Parkhill, U.Va.'s star player during the early 1970s and now an associate athletic director, had gotten the word of Gerard's return. Although he didn't make Monday's speech, Bonner and another fellow 1971 recruit, Andy Boninti, did.

The brevity of Gerard's career has kept him from being mentioned among the U.Va. greats, but over 52 games, he averaged 17.9 points, and his 9.3 rebounding average is among the top five in school history.

Gerard was best known for his jumping ability. However, it was his athlete's mentality that fed his addiction in the end.

"We're always taught as athletes to play to win," he said. "We're told, 'Never give up.' But, until I surrendered, I was never going to beat this opponent."
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Postby rlee » Sat Mar 13, 2010 11:37 pm

BY RON MORRIS - The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Editor's note: Sixth in a series on what happened after college to basketball players from the eight original ACC schools.

There are significant dates in everyone's life, but few quite like May 25, 1993, for former Virginia standout Gus Gerard.

On that day, Gerard parked his beat-up $200 Toyota inside the garage of a house where he was renting a room in Madison, Ohio. Gerard closed the garage door, turned on the ignition of his car and laid back in his seat to fall asleep. He intended to take his life by asphyxiation through carbon monoxide poisoning.

"I figured, I'll just go to the garage and get out of everybody's life, so I'm not such a burden on everybody," Gerard says. "I know it was by the grace of God, and the prayer I said, that it wasn't my time."

The car ran out of gas. When Gerard returned to the house, he happened upon a Parade magazine cover story about former Maryland star John Lucas and his efforts with a rehabilitation center in Houston.

Gerard telephoned Lucas and immediately went to Houston, where he lived in Lucas' rehabilitation center for 110 days. Then Gerard was off to a halfway house for two years.

Free of alcohol and drug use since that day in May 1993, Gerard eventually earned his counseling license. He was the CEO of Extended Aftercare in Houston for 10 years and now is a consultant for Directions of Recovery in Houston. He also is a member of the NCAA Speakers Bureau.

"There's hope without dope," Gerard says of his message to athletes, students, faculty and trainers on university campuses. "No matter how bad things are, you can recover if you're willing, and you're willing to make changes in your lifestyle and change the way you behave and the way you think."

Gerard says he developed an addiction to alcohol, marijuana and cocaine during his three years at Virginia that escalated during his seven-year ABA and NBA career.

At Virginia, 6-foot-8 Gerard was known for his exceptional leaping ability. As a junior in 1974, when he was second-team All-ACC, Gerard averaged 21 points and was fifth in the league in rebounding with 10 a game.

He left Virginia one year early for the ABA, which was in a bidding war at the time with the NBA for top college talent. Gerard signed a five-year, $950,000 contract with the St. Louis Spirits that included a $75,000 bonus.

Seven years later, Gerard was out of basketball having averaged 17 points and eight rebounds in his pro career. He also frittered away nearly $2 million in salary, much of it spent on drugs.

Gerard's life spiraled downward until it hit rock bottom in May 1993, when he says his athletic background helped him recover.

"I was willing to get help," Gerard says. "Being a competitive athlete, I was always taught to never give up. ... You're taught to always fight, fight, fight."
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