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Chris Washburn had it all — or so many thought. The Golden State Warriors bought it. They also paid the price.

At 6-foot-11, 225 pounds, the athletic Washburn was the envy of many NBA teams. The Warriors bit and made him the third pick in the 1986 NBA Draft after playing one full season at North Carolina State.

His NBA career ended in the blink of an eye. Speaking earlier this year at the 2022 F.R.E.S.H. Book Festival to promote his upcoming memoir, Washburn admitted the NBA “invested in a million-dollar crackhead.”

The Golden State Warriors swung and missed with Chris Washburn

Golden State Warriors top draft pick Chris Washburn, the third player taken in the 1986 NBA Draft, displays his new Warriors jersey during a press conference in Oakland, Calif. | Getty Images

In high school, Washburn was one of the top three recruits. His size, athleticism, and potential intrigued scouts throughout the country. After his quick college career, he bolted for the NBA, knowing he’d be a lottery pick and secure a million-dollar deal.

After the Cleveland Cavaliers selected center Brad Daugherty with the No. 1 pick and the Boston Celtics took Len Bias at No. 2, Golden State pulled the trigger on Washburn. George Karl, then the coach of the Warriors, immediately had his doubts after seeing Washburn during training camp.

“We had to take him,” Karl told Sports Illustrated in February 1987. “But sometimes I wonder if we drafted the kind of player who will always break your heart. He did great for three weeks in camp. Then it was like somebody got in his head and told him he didn’t have to work anymore.”

Work ethic was a problem for Washburn, but it wasn’t nearly his biggest issue. Drugs consumed him. He failed three drug tests in three years before receiving a lifetime ban from the NBA in June 1989.

He played only 72 games in the NBA, starting two. Washburn has career averages of 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds.

Washburn on the NBA: ‘They invested in a million-dollar crackhead’

Washburn’s drug problems went well beyond the NBA. In 2012, WCNC in Charlotte, North Carolina, reported that Washburn lived on the streets after his playing days. He was broke and found himself eating out of trash cans. He spent time in jail on drug charges.

At the 2022 F.R.E.S.H. Book Festival, captured Washburn telling his story of how it all began and how the Warriors invested in a “million-dollar crackhead.”

He admitted he was a follower during his college days. Washburn recalled having an early-morning class one day but was greeted by some students with a “substance” in their hands.

“Because they were athletes, I let them in,” Washburn recalled. “They had a substance — I had never seen it before —and they asked if I wanted to try it. My mom hit my head first, no. They asked me again. My dad hit my head second, no.


The 1986 NBA Draft Was Filled With Busts, Drugs, Death, and Second-Round Steals

“I went through the shower and came out. Now, peer pressure is on. The third time they asked, I was like, well, it might not hurt. Now, this is Chris talking. I tried it. To this day, I never went to that class again. What I tried was cocaine, at 19 years old.

“But because I had a good basketball year — just that one year — I was able to go into the draft. Not just into the draft but as a lottery pick, meaning the top seven players were guaranteed a million-dollar contract, no matter what.

“I was the third pick — should’ve been number one — and I was guaranteed millions of dollars. And I got that. But what the NBA didn’t know was they just invested in a million-dollar crackhead.”

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