At age 21 in 1976, John Drew became the NBA’s youngest-ever All-Star to that point.
Less than a decade later, he became the first player banned from the league under its drug policy.
Drew – whose meteoric rise and gradual fall through the NBA both left indelible imprints – died at age 67.
Drew died Sunday after a battle with bone cancer.
His passing was confirmed by Drew’s second-oldest son, Keith.
Drew was in Houston, where he lived with his wife, driving a taxi for a living,
A second-round pick by the Hawks out of Gardner-Webb in 1974, Drew scored 32 points in his NBA debut (still tied for the third-highest-scoring debut in league history). Afterward, he said to be sure to spell his name right on his Hall of Fame plaque. By his second season, he was an All-Star. “It is true that nobody has ever seen a player like John Drew before,” Drew said.
Then, Drew began using cocaine in his fourth season.
Drew remained a standout scorer. He was again an All-Star in his sixth season. But he also had multiple stints in detoxification programs.
Believing his problems stemmed from being in Atlanta, Drew requested a trade. The Hawks sent him to the Jazz for No. 3 pick Dominique Wilkins in 1982.
Drew continued to play well and abuse cocaine in Utah. He went to rehab multiple times. But as his production slipped and drug use continued, the Jazz waived him in 1984.
In 1986, the NBA banned Drew after deciding his three-month stay in a Utah hospital constituted a third strike of the league’s drug policy. Years ahead of his time, Drew said: ”I was the one who came forward and said I needed help. The policy is wrong because it will keep guys from coming forward and admitting they still have a problem.”
Partially because he was such a talented scorer and partially because he fell from the league before playing out his post-prime years, Drew is one of only 50 retired players who averaged more than 20 points per game for his career. Just eight of those 50 aren’t in or definitely headed into the Hall of Fame: Alex Groza, Geoff Petrie, John Williamson, World B. Free, Marques Johnson, Glenn Robinson, Gilbert Arenas and Drew.