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About Richard Gibbs

Dick Gibbs: A Compelling Story of Trauma and Triumph


Somewhere between taking his first line of cocaine and standing shaken with a .45-caliber handgun pushed into the side of his forehead, a bright and promising professional basketball career dissipated into the wayside. For five-year NBA veteran Dick Gibbs, a painful addiction drove him to 22 tumultuous years tangled in a web of crime, drugs, violence, poverty and hopelessness. Losing all sense of connection to his family, friends and teammates, Gibbs entered a dark world of self-loathing misery that had no glimmer of light…that is, until an earth shattering moment of clarity allowed him to find the inner strength to make a comeback. A comeback to say the least.


How It All Began

Growing up in Ames, IA, a young Gibbs faced hardship early on, as his father passed away and mother suffered from alcoholism. Barely getting by on welfare, Gibbs was constantly moved around, forced to acclimate to new environments often. Lacking stability, love and support, he hid his emotions on the basketball court, the one place he had something to be proud of.


“My identification in life was my relationship to sports. It was a cover-up for an insecure little boy,” said Gibbs. “I always felt less-than and had trouble processing my emotions. Basketball gave me something to feel good about, a validation that I was somebody.”


Gibbs joined his high school basketball team midway through his senior year, and while he was succeeding on the court, he was getting into trouble off of it.


“We’d get together on Friday nights and celebrate after games. That’s when I started with alcohol,” he said. “For most people, it was an experimental phase. For me, it was a solution to handling my problems. But, my desire to play basketball overshadowed my use of alcohol, and I was able to control it at the time because of my strength to succeed.”


Starting his college career at Burlington Community College alongside teammate “Downtown” Freddie Brown, it was not long before Gibbs was drinking, smoking cigarettes and walking a fine line of flunking out. He managed to clean up his act the next year, and, as a result, was recruited by more than 100 universities.


“I decided on University of Texas at El Paso because my former junior college coach became an assistant there. At UTEP I became a dedicated athlete, and I even married my junior year. My whole focus was getting to the NBA.”


Drafted in 1971 by the NBA, ABA and NFL, Gibbs was in high demand for his “hard-nosed defense and quickness.” But his aspirations led him to choose the NBA, where he started his rookie season as a member of the Houston Rockets.


“I felt overwhelmed. I can remember walking into Boston Garden and being in awe, it was so surreal. It’s how I approached my NBA career – I never quite got over the awe factor,” he said. “I had a real fear and insecurity of not succeeding. I always told myself, ‘This is my life, this is all I have.’”


Gibbs says his career turned erratic because he never adjusted his goals and skill level once making it to the league, which, consequently led to his getting traded every season. Heading to the Seattle Supersonics in 1973 under the leadership of Legend Bill Russell, Gibbs finally found solace in a place and team he could relate to.


“I couldn’t believe Bill Russell, my childhood idol, was going to be my coach. I think the only book I had ever read was the biography of his life story,” he said. “I had some success in Seattle…I built a connection to my teammates.”


As well as he seemed to be doing from the outside, Gibbs was drinking more than ever and began smoking marijuana on a frequent basis. Things only got worse upon learning he was traded to the Washington Bullets for Archie Clark.


“I was absolutely devastated. I almost quit and gave up basketball right then and there. I continued playing but I was frightened. I developed an attitude and put the chip on my shoulder…I destroyed myself with my own attitude.”


The hazardous combination of aggression, depression and pure fear of failure put Gibbs on a path to nowhere.


“That year I put in place the beginning of my career’s demise,” he said. “I was out in bars, meeting women, drinking and abusing drugs. I validated myself with women. It was part of my quest to feel good.”


Following the close of another season, Gibbs was yet again shipped out and sent to the Buffalo Braves, where one of his coaches, Tates Locke, recognized a serious problem.


“He told me that he thought I was burning my candle on both ends, but I know that was his way of telling me to stop drinking,” he said. “The pattern was so engrained I thought I could handle it.”


Displaying a self-destructive attitude, Gibbs made his final stop in Atlanta, where he quit drinking temporarily and loved playing for Hubie Brown. Despite his tremendous regard for his coaches and teammates, Gibbs’s addiction prevailed.


“All of my insecurities subconsciously needed to escape,” he said. “I was given cocaine, and one line of the drug turned into 22 years of freebasing, crack, guns, violence…At that point, I lost my life, my family, my career.”


Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

By this point, Gibbs’s NBA career was over. He moved to Southern California where he bought a small nightclub and created his own party scene for about three years. With two ex-wives and five children praying their loved one would recover, there was no light at the end of this tunnel.


“I was experiencing emotional insanity. The drug just seduced me and played on my insecurities,” he said. “It was a socially chic drug, a status symbol that gave me a false euphoria. My depression got deeper, and I had a complete disconnection from life and people.”


Despite his digression, Gibbs managed to hold down a variety of sales jobs and was often successful. However, he says he didn’t have the drive to put in the hard work a full-time job demanded, and eventually his commitment to a “normal job” phased out as well. It wasn’t long before word came that his oldest son was abducted and strangled in Gibbs’s own Orange County home, which he sold shortly following the crime.


Searching inside himself for an answer, Gibbs began seeking any and every imaginable way to overcome his addiction. He became a Born Again Christian and returned to UTEP, where one of his former coaches offered him an assistant coach position. He even completed his courses and earned his college degree.


“There was really a moment at UTEP that I thought to myself, ‘I can do this.” But I was still a frightened kid.”


It was just a year before Gibbs left UTEP and took a volunteer assistant coach position with Long Beach State. Spending a brief period free from drugs, he couldn’t stay away long enough.


“I couldn’t keep myself away from drugs long enough to connect with my life. I had developed an irrational fear of life,” he said. “The problem was that I never believed I was good enough for the NBA – or anything for that matter – and sure enough I created that and it manifested in me.”


Although he had a long line of support from friends, family and even old teammates, nobody could fill the void cocaine did for him.


“I slid back into my lifestyle, I had such a short fuse,” he said. “I can remember going immediately to a bar and doing cocaine again. I couldn’t connect on any level…I didn’t have a place to live, I hustled money for motel rooms.”


Ashamed to face his loved ones and NBA friends, he shunned himself from the world he once knew. This feeling of disgrace and embarrassment prompted Gibbs to seek a treatment program at Mesa Community College in Arizona – the first of 15 programs of the sort he would visit.


In and out of his first treatment program, not only was Gibbs not healed, but also he was penniless. He tapped into his NBA pension, and before he knew it, exhausted the entire nest egg.


“That’s when the really bad things started to happen,” he said. “I was in legal trouble on possession charges…I went wherever the drugs were. I was hanging out in the Long Beach ‘hood with gang bangers and drug dealers. I was robbed at gunpoint, and a crack house even called the police on me because of my threatening behavior.”


Finding himself broke and sleeping in the corner of a crack house and then a shack, Gibbs’s state of helplessness and desperation led him to what he refers to as the saddest day of his life.


“I called my son Justin, who at the time was 21 years old. I begged him to bring me money. He met me at the crack house, looked me in the eyes and said, “Dad, this isn’t you. I see a comeback.’”


Justin brought his troubled father to another treatment center, and yet again, while his intentions were there, Gibbs couldn’t sustain his recovery.


“It was a straight shot down from there,” he said. “I ripped off a Long Beach dealer, so there was a contract out on me. I knew I couldn’t pay up, so I disappeared.”


Gibbs recalls the moment he left the neighborhood like it was yesterday.


“It was November 17, 1998, and I was wandering in the rain. I walked down to where my kids lived. I was standing there in tears…my only possessions were the clothes off my back. I kept walking.”


Coming across a bridge, he ventured down below and found a potential spot to call home.


“I saw a young couple under the bridge, so I decided to join them. There were rats crawling all over me, but I was happy I had a spot…I considered that a lifestyle.”


Moment of Clarity

The fourth day living under that bridge, Gibbs had an epiphany, and this time, it was for real.


“I was sitting under the bridge eating cheeseburgers and drinking a Miller Genuine Draft,” he said. “For the first time I felt at peace. I looked out on the water, beer in hand, and I was watching the lights reflect off the water. I thought to myself, ‘I could live like this.’ That’s when I stepped back, as if I was stepping outside of myself. I couldn’t believe I thought this lifestyle was okay. And that was the moment – that moment of, “How did I get here?”


Tired of feeling ashamed and afraid for so many painful years, Gibbs woke up the next morning determined to make a permanent change. He called his son and begged him to pick him up from the bridge he had been calling home for the week.


“I had to beg and beg him to get me because nobody believed this was really it for me. I had said it so many times. But finally he gave in and drove me to Acton Rehabilitation Center, a facility that was essentially an alternative to jail. He wouldn’t speak one word to me in the car and as he was driving away, he yelled, “Old man, get your f****** s*** together.’”


While Gibbs was set on recovering, it was his aggression and attitude that began getting him into trouble. He was kicked out of Acton for beating up 10 gang bangers. Moving from program to program, he was eventually kicked out a total of eight times.


“I had had it. I turned myself into jail, where I spent 120 days for drug possession charges. When I was released, the wardens teasingly told me they’d see me soon…Not me.”


The Comeback

After a long uphill battle, Gibbs finally began taking positive steps in the right direction.


“I took the actions necessary to change my life,” he said. “I mended my relationships with my ex-wife and children, I began mending the relationship I had with myself and I even attended poetry workshops.”


Working with others who were going through recovery, Gibbs finally found a form of solace after fighting every way imaginable for 22 years. From rehabilitation books to tapes, seminars, detoxifications, therapists, sober living environments, etc., it wasn’t until this point that a permanent change was made.


“I knew I had the wisdom to help others with this problem because I certainly had the experiences.”


Gibbs went on to serve as an addiction counselor and live-in recovery coach at Promises Malibu, before he opened the doors to his own venture, known as The Next Relevant Step, an innovative and results-oriented residential treatment program.


“The Next Relevant Step grew so quickly, but I have kept the business small so that we can be more personalized,” he said. “Our programs are unique and highly effective, and our staff is a group of mentors and examples that I handpicked. It’s about a connection to purposeful living and balancing oneself.”


With a strong desire and vision to contribute to the quality of life of former NBA players, Gibbs has reunited himself with old teammates, as well as the NBRPA, in an effort to begin that process.


“My life is wonderful. I am absolutely blessed and probably the happiest guy I know. My friends are back, my family is back…not many people survived what I survived and came back.”


Taking back his role as Father, Gibbs is proud that he can be part of his children’s lives again, as he is finally able to support them in a variety of ways.


“I’ll tell you one thing…there is absolutely always hope. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. You have to really want it,” he said. “This is all just the beginning for me.”