Vin Baker Suffers Relapse

January 8, 2004


News of the fine and three-game suspension imposed on Vin Baker for "noncompliance" with his aftercare program trickled down to his teammates Tuesday night. Some players such as Mark Blount and Paul Pierce received calls from Jim O'Brien. Mike James saw the announcement flash across the screen as he watched basketball on ESPN.

While everyone noticed a precipitous decline in Baker's play the past month, the players maintained they were surprised by the suspension, which confirmed a relapse in the power forward's struggle with alcoholism. Blount, who regularly matched up with Baker in practice, thought Baker might be suffering from an injury. Others wondered if fatigue following a bout with the flu in mid-December might be to blame. But O'Brien suspected something serious involving a relapse and tried to address the issue with Baker a little less than a month ago.

   "This was not necessarily a complete shock to me," said O'Brien. "I saw a deterioration in his play, what I would consider a significant deterioration in his play since the beginning of the year. I was not sure of what the problem was. I knew that he was not the player that he was a month ago."

O'Brien called a team meeting before shootaround yesterday morning and addressed the issue with his players. Still, the Celtics voiced shock and surprise at the unfortunate turn of events, while publicly pledging their support.

When asked if he sensed the alcoholism was behind Baker's poor play, Pierce said, "I didn't really think of it like that. He hasn't played like I know Vin can play. Coach has been lessening his minutes, but we didn't have an idea of what was really going on. Vin is a normal guy. He's pretty quiet, low-key. He doesn't get out too much. So, I definitely didn't notice anything different. But, obviously, you don't know what goes on behind closed doors when you leave the basketball arena or the practice facility. I don't think it's going to be a distraction. We can't let this set us back. We can't let this affect us on the court. We still have a job to go out there and do. We just have to be supportive of Vin and carry on with what we're trying to do as a basketball team."

Given that Baker played an increasingly limited role over the last month, O'Brien did not need to make any major changes with his rotations. He fielded essentially the same lineup against Orlando last night as he did against Detroit Monday night, when Baker played seven minutes in the first half. The coach noted that, "to a large extent, it would seem like we are somewhat prepared for it."

O'Brien expects Baker to miss just three games and be back for the Milwaukee game Tuesday.

"I will insist upon my gut depending on him again [when he returns], absolutely," said O'Brien. "That's what you have to do. You have to believe, if you're in a situation like this, that this will be the time that he will get things on the straight and narrow and be able to once and for all overcome this challenge of his."

Added Pierce: "Vin was probably our only real, major inside presence that we had. When he's going well and he's doing good, he's definitely a threat on the inside. He's shooting over 50 percent, double figures a game, when he's at his best. So, in that aspect, he'll be missed. We're going to have to make up for it in other ways."

While O'Brien has tried unsuccessfully to contact Baker since the suspension was announced, Pierce has decided to wait before calling his teammate. Right now, Pierce figures Baker might need some space and time to get his life in order.

"It would be very good [to see him come back against the Bucks], but understand that I just hope that he doesn't use basketball as a motivating tool to get back," said Pierce. "I don't really know, but I think to get back, you have to have yourself right as a person. But it would be great for us to get him back after this suspension, just knowing it was a minor bump in the road."

Added O'Brien: "I think we all had, within the organization, a cram course [in dealing with alcoholism]. We certainly did our research. We certainly tried to understand the challenges that would be faced by Vin. We will continue to do that because you have a member of your franchise that needs us to understand the challenges that he's going through and continue to grow in our understanding of that challenge.

"I spent a lot of time last year talking to Vin about the challenges. It was fresh on his mind and he knew the statistics about potential relapse. To the extent that we can be on top of it, we are."

But given the very public nature of Baker's profession, those challenges are magnified.

"We try to be a tight-knit team," said James. "We try to keep it like family-oriented. So, when something goes wrong, it's like one of my brothers. It's like something happening to my brother. The bottom line is this right here: It hurts and everyone has problems in life. It just so happens that his has been exposed in public. We all have demons that we have to fight. I want to let him know that whatever happened, I hope he keeps his faith in God. He can fight this and keep his head up and know his teammates are here for him."


FLCeltsFan said...

It was good to see that Vin was offering to help Robert Upshaw. That means that he may finally have gotten the best of his demons.

Lex said...

We can hope.


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