Lowest Point: Ex-NBA Forward `Hawkeye' Whitney Awaits Possible Sentence of Life in Prison

Article excerpt

"Someday they're going to take the ball away from you and you better have something to fall back on."

- DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten

When NBA coach Cotton Fitzsimmons saw the story in a newspaper about a player he once coached, he brought it to the locker room and read it to members of his Phoenix Suns. He wanted the fate of Charles "Hawkeye" Whitney to be a lesson.

"I told my young players he had the same opportunity they have," says Fitzsimmons, who coached Whitney when they were both with the Kansas City Kings. "A chance to get out of the ghetto, a chance to do it all - a chance to get a degree in college, a chance to play pro basketball. Unfortunately, for him, it didn't happen. He messed it up. That's what can happen to you."

Whitney, a star at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, had gone on to become a two-time All-American at North Carolina State University and the Kings' first-round draft choice in 1980.

But now, at age 38, the 6-foot-5 former NBA forward is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in D.C. today to be sentenced for armed kidnapping after pleading guilty to the charge in April. He faces a maximum life term in prison and $250,000 in fines.

The sentencing stems from the night of Jan. 26, when Whitney and an accomplice abducted White House lawyer Mark D. Fabiani at gunpoint as he was walking from the King Street Metro stop in Alexandria. Fabiani was returning to his home after representing first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at a grand jury investigation being conducted on Whitewater earlier that day.

Whitney and his accomplice drove Fabiani into the District and forced him to withdraw $1,600 from two automatic teller machines before releasing him unharmed.

Soon after his arrest and the initial news stories, it was reported that Whitney had fallen into the gutter after a knee injury midway through his first season with the Kings ended his pro basketball career and that for years he had abused drugs.

The impression given was that with his career in ruins, Whitney had taken up drugs for consolation, that he was yet one more professional athlete destroyed by them.

In fact, Whitney's life tells a different, more complex story. His drug abuse actually began well before his injury with the Kings. And addiction alone did not bring him down. Drugs and alcohol were only the most visible of his problems.

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Whitney "had no foundation," says his first wife, Carolyn. "Hawk never knew who he was. He didn't even know how to know who he was. If you don't have a parent to teach you, someone to guide you, you can't learn it."

Few people contacted for this story had anything but kind words and concern for Whitney. Such regard has won Whitney more than his share of breaks.

An engaging kid from "the projects," Whitney received tremendous help from coaches and others, and in his years of struggle as an adult, friends have stepped in with money and once made possible a fresh start. Whitney had done his part, enrolling in one rehabilitation program after another, trying to overcome his addiction. But the demons that drive him have defeated every effort.

In the 15 years since his injury, Whitney's life has been full of contradictions.

When he was 23, he went to court so that he and Carolyn could take in as foster children a 16-year-old boy and his 14-year-old sister after their parents died. But Whitney later abandoned his family to live on the streets. He has had little contact with the two children or his own two sons over the years. Carolyn has since remarried.

Yet Whitney's radiant personality had made him a magnet for young people, a Pied Piper of sorts. He has coached kids and often spoken publicly to them about the dangers of following the road he took. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes enlisted him at one point as a speaker. …