David Harrison once seemed like he might end up being a promising player in the NBA. After being involved in the Malice at the Palace, the infamous Club Rio shooting and an eventual drug suspension, the big man is now nearing 30 and hoping for another chance while plying his trade at the NBA Summer League.
LAS VEGAS -- David Harrison is playing for the Dallas Mavericks' Summer League team in Vegas and, while he was far from a superstar during his four-year NBA career, it seems many of those in attendance remember quite vividly the career he had with the Indiana Pacers.
Unfortunately, the majority remembers him for all of the wrong reasons.
The 7-foot center out of Colorado, who turns 30 in August, looks like an NBA player due to his blend of skills, size and considerable talents in the low post. That's a combination very few players possess outside of the NBA, but one that Harrison currently finds himself in, while averaging a rather pedestrian 16 minutes, six points (6-of-8 from the field), five fouls and three rebounds through his current team's first two games in Vegas.
Nevertheless, and despite numerous setbacks, the big man is hoping this most recent comeback works out after biding his time in China and the D-League ever since his NBA departure.
"I have to take a different route back because my way out of the NBA was a little more dramatic than most," Harrison told SBNation.com on Monday. "For me, it's just consistency according to Coach [Rick] Carlisle. I'm coming in, doing my work and showing that I still have the ability to play at this level. Now I'm just hoping there's a team out there that will forgive and forget."
The forgiving portion of that request is probably possible, but figuring out how to forget about the reasons for which Harrison's currently out of the NBA is going to be the hard part.
"I was present for the brawl [better known as the Malice at the Palace], the shootings, suspended for drugs and eventually kicked out of the league," Harrison says. "Man, I've been through everything and luckily I'm still here and just am being given another opportunity."
He's right about that, too, as very few players who averaged five points per outing over the course of 189 career games are given a second chance four years later. It's even rarer considering the past transgressions -- that seem to be part 'wrong place, wrong time' and part 'bad decisions' -- and the fact the he decided to speak quite freely about his problem with marijuana usage at the time of his five-game drug suspension.
"I went to a really liberal school with a lot of ideals and I guess I just had a belief ... and it was wrong," Harrison said. "A lot of things I acted like a child about. I kept saying 'they, they, they' instead of looking internally. Now it's like I look back on my life where I could be and I'm not remorseful or regretful. I'm just ready to move forward and I guess I just wish it was that easy."
"It's not," Harrison warns. "People don't trust you, people are going to always think negative things about you so you just have to try to stay positive and move on with your life. Now that I look back on it -- as I read about my life on the Internet, as I see people shocked to see me alive and other things like that -- it's like nobody ever really knew me."
In fact, it seems that very few people have really gotten to know Harrison, but those that have find him to be an affable, interesting, well-spoken dude who just happens to play basketball. Current Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle sees that in him, too, and apparently values his basketball talent more than the off-court incidents.
"When I was there with Coach Carlisle, every day he would teach me how to play the game," Harrison said. "He taught me how to watch film. I love the game of basketball, but after he left, coach [Jim] O'Brien and I really didn't get along.
"Rick Carlisle, though, he's been one of the best people for me. Even when I wasn't playing for him a couple of seasons ago, he pulled me aside and after a game and gave me up a pep talk so I know he's always wanted me to do well," Harrison said. "I really wish I could have stayed with him longer because I know my career would have developed better. My development's on me, though, so that's nobody else's fault."
Speaking of development, Harrison ended up playing for the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League to end this past season, where he'd meet up with another coach -- longtime NBA big man Paul Mokeski. That has helped him out as he attempts to reform his image.
"Everybody knows I'm such an extrovert and I can speak so well, but I'm really sheltered. ... I don't like being out there, but I like being around people I know," Harrison said. "In the D-League, it was a bunch of players I knew and Coach Mokeski. He's been in trouble and he's mentored me for awhile about how to keep my head up and keep moving forward and just stay away from the negative, so it was nice to play there. I met people I needed to meet there and if I have to go back, I'll go back."
The NBA is obviously the goal for the former Indiana Pacers big man, however, and he's taking a realistic approach of getting there.
"I'm sick of everybody asking me what team I play for because I don't have an answer. Hopefully one day the timing will work out, a spot will open up and I'll be able to play in the league again ... but I don't want to future trip," Harrison said. "I got a game on Wednesday and there I just gotta keep a focus on keeping my demeanor and trying to be a leader and helping us win games. I've been around too long to get in trouble by looking too far ahead."
It's interesting that Harrison noted that he needs to keep his demeanor and be a leader because, according to multiple people evaluating the talent out in Vegas, those are his two biggest issues. And, luckily for him, they're issues he's aware of and trying to fix -- especially the on-court demeanor, as Mavericks blogger Rob Mahoney pointed that it's a huge problem during his recap of Monday's game.
David Harrison certainly has the potential to be a nice player, but is distractingly emotive to both himself and observers. He reacts demonstratively to virtually every call that goes against him or the team, occasionally to the point where his teammates are forced to counsel him on-court. That's not necessarily a problem beyond remedy, but it's a turnoff in a competitive business with so many comparable talents.
Harrison responds to that criticism with an honest, self-aware approach that seems pretty understandable when looking at it from an outsider's perspective.
"I've never ever had a good time playing basketball when it comes to being between me and the officials," Harrison said. "I'm the biggest person out there so even when I get hit in the face or get tripped and it's not a foul, but when a guy falls down, it's a foul on me. It always feels like I'm being picked on, but I know I can't take that approach."
"There's sometimes, you know, when it's just like 'what are you calling!?'" Harrison continued. "But I have to remember that I'm not in the position to do that and if I'm in there for two or three minutes and get a technical? That's terrible. So I just shut my mouth and maybe it comes out in my facial expressions, but it's something I've gotta do."
The other portion he's working on is becoming a leader because, now that he's nearly 30 and with plenty of life experience, he has a lot to offer younger players who likely won't face anything close to the sort of issues Harrison has thus far in his basketball career.
"It's weird because everybody remembers me for some reason," Harrison said. "They also ask me and I say 'y'all can do what you want, but this is what's going to happen.'"
"While I was out in Reno I was playing with friends because I knew Andre Emmett, Antoine Wright and Josh Selby," Harrison said before going into his scouting report on the Memphis Grizzlies' young guard.
"That little boy is really good and I hope he gets a chance to show it one day," Harrison said. "He's like a one and a two. He's very talented and very intelligent. People go at him about some of his past issues and he takes it like a man. Where I personally would've tried to fight someone, he acts like a grown-up ... and I'm pretty proud of him for that."
Harrison probably wishes he could've acted like that during his NBA exit, but at least he seems to have learned from that mistake.
"It's all about the way I handled it," Harrison realizes. "I attacked. I didn't take any blame. I didn't act like an adult. It was just a bunch of things and I didn't have enough guidance to get me out of it. Every day -- every day -- since then I've just been fighting an uphill battle that I can't give up."
Whether or not Harrison makes it back to the promised land remains to be seen, but there's no doubt he's in a better place mentally now than he was the last time he found himself on an NBA roster.