David Harrison was a gregarious giant selected by the Pacers in the 2004 Draft out of the University of Colorado. His time in Indianapolis was turbulent. He displayed rare potential as a very athletic big man with both the size to bang with the big boys inside and the grace to perform an array of post moves from the block on the other end of the floor. But he also struggled with marijuana use, eventually failing a random drug test in January, 2008, and receiving a five-game suspension that publicized his on-going troubles to fans and the League at large.
David joined the Pacers at an odd time in the franchise’s history and was not only involved in the Malice at the Palace early in his rookie year, but was also hanging out with Stephen Jackson the night of the infamous strip club trip that ended in Jackson being hit with a car and firing a gun. Harrison cites this negativity, as well as his own issues, as part of downward psychological spiral he was going through at the time.
Chris Dempsey breaks all this down in a must-read, fantastic article he wrote for the Denver Post, in which he got David to open up about his Indy days.
“I internalized a lot of it,” Harrison said. “It literally drove me crazy. I didn’t really have friends anymore. I stayed in my house, and I smoked pot. That’s what I did. I didn’t want to leave the house. I literally feared for my life sometimes there.
Another aspect of Harrison’s NBA downfall that Dempsey covers is an explosive on-court temper that prompted many Pacer fans to begin referring to David as “Hulk.” These outbursts were apparent back in Boulder as well, and one line from the article aptly sums up a sentiment that should be familiar to most who followed the Pacers during David’s tenure.
Emotion was his calling card, and it often got him in trouble.
Whether they led directly to actual fouls, drew a short leash from the refs or irked his coach, David’s demonstrative, on-court antics often overshadowed his refined post moves and athletic ability.
Today, however, he is just trying to focus on basketball — and getting a second chance in the Association. After leaving the Pacers, no NBA teams wanted him, so he headed over to play in China for a year. He admits that basketball was never his highest priority, but he relearned a love for the game in Beijing and just wants to play in the States again. This summer, he’s playing in the Las Vegas summer league for the Cavs.
Larry Bird has long been one of David’s biggest supporters and believes Harrison should be able to make it back into the league if he applies himself.
“Skill-wise, there’s no question David should be in this league,” Bird said. “It’s just the other little things that’s keeping him out … He’s got to prove to people that he’s going to put all of that other stuff aside and take this job seriously.”
As much as Bird has a soft side for David, David has an even greater admiration for Larry.
Harrison said letting down Bird is the biggest regret of his professional life. As he speaks, he tears up.
“To this day, if Larry told me to come back to the Pacers and play for free, I’d do it,” Harrison said. “I owe everything I have to Larry Bird. I wish there was some way I could repay him. I think the best way I can is to fix myself. I don’t think I’m a drug addict or an alcoholic or any of those things. I’m just very self-centered. I’m selfish.”
Good luck getting back, David.
And to add some levity to this, here’s a video of my favorite memory from Harrison’s tenure in Indiana: The Kinetico water commercial where he runs into a wall. Don’t play games with your water, people.