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Ailene Voisin: Musselman can't believe what has happened to him

By Ailene Voisin - Bee Sports Columnist

Last Updated 6:30 am PDT Monday, October 23, 2006
Story appeared in SPORTS section, Page C4

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In the waning hours of this most unsettling of weekends, it was Geoff Petrie who offered the final spin, placed the Kings' current events in context. Coach Eric Musselman's arrest on suspicion of drunken driving, the team's basketball president suggested Sunday, should serve as a reminder to all social drinkers -- and Petrie includes himself in the group -- that consuming too much alcohol before slipping behind the wheel of a car can lead to potentially fatal consequences.

One lapse of judgment, one wrong turn, one less life.

Watch the news. Read the obits. Remember.

The gruesome stats are inescapable.

Yet what makes this entire Musselman ordeal particularly compelling, in an ironic sort of way, is that the messenger -- the Kings' coach who messed up -- isn't who people think he is. He isn't a member of the group. He drinks so infrequently, in fact, that he can count the number of beers he consumes per month.

"Once every four weeks or so I'll go out with my assistants and have a few," Musselman revealed later in the day, "but alcohol has never been a big part of my life. I don't allow it in my house. My sons have never seen me take a sip of anything.

"When I was in college, when my roommates were drinking and partying, I never drank because I was concerned with basketball. When I was in high school, I never had a sip for fear of my dad (the late Bill Musselman). My family is in a state of shock. My sister can't believe it ... my mother is stunned. I made a mistake that I've got to live with for the rest of my life, and it has been very, very traumatic."

He was arrested, booked, released, humiliated.

He was forced to speak with his bosses, address his players, approach his sons.

"My 10-year-old (Michael) is really angry with me, really angry," Musselman said, his voice breaking. "He didn't want to talk to me for a long time yesterday. There is a gap between us now that, over time, I hope we can get past."

After reading a prepared statement in a news conference at Arco Arena while flanked by Petrie, Joe and Gavin Maloof and all of his players, Musselman provided additional details in an exclusive phone conversation with The Bee.

Speaking in a soft, somber tone throughout the 30-minute conversation, and losing his composure only briefly, he offered no excuses. He never attributed the incident to bad luck or lousy timing. He didn't rip the cops for failing to cut him a break, you know, because of who he is. He winced aloud but never whined.

Rather, he acknowledged his poor judgment and assumed responsibility for his behavior, reciting Friday's developments as if he were reading from one of his infamous lists: He woke up about 6 a.m. and lifted weights. He conducted practice and went back to the gym for another two hours. Then he bought a burrito at a fast-food joint, returned to the practice facility, showered and dressed, eager for his home debut against the Utah Jazz.

"I sat around with the coaches for a while afterward," Musselman continued, "and had a small plate of pasta before I left."

Then came the drinks, the wrong turn, the arrest, all the mortifying developments that led to the startling phone calls and the mental turmoil, including the instance when he imagined his late father's reaction. About that, there was no inner debate.

Bill Musselman was a beast of a competitor, as intense and tightly coiled as his son, and a man whose life could be portrayed only in black and white. There was his way and the wrong way, and alcohol was forever the forbidden fruit.

"When I started thinking back on that," Musselman continued, "I couldn't stop crying. Nothing close to this had ever happened to me. I got a few technicals when I was playing. I got ejected from a game once for sliding too hard into second base. But the more I thought and thought ... there was no way I was sleeping last night."

Besides, the phone continued to ring, with his mother, Chris Platt, calling several times and offering comfort rather than recriminations.

"It is so unlike Eric," Platt said via phone from her home near San Diego. "He is in a high-profile job, and you have to be so careful about everything. But what he says is really true.

"I can't imagine what his dad is thinking. They were both such health addicts. I was married to his father for 20 years, and even when he was coaching in the NBA, Bill wasn't one of those coaches who would drink after games. None of this makes sense. I'll have a glass of wine with dinner, and so will my husband, so it's not like Eric hasn't had the opportunity."

Pause.

"Well, what is that saying?" she added with a sigh. "We learn from adversity. Maybe this will make my son a better person, a better coach."

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