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January 14, 2008
Harrison's suspension takes team by surprise
NBA collective bargaining agreement keeps early violations of drug policy private
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Indiana Pacers did not know center David Harrison failed two previous drug tests until they learned he was suspended five games for violating the league's drug program last Friday while they were preparing for practice in Phoenix.
As part of the collective bargaining agreement, teams are not notified about a failed drug test until a player is suspended.
"What it means is that we're not in the position to know that part of a player because we're not involved in it," Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh said. "So it's all guesswork on the part of the franchise if a player has an issue with alcohol or drugs or something like that until you get to the third level."
Team officials, in particular Walsh and president Larry Bird, plan to encourage Harrison to seek all the necessary help needed to get over the latest obstacle in what has been a disappointing career for the fourth-year center.
Harrison said in a phone interview last weekend that he knows he needs to grow up because, if not, his chances of remaining in the NBA could be running out.
Harrison is in the final year of his contract, meaning there's no guarantee he'll be in the NBA next season.
While waiting for his flight back to Indianapolis from Phoenix, Harrison looked up at the television and saw on the bottom of the screen, "Pacers center David Harrison suspended five games for violating NBA's Anti-Drug program."
"I didn't like seeing that," Harrison said. "I want to apologize to Larry (Bird), Donnie Walsh, my teammates and the fans for letting them down."
The Pacers have to keep Harrison on the active roster, meaning they'll only have 11 players available each game.
"Unfortunately, not only does the NBA disciplinary action keep David from playing, it keeps one more player from playing," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "I think they have to re-evaluate that rule. I don't see how that benefits anyone to give a team only 11 active roster spots."
Harrison, who can still practice with the team, has served two games of his suspension. He's eligible to return Jan. 23 at Chicago against the Bulls.
Feeling for his old city
Golden State forward Al Harrington was a member of the Pacers when they regularly went to the playoffs. He was traded three months before the Pacers missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years last season.
Harrington, who still owns a house in the Indianapolis area, said he feels for how far the Pacers have fallen in status in the league.
"I feel for the whole city because that's a city with a great basketball tradition," said Harrington, who had two stints with the Pacers. "They've been good for so long and now it's a little rough. They still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs in the East. Hopefully they can turn it around because Donnie and Larry always put a product out there that they were proud of."
Call Star reporter Mike Wells at (317) 444-6053.