Charles Barkley looks back on premier talent of former Suns F Richard Dumas

Apr 28, 2020, 3:26 PM | Updated: 6:02 pm
Richard Dumas #21 of the Phoenix Suns circa 1993. (Photo by Michael B. Hirsch/Sporting News via Get...
Richard Dumas #21 of the Phoenix Suns circa 1993. (Photo by Michael B. Hirsch/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael B. Hirsch/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

With no sports going on and just about the closest thing to it being ESPN’s “The Last Dance” 10-part documentary series on the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls, basketball heads have been going back and watching old Jordan games.

Phoenix Suns fans, of course, will know that includes the 1993 NBA Finals, the franchise’s second and last appearance in the championship series.

Jordan averaged 41 points per game over those six games, a Finals record that still holds today and will for many more years to come.

Plenty stands out watching these games, and Jordan is obviously at the top of the list.

The Suns had no one that could at least moderately challenge Jordan defensively to make life at least a bit more difficult on him. Dan Majerle was too slow, Richard Dumas was too inexperienced and Kevin Johnson was too small.

Jordan and Phil Jackson knew that and eviscerated those individual matchups in different ways. From running Dumas through screens to posting up Johnson and taking Majerle off the dribble, they never stood a chance.

The same point can be presented for Charles Barkley, who despite not having a distinct size advantage in the post, was far too strong for Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen or any Bulls defender one-on-one in the post.

Most of you know this, and even as someone myself who was 2 years old at the time, I have seen enough replays and heard enough stories to know that too.

But the guy that continues to jump off the screen the more of these games you watch is Dumas, a then-rookie who won’t be all that familiar unless you followed the Suns at that time.

Dumas had drug problems plague what could and very likely would have been a very promising professional basketball career, one that only got the spotlight in that 1992-93 season.

He’s a fascinating, “What if?” to look back on, and Barkley spoke on that and Dumas on Tuesday.

“Man, that guy could jump over America West Arena,” Barkley said in a video conference call. “It would have been interesting to see if he could have kept clean, how great a player he could have become.”

At 6-foot-7, Dumas had the quickness, length and explosiveness more than a handful of modern wings have today. It’s a combination of traits that was exceedingly rare at the time and made someone like Scottie Pippen particularly gifted.

Dumas handled the ball well, had a knockdown mid-range jumper already and knew how to get to the bucket too, which added up to immediate success in the league. He averaged 15.8 points per game and shot a stellar 52.4% from the field, a perfect complementary offensive piece to the likes of Barkley, Johnson and Majerle.

In the series against Chicago, Dumas provided that scoring punch, specifically in a win-or-go-home Game 5 in Chicago. Dumas hit several shots off Barkley double-teams, scoring 25 points in a win.

Dumas was also clearly a rookie. Head coach Paul Westphal didn’t trust him to close games because of Dumas’ defense, as he time after time in these games recklessly gambled for steals and deflections. He didn’t have the angles down yet, either, where the aforementioned weaving of Jordan and Pippen through off-ball movement killed the Suns.

But of course he would look like that as a rookie in the NBA Finals against one of the best teams in the history of the sport. Despite his established prowess already, he clearly had so much more to learn and could grow into a terrific player.

That was the story watching Dumas back on Youtube videos of tapes from the 90s. So, for someone completely unfamiliar with the full story on Dumas, that brought on a, “What happened to this guy?” type of Google search given his obvious talent.

The context that’s missing is his drug problems, something Barkley can speak from personal experience on of watching it ruin someone’s life.

“I think Richard is a really good kid and obviously I’m very sensitive to the drug situation because I had a younger brother who died from drugs,” Barkley said. “When a person’s involved with drugs, there’s really nothing you can do unless they make the change.

“My brother died, I think at 40, and man it was tough on my mom. He started having trouble when I was playing for the 76ers. I put him in a lot of rehabs and he actually got his life together but he had done a lot of stuff to his body to die at a really young age.”

The troubles in relation to basketball started for Dumas before he even got to the NBA. He was suspended as a sophomore at Oklahoma State and was kicked off the team after two seasons in 1990.

He went on to play professionally in Israel, and then some advice from a former coach landed him his chance with Phoenix, per The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro.

Having revived from a 1980s drug scandal, the Suns took the advice of Cotton Fitzsimmons’ friend, Oklahoma State coach Leonard Hamilton, that Dumas was a good person who made bad choices. Phoenix drafted him 46th in 1991.

Dumas failed a drug test before even playing for the Suns and was suspended his entire first season, not even being able to return until December of 1992. Jerry Colangelo had to be convinced to let a Dumas now clean out of rehab back with the team, per The Phoenix New Times.

That was the year Dumas thrived and made Second Team All-Rookie. He was a key fixture on the Suns’ 62-win team, arguably the best in franchise history. But the highest point his career would reach was that 25 points in the NBA Finals.

That offseason in 1993, Dumas was suspended again, this time for violating his after-care program, according to the Associated Press.

“That was a really difficult thing for the team,” Barkley said, who also provided some light on watching someone first-hand try and persevere through the issues Dumas had.

“When you get involved with drugs, I tell people it’s like watching that movie ‘The Perfect Storm,'” he said. “I’m a big George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg fan, and every time I watch that movie I’m like, ‘You guys are gonna make it this time!’ and they never make it. They drown every time, and that’s just the way it is with drugs.”

Dumas didn’t return until March of 1995 when the NBA reinstated him. Colangelo wanted Dumas to apologize to fans, teammates, coaches, ownership and the media, and got that.

“The Suns did everything they could do to help Richard,” Barkley said.

Dumas played 15 games that season, failed another drug test and was waived.

Dumas lasted 39 more total games in the NBA, that next season with the Philadelphia 76ers, his last stop in the league. That was a mutual understanding for Dumas between him and the game, per Coro.

“I lost interest,” Dumas said. “I got bored with basketball.”

It’s a sad story not only for Dumas, but basketball fans and the Suns, in particular. Even with Dumas’ troubles, the Suns managed 56 wins the year Dumas was suspended and 59 for his brief return in the 1994-95 season. Even with Cedric Ceballos and A.C. Green filling the void Dumas left, Phoenix was certainly looking at a future All-Star and a long-term piece of its core through the 90s on a cheap five-year deal.

Alas, Dumas remains one of the league’s top examples for a promising career gone wrong.

“That kid had so much talent,” Barkley said. “I think he was a really nice kid too but when you get involved with those drugs, it’s gonna end badly.”

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Charles Barkley looks back on premier talent of former Suns F Richard Dumas