by Geoff Lepper
Todd Lichti sits. And waits. In his home near Denver, cooling off after another lonely workout, the former Stanford basketball star wonders if today will be the day that the phone will ring.
Released Wednesday by the Golden State Warriors after a 10-day tryout, he wonders if today will be the day he boards a plane, signs with his fourth professional team, and jumps back into the life of a National Basketball Association player.
Except the thought won't go away. He doesn't want to consider it, doesn't want to deal with it, but it's there, immutable. It preys on him, gnaws at him, eats away his confidence. In the back of his mind, he wonders if the call won't come today. He wonders if the call won't come any day.
So he sits. And waits.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. A four-year starter who averaged 18.8 points per game for Stanford and left as the school's leading all-time scorer (2,336 points), Lichti was supposed to be the Cardinal's best-ever pro. His slashing drives from the perimeter made him an offensive threat from anywhere on the court. His ballhandling skills were good enough that he could back up as a point guard, giving Lichti much-needed versatility.
But he pulled a free-fall through the 1989 draft, past the Timberwolves and Magic and Celtics--all three supposedly interested in his services--and dropped to Denver, which used the 15th pick to select Lichti.
Then, the injuries struck. His solid rookie year of 1989-90 was overshadowed by a tragic car accident the following offseason; his fiancee died, his left foot was crushed. The next three years were a blur of injury after injury, including, most seriously, a torn ligament in either knee.
"Yeah, you kind of get lost in the shuffle a little bit," Lichti explained. "Really, I had a pretty good first season, but obviously it's nothing I can rest on. I've just had a lot of injuries. I haven't really had a chance to play for a (long enough) period of time to where I could fit somewhere."
In the past year, Lichti was traded from Denver, released from Orlando and let go by Golden State. Though perpetually dilapidated Philadelphia and Washington reportedly were interested in his services, there will be a time when the phone call doesn't come. What then?
Lichti doesn't know. "At that point, I'd have to sit down and see, what, really, I want to do. I'm not sure I'd want to go and play in Europe. If nobody calls the rest of the season, I'd have to make a decision. I'm sure some teams will probably give me tryouts next year, but that's something I'd have to weigh if it came down to that. Hopefully, it won't."
Someday, he says, he'll use the quantitative economics degree he received at Stanford and go to work with that investment advisor in Denver. But not now.
"If it doesn't work out here, you just stay in shape, keep playing, and wait for the phone call," he said.
By this point, the lack of playing time and respect doesn't faze Lichti. "Right now, I'm just focusing on trying to play well each time I'm given the opportunity ... I'm just kind of bouncing around and hoping that I can help a team out with the skills that I have, and I think I can. It's just a matter of finding a place."
Meanwhile, Lichti struggles along with the clunky brace that holds together his left knee, which has had only eight months to recover from surgery to rebuild his anterior cruciate ligament. Most NBA players take 12 to 16 months to come back from such an injury.
"I didn't have the time or the marquee name," Lichti explained. "This is the last year (on his contract). I had to get out and play. So I came back a little earlier (than the doctors recommended)."
"He's just a great guy to have on the team," Warriors point guard Avery Johnson said prior to Wednesday's cut. "It's good to have a guy that really wants to be part of the team, wants to prove himself. You can never have too many quality guys on the team with all the different egos and all the salaries."
Unfortunately for Lichti, at least three NBA coaches have disagreed.
Lichti is dressing after the second of his five games as a Warrior. He played a total of 8.2 seconds. A reporter walks up and asks Lichti if he remembers Jan. 5th, 1989, the day Stanford upset then-No. 8 Arizona, 83-78, in a rocking Maples Pavilion.
In what probably ranks as his greatest individual game at any level, Lichti scored 27 second-half points that day, 35 overall, and led the Cardinal from a 17-point deficit to a stunning victory. The reporter explains that he cheered so loudly, neighbors twice called the police to register disturbing-the-peace complaints.
"That was a big game," Lichti says, smiling slightly. It is a wry smile, a mixture of fond memories and broken dreams.
Then he walks out, turns left, and strides quickly down the hall. The fans, waiting to see a star, step aside and allow Lichti to pass through untouched. He exits the Oakland Coliseum, one long day closer to professional extinction.
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