The Wright Moves

Page 6 of 7

The Wrights' place was always called "the Kool-Aid house," because kids practically busted through the walls.

It's where the family has lived since Wright was 5 years old, and his friends, along with friends of his younger brother, Delon, and younger sister, Denae, made it their hangout base. They wanted to be around Wright, his basketball hoop, and his family. Stacy and Ray Wright had been happily married and working the same jobs for 20 years — he as a carpenter and she as a clerk typist for the LAPD. They knew how to throw a party.

On the night of the 2004 NBA draft, the block was lined with the cars of about 100 friends and family. Wright, then 18 years old, had requested this party just three days before. "I want all my friends over," Stacy Wright remembers being told. "Make potato salad. Order chicken." Stacy Wright even got her hair blown out for the occasion.

The house began to fill up at 1 o'clock, and the tension was palpable. If Wright didn't get chosen till the second round, he'd wind up with just a one-year contract, millions less than he'd get in the first round. For this reason, college is widely considered a better option than becoming a second-round draft pick.

But if you can be picked in the NBA draft — even in the second round — it's a considerable gamble to enroll at a university. Players sometimes get injured in college or fall miles short of their potential.

Besides, players like Wright had made it this far by being aggressive, by proving they're ready before everybody else thinks they are. Players like him don't let opportunities slip by.

Stacy Wright remembers how Dorell jumped from room to room and seat to seat, chatting and taking phone calls from former coaches and friends who couldn't be there. After what seemed like hours of watching other high school stars like Dwight Howard and Shaun Livingston get drafted, pick 19 arrived for the Miami Heat. Dorell Wright's name was called, and the Kool-Aid house erupted.

Derrick Clark hit the ceiling with everybody else. His friend Dorell had made the NBA — it seemed surreal.

In February 2005, after Wright had set himself up in Miami, Wright invited Clark and Harden down for a visit. They went to three games, which by sheer coincidence were the first games for which Wright was in uniform. They watched his career debut against the Chicago Bulls. Clark and Harden seemed to have brought good luck, and when Harden left, Clark stayed a little longer. Then a little longer.

Junior college couldn't compete with this lifestyle. Clark put school aside to live with Wright, helping his friend with the everyday chores of adulthood. With his spare time, Clark worked on starting a nonprofit AAU team. Asked why he did so, Clark's answer is practically a knee jerk.

"Because he asked me to."

Like a clown fish and a sea anemone, or an Egyptian plover and a crocodile, there is an elegant symbiosis to Clark and Wright's relationship. Clark gets to piggyback on Wright's NBA career. Wright gets the care and support he needs at home. And, God knows, he's needed it.

Sitting on the bench was hard enough. Going from high school hero to NBA nobody was devastating. In his rookie season, when the game NBA Live came out on Playstation II, the "Wright" player was difficult to maneuver and didn't have any skills. All of Wright's friends took notice, and some got mad.

"I wasn't going to enjoy the game knowing they have my friend not up to his potential," Green says. When he asked Wright what he thought of the game, his answer was simple. "Hey, man, I don't like that game."

"I don't either," Green said, and he returned it.

Wright's mom spent hours with him on the phone and flew from California to comfort him as often as possible. Heat veteran guard Eddie Jones even told the Palm Beach Post he heard Wright say, "I should have just went to college." The bench was that tough.

When Wright would come home after having not played, Clark, the ever-attentive roommate, could recognize immediately, from a look in his eye, that he needed a boost.

"I don't let him get down," Clark says. "If I ever see him down, I try to cheer him up or I ask him if he want to go do something... When he gets mad, I was like, 'Yo, let's get tattoos.' That always cheered him up."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ashley Harrell
Contact: Ashley Harrell