The NBA world is so warped, the values so skewed, that sometimes the simplest acts can seem extraordinary. That was the case when Lorenzen Wright offered to drive his friend and colleague around.
But it was that small measure of grace, far from the normal image of the self-centered professional athlete, that popped into Johnny Doyle's mind when he heard that Wright was found dead Wednesday. Doyle was the Clippers' strength and conditioning coach when Wright first played in the NBA near the end of the 1990s, and Doyle was the beneficiary of Wright's "good guy" persona you heard mentioned so often Wednesday.
When Doyle wrecked his car, it was Wright who spent a week driving him to practice or wherever else he needed to go. Wright had a Chevy Tahoe, which he was particularly fond of because its red paint matched the color of his college fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi.
After Wright left the Clippers to sign a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Hawks, he'd still drive Doyle around whenever the Clippers came to Atlanta. They'd go to Wright's house or out to dinner. Wherever they wound up Wright usually had family members with him.
"He loved his family," Doyle said. "He loved his dad and his brother. They came out [to Los Angeles] with him. I remember how much he loved his family. They were always around."
Wright would expand the family base by raising six children of his own. A seventh died at a young age. One might think that losing a child would have been enough sadness for a family that had already had to deal with the bullet that left Wright's father paralyzed. Now more bullets have reportedly ended Lorenzen's life at age 34.
An exceptional amount of misfortune for someone whom Doyle considered an exceptional man, one he formed a closer bond with than most of the players he worked with in his time spent with the Clippers from 1993-2005. They had recently reconnected on Facebook, and from his brief messages Wright still seemed to be the same happy-go-lucky person Doyle remembered.
And now more adversity has come to the group with which Doyle formed some of his fondest memories. An impossible-to-believe percentage of the saddest NBA-related stories of recent years have sprung from the roster of the 1996-97 Clippers.
Malik Sealy was 30 when he was killed by a drunken driver while returning from Kevin Garnett's birthday party in the early morning hours of May 20, 2000.
Kevin Duckworth died of a heart attack at age 44 on Aug. 25, 2008.
Rodney Rogers was paralyzed from the shoulders down in a Nov. 28, 2008, dirt-bike accident.
And now Wright is gone.
When Wright signed his big contract with the Hawks, which immediately doubled his annual salary, I remember people wondering whether he really deserved the money coming off a season in which he averaged 6.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Those who knew him -- whether they were longtime friends from his hometown of Memphis or people who had come into his life more recently, such as Doyle -- were happy for Wright, glad to see a good person rewarded. The money in the NBA, just as the standards by which Wright's good deeds seemed to stand out, is all relative. Does anyone really deserve multiple millions of dollars to play basketball?
Now the question is turned around, with a tragic twist involving a life ended by multiple gunshots, leaving us to wonder all over again: What could he possibly have done to deserve this?