It was a long stare on a blank wall, long before Billy Ray Bates was released from prison those walls was supposed to be covered by long steel bars and now it becomes a distant memory to him. It has been 12 years ago when he hit rock bottom when he robbed a Texaco station and slashing the ear of an attendant that sentenced him to seven years in jail.
Billy was the eight of nine children who belongs in a very poor family who grew up picking cottons, string beans and corn. His father died when he was still seven years old and saw his old man drunk bottles of liquors after a hard day’s work. He saw how happy his father looks while walking zigzag along the bushes. It made him curious and tasted his first malt liquor while he was still 10 although it gave him headache for days but he liked the taste and he felt happy. Basketball was his passage out of poverty and alcohol was always that childhood sweet memory of what it was like to be happy.
He was nicknamed “Dunk” because it was always his trademark and after the Portland Trail Blazers signed him to a 10 day contract in 1980 he was quickly the crowd favorite with his impressive dunks and never ending energy. He scored 40 points in only 32 minutes of play against San Diego and averages an impressive 28.3 points per game in the 1981 playoffs which until today stands as a franchise record. But along with fame and money comes with a prize. Billy who grew up in a shanty with no electricity and indoor plumbing was in a culture shock with all those money he got in playing basketball. He was drinking and using drugs and was out of control. Which eventually cost him his NBA job but instead of regrouping and starting a clean slate he went overseas and found a home in the Philippine Basketball Association the second oldest league in basketball and was a “Michael Jordan” like stature there. He was drinking before the ball game, in the ball game with his mini mug and after the ball game and yet scored 60 or more points. He was always out of control but no one dared to say anything to him because he was producing what coaches and teams wanted him to do. But when his step got a little slower and young forwards started to block his shots he was eventually replaced. Reality sinks in and alcohol was always that constant partner. That happy thought that makes any dull day go away until the 1998 incident happened and spend 7 years in jail.
Billy wrote all his experiences on an autobiography titled “Born to Play Basketball” written in a 714 pages of yellow paper back to back. After all these years Billy has been clean and sober and has been on a drug and alcohol program for a year. That long stare on a blank wall has now been peppered with smile on his face. Alcohol and drugs were never a medium to escape poverty and he had to undergo all the hardships to learn that… “You can choose to be happy or sad and whichever you choose that is what you get. No one is really responsible to make someone else happy, no matter what most people have been taught and accept as true.”
A Filipino scribe was asking him what is his message to his fans “Please don’t drink or do drugs.” as Billy quickly answered. It’s never too late for change but somehow everything should start on these three letter word Y-O-U.
“It is a big difference to finally be in control of my life.” Billy said it with a smile.