Former CSU coach Kevin Mackey uses his road to sobriety to help others

Former CSU coach Kevin Mackey uses his road to sobriety to help others

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - There are hoop dreams and there are personal nightmares. Kevin Mackey lived both. Right here in Cleveland.

It was 32 years ago, Mackey was on top of the basketball world.

A rising star in the coaching ranks, as he led his Cleveland State University Vikings on a magical run to the Sweet 16 that included a stunning upset of Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers, a team that would win the National Title the following year.

"It was so special", Mackey, now a scout for the Indiana Pacers, told me before Game 3 in Indianapolis on Friday night.

"I think the players, and the way the city received us, and how everything changed after...the people believed, and everyone at Cleveland State believed."

There was reason to believe it was just the beginning for Mackey and the Vikings. He had plans to take a mid-major program and make it big-time.

Sound familiar?

"Now you have a team in the Big East right here in Indianapolis...Butler", Mackey said.

Mackey was going to do that for Cleveland State...

"My goal was, 'I'll stay and we'll build this', because they told me 'we'll build you an arena'."

But just as the new arena was going up in 1990, Mackey's life was crashing down. Drugs. Alcohol. His addictions leading to an arrest here in Cleveland.

Just days after signing a lucrative new deal at CSU, Mackey was out of basketball.

"I didn't have the friends. I was everybody's friend, and then suddenly I had no friends", said Mackey. "Once again, all my fault, but it changes quickly."

But things change for the better, too, and the forgiveness and grace that followed, that too had a Cleveland connection.

It was John Lucas who would bring Mackey down to his rehab center, long before Lucas would coach the Cavs.

It was former Cavs owner Ted Stepien who was the first to call and offer a job, coaching in the minors.

Mackey remained clean and sober, and worked his way up to the NBA, thanks to one more call, from a basketball legend that he'd never even met.

"One day the phone rang and the guy on the other end says 'Kevin, it's Larry Bird', Mackey said, referring to the former Celtics star who'd taken over the Pacers as President of Basketball Operations in 2003. "I couldn't believe it...he says you're the first guy I want to hire...I want you to go get me the players."

"He said I know your whole story", Mackey continued. "God bless Larry Bird. I've been here 15 years now, and it's been wonderful."

And throughout those years, Mackey has used his story to help others, although he admitted, he still carries the pain of falling off the path at Cleveland State.

"Absolutely...but players reach out to players, NBA players...we talk about it, because they say you keep your sobriety by giving it away."

It's a story that forever ties him to Cleveland. A story with some pain along the way, but a story with a happy ending.

"Everything that happened that was negative, 100 percent my fault. I love Cleveland and Cleveland State. The seven best years of my life were in Cleveland."

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