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Giving Derrick Coleman His Due

Detroit basketball icon and former NBA All-Star Derrick Coleman stirred up a buzz in recent days with news that he filed for bankruptcy and owes creditors nearly $5 million.

The ex-Syracuse University standout and 1991 NBA Rookie of the Year earned tens of millions during a 15-year playing career but listed assets of just $1 million in papers filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Detroit, Coleman's hometown.

Naturally, this has sparked the usual condemnations, both veiled and open, from assorted corners about athletes and entertainers who squander their millions on lives of excess and profligacy. Coleman has been compared to the likes of former NBA stars Latrell Sprewell and Antoine Walker, the latter of whom is reportedly so cash-strapped that he can't pay his casino debts.

Normally, when I hear these stories, I'm reminded of the Gordon Gekko quote from the movie Wall Street: "A fool and his money are lucky to get together in the first place."

But in this case, I think D.C. deserves at least a little better.

While I'm sure he too probably looks back with regret on some bad, needless and conspicuous purchases—Coleman has still managed to hang on to furs and a Bentley—I think people need to lighten up on the self-righteous player-hating, especially considering other outlays that appear to have significantly added to his financial straits.

Coleman's desire to invest in the Detroit area after his playing career ended contributed to his financial problems, Coleman's bankruptcy attorney Mark B. Berke said Friday.

Among Coleman's ventures is a struggling Detroit development called Coleman's Corner, an attempt to revive one of the city's most downtrodden neighborhoods. Coleman defaulted on loans related to the mall last year.

“Mr. Coleman was focused on investing in various communities throughout the city of Detroit by developing real estate, creating jobs and revitalizing business opportunities,” Berke said. “Due to the state of the economy, including the decline in the real estate market, Mr. Coleman's investments could not be sustained.”

All around the country, and in the black community especially, we're constantly criticizing athletes for not "giving back" enough to the cities and neighborhoods where they come from. While I don't think D.C. or anyone else owes us any explanation for how he spends his money—hey, I'm not the one who spent 15 years banging in the paint with the likes of Barkley and Oakley—I do think that when a man sincerely extends himself and his money to invest in his community, his people, he should be credited for that. Even if the investments don't pan out.

And it's well-known among Detroiters that Derrick Coleman never turned his back on his hometown. He bought land, helped refurbish buildings and continued to be a presence in his old 'hood and throughout this city even at the height of his stardom. He started businesses. He joined with other prominent Detroiters in efforts to put folks to work. He took care of his family and a large swath of his old North End neighborhood, too.

Yeah, he was as brash as he was talented and earned serious criticism for stupid stuff like catching DUIs and allegedly pissing in a potted plant outside a swank restaurant. (He continues to deny the latter charge, although he pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge related to the incident.) And yes, given reports that he earned more than $87 million during his career, he surely squandered a ton of cash that could've been put to better use. Aaaand yes, as a basketball fan who roots for his hometown successes, I was disappointed that the power forward didn't fulfill the amazing promise he showed at Detroit Northern High School and Syracuse University.

But his playing career ended four years ago, and frankly, D.C.'s on-court disappointments are more of a New Jersey Nets/Philadelphia 76ers fan's gripe than mine. (He was on the downside of his game by the time the Pistons got him.) As a Detroiter, I give Coleman props for doing more for this town than many other local pro athletes combined. I'm sure he didn't go broke solely because of bad-but-well-intentioned investments, but to me, that still doesn't diminish his very real attempts to contribute.

We're always going on about how we want more people to sink money into this city, to invest in businesses in Detroit, to "give something back." Derrick Coleman tried.

So forgive me if I'm not inclined to ridicule the man because he failed.

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