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Craig Ehlo turned around his life after one night of public embarrassment

Former Washington State basketball star Craig Ehlo walks with his dogs Champ, left, and Moose near his home in Spokane County on Wednesday.  Ehlo guarded Michael Jordan 30 years ago in the closing seconds of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ loss to the Chicago Bulls. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Washington State basketball star Craig Ehlo walks with his dogs Champ, left, and Moose near his home in Spokane County on Wednesday. Ehlo guarded Michael Jordan 30 years ago in the closing seconds of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ loss to the Chicago Bulls. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Fourteen years in professional basketball taught Craig Ehlo all about any day-to-day public humiliations that are the inevitable flip side of athletic glory.

It’s the lessons from life’s private humiliations that remain ongoing.

And he keeps count.

“This is my sixth year away from addiction,” Ehlo said. “Six years in August.”

That private torment came to public light on the night of Aug. 1, 2013, when Ehlo was arrested by Spokane sheriff’s deputies after firefighters responding to a call at his home found family members holding him down outside near a pile of burning clothes.

His family had confronted him over his continued use of hydrocodone that had escalated after a third back surgery in 2010 stemming from injuries accumulated over his NBA career. On the eve of a family trip, they confiscated pills he’d stockpiled.

“I was loopy and they were taking my stuff and I just said, ‘Screw y’all,’ and started burning my clothes,” he said.

His arrest and the court order to have no in-person contact with his wife, Jani, and his three children or return home was, he acknowledged, “embarrassing.” But his single night in jail was also transforming.

“It made me confront my addiction and start on repairing my life and relationships with my family,” Ehlo said.

He spent a month at Gosnold, a treatment center in Massachusetts. When he returned home, the court order remained in effect for two more weeks, so he lived with his mother-in-law.

“The support from my wife, my kids – all my family – was incredible,” he said. “They made what could have been hard easier.”

Still, it took time to build trust.

“When I couldn’t get pills from doctors, there was this girl I’d met who could get prescriptions and I’d take off,” Ehlo said. “So when I came back, I’d get in my truck to go someplace and they’d ask, ‘Where are you going? I’ll go with you.’ That was probably the first two years. They wanted to know where I was going and what I was doing, which is natural.”

He continues with Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and attends a regular Bible study. And in time, he accepted that he had a platform to talk to people dealing with the same issues “and maybe get an open door that might be closed to somebody else.” He did an interview for a New York Times story in 2015, and for a long profile in The Inlander the next year.

“My wife’s thinking at first was, ‘Can’t we just get rid of this and put it away?’ ” he said. “But she actually got three or four calls from some women she’s interacted with that had addiction problems and they told her, ‘What your husband said really helped.’ And that kind of changes your thinking.”

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