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Rider showed signs of improvement under Jackson, but the NBA suspended him for five games just a month before the playoffs for refusing to take a marijuana test. Jackson left him off the playoff roster and the Lakers went on to win the NBA title without him, the second of the team's three consecutive NBA titles.
Rider joined the Denver Nuggets at the beginning of the 2001-2002 season, but he was released after ten games. It was the last time an NBA team would take a chance on him.
Rider's life spiraled out of control after his forced retirement. In 2005, his mother was put on life support after falling into a coma due to an enlarged heart. His drug use increased and his rap-sheet grew exponentially. In 2006 alone, he picked up charges for possession of stolen property, evading a police officer with disregard for safety, disobeying a court order, possessing a narcotic-controlled substance, and obstructing a police officer.
In the summer of 2006, Tim Canalin bumped into his childhood friend at the Alameda Art and Wine Festival. Rider was walking hand-in-hand with a three-year-old boy; he had a son, Isaiah Rider III. Canalin approached his old friend: "Where have you been?"
For hours they walked up and down Park Street, talking, laughing, sharing memories. It had been years, but nothing seemed to have changed.
They ducked into a Mexican restaurant for a drink, but soon several Alameda police officers stormed the building. They handcuffed Rider and stuffed him into a cruiser while a few women on the street screamed and yelled at him. Little Isaiah was left behind with Canalin.
An hour or so later, Canalin received a phone call; Rider had been released: "Thank you for being there," he said to Canalin.
In November 2006, Rider was sentenced to serve nine months in the Marin County jail for kidnapping an ex-girlfriend. In court, Rider told the judge he wanted to get his life together. "I just want to get out and give my mom a funeral," he said.
But the day he was released, a childhood friend drove him to Las Vegas. When they arrived, Rider asked to borrow $50, and then jumped into a car with some people his friend said he probably shouldn't have been hanging around with.
On November 30, 2007, Rider was arrested with six outstanding warrants for violating conditions of his probation. A statement by the probation officer summed up the concerns of Michelle Rider, his sister. "She is very concerned regarding his safety, as he is using drugs and appears delusional .... He has coped with this incident and his mother's two-year coma by using drugs .... [H]e is in need of treatment and if he is released, he will not return to court."
Rider was released on bail soon after, but then in 2008, he was picked up in LA's Skid Row district for allegedly driving a stolen car. In 2009, he violated his probation in Alameda County after trying to buy crack from an undercover cop. And in October of that year, he grabbed headlines for launching a comeback campaign with the North Texas Fresh, a semi-pro team, but was reportedly released after just one game.
In April 2010, he allegedly stiffed a cabbie in Mesa, Arizona for $150. According to court records, Arizona police were called that same month to a domestic dispute in which he allegedly ripped his fiancé — the mother of his child — out of her car, threw her down, and tore away her purse. His fiancé told cops that he'd spent $2,000 that week on drugs and wanted money to buy more. A few days later, he was picked up by Mesa police for driving erratically. He had three small children in his car, including his three-week-old son.
Since then, he's violated his probation at least twice by not checking in with his probation officer within 72 hours of being released. His probation lasts until March 29, 2014.
I've seen J.R. Rider in person only once. It was at the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland on March 3, 2008. Rider was facing charges stemming from the incident involving cabbie Abdi Farah. Rider was still big, but his body had turned soft.
In late 2009, I talked to him on the phone and asked if he would be willing to be interviewed for this story. He declined.
There are numerous explanations for Rider's fall. Some people interviewed for this story pointed to his troubled home life and the challenges Donna Rider faced as a single mother. Others blamed Alameda's competitive sports culture, and the undercurrent of racism on the island. A troubled teen without a father, Rider needed more coaches like Tom White, they said, mentors who promoted values of teamwork and discipline. Instead, he was exploited for his athletic talent and turned away at a pivotal moment in his maturation.
"Alameda got everything they could get out of J.R., and then they spit him out," said an Encinal High teacher who declined to be named, out of concern for the teacher's relationship with the school. "If he had [a] basketball coach ... who really cares for the kids, it wouldn't have turned out that way."
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