Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Vin Baker becomes a New York Knick

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION The former Celtic is a four-time All-Star, but he took a bad turn during his battle with alcoholism that led to his release by Boston

PHILADELPHIA , PENNSYLVANIAAND ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Former All-Star Vin Baker signed with the New York Knicks for the rest of the season on Friday, a day after winning his arbitration case against the NBA.

He was added to the active roster immediately, and coach Lenny Wilkens said Baker would play against Philadelphia.

"I'm taking this opportunity as my last chance to come out and not only play basketball, but as a person, I don't want to make the same mistakes," the 32-year-old Baker said. "I'm going to try my hardest from day to day not to make the same mistakes that I've made in the past."

Baker has been a four-time All-Star, but his career took a troubling turn during his battle with alcoholism that led to his release by Boston.

Baker was shooting more than 50 percent for the Celtics before he was suspended -- and subsequently had his contract terminated -- for violating terms of his alcohol treatment program.

Baker said he didn't believe counselors when they told him relapse would be part of recovery, and he ignored his aftercare program. Baker put basketball ahead of his alcohol counseling, which led to a relapse that he said "snuck up on me."

Baker said he wouldn't make that mistake again and was now following his program.

"This is a disease and I have to take it one day at a time," Baker said. "In the last three or four weeks, I've been able to put that back first in my life."

Knicks president Isiah Thomas was not concerned about Baker's previous troubles and said testing and counseling would be handled by the team.

"He's coming to a situation where there are people in management that are very sensitive to the situation and have a very unique understanding of the situation," said Thomas, whose brother, Ronnie, died from the effects alcoholism. "You have to learn from your failures. I think Vin is old enough and mature enough to accept some of those failures and deal with them a little better than he dealt with them in the past."

Baker was a free agent after winning his case against the league. No details about Baker's contract were announced.

Wilkens was happy to have him.

"He understands the post position and he has size," he said. "He doesn't have to carry the load, that's in his favor, and he gives us flexibility."

In Baker's grievance against the NBA, argued Monday, arbitrator Roger Kaplan invalidated a league memo barring all 29 teams from signing Baker until his grievance against the Celtics is settled.

Kaplan set an initial hearing date of April 12 for that case.

Baker averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds over his last two seasons in Milwaukee before he was traded to Seattle for the 1997-1998 season. He spent five years in Seattle, averaging 14.1 points in his final year.

The Celtics signed Baker before the 2002-2003 season, but he averaged just 5.2 points before he was suspended on Feb. 27, 2003, amid reports of a drinking problem. Baker later said he was an alcoholic who began binge drinking during the 1998-1999 lockout.

After treatment, he returned in better shape and determined to make it up to his teammates. He scored in double figures in 21 of his first 35 games, but then his production dropped off again.

The Knicks also activated guard Moochie Norris, and placed guard Frank Williams and Cezary Trybanski on the injured list. Norris missed five games with Achilles' tendinitis.

Hawks 138, Wizards 124

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