Bucks forward counts blessings on life, career
POSTED: Aug 21, 2015 9:06 PM ET
Chris Copeland, a member of the Pacers last season, has recovered from stab wounds he received outside a New York nightclub last April.
It was Chris Copeland's time in New York several years ago that led to an opportunity he's excited about now, joining former Knicks teammate Jason Kidd in Milwaukee to play for Kidd's rapidly improving Bucks.
It was Copeland's time in New York several months ago, however, that nearly wiped out this and every other NBA opportunity -- maybe more than that, even -- he hoped to have.
Copeland, 31, was outside a Chelsea nightclub in the wee hours of April 8 when an altercation flared and the then-Indiana Pacers forward was stabbed in the left elbow and in his abdomen. Two others, including Katrine Saltara, a friend of Copeland, also were stabbed in the 4 a.m. incident. Copeland's driver was reported to have grabbed the alleged attacker, Shezoy Bleary-Murdock, who was arrested at the scene.
Two members of the Atlanta Hawks, Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic, were present outside the 1Oak club and were taken into custody for allegedly obstructing the police officers as they worked the crime scene. Sefolosha also was charged with resisting arrest and suffered a fractured right tibia and ligament damage that required surgery when he was taken to the ground by NYPD officers. Antic was charged with harassment for reportedly trying to aid Sefolosha in the confrontation.
GameTime: Latest on Chris Copeland
Brain Mahoney of the Associated Press speaks on the latest news surrounding the Chris Copeland incident.
The legal ramifications still are being addressed, but Copeland was the one who ended up at Bellevue Hospital, in surgery that morning, his professional career and perhaps more dictated by the blade of the assailant's knife. His season with the Pacers was over. His three-year stay in the NBA came close to ending, too, a matter of inches or force or ferocity.
Copeland's wounds were not life-threatening and he quickly was listed in stable condition. Twenty-four hours later, he issued a statement thanking the Pacers and their fans for their support and apologizing for his "bad choice" in being out at that time. It was mere chance, though, that Copeland's bad choice didn't become something more horrendous.
"It's not something I'm going to talk about right now," Copeland said in a phone interview Thursday with NBA.com. "No, no, no, [physically] I'm fine. There's things you work through. I'll leave it at that."
Copeland did not want to re-live the incident and was reluctant to address any of the details. It seemed clear, though, that he understood how serious the situation had been and how it could have impacted not just his livelihood but his life.
"All your players are your family when something like this happens," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "But looking at the bright side, it could have been much, much worse. Chris got out of it with superficial injuries and he's going to be able to continue in his career."
The Pacers beat the Knicks the night of Copeland's incident and, on the team bus afterward, the coach called him as he lay in his hospital bed.
"I put the phone on speaker and the whole team shouted out to him, yelling, 'Get well!' " Vogel said. "He was a beloved guy in our locker room."
A thoughtful fellow who fits none of the NBA clichés in personality or in resume, Copeland went undrafted out of Colorado in 2006 and logged seven years in basketball's trenches, mostly in Europe before surfacing as a 28-year-old rookie with the Knicks in 2012-13. He had seen life pivot in an instant before -- his only sibling, Vincent, 10 years his senior, had been killed by a hit-and-run driver in 1997 when Copeland was just 13.
While a sophomore at Colorado, when shots were fired at a party he attended in 2003, Copeland was struck by a ricochet that lodged near his right shoulder blade. His injury was minor. The scare and the potential of what could have happened were not.
That sense of things turning so quickly, good stuff snatched away as swiftly as it came -- for example, after just 56 games with New York, Copeland landed a two-year, $6.1 million free-agent contract with Indiana -- sent a shiver through the 6-foot-8 forward with the signature dreadlocks.
"Wow, for sure. The path that I took -- I just got flashbacks when you said that -- it definitely makes me appreciate every day that much more," Copeland said.
This is a guy for whom there were no bread crumbs marking his path to the NBA, no dots to connect in cooperation with a friendly GM that would help him realize a dream. Copeland got cut twice overseas and moved through teams in Spain, Holland, Germany and Belgium before turning himself -- with some intense coaching from TBB Trier's Yves Defraigne in Germany -- into a player worthy of a Knicks summer league invitation in 2012.
With his solid play there and in camp that fall, Copeland won a roster spot. It all has gone so fast since then -- 147 NBA appearances, 1,955 minutes played, 349 field goals -- that getting derailed or even stuck with a reputation for one wrong-place, wrong-time mistake would have been cruel.
Instead, Copeland has focused on the positive.
"If I didn't go through cold showers overseas or stuff like that, I wouldn't understand as much what it is, when I say it's a blessing to be here," he said. "It's different when you actually have an experience on the other side.
"Everything else that's happened that's led me to this point, I'm thankful for. I just keep it as a positive in my head."
Reuniting with Kidd, who Copeland played with in the final year of his Hall of Fame-bound career as rookie, is the positive now. He said he learned much from the veteran point guard, from how to care for his body to proper positioning on the court. What Kidd helped the Bucks accomplish last season, improving from 15 to 41 victories, was no surprise to their new "stretch four" option.
"I knew he'd be someone I'd want to play for," Copeland said. "He's been a great basketball mind. Playing with him, I got to see his leadership abilities. A lot of things he did as a player, he was almost coaching then. You can see it over the last two years he's been a head coach, he knows what he's doing."
Copeland's strength, deep-threat shooting from a big, never has been more in demand. And Milwaukee has been eager to add some after finishing 26th in 3-point attempts and 23rd in 3-point makes. Golden State won a championship with shooters spacing the floor, so the Bucks are among the many hoping to replicate the success.
"I think with the guys we have on this team -- [Giannis] Antetokounmpo, Jabari [Parker] when he gets healthy -- we can make their jobs easier," Copeland said.
Copeland hit 42 percent of his 3-pointers in his first two seasons, then dropped to 31 percent in 2014-15. It was a dismal year all around, from Paul George's ghastly summer injury and absence, through Roy Hibbert's continuing funk, to the regrettable incident in April.
"I always count blessings, but I always look forward," Copeland said, happy for the fresh start. "I count on my blessing always -- I've been like that before, after and in-between. I thank God every day for my life and for being able to be here as an NBA player. But I don't look backwards in any way."
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.