Minutes after John Hinckley Jr.’s assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan, Sam Donaldson interviewed an eyewitness named Mickey Crowe. Mickey was a tall, rail-thin young man with long, stringy hair and a thick Wisconsin accent. Here is what Mickey told Mr. Donaldson:
“Well, I was watching Reagan the whole time. From what I saw, it was a combination of shock, seeing his potential end right in front of his eyes. You could see the feeling in his eyes so immensely. It’s a feeling that will be forever printed on my memory.”
And Mickey Crowe knows a thing or two about seeing one’s potential end.
Six years prior, Mickey Crowe was finishing a high school basketball career that would see him average 41 points a game and become Wisconsin’s all-time leading scorer. The 6’5” string bean was a tremendous ball-handler who would bring the ball up the court against constant double-teams. When the triple-team came, he would pass it off to a teammate or, more likely, shoot it from wherever he was on the court. If there had been a three-point line at the time, you could easily add 10 or 15 points to his average. He was such a prodigious scorer that he led the nation his senior year and CBS even sent a reporter from New York to cover “the Pete Maravich of Wisconsin.” His career ended with a disappointing loss in the state finals, although Mickey scored 45 of his team’s 58 points. He had dozens of scholarship offers, including such powerhouses as Duke and Indiana. Instead, he chose to follow his coach and father to tiny Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, WI. The school was so small that they didn’t even have their own gymnasium.
Mickey had already been a heavy drinker in high school. By college he had added marijuana, amphetamines and cocaine to his repertoire. Mickey only lasted one year at Silver Lake. He spent the next five years playing for various small schools around the state with a brief stop at the University of Minnesota. By this time, Mickey was known as much for partying as anything he had done on the basketball court. When his college eligibility ran out, Mickey moved to Washington D.C. There he lived on the streets and followed President Reagan around with the hopes of convincing him to end the nuclear arms race. He was so relentless in his pursuit that the President once asked him, “You’ve been following me around. What do you want?”
By 1984, Mickey was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. His reputation in the state was so bad that despite being the greatest player anybody had ever seen, Mickey Crowe wasn’t inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame until 34 years after his playing days were over. He now lives on government assistance in a small, one-bedroom apartment. Medication has kept his schizophrenia in check and he hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol since 1984.
Somebody needs to make a movie about this guy. Call it A Beautiful Jumper.