Ricky Berry Is Apparent Suicide Victim : Sacramento Kings’ Top Pick in 1988 Found Dead of Gunshot Wound

Times Staff Writers

Ricky Berry, first-round draft choice of the Sacramento Kings in 1988, apparently committed suicide Monday at his suburban Sacramento home after arguing with his wife Sunday night.

A Sacramento County Sheriff’s spokesman said Berry’s wife, Valerie, who had spent the night away from the couple’s newly purchased home, found the 24-year-old player on the floor of the family room with a gunshot wound to his head when she returned Monday morning.

A suicide note was found at the scene, but the sheriff’s department did not reveal what was written.


A coroner’s spokesman said an autopsy is being done, but that a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head was the apparent cause of death. Time of death has not been established.

Kings’ officials held a brief news conference Monday afternoon at Arco Arena, outside which a hand-lettered cardboard sign read, “Due to a death in Kings family all offices are closed for the day.”

Coach Jerry Reynolds quietly began a statement, “My prayers . . ., " blinking back tears, but was unable to continue and left the podium.

A statement from managing general partner Gregg Lukenbill was read by another Kings’ official.

“We are profoundly shocked and saddened at the tragic ending of the life of Ricky Berry,” said the statement, which was read by Greg Van Dusen, the executive vice president of the Arco sports complex. “Ricky was a kind, thoughtful, sensitive, caring and soft-spoken young man who was spirited and talented as an athlete. Our thoughts and prayers are both with Ricky and with his family in this time of grief.”

Bill Russell, the Kings’ executive vice president of basketball operations, was consoling the Berry family and did not attend the news conference.

Berry’s father, Bill, had been in the Kings’ Sacramento office when the team was notified of the death. The elder Berry, fired as San Jose State coach after last season, had arranged to do some college scouting for the Kings, and was in Sacramento discussing details, according to Julie Fie, the team’s publicist.

Bill Berry lost his San Jose State job after a season in which the core of the team quit in protest of his coaching. He had been unsuccessfully seeking a job as a college assistant coach.

Russell and Bill Berry went to the young couple’s home in a suburban Sacramento County area known as Carmichael in the afternoon but declined to speak with reporters.

Those consoling the family would open the door only to sheriff’s deputies and family friends, among them Sacramento native Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns.

“I’m here extending out our services, mine and my family’s,” Johnson said.

Neighbors said Ricky Berry and his wife moved into the home about two weeks ago. On the lawn, a wooden sign marked “Sold” still stood.

Some residents were aware that a National Basketball Assn. player had moved into the upscale neighborhood and had seen Berry do much of the moving work himself, but few had met the young couple.

“It was in my head to go over this morning and knock on the door, introduce myself and welcome them to the neighborhood,” said Bill Dana, 59, who was working in his yard when emergency and law enforcement officials began arriving shortly after 9:30 a.m. Dana said he had been home the night before but had not heard any signs of argument.

“It’s a tragedy, that’s for sure,” Dana said.

Berry, a 6-foot-8 guard-forward, averaged 11 points a game in his rookie season with the Kings, scoring a career-high 34 points in a game in February. At San Jose State, he became the leading scorer with 1,767 points despite playing only three seasons.

Berry began his college career at Oregon State in 1983-84, but transferred after one year to play for his father at San Jose State, where he averaged 24 points a game in his senior season. He was a member of the U.S. team that won the silver medal at the Pan American Games in 1987.

In 1988, the Kings chose him with the 18th pick in the draft.

Teammates and associates were bewildered by Berry’s death.

Eric Saulny, former San Jose State assistant who coached Berry in his senior season, said he saw Ricky at the last San Jose State home game of last season.

“I just can’t believe it,” Saulny said. “He was the kind of guy who didn’t say a whole lot. Maybe there was something inside of him that nobody knew. Obviously there was. . . . Ricky was a poker-faced player. Ricky was a poker-faced person. No one really knew what was inside.”

Officials at the news conference said there were no signs that Berry had troubles with his wife, and said his relations with coaches, team members and management were excellent.

Teammate Vinny Del Negro, also a rookie last season, said by telephone from North Carolina that Berry had seemed happy during the season.

“Ricky was a very competitive player with a bright future,” Del Negro said. “He always enjoyed himself. He enjoyed cars. He seemed to enjoy life a lot.”

Asked if the couple had been having problems, Del Negro said, “not that I know of. Not that I ever heard.”

“It’s weird . . . Obviously a lot of people don’t understand (what has happened.) . . . Something had to be affecting him. Who is to say? We don’t know.

“I hope his family can find some peace of mind.”

Berry was one of only a few Kings’ players who were spending the summer in Sacramento. He had spent some of his time working as a volunteer, Fie said, helping with a basketball camp at Cal State Sacramento last week and working in a similar clinic in Stockton last month.

“He gave a lot back to the people,” Fie said. “He still had all that spirit of a young player and loved being out among the people.”

The couple had been married since May, 1988, and had no children. Berry was born in Lansing, Mich., where his father was a Michigan State basketball player. Berry is survived by his wife, father, his mother Clarice and a younger sister Pam.