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Throughout NBA history there has been a common misconception that a majority of NBA players have had it easy Yet, despite the enormous potential for fame and reward, the life of a professional athlete is quite difficult Beyond the possibility of a large bank account lies a realm of tremendous sacrifice and labour that rarely pays off As usual as these stories are, rarely do we hear of a professional athlete whose troubles led him to pay the ultimate sacrifice His life Lorenzen Wright was such a player This 6’11” slender center was both intimidating and graceful, a standout prospect that contained the capability to deliver dunks as his opponents shrank beneath him With his outstanding abilities and gifted physique, many considered him to be one of the most elite centers to ever come out of high school, one that grasped the attention of college scouts, the very model of a futuristic NBA star Here he stood on the cliff of greatness, yet no one could have predicted the tragic sequence of events that would soon follow Born on November 4th, 1975, Lorenzen Vern-Gagne Wright grew up in Oxford, a small city located in Lafayette County in the north central portion of Mississippi Growing up on the outskirts of the city projects proved to be a difficult task Regardless, as a child, Wright rapidly established a fierce passion for competing in basketball By the time he reached high school he decided to attend Lafayette County High School, where in two seasons, from 1992 to 1993, he performed as a phenomenal player for the Commodores In just his junior year, with an average of 22.2 points, 17.5 rebounds and 5.3 blocked shots per game, Wright was labeled the high school Player of the Year By his senior year of high school, the Oxford native relocated to his fathers’ hometown of Memphis, Tennessee – the basketball and blues capital of the South Memphis meant big-time exposure for Lorenzen’s basketball career considering, in Memphis, the activity was a way of life It also meant spending more time with his new girl, Sherra Robinson, whom he first met while playing in his junior year Her father happened to be his AAU coach Although she was 21, six years older than him, Lorenzen had never come in contact with anyone as attractive The couple eventually started dating and had their first child — a son named Lorenzen Jr Years later the two would get married and have two daughters, twin boys, an additional son and finally a baby girl who later in 2003, sadly died of sudden infant death syndrome at just 11 months old While the distance between Oxford and Memphis was only 80 miles away, the path it would put Lorenzen on — and the new person he was sharing it with — would change his life forever Lorenzen reluctantly transferred to Booker T. Washington, a high school located in south Memphis The decision proved to be a great move, as he raised his profile on the court, averaging 27.6 points, 18.1 rebounds, and 6.6 blocks per game in his senior year while leading his team to the Tennessee state quarterfinals As the city’s top basketball prospect, Wright was a college qualifier; being heavily recruited

by schools all over the country But in 1994, with the city of Memphis embracing him as one of their own, he followed in the steps of many of other great players and committed to the University of Memphis From 1995 to 1996, the 6′ 11″ 225-pound center led the Tigers in scoring, rebounding and blocks, helping solidify him as a collegiate star Averaging 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as a freshman and 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds as a sophomore, he assisted in leading the institute to the NCAA Sweet 16 Alongside 1,026 career points, the sensation capped his career with averages of 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, labeling him as one of the most decorated players in Tiger history The 21-year-olds achievements ultimately culminated into a selection by the Los Angeles Clippers as the seventh overall pick in first round of the 1996 NBA draft In his first season with the franchise, Wright averaged 7.3 points, and 6.1 rebounds The following year his stats increased to 9 points and 8.8 rebounds While he wasn’t an NBA all-star, Lorenzen was an exceptional rebounder, shot blocker and a solid role player Sadly, the dazzling performances displayed in his collegiate days failed to satisfy the Clippers Just three year later, Wright would be traded to the Atlanta Hawks Two years after moving to Atlanta, he was traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies But luckily for him, in 2001, sports history would be forever changed as the organization would move their operations to Tennessee, becoming the newly formed Memphis Grizzlies The Bluff City was now home to an NBA franchise With this, Lorenzen gained the rare opportunity of a lifetime The hometown hero was coming home But by the end of his 5-year period with the Grizzlies, Wright was at the tail end of his career In 2006, fighting to stay in the league, he returned to play for the Hawks as a free agent, trailed by the Sacramento Kings and finally the Cleveland Cavaliers Playing in 17 games and finishing the regular season with 66 wins, Wright helped lead the Cavaliers to the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, eventually gaining a hopeless defeat to the Orlando Magic in game 6 Overall, Lorenzen was a reliable center One who started in most of the 793 regular season and playoffs games he played With career averages of 8 points and 6.4 rebounds, Wright concluded his profession with 6,191 points and 4,943 rebounds By the end of the 2009 season, the 34-year-old officially retired While his NBA career was finally over, so to be his marriage to Sherra By 2010, the couple who’d been brought together by basketball, were divorced The 13-year bond between the two drifted as accusations of unfaithfulness developed Sherra believed Lorenzen was having affairs with other women To make matters worse, despite amassing a wealth of $55.2 million over his 13 seasons in the league, Wright was living paycheck to paycheck In financial distress, he struggled to pay his ex-wife the $26,000 a month he owed in child support and alimony His million-dollar home in Atlanta went into foreclosure Another in Memphis Facing soaring debt, Lorenzen was determined to continue supporting his family, even considering resuming his career overseas Sadly, the chances of that ever happening would come to a disastrous end July 18th, 2010 A year after retiring, Wright, by then living in Atlanta, returned to Memphis to attend a baby shower for his sister He spent the day catching up with friends before receiving a phone call from his ex-wife, Sherra, asking him to pick up their son from the gym That evening Lorenzen had taken a trip to Collierville, a small town located in the southwest part of Tennessee Prior to dropping off his to son to his mother’s house, Wright planned to attend his friend’s house to enjoy some leisure Instead, around 9pm, he received a phone call from Sherra demanding that he bring their son back home A strange request considering it was summertime with no school the following day Nonetheless, at roughly 10pm, Wrights friend dropped the two off at his ex-wife’s house That would be the last time anyone had seen or heard from Lorenzen Wright But on July 19th, shortly after midnight, a 911 operator in the suburb of Germantown, Tennessee, received a terrifying incoming call from Wrights cellphone: (Insert) On the tape, the 911 operator could hear an unidentified man yelling as the sounds of gunfire erupted No one, not even the dispatcher, knew that the distressed caller was 34-year-old Lorenzen Wright

With his whereabouts unknown, the operator attempted to call back But there was no answer Little did they know, Lorenzen had made that desperate call for help But help would never arrive Since the location of the call could not be pinpointed and considering it was outside their jurisdiction, the Germantown dispatcher failed to report the incident, a tragic mistake that the Germantown Police Department would regret By July 20th, two days after her son’s disappearance, Deborah Marion insisted something wasn’t right Not only had she not heard from her son, but her calls and texts to him were going unanswered So, on July 22nd she filed an official missing person’s report with Collierville police department: (News) In the aftermath of Wrights disappearance, a massive search began Initially, no one suspected foul play — no one except his mother Marion instantly became suspicious of Lorenzen’s ex-wife, Sherra Then on July 28th, as Memphis Police investigated, they ultimately discovered the distressing 911 call that had previously been disregarded by Germantown Police, nine days after it was initially placed With this they were able track the location of the call to a remote wooded area southeast of Memphis By 2pm, cadaver dogs aided police in finding the answer they were so desperately looking for Nearby a deserted road he used to take to get to his mother’s house, in a secluded field, police uncovered the decomposed and bullet-riddled corpse of Lorenzen Wright By the time authorities discovered the body in the scorching July heat, the decayed remains of the once 6’11, 255-pound NBA center shriveled to a measly 57 pounds All that remained was brittle bones and mummified skin The father, talent and hometown hero … was gone In the initial stages of the investigation, medical examiners discovered that Lorenzen had sustained five gunshot wounds, 2 in the skull, 2 in his chest and 1 in his forearm Based in part on the shell casings recovered from the crime scene, it was determined that two different guns were used to fire between nine and 11 bullets at him The evidence also implied that Wright had suffered from head trauma, specifically four fractures His skull had a cavity missing from the center of his face, two of his front lower teeth were missing and his nasal and frontal bones were also missing, Skull wounds consistent with two gunshots and bullet fragments Further inspection determined Wright had additionally suffered multiple rib and shoulder fractures Toxicology reports found no drugs in his system Wrights body was in such a gruesome state that the only way to truly confirm that it was indeed him was by identifying him through his dental records While the date of his death was listed when his body was found, police were certain that Wright had been killed on July 19th, the night the 911 call was placed Surprisingly, investigators were unable to collect the cell phone at the crime scene and Lorenzen was still wearing a gold necklace and an expensive watch when his body was found, suggesting the shooting did not appear to be consistent with robbery Instead, his assassination was perhaps committed by a professional and that the core intention was not to deprive him of his possessions, but rather his life By the end of the search, what was once a missing persons case had now developed into a murder investigation Ultimately, police were able to answer three out of five questions

The where, when and the how But the more significant details of who and why remained unclear On August 4th, 2010, just days after his body was discovered, thousands attended Lorenzen’s memorial service held at the FedEx Forum in Memphis The silver casket rested in front of a stage among a sea of photos and flowers Amongst those in attendance were coaches, pastors, relatives, politicians and former NBA players One by one they testified to the special bond between Lorenzen and Memphis with many labelling him a loving, gentle, charitable, family man In this image taken on the day, members of Wrights family are seen bidding farewell Notice anyone? No? What about this picture? Take a closer glance at the individual in the far back That is Lorenzen’s ex-wife, Sherra Standing in the heart of it all, she looked disgusted, somewhat confused In August of 2010, just weeks after Lorenzen was found brutally murdered, his body left rotting in a field, Sherra moved out of her Collierville house, the home she and the kids lived in and the place Lorenzen was last seen On her way out, Sherra left law enforcement a trail of evidence to follow in the murder investigation She informed Collierville police that, a few weeks prior to his death two to three unknown men, came with guns knocking on her door looking for Lorenzen She also claimed that on the night of his death, Wright left her home carrying a box of drugs, before returning and leaving a second time with a considerable amount of cash She had allegedly overheard a phone conversation Lorenzen had with an unknown individual stating he was going to “flip something for $110,000 dollars” This information eventually took on a life of its own As investigators glimpsed into the theory that suggested Wright may have resorted to illegal means of acquiring money and was killed in the process, they discovered Lorenzen had a distant relationship with Bobby Coal, a drag racer known throughout Memphis for his connection to a notorious multimillion-dollar drug empire run by the city’s long-time drug kingpin, Craig Petties Petties was known for his ties with the Sinaloa Cartel, an international crime syndicate ran by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, an infamous Mexican drug lord considered, at the time, to have been the most powerful drug trafficker in the world In 2008, although Wright himself was never implicated, his name surfaced in a federal investigation after detectives discovered he had sold two luxury vehicles to Bobby Cole a year after Cole had been indicted on drug distribution charges During the DEA’s investigation, Wright confessed to selling the cars with no prior knowledge they had been purchased with illegal funds Eventually, he was subpoenaed to testify in court With this, investigators speculated that Cole, fearing Lorenzen might have disclosed evidence about their operation, may have killed him A theory not too far-fetched, considering in 2006, Craig Petties had orchestrated the kidnapping, torture and killing of a local Memphis rapper he believed knew the location of a man who had stolen a $4 million shipment of cocaine from his organization Similar to Lorenzen his body was found shot, dumped on a road by the Mississippi state line But after further investigating Shera’s rumored connections to Memphis drug dealers and international cartels, police had nothing to tie to the murder By November of 2010, another NBA season had started As the days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, many wondered if police would ever expose the case Despite the time that passed, Deborah Marion, Lorenzen’s mother, was relentless in her

quest to find out who killed her first-born son with remaining beliefs that her son’s slaying centered around Sherra According to Marion, Lorenzen was worth more to her dead than alive Months before his untimely death, Wright purchased a $1-million-dollar life insurance policy intended to benefit his children But a year following his murder, the wealth was instead allocated to Sherra as the trustee Oddly enough, within 10 months of receiving the capital, she spent all but $5.00 of the fortune in ways that appeared loosely connected to her children’s well-being, including a new house, a wide assortment of expensive furniture, multiple luxurious cars and vacation travel She also made cash withdrawals and wrote checks to herself for more than $344,000 The rapid spending of money meant to provide long-term benefit for their children instantly raised suspicions But that was not all According to neighbors, a night or two after Lorenzen’s disappearance, Sherra and an unidentified male ignited a bonfire in her backyard A strange occasion considering the temperature that summer day reached 93 degrees – one of the hottest days of the year 4 days later her home was searched, though police did not find probable cause to charge her But the allegations would continue In addition to the oddly timed bonfire and unusual handling of money, Wendy Wilson, a personal assistant to Wright had previously urged police to look hard at Sherra with claims that in 2003 she received multiple voicemails from Sherra threatening Lorenzen if she ever caught him cheating with another woman Wilson turned the voicemails over to police back then but no longer had any copies With little forensics evidence and no official suspects, the murder investigation ran cold as law enforcement became desperate for leads The family was torn apart Memphis continued to mourn And that was it — for more than seven years That was until November 9th, 2017 In an extremely shocking turn of events police announced a huge break in their murder investigation: They had found one of the two guns reportedly used in the murder in a lake near Walnut, Mississippi, 75 miles east of town, and about a 45-minute drive from Sherra’s former home in Collierville Ballistics immediately linked the 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson pistol to the shell casing found near Lorenzen’s body According to prosecutors the information had come from Sherra’s cousin, Jimmie Martin, who had been convicted of second-degree murder in an unrelated case that occurred in 2007 While awaiting sentencing, Martin confessed to investigators that he participated in a plan, devised by Sherra, that involved killing Lorenzen Wright After acquiring weapons with his help, Martin alleged that Sherra paid both him and Billy Ray Turner, a 48-year-old landscaper at the Wright home in Collierville, who also happened to be a deacon in a small church that Sherra attended, to travel to Atlanta between April and July of 2010 for an initial attempt at murdering Wright But when the two entered through Lorenzen’s window, that Sherra left unlocked, he wasn’t there After that failed, Sherra once again conspired with that second phase becoming the gruesomely successful attempt in Tennessee Martin declared that days after Wright’s death, Sherra and Turner admitted to him that they had murdered Wright, and that he then helped them clean up the crime scene Using a metal detector, Martin alleged they found the gun that had been dropped during the crime, and that he and Turner then drove to a nearby lake where it was disposed Four months later, investigators secured a court order to monitor Sherra’s phone calls Police eventually learned incriminating information in a call by Sherra that seemed to imply an informant led authorities to the weapon While many thought she would have been relieved the pistol had been found, she instead sounded worried, even agitated In another intercepted phone call, investigators overheard Sherra tell an unknown person that when police searched her home, they missed three guns Four days after the intercepted call, Sherra flew to Memphis and met with Billy Ray Turner Three weeks later, On December 5th, 2017, with all the evidence needed to make their case, Collierville police arrested Billy Ray Turner for the first-degree murder of Lorenzen Wright

A week later, Sherra was arrested in California and flown back to Memphis on charges of first-degree murder, criminal attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder Initially both pleaded not guilty The stage was set for the two to be tried together, but when Turner, a previously convicted felon, was found in illegal possession of a gun when he was arrested, he pleaded guilty to possessing the firearm Upon learning about the plea, Sherra’s lawyers, worried that he would testify against her, struck a plea deal with prosecutors So, on July 25th, 2019, she pleaded guilty to the facilitation of first-degree murder, but not for the murder itself Had she gone to trial; she faced the prospect of spending the rest of her life in prison Instead, prosecutors agreed to a lesser sentence of 30 years in prison and parole eligibility, which meant she could be released as early as 2026 Furthermore, Turner was expected to go to trial this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his proceedings Martin on the other hand had not been charged for the murder Today the remains of Lorenzen Wright can be found buried in Memphis, Tennessee Many described him as an individual with an enormous heart A person who kept a smile on his face and sought to help those around him in any way he could He was considered to be a shining star But to some, that star began to dim when he met his wife Although Lorenzen Wright’s voice was last heard on a desperate 911 call, his story — and the path that led him to that moment — began long before that fateful night From the time he emerged on the local high school basketball scene in the early 1990s, through his college playing days and his 13-year run in the NBA, no one could explain how the life of a favorite son, who had done so well and had a promising future, came to such a disastrous end To this day his death remains one of the most high-profile murder cases the city has seen since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 A memory that still haunts natives of Memphis to this day But despite the stunning arrests and ultimate justice, the motive behind his death remains unclear Plenty have their own theories After all, stories are about perspective Yet in stories such as this one, it all comes down to what one wants to believe While many questions continue to be raised about what truly happened on that dreadful night, it is plausible, if not likely, that greed played an instrumental role It has been more than 10 years since the NBA player’s tragic death Many have forgotten Others prefer not to speak Dig deeper, though, and discover those who remember Not just what happened, but what came before But in the end, the story of Lorenzen Wright, from his birth to his untimely death, remains one of the strangest mysteries in NBA history

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