For the past several decades, the NBA has served as a way for many talented basketball players to make a fortune at a young age. But there are also pitfalls that come with being young and rich, usually for the first time in one’s life, in the world of pro basketball. And it’s not just the usual cases of drugs and alcohol that could cause an NBA player to lose the fortune he’s made – all too often, we’ve seen players make poor financial decisions, enter the world of crime, or find themselves in an unenviable position in one way or another during, or after their NBA days are done.
While we will be using the words “NBA star” loosely for the purposes of this list, as everyone in here was a quality reserve at the very least, the important qualifiers here are that the “where are they now” story must have happened within the last decade (2007 to present), with no truly happy, redeeming twists that followed. That means we won’t be listing the likes of Antoine Walker, who survived bankruptcy to become a financial advisor, or Chris Washburn, who recently got clean after dealing with drug abuse for most of his adult life.
With that said, let’s take a look at 15 former NBA players, and the sad aftermaths that followed when their pro basketball days were over.
15. Travis Outlaw
As one of many high school stars who went straight to the pros in the 2000s, Travis Outlaw did fairly well for himself, all things considered. As the 23rd-overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, Outlaw spent 11 years in the NBA, and was, for some time, a quality reserve for the Portland Trail Blazers. No, he was hardly ever starting material, and he was such a disappointment for the New Jersey Nets that he was amnestied just one year into a five-year contract, but you could do much worse with the 23rd-overall selection.
Although he just turned 33 earlier this month, Outlaw hasn’t been playing much basketball since his NBA career ended. But he has been living up to his name, having gotten arrested in 2016 for marijuana possession. It’s not the saddest ending for an ex-NBA player, but one would think he’d at least be trying his luck in Europe, China, or the G-League instead of racking up weed arrests.
14. Latrell Sprewell
Together with the two Chrises – Mullin and Webber – Latrell Sprewell showed Bay Area basketball fans that there was life after “Run TMC.” But it wasn’t long after he established himself as a bona fide superstar when he gained massive infamy as the player who choked his coach and got suspended for the rest of the season for his troubles. After he became persona non grata in Golden State (who wouldn’t, after what he did), he took his talents to the New York Knicks and the Minnesota Timberwolves before abruptly retiring in 2005, insulted by what he felt were poor contract offers.
Sprewell would soon pay the price for his greed, as he would soon find his yacht repossessed and his homes foreclosed. He was essentially broke mere years after he had last played in the NBA, though we have to give him credit for having a sense of humor about his situation, as he cut a Priceline commercial last year where he poked fun at the bad business decisions that cost him much of the fortune he had earned as a player.
13. Robert Swift
Never mind the fact that he was just 18-years-old, not to mention extremely raw and unpolished. Robert Swift had height and upside, and that convinced the Seattle SuperSonics to pick him 12th-overall in the 2004 NBA draft. Swift showed a few flashes of brilliance, with “few” being the operative word – his body may have filled in as it became progressively covered with more tattoos, but he was, at the end of the day, another high school draftee who should have gone to college instead.
Just last year, Sports Illustrated had caught up with Swift, and brought fans up to what he was doing that year – sitting in jail for his involvement in a home invasion the year prior. He expressed regret for the dark, drug-addled path his life had taken after he left the NBA, and the silver lining to his depressing post-NBA story is that he’s sincerely trying to sort out his life, and maybe even his basketball career too, while still early.
12. David Harrison
To put it charitably, David Harrison was serviceable as a backup center for the Indiana Pacers. But without any elite-level NBA skills to speak of, chances are you remember this big guy as one of the Pacers who took part in the infamous “Malice at the Palace” brawl with the Detroit Pistons. And you may have also heard the sad story of what happened after he left the NBA.
After returning home to the U.S. following three seasons in the Chinese Basketball Association, Harrison found it hard to make a living, and was, for some time in 2013, the world’s tallest McDonald’s employee. Yep, that’s right – Harrison went from grabbing rebounds and blocking shots to flipping burgers and asking customers if “(they’d) like fries with that.” As of 2015, he was doing slightly better, trading stocks and running a small mobile app company, though the money from those ventures certainly pales in comparison to what he made as an NBA reserve.
11. Darius Miles
You may notice that this list has more than a few preps-to-pros players who have fallen on hard times since their NBA careers ended. Of course, there’s no questioning the decision when it comes to guys like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, but if you’re a guy like Darius Miles who entered the pros with a few red flags mixed in with the high hopes, perhaps college is a much better option than easy millions in the NBA. And we don’t need to talk you through his brief, and mostly disappointing NBA career that included a rich free agent contract at one point.
It was only last year when Miles had filed for bankruptcy, and like many other players in this list, it was poor financial planning and overspending that had mostly done him in. Indeed, this was a player who should have at least spent one or two years in college, not only to hone his skills, but also to prepare him better for the realities of the adult world.
10. Tom Payne
We’re cheating a bit with this entry, but Tom Payne’s story is nonetheless a sad one for someone who had entered the NBA with such promise, and he is, after all, still incarcerated for the horrible crimes he committed.
Since his name might not ring a bell to casual fans, Payne was a 7’1” center who was a coveted high school prospect who drew a lot of comparisons to Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) as a schoolboy. He became Kentucky’s first African-American basketball player in the school’s history, and while he was initially a disappointment for the Atlanta Hawks, who drafted him in 1971, his NBA career abruptly ended in 1972 after he was convicted for a series of sexual assaults in the Atlanta area.
After he was freed from prison, Payne tried his hand in boxing and acting, but in 1986, he was caught in the act of sexually assaulting a woman, and sent back to jail for violating his parole. He was briefly freed in 2000, but is still in jail as of this writing due to yet another parole violation.
9. Bill Willoughby
You probably don’t recognize the name as much as you do Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins, but in the 1970s, Bill Willoughby was in a similar, then-rare situation as those two big men, as a high school superstar who went straight to the pros. Despite his impressive high school credentials and freakish athleticism, Willoughby was only a 2nd-round pick, and had a career befitting of one. Years later, he was, like many an ex-NBAer who made poor financial decisions as a younger man, dealing with money issues in his early 40s, albeit one with improving prospects, having graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson in 2000, at the age of 43.
Unfortunately, Willoughby found himself back in the news last year, after being arrested for aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, and marijuana possession. So much for that college degree pointing to a brighter future in middle age for the former high school phenom.
8. Clifford Rozier
Clifford Rozier was part of a much-hyped, yet ultimately disappointing North Carolina recruiting class in 1990, and while he was a bust in Chapel Hill, he became a double-double machine upon transferring to Louisville, and a promising youngster in the NBA as the Warriors picked him in the middle of the 1st round of the 1994 draft. His lack of offensive polish limited his NBA career to four disappointing seasons, and he pretty much dropped off the radar as the 21st century began.
That was, at least until a 2010 report took a look at the sad state of Rozier’s life, more than a decade after he played his last NBA game. Beset with drug problems and schizophrenia, the 6’11” Rozier was broke at the age of 37, living and working at a halfway house in his hometown of Bradenton, Florida. Rozier’s status as of 2017 is unknown, but suffice to say, we hope he’s doing much better now.
7. Delonte West
Although Delonte West was, at the peak of his career, a top-notch “3D” player who could stroke it from outside and hound the top scorers of opposing teams, he was just as known for his odd and/or volatile behavior as he was for his basketball skills. A lot of this can be traced to his bipolar disorder, a condition that West has always denied having. Nonetheless, he was too much to handle for just about every NBA team he played for, and was out of the league by 2012, just eight seasons into what had been a solid career thus far.
Last year, West was sighted and photographed, apparently begging for money and looking to be homeless. In his defense, he claimed that he was actually helping someone who was legitimately homeless, and that he had, in fact, a roof over his head at the time the photos were taken. Fair enough, but it’s not like he hasn’t been spotted exhibiting bizarre, troubling behavior unrelated to the above incident.
6. Billy Ray Bates
As a young boy in the earliest stages of my basketball fandom, Billy Ray Bates was one of my favorite players, and that was well before I knew about the NBA career he had before becoming the Philippine Basketball Association’s “Black Superman.” For most of the 1980s, he was in a class of his own as an American “import” in the PBA, and as far as his NBA career went, he gained his fair share of notoriety as a slam-dunking super-sub for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Bates wasted away his talents, both in the U.S. and overseas, on his personal demons, and was in and out of jail from the ‘90s to the late 2000s, even wearing out his welcome-back by getting arrested for a violent, drunken incident in the Philippines in 2012. As of 2016, he was still struggling to make ends meet, yet mostly sober, and hopeful that he could find a full-time job and complete his autobiography, as he related in an interview with Sports Illustrated.
5. David Vaughn
It may have been while since David Vaughn’s sad “where are they now” story became public, but we have to take note we’re focusing on stories of that nature that were reported on over the last decade. Like most of the players in this list, Vaughn was a reserve for the majority of his career, but as a backup power forward for the Orlando Magic, he was living the high life for quite some time, even briefly dating a celebrity (R&B singer Toni Braxton), if reports from the ’90s are to be believed. Then, by the late 2000s, he was living out of his car, a victim of his poor financial decisions (i.e. splurging on cars and homes), and the fact he only worked menial jobs before temporarily splitting with his wife and becoming homeless.
4. Alvin Robertson
Sometimes, even the seemingly happy ending isn’t a happy one at all. That was the case with Alvin Robertson, who was, for a brief period in the 1980s, one of the best 2-guards in the NBA, a four-time All-Star and onetime Defensive Player of the Year who confounded opposing scorers with his uncanny ability to shut his man down and steal the ball. But he had dealt with more than his share of personal demons, including several domestic abuse charges during and after his NBA career, and a stint in rehab for cocaine abuse.
The worst charges against Robertson were the accusations that he had sexually assaulted a minor in 2009 as part of a kidnapping ring. From 2010 to 2015, he was in and out of jail in connection to those charges, and for his continued use of illegal drugs, and while he was cleared of the sex trafficking charges late in 2015, he admitted that the allegations ruined him, as he remains unable to escape the stigma of being accused of such a heinous crime.
3. Javaris Crittenton
Believe it or not, but Javaris Crittenton was, once upon a time, a brilliant student (3.5 GPA in high school) and a brighter college prospect who didn’t disappoint in his one year playing for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. He parlayed that into a 19th-overall selection in the 2007 NBA draft, and he seemed to be enjoying a promising career as a backup point guard when, in 2009, he was involved in an infamous bust-up with teammate Gilbert Arenas, where they allegedly pointed guns at each other over gambling debts.
That wasn’t the worst of it for Crittenton, who was charged in 2011 with the murder of a young woman. Four years later, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, and sentenced to 23 years in jail. It was a sad aftermath indeed for someone who once seemed to have such a level head on his shoulders.
2. Eddie Johnson
Younger fans might not recall the exploits of “Fast” Eddie Johnson, who had a long and productive NBA career as a quick, high-scoring, pesky-defending combo guard. He spent most of his career with the Atlanta Hawks, where he shared the same backcourt with future Celtics and Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, but as his career wound down, he began to pay the price for his cocaine addiction, getting a lifetime ban from the league in 1987.
Unlike most other NBA stars who dealt with drug problems during their NBA careers, Johnson never made it back to the straight and narrow. As of 2006, he had racked up over 100 arrests, and in 2008, he was locked up for sexual battery and lascivious molestation charges against a 12-year-old girl. Sadly, it looks like Johnson, now 62, may never see the outside of a jail cell, as he was given a mandatory life sentence without parole for his actions.
1. Mookie Blaylock
Over the course of a 13-year NBA career, point guard Mookie Blaylock achieved great success, making multiple All-Defensive Teams, leading the league in steals twice, and establishing himself as one of the best defensive players in an era that was all about keeping the scores low. And with a name as memorable as his game, he had even inspired grunge legends Pearl Jam to briefly name themselves after him, though the band ultimately had to settle for naming their debut album, Ten, after Mookie’s jersey number.
What makes Blaylock’s “where are they now” story sadder than most is the fact that he was such a beloved player with no known issues during his NBA career. But he was secretly waging a war against alcoholism, which culminated in a 2013 vehicular accident that killed one of the occupants of the other car. In 2014, Blaylock was sentenced to a 15-year prison sentence for vehicular homicide and other charges, though this was reduced to three years in jail, a four-year suspended sentence, and eight years probation as part of a plea deal.
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