Some may think drugs and alcohol are synonymous with the flashy lifestyles of the sports and entertainment world. Especially when that athlete or celebrity is a living "rags to riches" story. You might think it's easy for them to get caught up in the lavish lifestyles and partying or turn to a substance to deal with the pressures of a highly demanding career.
The NBA has seen a number of players succumb to their addictions. Ed Badger said the 1986 draft alone was "an unlucky draft for many teams" since various players selected this year went on to have drug problems. The consequences of violating the NBA's drug use policy range from fines to suspensions to permanent bans. Sometimes, athletes can be eligible for reinstating but not always.
Regardless, addiction is no joke. It is not something to be laughed about or taken lightly. At its core, addiction can destroy not only the person with the addiction, but the people around them as well. It can also destroy the careers they've worked so hard to build. Some careers end before they begin. Some start phenomenally only to crash and burn. Here are 15 NBA players who ruined their careers because of substance abuse.
15 Lewis Lloyd
A 1987 United Press International article called Lewis Lloyd "a product of his environment." He was born and raised in a Philadelphia ghetto and played his high school ball at the same school Wilt Chamberlain did. His spent his college years at Drake University and was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the fourth round of the 1981 NBA Draft. He spent two seasons with the Warriors before moving to the Houston Rockets. In his four years with the Rockets, he averaged 15.5 points per game. In 1986, he was suspended for cocaine abuse with teammate Mitchell Wiggins. He rejoined the league in 1989 but retired later that year when it seemed like his lavish lifestyle, substance abuse and arrests had caught up with him.
14 David Thompson
It has been said (by Dan Issel) that if David Thompson had played in the NBA longer, he would be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Hailing from North Carolina State, Thompson was drafted first overall in the 1975 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Throughout his nine year professional NBA career, he was a four-time NBA All-Star, the 1979 All-Star Game MVP, averaged 22.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game and was Michael Jordan's role model growing up. All of the pressure eventually got to him and he turned to alcohol and drug use. The nail in his coffin was one night at Studio 54. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, Thompson was pushed down a flight of stairs. When describing the incident he said, "I had the ability to be one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game and I blew it."
13 Mitchell Wiggins
Not only did he join his teammate Lewis Lloyd in a two and half year suspension from the NBA, Mitchell Wiggins joins him on this list. Wiggins was drafted 23rd overall by the Indiana Pacers in the 1983 NBA Draft but made his NBA debut with the Chicago Bulls and averaged 12.4 points per game his rookie season. In 1984, he was traded to the Houston Rockets where he would meet Lloyd. After losing in the Finals that year, the two of them tested positive for cocaine. Both were reinstated in 1989, but only Wiggins rejoined the league. He played the best he ever had in 89 but again sat out the 90-91 season. He once again faltered during the 91-92 season, his last in the NBA, averaging just 4.3 points per game.
12 Shawn Kemp
He started out so well. Shawn Kemp was the 17th pick overall of the 1989 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. He spent eight seasons with the Sonics and averaged 16.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He was a six-time NBA All-Star and played in MTV's "Rock n Jock" game. In 1997, Kemp was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and began having issues with his weight. After the 1999-2000 season, he was traded to the Portland Trailblazers where his alcohol and drug abuse came to light. He didn't even finish his first season with the Trailblazers and instead entered a drug rehab center. From there, he played a season with the Magic and was eventually replaced by a free agent. He did attempt to make an NBA comeback but failed and was arrested for cocaine and marijuana possession both in 2005 and 2006.
11 Keon Clark
According to the Associated Press (2007), Clark said he never played a game sober. From UNLV, Clark was drafted as the 13th pick overall in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. He was traded shortly after to the Denver Nuggets where he spent the first two seasons of his career. He bounced around the NBA for the rest of his professional career spending time with the Raptors, Kings and Jazz and was praised for his athleticism and dunking abilities. Despite his potential, his drinking and off court antics were enough to not make any team want to keep him around for long. His troubles continued to follow him after the NBA. In 2013, he was sentenced to 8 years in prison for weapons and DUI charges.
10 Michael Ray Richardson
Michael Ray Richardson was drafted fourth overall by the New York Knicks in the 1978 NBA Draft but it wasn't until the 1980s that he developed a cocaine problem. On the court, Richardson was doing great. He was a four-time NBA All-Star. He led the league in steals and assists in the 1979-80 season and was a two-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection. His extracurricular activities off the court are what got him into trouble. In 1986, Richardson was banned from the NBA after three failed drug tests. In 1988, he was eligible to return to the NBA but instead went on to spend 14 seasons playing in Europe and a few with the CBA. During one of his seasons in the CBA he was suspended, not for drugs, but for making anti-Semitic remarks.
9 Richard Dumas
Richard Dumas blames his increased drug use on Nancy Reagan, according to a 2013 Arizona Republic article. He started dabbling in alcohol and drugs as a child and the "Just Say No" campaign only made him more curious to experiment with other drugs. Aside from that, Dumas was an All-American high school player and played college ball at Oklahoma State. He was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the 1991 NBA Draft and failed a drug test before training camp began. When he made his NBA debut in 1992, he made the All-Rookie second team and helped keep the Suns alive in the Finals. Three months after the Finals, he was back in rehab. He retired at the age of 26 saying he "got bored with basketball." I guess drugs and suspensions can do that to a person.
8 Lamar Odom
Is it the Kardashian curse or just a lifetime of troubles? Lamar Odom was drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1999 NBA Draft and was named to the 2000 NBA All-Rookie First Team. In 2001, he was suspended for five games for violating the league's drug policy and eight months later was suspended again. After a brief but solid season with the Heat (03-04), Odom joined the Lakers. Odom spent seven seasons with the Lakers and won two Championships during his tenure there. During the 2011 off-season, things in his personal life began to go array and it didn't get better from there. In 2013, he was arrested for a DUI and in 2015, he was found unconscious due to substance abuse at a brothel in Nevada. He was placed on life support but regained consciousness after a few days. Plagued with a history of drug abuse, we will have to keep up with Odom to see if his time in the NBA is officially over.
7 Vin Baker
Vin Baker was drafted in the first round of the 1993 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He was a four-time NBA All-Star and won a gold medal with the US Men's Basketball team at the 2000 Summer Olympics. He played four seasons with the Bucks before being traded to the Seattle SuperSonics and then the Boston Celtics another four years later. It was during his time with the Celtics that his skills started to diminish and he admitted to being an alcoholic. In an interview with the New York Daily News in 2013, he said he was leading a "double-life"-playing ball and then binge drinking after poor performances. The Celtics suspended and eventually released Baker and he continued to bounce around teams for the next three years. After he left the NBA, he reportedly blew $100 million. In 2015, he made headlines again when he was starting to turn his life around and training to manage a Starbucks in Rhode Island.
6 William Bedford
William Bedford was destined for greatness after his college career at Memphis. He was selected sixth overall in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns and was traded to the Detroit Pistons in 1987. The Pistons won two Championships while Bedford was on the team, but with no thanks to him. He only averaged 3.5 and 1.8 rebounds points per game while he played for the Pistons and spent the 1988-89 season in rehab for substance abuse. His drug use is most likely what's to blame for his career average of 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Post-NBA, Bedford has been arrested multiple times for drug possession and has spent time in prison. After being released from prison in 2011, it has been reported that he's involved in youth basketball organizations and a juvenile court where he mentors troubled youths.
5 Chris Herren
Despite failed drug tests, being kicked off teams and expulsions in college, Chris Herren was drafted in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. He played in 45 games for the Nuggets, averaging 3.1 points and 1.2 rebounds per game, before being traded to the Boston Celtics and developing a Oxycontin habit. He doesn't even remember his first game for the Celtics considering he skipped warm-ups to meet his dealer in the parking lot. He has said he couldn't play a game without heroin in his system. His 14-year drug addiction completely outlasted his two year professional basketball career. Herren now travels the country sharing his story in the hopes of helping others overcome their own addictions.
4 Marvin Barnes
If you take a look at Marvin Barnes' high school and college records, you may not be surprised at how his NBA career turned out. His nickname, "Bad News," could have been another indication. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers second overall in the 1974 NBA Draft and by the Spirits of St. Louis in the ABA draft. He chose to go the ABA route and played for the Spirits for two years. From 1976-1980, he played in the NBA. During his time with the Celtics, he admitted to doing cocaine while sitting on the bench and had many run-ins with the law. In 1990, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he never anticipated on being a basketball player and thought he would be dead by 30. Instead, he died at the age of 62 but the cause of death was not confirmed.
3 Chris Washburn
In 1984, Chris Washburn was one of the top high school recruits in the country. He went on to play college ball at North Carolina State University where he did well on the court, but off the court was another story. Despite his legal troubles and poor work ethic, he was the third pick overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 1986 NBA Draft. He spent two months during his rookie season in rehab and admitted to having a cocaine problem. After three failed drug tests in three years, he received a lifetime ban from the NBA in 1989. Washburn said that he lost focus while he was in the NBA and started to "enjoy the party life more than the practice life." Sports Illustrated named him the second-biggest NBA draft bust of all time in 2005.
2 Roy Tarpley
A first round draft pick, Sixth Man of the Year (87-88) and one time league leader in offensive rebound percentage, Roy Tarpley's demons eventually got the best of him. In the 1989-90 season, he was suspended after just five games when he was arrested for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest. This was only the beginning of his problems. Another DWI arrest and violations of the NBA's drug-use policy led to his suspensions throughout 1991-1994 seasons. When he violated the terms of a court-imposed personal aftercare program, he was permanently banned by the NBA in December 1995. He was never reinstated and tried to sue the NBA and the Dallas Mavericks, claiming that his addiction was a disability and they were in turn violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for refusing to reinstate him. The lawsuit was settled out of court. Tarpley died in 2015 at only 50 years old.
1 Len Bias
Len Bias never even got the chance to start his career. Just two days after being selected second overall in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, he collapsed in his dorm room and died. Traces of cocaine were found in his system. He spent his college career playing for the University of Maryland where many people compared to him to Michael Jordan. Coaches, players and fans alike were enamored by his leaping abilities, play-making skills and overall finesse on the court. In 1986, he was the ACC Athlete of the Year and a two-time ACC Player of the Year. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told the Boston Globe in 2003 that he felt Bias would have been one of the top players in the NBA. The biggest tragedy of all is that the world will never know exactly what Bias would have accomplished had he not succumbed to his addiction.
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