The NBA is comprised of some 500 players who, for the most part, are multi-millionaires. These one-percenters deal with first-world problems such as too much leg room on chartered flights and too many women to pick whom they want to go home with. They get to play a simple game for a living, get to travel all across the country for their “job” and spend six months of the year literally doing nothing but still getting paid for it. It’s no wonder why being an athlete is one of the most desirable professions in the world.
But on the other hand, NBA players are people as well. They go through the same problems that Average Joes go through with the difference being their problems are in a public forum. Some of these problems include run-ins with the law and arrests. NBA players may be global superstars, but they aren’t immune to spending time in jail for breaking the law.
Or, I should say, some players aren’t immune to spending time in jail. There are many players who are heavily influential not only with their teams, but with authorities as well. They can hire the best lawyers and seemingly escape the worst of crimes with just a slap on the wrist. We will revisit some of these crimes and instances where athletes got off easy compared to what was expected. We will also look at the other end of the spectrum and athletes who served lengthy prison sentences for their misdeeds. Here are 8 long prison sentences for NBA players and 7 who got off easy.
15 Long Prison Sentence: Allen Iverson
We should all thank Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder and the VA Court of Appeals as without them Allen Iverson would have never made it to the NBA. While in high school in 1993 Iverson was a part of a race-riot brawl at a bowling alley. There were punches, and chairs, thrown by both sides of the brawl but only Iverson and his friends were arrested. Even though he was just 17, Iverson was convicted as an adult for maiming by mob and sentenced to 15 years in prison (10 suspended). After spending four months in prison, the verdict was then overturned by Wilder and the Court of Appeals citing a lack of evidence. Iverson then completed his final year of high school and then played two years at Georgetown before becoming a Hall of Fame NBA player.
14 Got Off Easy: Kyle Lowry
The All-Star point guard found himself in trouble in 2011 while with the Houston Rockets. During the NBA lockout, Lowry was participating in a charity game and became enraged at a female referee. After the game, Lowry threw a basketball at her torso and challenged her to a fight. He told her “b----, meet me outside, I will kick you a--.” While the ref was changing her shoes, Lowry then hit her again with a basketball thrown at a high speed. Lowry would enter into a no contest plea and avoided any jail time for his battery charge. He was sentenced to 100 hours of community service at a battered women’s shelter, had to enroll in impulse counseling, and was on probation for six months. Lowry would go on to play one more season with the Rockets before being traded to the Toronto Raptors.
13 Long Prison Sentence: Billy Ray Bates
Before there was Linsanity, there was Billy Ray Bates who burst upon the NBA scene in the 80s seemingly out of nowhere. He made his NBA debut on February 23, 1980 and was named the league’s Player of the Week just one month later. But he played in just 187 NBA games due to drug problems though he did experience success overseas. After his playing career ended, Bates robbed a New Jersey gas station at knifepoint and attacked the cash register attendant. Even though Bates denied his involvement, the attack was caught on video and the weapon was found when it fell out of Bates’ pocket while running away.
Police would find Bates passed out on a lawn just blocks away from the crime scene and with just $7 in his pockets. After being paroled after serving nearly five years in prison, Bates violated his parole when he tested positive for cocaine. He went back to jail for a year-and-a-half before finally being released in 2008.
12 Got Off Easy: DeShawn Stevenson
DeShawn Stevenson was the first player ever drafted straight out of high school by the Utah Jazz in 2000. In his second NBA season, the 20-year-old Stevenson had consensual sex with a 14-year-old after a night of drinking. He said he wasn’t aware that the girl was underage until after they had sex and when he found out he apologized to her mother. After initially being charged with statutory rape, the charge was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor with no jail time. Stevenson ended up with just paying $1,100 in fines and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. Perhaps Stevenson got off with an easier-than-expected sentence because one of the girl’s friends told police that Stevenson stopped another man from having sex with the 14-year-old when she was passed out.
11 Long Prison Sentence: Jay Vincent
Vincent attended Michigan State and was the third wheel of the 1979 NCAA Championship Game that featured Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. He played nine seasons in the NBA including averaging over 20 PPG as a rookie with the 1981-82 Dallas Mavericks. Nicknamed the Midnight Creeper, Vincent got caught up in white-collar crime after his playing days ended. In 2010 he was indicted on mail fraud charges for scamming more than $2 million from 20,000 people across the country. Vincent and an associate defrauded people by charging them to become certified home inspectors even though no inspectors were never hired.
Vincent had placed ads in newspapers and on the internet but his business was not legit and they had no contracts with banks. He would be sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison and was released in 2016.
10 Got Off Easy: Sam Mack
Mack was a journeyman NBA player who played for five different teams from 1992-2002 and participated in the 1998 Three-Point Contest. He had previously been kicked out of both Iowa State and Arizona State for separate arrests but saved his best run-in with the law for the NBA. In 2000 officers attempted to stop Mack for speeding but he fled and began a high-speed chase with cops. The chase ended when Mack pulled up to his mother’s house and not only was he arrested for fleeing, but he was also busted for having 20 individual bags of marijuana, one rock of cocaine, a digital scale and more than $2,800 in small bills.
Amazingly, he avoided prison and was just forced to complete a drug treatment program. Mack would go unsigned in the 2000-01 season but then joined the Miami Heat for the following season.
9 Long Prison Sentence: Keon Clark
Long before Dwight Howard had the Superman dunk that wasn’t really a dunk, Keon Clark was putting Shawn Bradley on a poster with a similar throw-in.
Clark was a rail-thin, shot-blocking dunker like a skinny JaVale McGee. In 2001 he blocked 10 shots in one half which is one short of the NBA record. But Clark also struggled with addiction problems both during his time in the NBA and afterwards. He once claimed that he often drank during halftime and never played a game sober in his NBA career. In 2013 Clark was facing multiple charges and pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and a DUI. He was sentenced to eight years in prison but was released early into his sentence due to good behavior.
8 Got Off Easy: Lonny Baxter
The burly big man is best remembered for being the starting center on the University of Maryland’s 2002 NCAA championship team. He then played four seasons in the NBA with six different teams. One of those teams was the Wizards and in 2006 Baxter was arrested for firing a Glock handgun into the air. It’s one thing to just randomly shoot a gun but it’s another to randomly shoot a gun just blocks from the White House. Baxter would plead guilty to gun possession and unregistered ammunition charges. The judge in the case would sent Baxter to jail for 60 days and say, "There's no good reason for a person who's not working in law enforcement or presidential protection to be in possession of a loaded weapon within blocks of the White House, let alone to fire it into the air."
7 Long Prison Sentence: Jack Molinas
Molinas was the third overall pick in the 1953 NBA Draft but played just 32 games before being banned for life for betting on games while in college. But he was really hit hard in 1961 when he was involved in a point-shaving scandal involving 37 college-athletes from 22 different schools. Molina was the conspirator and he got the Mafia involved in bribing players to fix college games. One of the victims was future Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins who Molinas said was not involved but was still kicked out of college and barred from the NBA for 8 years.
Molinas would be sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison for bribing players to fix games but ended up serving just five years. After being released from prison, Molinas moved to Hollywood but was murdered in his backyard by a single bullet to the head. Police believe he was the victim of a mob hit.
6 Got Off Easy: Charles Smith
No, this isn’t Charles Smith of the Knicks that couldn’t get his shot off vs. the Bulls. This is Charles Smith who was the 1989 Big East Player of the Year who played with the Celtics from 1989-1991. Smith’s NBA career seemingly came to an end in 1991 when he struck and killed two Boston University students in a hit-and-run. According to a passenger in Smith’s car, after running over the two people, Smith paused for a second and then sped away. The Celtics had Smith signed to a 10-day contract at the time and they just let it expire. One year later, Smith was convicted of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene.
He spent only 28 months in prison and former teammate, Robert Parish, said of Smith, “Of all the guys, Charles would be the last one you’d expect to end up incarcerated.” Despite killing two people, the NBA still came calling when the 26-year-old was released in 1994. He would play eight games with the Timberwolves in 1995 and would continue playing semi-pro ball until 2001.
5 Long Prison Sentence: Mookie Blaylock
What Mike Conley is in the 2010s is what Mookie Blaylock was in the 90s – an underrated point guard who was one of the best two-way players at his position. Blaylock was a six-time member of the All-Defensive team and currently ranks fourth all-time in steals per game. But Blaylock ran into trouble after his playing career ended and in 2013 he caused a crash that resulted in the death of a woman. He already had an outstanding warrant for a DUI and drug-related offenses and Blaylock was charged with vehicular homicide for the crash.
Rather than face a jury for killing a mother of five, Blaylock pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. As part of the plea bargain, Blaylock will spend three years in prison with four years of a suspension sentence. He will then spend eight years on probation and will not be allowed to drive when he gets out of jail.
4 Got Off Easy: Qyntel Woods
On the court, the former Trail Blazer was a bust, but off the court, Qyntel Woods was the NBA’s version of Michael Vick. During the Jail Blazers era in Portland, Woods was arrested and charged with animal abuse for staging dog fights at his home. Police began investigating Woods after a news report in Portland showed that his dog had bite marks on it. Woods would plead guilty to first-degree animal abuse which resulted in both of his dogs being confiscated. He would be sentenced to 80 hours of community service and wasn’t allowed to own any pets during his 12 months of probation. He also agreed to donate $10,000 to the Oregon Humane Society while the Blazers would suspend and eventually cut Woods. It appears that the only reason he wasn’t given a lengthy prison sentence like Vick got was because authorities didn’t find any deceased dogs at his residence.
3 Long Prison Sentence: Javaris Crittenton
Javaris Crittenton went from being a member of the Future Business Leaders of America to being the Lakers point guard of the future to being charged with murder in a few short years. Crittenton’s first (known) encounter with guns came in the infamous Wild, Wild West showdown with Gilbert Arenas in the Wizards locker room. But just two years later in 2011, Crittenton proved that he wasn’t just posturing and he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. He shot and killed a mother of four in Atlanta, unintentionally, as he was aiming for someone else. After initially denying any involvement, Crittenton and his cousins were indicted on seven charges including murder, aggravated assault and participation in gang activity.
Right before the trial was set to start, Crittenton copped a plea deal and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault with a firearm. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison and 17 years of probation. Crittenton won’t be released until 2032.
2 Got Off Easy: Ruben Patterson
Nicknamed (by him and only him) the Kobe Stopper, Patterson played 10 NBA seasons and is best known for being one of the main figures of Portland’s Jail Blazers era. In 2000 his child’s nanny says that Patterson attempted to rape her at his home and forced her to perform a sex act on him. The married Patterson said the sex was consensual and that he was only guilty of cheating on his wife. However, Patterson would plead guilty to a third-degree rape charge which came with a relatively soft sentence.
Patterson did have to register as a sex offender but was sentenced to just 15 days in jail and was placed on two years of probation. To make things even worse, Patterson ended up spending only 10 days in jail due to good behavior. Six years later Patterson had to pay a $1,000 fine for failing to register as a sex offender after moving to a new home.
1 Long Prison Sentence: Eddie Johnson
A 10-year NBA veteran, Eddie Johnson was a two-time All-Star with the Atlanta Hawks in the early 1980s. That alone makes him more accomplished than 99% of the players in NBA history but it’s his troubles off the court which really stand out. He was kicked out of the NBA for multiple failed drug tests and has been arrested roughly 100 times. The most serious of those was when he was arrested for sexual battery of an 8-year-old while he was awaiting trial for raping another woman. It was found that Johnson entered an unlocked apartment that only had four kids present. He then followed a girl to her room and blocked the door with a dresser before committing the crime.
This conviction carries a mandatory life sentence without parole in the state of Florida which is where it occurred. To the best of our knowledge, he is the only player in NBA history to be sentenced to life imprisonment.