One moment, you're on top of the world as one of the best professional basketball players in the world. The next moment, you're either one or more of these things – broke, addicted to drugs, or dealing with some very bad PR following an incident or two that took place in or out of the court. Or you could be desperately seeking relevancy by appearing in a trashy and/or cheap reality show or two. Such is the life of many an NBA player throughout the league's long history, and there are oh-so-many cautionary tales involving these players. That's why it's important to take care of what you have while you still have it, and not do or say anything stupid that could compromise your status as an NBA star idolized by many.
Of course, there are redemption stories for many of these players who fell from grace, and we've made sure to include them as well in this list. We've come up with a list of 15 players, all of them having achieved great success in the NBA, only for them to waste their talent through their addictions, lose the fortunes they earned in the NBA, and/or do or say something that sullied their own names in one way or another.
Who are these players and what have they been up to in recent years? Let's take a look below.
21 Gilbert Arenas
Boy, that was a fun few years, wasn't it? Onetime 2nd-round pick Gilbert Arenas was a pretty good player for the Golden State Warriors, but when he became a Washington Wizard, he became a superstar, leading the NBA in scoring in 2005-06 and standing out for his colorful personality and unorthodox nickname "Hibachi." He had another memorable nickname, "Agent Zero," inspired by his jersey number, an Adidas signature shoe, and a Hall of Fame career in the making. Then came the injuries and the legal problems, not the least being the gunfight he had with teammate Javaris Crittenton over gambling debts.
Arenas was out of the NBA before his 30th birthday, and thanks to those few big years he had, he ended his NBA career as a 20 ppg scorer, albeit one who burned out VERY quickly. Last year, he resurfaced in an interview with TMZ Sports, where he claimed to be so broke (despite earning $160 million in his NBA career) he couldn't afford to pay for his kids' private school tuition. Makes you wonder where all those millions went in the years since he last played in the NBA.
20 Shawn Kemp
In the years between Moses Malone and Kevin Garnett, the NBA had another big man who bypassed college (well, technically) yet went on to great things in the league. Shawn Kemp quickly became an All-Star after the Seattle SuperSonics picked him in the middle of the 1st round of the 1989 NBA draft, and with his blend of size, athleticism, and skill, the "Reign Man" was one of the top power forwards of the 1990s. By the year 2000, he was at least 40 pounds overweight as he came off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers, and had essentially eaten his way out of the league by the time his NBA career ended in 2003.
Kemp had a great NBA career that could have been greater had his weight not began ballooning in the late-'90s. And he's had mixed fortunes since retiring from pro basketball, appearing on Pros vs. Joes in 2009, while also seeing his Seattle-based restaurant shut down in 2015. As Kemp was also notorious as one of the NBA's top baby daddies of all time (with seven kids), it's also worth noting that his oldest son, Shawn Kemp Jr., played a decent four years for the University of Washington, but not well enough to catch the attention of NBA scouts.
19 Kermit Washington
Kermit Washington was a workmanlike power forward who relished his role as the Los Angeles Lakers' enforcer. But he had gone too far – way too far – during a December 1977 game between the Lakers and the Houston Rockets. Seeing journeyman center Kevin Kunnert getting rough with the Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Washington sought to defend the honor of his superstar teammate. But as the Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich ran toward the scuffle in hopes of breaking it up, he ended up a victim of a gruesome injury, as Washington caught him squarely in the face, punching him and leaving him out in a pool of blood.
For brutally injuring the beloved Rudy T, Washington became a pariah to NBA fans everywhere, and the Lakers quickly traded him to the Boston Celtics. He continued playing at a high level through 1981, retired in 1982, came back briefly for the 1987-88 season, and seemed to be enjoying a fulfilling life afterwards, while trying to live down the events of "The Punch." That is, until he was arrested in 2016 for allegedly embezzling half a million dollars meant to be donated to poor children in Africa.
18 Latrell Sprewell
Latrell Sprewell is an unusual case in this list – not only did he fall from grace once, but twice. With his status as the Golden State Warriors' top guy established, he was nonetheless notorious for being just as ill-tempered as he was talented, and that was proven in December 1997, when he violently choked Warriors' coach P.J. Carlesimo when the latter told the former to put a little mustard on his passes. Well, that escalated quickly, didn't it?
Sprewell was suspended for the rest of the 1997-98 season and got traded to the New York Knicks, where he played solidly, if not as well as he did as a Warrior. He then concluded his NBA career with two seasons for the Timberwolves, though he became notorious once again when he declined a three-year, $21 million contract extension, seeing the offer as insultingly low for a man who has a "family to feed." Oops.
Years later, "Spree" sure had trouble feeding his family when his yacht, then his homes were foreclosed. But last year, Sprewell proved that he can somehow laugh about his second fall from grace, as he appeared in a Priceline commercial (alongside David Robinson), giving a kid bad, pessimistic advice in contrast to the Admiral's ambitious, optimistic encouragement.
16 Tim Hardaway
Unlike most of the players in this list, Tim Hardaway's fall from grace didn't come during his Hall of Fame-worthy career as an NBA player. Instead, it came in 2007, a few years after he retired, as he said the following comments in reaction to former NBA player John Amaechi's coming out as homosexual:
"Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."
The public fallout over those remarks turned Hardaway into a pariah for some time, but he's since worked hard to become more tolerant of the LGBT community. In fact, Jason Collins even claimed that Hardaway was appreciative of his decision to come out as gay in 2013. His admirable about-face from proud homophobe to LGBT rights supporter aside, Hardaway now works as an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons, while his son, Tim Jr., is a top reserve for the Atlanta Hawks.
15 Dennis Rodman
In the 1990s, Dennis Rodman was one of those NBA stars whom even non-fans were familiar with. As it turns out, it was mostly for the wrong reasons. A ferocious rebounder and tough defender, Rodman was arguably more notorious for his ever-changing hair colors, his high-profile relationships with Madonna and Carmen Electra, and basically living by the title of his best-selling autobiography – As Bad As I Wanna Be. Oh, and he wrestled too, leveraging his real-life friendship with Hulk Hogan to briefly become part of the nWo.
After his NBA career ended, Rodman struggled to stay relevant, appearing in several reality shows, including Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling (where he competed alongside washed-up child/teen stars like Dustin "Screech Powers" Diamond and Danny Bonaduce), and Celebrity Apprentice. Now in his mid-50s, he's still not done with the attention-grabbing tactics, as his bizarre friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un brought him back to the headlines.
13 O.J. Mayo
Remember when O.J. Mayo was a 15-year-old high school kid with a tattoo, a mustache, and the audacious claim that "OJM" really stood for "Oscar, Jordan, and Magic"? He was a big deal alright, but as we eventually found out, Mayo was mostly solid, but very inconsistent and not a game-changing guard in any way as the 3rd-overall pick of the 2008 NBA draft. His career was seemingly on a downward trajectory since his strong rookie season, and prior to the 2016-17 NBA season, he was banned by the NBA for a drug violation. As Mayo was caught using hard drugs, this wasn't your usual case of "three strikes, you're out" – he was banned despite being caught for the first time under the NBA's stricter (as compared to the '80s and ' 90s) drug policies.
At the present, Mayo is just 29 years old, and if he's really as dedicated to turning things around as he seems to be, there is a chance he could revive his flagging NBA career once he becomes eligible for reinstatement ahead of the 2018-19 season.
12 Eddie Johnson
There are two Eddie Johnsons who enjoyed successful NBA careers that coincided with each other – there's Eddie A. Johnson, who had an 18-year career from 1981 to 1999 as a high-scoring small forward, and there's "Fast" Eddie L. Johnson, a quick point guard and pesky defender who played from 1977 to 1987. Like his former Hawks teammate John Drew (see above), Johnson also got a lifetime NBA ban for his cocaine addiction. But unlike Drew, Johnson wasn't able to get his life back on track after getting banned from the NBA.
In 2006, Johnson had racked up more than 100 entries in his rap sheet, and was a well-known name in Florida's prison system when he was arrested for burglary and sexual battery of an 8-year-old girl, just as he was awaiting trial for the sexual assault of an adult woman. He was convicted in 2008, and remains incarcerated at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution. What a waste of talent.
10 Micheal Ray Richardson
Despite playing for the mid-major Montana Grizzlies in college, Micheal Ray Richardson was picked 4th-overall in 1978 and dubbed the “next Walt Frazier” for his quickness and defensive ability, and he didn’t disappoint, leading the NBA in assists and steals in the 1979-80 season. Unfortunately, his stellar NBA career came to a screeching halt in 1986, after failing his third drug test.
Plagued by a crippling cocaine addiction, Richardson sought to turn his life around, and did so successfully, never returning to the NBA, but carving out a long career playing in Europe. He would then embark on a successful minor coaching career that was unfortunately, marred by seemingly anti-Semitic comments he made in an interview, as well as his use of a homophobic slur during the 2007 Continental Basketball Association Finals. As of 2016, he had quit coaching, and was working in Oklahoma as a substitute teacher and in the insurance business.
9 Vin Baker
Although many questioned the wisdom of drafting a mid-major monster like Vin Baker 8th-overall in 1993, he was able to silence the doubters soon enough, earning All-Rookie honors for the Milwaukee Bucks, and playing in four All-Star Games. But he wasn't even 30 years old yet when his NBA star began to fade, as his personal demons began to catch up with him – if not for his alcoholism, who knows how well he could have played in the second half of his 13-year pro career?
After his NBA career ended, Baker continued to battle with the bottle, racking up a DWI arrest, and losing most of the $100-plus million he earned as a player. As of 2015, he was working as probably the world's tallest (at 6'11") Starbucks barista, but he soon made his way back to basketball, not to mention the team that drafted him, joining Fox Sports Wisconsin's broadcast team covering Bucks games for the 2016-17 season.
8 Antoine Walker
As the 6th pick in the talent-packed 1996 NBA draft, Antoine Walker didn't let the Boston Celtics down, as he eventually combined with Paul Pierce to give the team a potent 1-2 punch from the forward positions. But while Pierce was a solid citizen who retired at the end of the 2016-17 season after 19 years in the pros, Walker burned out soon after he left Beantown in 2003, turning into an inconsistent journeyman who often struggled with his weight.
Two years after Walker last played in the NBA, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010, and had to sell the championship ring he won as part of the Miami Heat as part of his settlement. It was a huge drop-off from the time he once stood out as one of the NBA's most versatile power forwards, but he's recovered well since then. He now works for Morgan Stanley, educating young athletes on how to avoid making the same financial mistakes he did, while also working for 120 Sports as a basketball analyst.
6 Isiah Thomas
No, not THAT Isaiah Thomas with the fourth-quarter heroics. The Isiah Thomas we're referring to, of course, is the former Detroit Pistons point guard who had a brilliant NBA career from 1981 to 1994, albeit one that was marred by its fair share of controversies. Those controversies didn't cause him to fall from grace during his time as a player, but these sure did; his running the Continental Basketball Association to the ground as its owner, his boneheaded moves (alongside James Dolan) while running the New York Knicks as President of Basketball Operations, and the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment lawsuit, which was slapped against him during his tenure as the Knicks' coach. Which wasn't very successful either.
As you can see, "Zeke" has drawn a lot of flak since his retirement from the NBA. But on the plus side, he's earned praise for his involvement in charitable causes, and in February 2017, he was given the AT&T Humanity of Connection Award, for his continuing contributions for the betterment of the African-American community.
4 Metta World Peace
With just 7 games into the 2004-05 NBA season, Ron Artest was at the peak of his game, averaging close to 25 points for the Indiana Pacers and looking poised to improve on a campaign where he made the All-NBA Third Team and won Defensive Player of the Year honors. Instead, the Malice at the Palace happened, and Artest was suspended for the rest of the 2004-05 season for his role in one of the worst, if not the worst brawl in NBA history.
Artest would go on to enjoy several more productive seasons in the NBA, but this notorious thug would make the biggest headlines not for anything he did on the court, but rather for legally changing his name to Metta World Peace ahead of the 2011-12 season. That name change took place as he was aging and increasingly mediocre, and it may surprise you, but he was active in the 2016-17 season, playing a third-string role at 37 for the moribund Los Angeles Lakers.
3 John Drew
You might not have any idea of who this man is if you're an NBA fan under the age of 30, but from 1976 to 1985, he was one of the NBA's deadliest scorers, with five seasons averaging 20 ppg or more, and was also a top-rate offensive rebounder for a small forward. He's probably best-known for his time in Atlanta, where he played alongside Eddie Johnson (who also appears in this list) and the late Dan Roundfield on some solid Hawks teams.
Like some of his '70s and '80s peers, Drew suffered from a bad cocaine addiction, and became the first NBA player to get a lifetime drug ban when he failed his third coke test in 1986. He eventually cleaned up, though we can't imagine him making a fortune since his basketball days ended. As of this decade, he was still driving a cab for a living in the Houston area.
1 Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom enjoyed quite a long and productive career as the 4th-overall pick in the 1999 draft, despite never playing in the All-Star Game or earning All-NBA honors. He was a versatile, do-it-all forward who did win Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2010-11 for the Lakers, but saw his career take an unexpected tailspin, when a stint with the Dallas Mavericks and a return to the Clippers (whom he initially played for) both turned out to be disastrous. Still, one can certainly say he lived up to his high draft selection in 14 NBA seasons.
After his NBA career ended, Odom began to show up in the headlines for the wrong reasons, as he dealt with drinking problems and watched his high-profile marriage to Khloe Kardashian implode, mostly on account of his boozing and womanizing. In October 2015, Odom was hospitalized after suffering several strokes while checked into a notorious Las Vegas brothel, and while he's recovered nicely from his health issues, the same cannot be said about his status as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's brother-in-law, as Khloe (who's now dating Tristan Thompson) filed for divorce a second and final time in 2016.
Guess we know whom Odom WON'T be rooting for in the 2017 NBA Finals.
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