24. DALLAS MAVERICKS: ROY TARPLEY
Roy Tarpley made an impact early on in his NBA career as a strong, athletic 7-footer who could run the floor and put up double-doubles in his sleep, even as the Dallas Mavericks’ sixth man. But he was as troubled as he was talented, as he fell victim to the NBA’s old “three strikes, you’re out” drug policy and got himself banned from the NBA in 1991, aged only 26.
Tarpley would return to the Mavericks for the 1994-95 season, and while obviously rusty at times, he was still a productive bench player who seemed to have turned his life around. Alas, that wasn’t to be, as he received a lifetime NBA ban in December 1995 for violating the terms of his court-imposed aftercare program.
Tarpley, sadly, passed away in January 2015 at the young age of 50, with liver failure suspected, but not confirmed to be his cause of death.
23. DENVER NUGGETS: DAVID THOMPSON
Five years, $4 million. That’s peanuts by today’s standards, but in 1978, it was the record-breaking deal David Thompson signed to remain with the Denver Nuggets. He was a bona fide superstar and one of the league’s most exciting players, and he was fresh off a scoring title. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the end for the Skywalker’s status as an NBA superstar.
Aside from multiple injuries, Thompson’s drug use and partying became a problem as the ‘70s drew to a close, and by 1981-82, he was demoted to a bench role, somehow averaging almost 15 ppg despite being reduced to 20 minutes a game. A trade to Seattle seemed to re-energize him a bit, but injuries and drugs combined to end his career after the 1983-84 season.
Thompson eventually got clean and got inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, but who knows how long his star would have shone, had it not been for his drug problems?
22. DETROIT PISTONS: REGGIE HARDING
Although the late Reggie Harding was never a star player in the truest sense, he was a 7-foot-tall high school phenom from Detroit who became the first NBA draftee never to play a minute of college ball. From 1963 to 1965, he manned the middle for the Pistons, and seemed to have the makings of a future superstar with his double-double averages. Then came the legal problems that had him sitting out all of 1965-66, after which his career was never the same again.
Apparently, Harding was quite the loose cannon back in the day, as stories have alleged that he used to carry a gun in the locker room. In the “renegade” ABA, he had even threatened to shoot his GM, as well as a teammate he suspected to be racist! Drugs were also a problem for the big man, and his penchant for petty crime had him in and out of the slammer. Harding’s short and tragic life ended in 1972, when he was shot dead, never seemingly having outgrown the thug lifestyle he fancied as a teenager.
21. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: LATRELL SPREWELL
Latrell Sprewell is exactly the type of player I had in mind when making this list. There’s no arguing his success in the NBA, but there’s also less arguing how things could have been much better had he kept his head straight. Of course, it needs little reminding that Spree was at the peak of his game, and already a sizable headache for the Warriors beforehand, when he choked coach P.J. Carlesimo just 14 games into the 1997-98 season, getting himself suspended for the rest of the year.
That also marked Sprewell’s departure from the Bay Area to the Big Apple, as he was traded to the New York Knicks, where he continued his strong play. But even if he did play reasonably well until his (unreasonable) demands for more money ended his NBA career in 2005, he wasn’t as dynamic as he was with the Warriors. Also, he remains the player many of us think of when it comes to bad financial decisions among NBA players. Hell, he even made a commercial referencing these financial missteps!
20. HOUSTON ROCKETS: LEWIS LLOYD
It was either him or Mitchell Wiggins, but since Lewis Lloyd was the more talented and established of the two Houston Rockets guards banned for two and a half years for cocaine use in 1986, he’s the one making this list.
After two years riding the bench for the Golden State Warriors, Lloyd came to the Rockets in 1983, dazzling opponents with his flashy moves and big-time scoring. He started at off-guard for the 1985-86 Rockets who lost in the 1986 NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics, but by the 1986-87 season, his play began to fall off. Then came the cocaine suspension, and a brief comeback in 1989-90 that saw the player nicknamed “Black Magic” on the deep end of Houston’s bench.
Lloyd would play in the international scene after his NBA retirement, including a 1991 run in the Philippine Basketball Association that this writer remembers as one of the more impressive stints for an American “import” during that time.
19. INDIANA PACERS: METTA WORLD PEACE
We probably should be calling him Ron Artest, because the future Metta World Peace was still legally known as Ronald William Artest when he was enjoying the peak years of his career as an Indiana Pacer. When he made his only All-Star appearance in the 2003-04 season, he was a certified two-way threat on offense and defense, and his stats suggested that he’d be leading the team on and off the court once Reggie Miller retired.
Then came the infamous “Malice in the Palace,” when Artest/World Peace triggered a massive brawl with the Detroit Pistons (and one of their fans), resulting in him getting suspended just 7 games in to the 2004-05 season, and for a whopping 86 games in total! Making things worse was his subsequent demand to be traded, which left teammates and management rightfully feeling betrayed.
Artest still had a solid run in Sacramento and Houston, before transitioning to role player status and his new name as a Laker. But once again, take note that this was supposed to be the man to take over from the legendary Reggie Miller as the Pacers’ franchise star.