Top 10 NBA Careers Ruined by Drugs
Many great athletes never reach their full potential due to getting mixed up in the wrong crowds of drugs and alcohol. Sadly, many of their downfalls become public, ultimately ruining their careers in sports and taking them down a highly unanticipated path. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest talents in NBA basketball and how drugs and alcohol took them out of the game too soon.
Drugs Ended these 10 NBA Careers
1. Keon Clark
After attending and playing at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Clark was the 13th overall draft pick in 1998 and had high hopes to be quite a solid player in the NBA. Sadly, he was an avid drinker, but this behavior actually slipped under the radar of most. He only played until 2004 and met several issues after his basketball career. In 2006, he was supposed to stand trial for weapons and drugs charges in Illinois, but when he never showed up, U.S. Marshals found him trying to board a bus in Texas. This resulted in a 2.5-year prison sentence, but the sentence was soon revoked.
At a hearing later on down the road, Clark openly admitted his heavy drinking problem, citing the problem to starting back in his high school days. He also said that he never played a game sober, claiming he would drink alcohol during the halftimes of his NBA games.
2. Mitchell Wiggins
In 1983, Wiggins was the 23rd overall draft pick for the Indiana Pacers, but then traded to the Bulls on that draft day. During the 1984 offseason, Wiggins signed on with the Houston Rockets and became a big challenger for a starting spot. In the 1986 NBA finals, when the Rockets went head-to-head with the Celtics, Wiggins ended up testing positive for cocaine.
The positive cocaine test resulted in a 2.5-year suspension from the NBA. Upon returning to the NBA, Wiggins posted his best career season, but after that showing, his stats decreased drastically and wonders surfaced of possible continual drug use.
3. Lewis Lloyd
The 1981 76th draft pick, Lloyd had a breakout season with the Rockets in 1982-1983. He averaged, at the very least, 13 points per game for the next two seasons. Along with Wiggins, in 1986, Lloyd was suspended for 2.5 years for testing positive for cocaine. After being reinstated in 1989, he played with the Philadelphia 76ers but only played two games after a sudden retirement.
4. Richard Dumas
Dumas was the 46th draft in 1991 and played for the Phoenix Suns. But he only got so far as to just make the team, not play the game. He instantly failed a random drug test and was suspended for the entire season, eventually also missing part of the following year’s season as well.
During his NBA suspension, he played in Israel in the meantime. His reinstatement resulted in some decent averages for the Suns, and later signed with the 76ers, but was released less than a year later after never playing a single game for the team.
5. John Lucas II
The very first overall draft came from an impressive career at the University of Maryland. Lucas was drafted first in the 1976 NBA draft for the Rockets. He had two incredible seasons in Houston, and then went on to have his third and best seasons of his career with the Warriors. He then moved on to the Washington Bullets for two seasons, and eventually signed on with the San Antonio Spurs. Eventually, he made his way back to the Rockets, helping to bring them to the Finals, although they lost the series.
During the offseason after the loss at the Finals, Lucas’ drug problem came to the surface of the public eye. He had a troubling issue with cocaine and was also an alcoholic. After this, his stats were subpar at best, and eventually he retired after 1990.
6. William Bedford
The Phoenix Suns snagged this 6th overall draft in 1986 after being one of the best basketball players in Memphis’ history. He was destined to be a star – but that didn’t exactly happen according to the plan. Bedford only played one season for the Suns, was then traded to the Pistons, and after four seasons with them, was traded to the Clippers.
Just four months later, he found himself being traded to the Bullets, but was waived just four days later. He never played a single game for the Clippers or Bullets. He then signed with the spurs and played only 16 games, and after that, failed to sign with another team.
His sporadic and inconsistent six-year career was highly attributed to Bedford’s heavy drug and alcohol use, never reaching his full potential.
7. Roy Tarpley
Tarpley was the seventh overall draft pick back in 1986 for the Dallas Mavericks. He averaged 12.6 points per game and was expected to be one of the greats, if not the next great. But sadly, things didn’t quite go that way. Tarpley was an all-star player at the esteemed University of Michigan and was a part of the ever-famous 1986 NBA draft — made famous by all of the drug scandals that came with it.
The all-star was put into a starting position right away, averaging 7.5 points during his rookie seasons. He soon got even better, averaging double digit stats for each of his next four seasons. His best season was in 1990, where he averaged over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. He was on fire.
Sadly, the fire would soon be put out. He was banned from the NBA for a major substance abuse problem before the 1991-92 season. He returned in 1994 to play for the Mavericks again, but only tallied up 55 games before a permanent NBA ban. This permanent ban stemmed from violating the substance abuse program, as well as violating the terms of a court-imposed personal aftercare program.
8. Chris Washburn
Another 1986 draft pick, Washburn was the third overall pick, drafted onto the Phoenix Suns. He too was slated to be one of the greats. However, this didn’t happen. He wasn’t a very effective player during his rookie season, a season that was interrupted by him checking himself into rehabilitation in January of 1987. He admitted openly to the staff members there that he struggled with a cocaine problem.
He returned to the Warriors in March, but didn’t play up to the standard set for him. He was dealt to the Atlanta Hawks, but just couldn’t up his game. After not clicking with any other teams, his short two-season career was over. He is thought of as one of the biggest “draft busts” in NBA history.
9. Michael Ray Richardson
In 1978, this all-star was the fourth overall draft and made his way onto the New York Knicks’ star team. He was deemed to be the next Walt Frazier, but Richardson didn’t ever quite make it there. He made the All-Star team three straight times on the Knicks, and then was dealt to the Warriors for the 1982 season.
After playing just 33 games with the Warriors, he was traded to the Nets. He played four good seasons with the Nets, with averages in the double digits in all of those seasons. He also was leading the league in steals during the 1984 season, arguably his career’s best season.
Sadly, in 1986, Richardson was banned from the NFL for life after failing three drug tests. He was offered a second chance in 1988, but was soon kicked out of the league for two more failed drug tests for cocaine – even though he was given the graciousness of a second chance. Richardson disputed the results at the time and even continues to do so today.
Richardson also blamed his suspensions on racial discrimination rather than drug use. He insisted that other players should have been suspended due to their alcohol use – but alcohol does not violate the NBA’s substance abuse program, so his claims were disregarded.
10. Len Bias
This might be the worst drug-related story in NBA history. Len Bias was taken with the second overall draft pick, by the Boston Celtics, in the famous 1986 draft in Madison Square Garden in New York. The very day after being drafted, Bias and his father flew to Washington D.C. for an NBA club draft appearance and product endorsement signing for the Celtics. He signed a $3 million contract with Nike.
That night, Bias returned to Boston and drove back to his room on campus at the University of Maryland in his newly leased, fancy sports car. That night, local police reported that Bias’ car was found in one of the worst drug neighborhoods in the area. At 6:32am, a 911 call was made and the caller reported that Bias was not breathing. Just four minutes later paramedics arrived, but the star-to-be was pronounced dead at 8:55am.
The cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia, something often associated with heavy cocaine use. This moment went down as one of the biggest tragedies in sports.