Bust. It’s a word we throw around a lot, but haven’t been able to distinctly define. Our typical classification is a seemingly promising prospect that was either (a) placed in the wrong situation, (b) plagued by injury or (c) just immensely overhyped. They are often looked at as the most disappointing bunch, but I don’t see it that way. What about the players that we knew could perform at the highest level and others who DID perform at the highest level but couldn’t sustain it? What about the guys who had all the tools, but just couldn’t keep their lives together long enough to fulfill all of their potential?
There are busts, and then there are those guys — players who had all the skill in the world, but just couldn’t keep their heads on straight and finished with untapped potential. Through a combination of huge paychecks, high-profile living and bad decisions, they forfeited parts, and sometimes all, of what could’ve been storied careers. We knew they could perform, we knew all the tools were there, but we often just didn’t see the consistency that turned forgettable players into stars, and stars into absolute legends. To me, it’s those players who frustrate fans the most. We were teased, but then betrayed by them because of selfish actions. Here are 10 players that fell apart and saw their careers suffer from off-the-court problems…
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10. ROBERT SWIFT
A highly-touted prospect out of Bakersfield High School in California, Swift bypassed offers from USC and UCLA to go straight to the pros. He was acclaimed for his great shooting touch and ability to dominate the glass, but it was known that he was still very raw. The Sonics decided to take him 12th overall in 2004 and develop the big man into a serviceable center. After playing sparingly in his rookie campaign, he began to receive more minutes and even started 20 games. Per 36 minutes, he was nearly averaging a double-double at just 20 years old.
Unfortunately, Swift’s career took a turn for the worse. Injuries began plaguing him and he struggled to demonstrate any type of consistency. He was out of the league at 23, an age that should have marked the beginning of success for the former first-rounder. After falling off the face of the Earth for three years, his name resurfaced for all the wrong reasons. After declaring bankruptcy and facing foreclosure, Swift squatted in his Washington home until he was forced out. What he left behind was a career unfulfilled, with beer bottles, prescription pills and amateur accolades lining the residence. The house was in such poor shape, it only sold at half of its original value. Swift’s home, and life, had fallen apart.
9. ANTOINE WALKER
After making three All-Star teams in his first seven seasons, the former sixth overall pick looked poised to be the face of the Celtics, along with Paul Pierce, for years to come. However, he was traded just before the 2003-04 season by new club executive Danny Ainge in a deal that shocked the league.
Though he still had moderate success during the rest of his career, Walker was plagued by problems off the court that ended his stint in the league prematurely at age 31. In 2009, he was cited for a DUI. Later that year, it was revealed that Walker accrued over $800,000 in gambling debts. In 2010, Walker filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy with debts in excess of $12.7 million. He attempted a comeback that same year, but couldn’t make it past the D-League.
8. RICHARD DUMAS
A second-round pick in 1991, Dumas found himself in trouble before his career even began. He was suspended for his first season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He returned a year later and put up very impressive numbers and helped lead the Suns to a NBA Finals appearance, perhaps indicating that his problems were behind him and that he was ready to embark on a long NBA career.
But, as we’ve seen so often with athletes, sometimes you just can’t shake old habits. Dumas checked himself back into rehab that offseason, He enjoyed one more brief stint with the Suns the following season, and then another season with the 76ers, but never sniffed the league again after that. He bounced around overseas and learned the hard way that you have to make the most out of second chances.
7. SHAWN KEMP
A true high-flyer, Kemp was one of the most exciting players to watch in his era of the NBA. His amazing athleticism and scoring touch, coupled with tough interior defense, made him one of the stars of his time. Unfortunately, after being named an All-Star for six consecutive seasons, his career took a turn for the worse.
Kemp had signed a long-time contract with the Supersonics just before a rapid increase in NBA salaries, and was upset with Seattle management for refusing him a rightful raise. After threathing to sit out the season, the Supersonics decided to trade the Reign Man to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was never the same player again, battling weight problems that crippled his explosiveness and eventually entering rehab for cocaine and alcohol abuse.
6. GILBERT ARENAS
Agent Zero was one of the most prolific scorers in the league for much of the 2000s and after missing all but two games due to injury in ’08-09, he came back with a vengeance the following season. However, 32 games into the schedule, it was reported that Arenas had been storing unloaded guns in his locker at the arena. This led to his suspension until the investigation was completed that summer, during which he pled guilty to his felony charge of carrying an unlicensed gun.
Arenas spent 30 days in a halfway house and was put on probation for two years. He returned to the team for the start of the next season, but was traded just 24 games in. At just 29, Arenas still seemed to have some great basketball in front of him. Now, only four years after the gun incident, he suited up for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association this past year. His career trajectory changed dramatically following his arrest, and he’d probably still be filling up box scores had he just been a little wiser. To make matters worse, even with all of that, he’s still somehow the third-highest paid player in a league that he doesn’t even play in anymore.
5. MICHAEL BEASLEY
At just 24 years old, there is still a ton of time for Beasley to turn his career around, but it seems more and more that we’ll never see the potential that the former No. 2 pick possessed coming out of Kansas State. He was regarded as a prolific offensive threat, and some draft experts even pegged him as a better player than the top pick in 2008, Derrick Rose.
Beasley’s problems began before he even reached the basketball court after he, Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur were believed to have been smoking weed in their hotel room during the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program. Then, the following offseason, Beasley checked himself into rehab for unspecified reasons. He was traded away from the Heat in the deal that allowed them to bring in both LeBron James and Chris Bosh, so Beasley got a new start with the Timberwolves. Unfortunately, his problems followed him there, as he was fined and ticketed for possession of marijuana in 2011.
He did put up a solid 19 points per game in his first season with the T-Wolves, but hasn’t been able to reproduce those numbers in the past two seasons, seeing his points drop to around 11 per game. Beasley was traded to Phoenix prior to this season, and many hoped again that another change of scenery would help him blossom into the star many believed he would be. Another poor season only adds to the case that Beasley truly messed up his career. Let’s hope he can figure it out sooner or later.
4. LATRELL SPREWELL
Sprewell entered the league via the 1992 Draft and just two years later he made the All-NBA First Team. It was a great start to what should have been an equally great career, but issues followed Sprewell during his tenure in the league. First, in 1997, he was involved in a choking incident with his coach at Golden State, P.J. Carlesimo, resulting in a 68-game suspension.
After joining the Knicks just a few years later, he helped New York to the NBA Finals. Then, he enjoyed some time with the Timberwolves, sharing the floor with Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell. They were a successful trio, but when the organization offered him a $21 million extension just before the 2004 season, it wasn’t enough. Sprewell was offended by their three-year offer, declaring, “I have a family to feed.” It’s too bad the scoring machine had to be so selfish as he never played another minute in the league after that season, ending his career at age 34.
3. MICHEAL RAY RICHARDSON
Richardson was a bonafide stud in the early 1980s, making the All-Star team four times thanks to his prolific passing and stellar defense. As a point guard who played in the same era as Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson, he was considered among the best. But it was the ’80s, a time when drug use, particularly cocaine, was prevalent.
Richardson got heavily involved with the addictive substance that troubled so many others, of which he was the most prolific. When the league began to crackdown on use, Richardson received the harshest punishment possible for his third drug offense: a ban from the NBA for life in 1986. He was reinstated two years later, but never played another game after failing more drug tests. His promising career was cut short at age 30 because he chose blow over ball.
2. ALLEN IVERSON
Earlier this summer, a story broke that AI reportedly abducted his own children, who were supposed to be in the custody of his former wife, and was hiding them in a Georgia hotel. This is just another bruise on the reputation and legacy of one of the greatest scoring guards of all time. Iverson had an illustrious career in the league, but it could have been so much more if he didn’t refuse to play a supporting role on a team.
After being the man in Philadelphia for the first 10 years of his career, he scurried off to Denver, where he and Carmelo Anthony lit up the stat sheet. After enjoying a few good years there, he was traded to the Detroit Pistons, where he eventually lost a starting job to up-and-comer Rodney Stuckey. This didn’t sit well with Iverson, who claimed that he would rather retire than come off the bench.
Iverson made his way back to Philly in 2009, only to last two months. He left the team in February, and by March, there were reports that he would either “drink or gamble himself into oblivion.” He was also reportedly behind on his child support payments, and then later that AI was heavily in debt. His final few years in the league could have gone so much smoother if he had just accepted his new role.
1. LEN BIAS
In one of the most tragic stories in NBA history, this career was destroyed before it ever began. As a senior at Maryland, Bias drew comparisons to none other than Michael Jordan, leading to him being selected with the No. 2 pick in the 1986 Draft by the already contending Boston Celtics. This selection would have changed the course of NBA history had he lived up to his high potential, but no one ever got to see what could have been.
Less than two days after the draft, Bias was pronounced dead due to a cardiac arrhythmia as a result of an overdose on cocaine. To many writers and scouts, Bias was the greatest player that never got to showcase his talent on the world’s biggest basketball stage. He ruined the Celtics’ chances of reaching dynasty status, and ruined so many people’s hopes of seeing him perform night in and night out — all because of drugs.
What other players do you remember screwing up during or after their careers?
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