Roy Tarpley Tragically Threw Away a Hall of Fame NBA Career

Roy Tarpley, an NBA player for the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks, is best known for his three-point shooting skills. However, he was also a member of the 1992 Dream Team that won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics.

The naismith hall of fame is an award given to the best players in the NBA. Roy Tarpley was a member of the Philadelphia 76ers and threw away his Hall of Fame career.

There are many sad stories from the NBA’s star-crossed 1986 Draft class. Maryland star Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose the day after the Boston Celtics selected him second overall. Chris Washburn was the third overall selection before being suspended for life due to his use of performance-enhancing substances. Similarly, William Bedford’s NBA career was ruined, but he was never suspended. Roy Tarpley of the Dallas Mavericks was taken immediately after Bedford at No. 7 overall, and his career was on the rise until drink and drugs ruined his life.

Before winning All-Rookie accolades in 1986–87v, Tarpley was a two-time All-American at the University of Michigan. In his second season, he burst out, winning Sixth Man of the Year accolades. In the playoffs for Dallas in 1988, he was even better. In the Western Conference Finals, he led the youthful Mavericks to a Game 7 against the powerful Los Angeles Lakers. Tarpley, on the other hand, soared as fast as he crashed and burned.

The star turn of Roy Tarpley in the 1988 NBA playoffs

The Dallas Mavericks made their NBA debut in 1980, winning just 15 games in their first season. However, in 1981, they received the first overall choice and selected rising standout Mark Aguirre from DePaul. In the first round, Dallas also acquired Rolando Blackman. In their fourth season, the Mavericks made the playoffs.

The Mavs looked to be on the rise in 1986–87, winning a franchise-record 55 games before being eliminated in the first round by the 39-win Seattle SuperSonics. Dallas cruised past the Houston Rockets and the second-seeded Denver Nuggets to win a chance at the reigning champion Lakers after hiring John MacLeod as coach.

In the six-game series versus the Nuggets, Tarpley averaged 20.5 points and 14.2 rebounds off the bench. He struggled versus LA, shooting 44.7 percent and averaging 15.9 points and 13.0 rebounds per game.

Then everything went wrong for Tarpley.

Tarpley’s career was cut short when he suffered a knee injury.

Roy Tarpley of the Dallas Mavericks was a rising star before substance abuse destroyed his NBA career The Dallas Mavericks’ Roy Tarpley was a rising talent until his NBA career was cut short due to drug addiction. | Mike Powell/Allsport

Roy Tarpley was out for the first four games of the 1988–89 season due to a knee injury. He only lasted eight games after missing more than a month due to a knee injury. The Dallas Mavericks, as a consequence, have deteriorated. They let Aguirre go at the deadline, moving him to the Detroit Pistons, and missed the playoffs as a result.

After an early-season penalty for drunk driving, Tarpley missed more than two months the following season. He was banned for life following another DUI five games into the 1990–91 season, with the option to seek for reinstatement after two years.

In a 2015 interview with The Detroit News, soon after Tarpley’s death at the age of 50, Aguirre recalled a brighter side of Tarpley:

“He was a lovely young man with a huge heart.” He was a true artist. He had a unique ability that could not be duplicated. Nobody could match his abilities. With me in Detroit, Roy was on his way to become our greatest player ever. I could score, but I couldn’t get as many rebounds as he did. He was quickly becoming very useful.”

Early in Tarpley’s career, Aguirre kept an eye on him. Tarpley’s career rapidly plummeted when the star moved to Detroit.

Roy Tarpley wasted his last opportunity to play in the NBA.

Young Roy Tarpley was the total package for the Dallas Mavericks in the late 1980s

Young Roy Tarpley was the total package for the Dallas Mavericks in the late 1980s In the late 1980s, Roy Tarpley was the whole deal for the Dallas Mavericks. | Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Roy Tarpley spent two seasons in Greece while on suspension, playing in the former Continental Basketball Association. In 1994, the NBA restored him and he returned to the Dallas Mavericks. It was always going to be a bitter reunion.

Throughout the season, he battled persistent ailments and fought with coach Dick Motta. Tarpley was suspended by the Mavericks in November 1995, then placed on the injured list, according to UPI. After breaching his aftercare program, Tarpley was finally permanently barred in December 1995.  

Tarpley stayed in the game until 2006. Before returning to the CBA, he traveled to Greece, Cyprus, Russia, and China. He settled a lawsuit against the NBA in 2009, claiming that the organization had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying him the opportunity to play while battling addiction.

Aguirre likes to think of Tarpley as a happy person.

“In his heart, he didn’t have a bad spirit,” Aguirre added. “He had a massive heart.” I know he did a lot of things wrong and had a lot of problems, but he was a good guy. A large number of individuals took advantage of his generosity.”

From 1986 through 1995, Roy Tarpley appeared in just 280 NBA games over the course of six seasons. His 12.6 point and 10.0 rebound averages don’t do credit to his incredible ability. Rather than being hailed as one of the all-time greats, Tarpley is remembered as one of the NBA’s great what-ifs.

Basketball Reference provided the statistics.

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