Tyreke Evans and Lifetime Suspensions in the NBA

Tyreke Evans has recently been suspended for two years for violating the NBA’s drug policy for use of a non-performance enhancement substance.  The perception of drug use of NBA players has changed quite a bit over the users.  It was a huge issue in the 1970s and 1980s when many articles speculated that hard drug use was a pervasive problem.  The perception and the NBA drug policy has evolved.  Initially, the NBA’s prime goal was to show the public that it would not tolerate drug use.  Over time, the NBA’s policies became less punitive and more pragmatic but it had (and still has) teeth.  Where does this leave Evans?  Let’s review prior recreational drug use suspensions and how those players ended up professionally and personally after their suspensions ended.  We’ll go through the suspensions in reverse order and see what the data shows:

-John Drew, 1986:  Drew was a talented scorer but very troubled personally.  Drew was among the first NBA players to publicly struggle with cocaine in use.  In February 1983, the New York Times did a profile of Drew’s issues.  Drew admitted to Utah that he had a problem and they sent him to rehab.  He told the Times that his previous team, Atlanta, sent him to rehab three times and it didn’t stick.  Drew further stated that as of 1983 he really wanted to change: “’I like my sobriety and nothing will give me an excuse to go back.”

Unfortunately, Drew’s addiction was strong and he suffered two more relapses and was banned for life in 1986.  Shortly thereafter, he was arrested for selling cocaine to an undercover officer.  Drew’s basketball career was over and the next step was not great.  Charles Barkley wrote about seeing Drew homeless in the 1990s.  Drew seems to have finally moved past his issues.  His own online bio notes that Drew is drug free and drives a taxi in Houston.  You can book him for an appearance now if you want!

-Micheal Ray Richardson, 1986:  Richardson was the poster child for drug addiction issues in the NBA in the 1980s.  A very talented point guard who was always on verge of either stardom or banishment from the NBA.  His sad story captured the imagination of many and inspired a movie back in 2000.  As a result, much has been written about Richardson over the years so we won’t give a detailed breakdown.  The short recap is he was banned after going AWOL from a New Jersey Nets Christmas party in 1985 and relapsing.  He went on to have a great career in Europe until retiring in 2002.  After retiring, Richardson went into coaching and credited his NBA suspension with helping him stay clean.

-Mitchell Wiggins, 1987:  Wiggins was shoot-first guard for the Rockets who was suspended, along with teammate Lewis Lloyd, during the 1986-87 season.  Wiggins was reinstated for the 1989-90 season and put 15.5 ppg for the Rockets.  He was not much of a passer and the Rockets let him go after the year.  He bounced around Europe and the CBA until 2003 and got one more year in the NBA with Philly in 1991-92.  Wiggins turned to coaching after he retired and his son Andrew Wiggins is now a pretty good NBA player.  In 2014, Wiggins told the Topeka Capital Journal that Andrew’s success gave Wiggins “closure.”  He said that he was now “able to let go of maybe some of the things I was feeling when I left the league and I can sleep better now. This is a big moment.”

-Lewis Lloyd, 1987:  The Wiggins/Lloyd suspensions were a real low point for the Rockets. They came on the heels of the very public relapse of John Lucas of the Rockets the previous season. Lloyd was a starter the past three seasons, so his suspension was particularly tough.  Lloyd was reinstated for the 1989-90 season and played briefly with the Rockets and 76ers that season before retiring at age-30.  There is little detail as to what Lloyd’s life has been like after basketball but he is alive and well watching his son play basketball and dwelling on his own legacy as a Philly playground legend.

-Duane Washington, 1988:  No this is not Dwayne “Pearl” Washington.  This Washington is the half-brother of Derek Fisher and a second round pick by the Bullets in 1987.  He made the Nets on a 10-day contract in 1987-88 but failed drug tests and was banned from the NBA shortly thereafter.  One would think that having a drug problem as a fringe NBA player would end a career but Washington actually made it back into the NBA briefly with the Clippers in 1992-93.  He played in Europe through the early 2000s.  His son, Duane Washington, Jr., played off the bench for Ohio State this season as a freshman.

-Chris Washburn, 1989:  Washburn was a big college star at NC State and a top pick in the infamous 1985 NBA Draft, where many of the players had drug-shortened careers.  Washburn struggled with drugs and maturity issues almost immediately.  According to Jan Hubbard of the Dallas Morning News in an article in 1988, Washburn “entered [a] game with his shoelaces untied, explaining later that he didn’t expect to play, so he didn’t tie his shoes.  Once in the game, he proceeded to drop a pass, lose his man on defense and wander around aimlessly on an offensive possession.”

Washburn was banned from the NBA for a third failed drug test in 1989 and was homeless and jailed in the early 1990s.  He was also known as an epic bust.  But life went on and Washburn reportedly got clean in the early 2000s and had two sons play college ball.  In fact, Memphis signed his son Julian Washburn this season to an NBA deal.

-Roy Tarpley, 1991 and 1995:  Tarpley was a star forward/center for the Mavs in the 1980s before drugs problems finally forced him out of the NBA in 1991.  He spent three years in Europe before being reinstated for the 1994-95 season at age-30.  Tarpley was almost as good when he came back (12.6 ppg, .475 FG%, 8.2 rpg in 26 mpg).  Alas, Tarpley flunked a test before the 1995-96 season and was banned again.  Tarpley returned to Europe to play ball.  He ultimately sued the NBA, claiming that its refusal to reconsider the ban violated his rights under the ADA law.   The case was ultimately settled.  Tarpley passed away in 2015 reportedly of liver failure.

-Richard Dumas, 1996:  Dumas was a great leaper but had drug issues in college.  The Suns took a chance on him in 1991 in the second round of the draft.  Dumas was suspended before ever playing a game in the NBA but was able to be a rookie in the 1992-93 season.  He played quite well as a small forward off the bench (15.9 ppg, 18.6 PER) for a good Suns team led by Charles Barkley.  Dumas had some great dunks in the NBA Finals against the Bulls too.  Alas, Dumas failed a drug test and was banned for the 1993-94 season.  He came back but failed tests twice more, ending his NBA career.  He played abroad and in the minors until 2003, when a knee injury forced him to retire.  In 2013, Dumas was arrested for theft while working with a janitorial service.  He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.

-Stanley Roberts, 1999:  Roberts was a big center who played with Shaquille O’Neal at LSU when they were both freshmen in 1989-90.  Roberts flunked out of school and spent 1990-91 in Europe before being drafted by Orlando late in the first round of the 1991 Draft.  He was a serviceable center for a few years before weight and injuries slowed him down.  Roberts failed a drug test in 1999 when he was barely hanging on in the NBA.   Roberts was banned and had to play in Europe.  Roberts eventually was reinstated and, at age 33, Roberts was brought to camp as a potential signing in 2003.  They decided to let Roberts workout to see if he could get into shape but they pulled the plug on Roberts in early 2004 due to weight issues.

Roberts, by all accounts, was/is a very likeable guy.  Ralph Lawler wrote in 2011 that Roberts “brought joy to everyone but himself” and considered Roberts a nice guy who didn’t know how to say no to friends.  Roberts has since gone back to LSU and got his degree in 2012.

-Chris Andersen, 2006:  From a basketball perspective, Andersen’s story turned out best.  Andersen was one of the first D-League players to make the NBA.  The Nuggets signed him in 2001-02 and Andersen played quite well as a shot blocker/energy player.  By 2005-06, Andersen had established himself has a bona fide NBA player and his salary had jumped from minimum wage to $3.5 million when he failed a drug test and was banned from the NBA.  Andersen worked hard while suspended and came back a better player.  Despite missing prime years, Andersen had a nice run for the Nuggets and Heat from ages 30 to 38 before finally retiring.

-O.J. Mayo, 2016:  Mayo, a college star recruit, and, at times, a good NBA player was suspended in 2016 for two years.  He initially dropped off the map after the suspension.  He recently resurfaced playing ball in Taiwan.  Apparently, he is not trying an NBA comeback as he has signed with a Chinese team for the 2019-20 season.  He is only 31, so it is not impossible someone might give him another shot in the NBA if he wants it.

-Mitch McGary, 2016:  McGary wasn’t permanently banned for the same class of drug use as the players above but it does seem that his suspension might end his career.  McGary was given a five-game suspension for marijuana before the 2016-17 season.  A few months later (still before the season), McGary violated the testing again and ten games were added to his suspension.  The Thunder waived him before the season and McGary has not played in the NBA since.  His 15 game suspension is still pending if he ever does return.  In 2017, McGary was bowling competitively but planned to start playing hoops again at some point.

The data above indicates that a long drug suspension does not directly end NBA careers but effectively does.  Nearly all these players got another shot but only Andersen returned to former ability.  Hopefully, Evans gets his life together and gets another opportunity but it does not look promising.

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