Former NBA Star Roy Tarpley Dies at Age 50

By McCarton Ackerman 01/12/15

The talented forward saw a promising career cut short by cocaine and alcohol addiction.

Roy Tarpley
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Former NBA stay Roy Tarpley, whose career was cut short by drug addiction, passed away last Friday in Arlington, Texas. He was 50 years old. Details surrounding his death have not been released.

Tarpley played for the Dallas Mavericks from 1986-1991, but was kicked out of the league for cocaine abuse. He was reinstated by the NBA in 1994 and signed a six-year, $20 million contract with the Mavericks. But less than 18 months later, the NBA permanently banned him for using alcohol and reportedly violating the terms of a court-imposed personal aftercare program.

"It's sad. What breaks your heart is that he was just 50 years old," said Norm Sonju, the former Mavericks chief executive who signed Tarpley. "He could have been an incredible player."

Tarpley spent the following decade playing for lower-level leagues in Europe, Asia, and the United States, most recently in Michigan in 2006. He sued both the NBA and the Mavericks in 2007, claiming his firing was discriminatory on the basis of his disability as a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Tarpley claimed his ban should have been lifted after he successfully passed 12 months of drug and alcohol testing at the league's request. The lawsuit was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount in 2009.

But not every story involving drug addiction in the NBA ends tragically. Former Boston Celtics star Chris Herren struggled with a $25,000-per-month addiction to OxyContin and heroin during his playing career, culminating in his near death from a drug-induced car crash. He went to rehab in August 2008 and has remained sober ever since.

Herren currently travels to schools across the country to share his story of recovery. He also created Project Purple, an anti-substance use campaign geared towards kids, as well as the Herren Project, a foundation that raises money to pay for drug treatment.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.