Billy Ray Bates was as exciting to watch on the basketball court as anybody in the NBA. He became an instant star in the 80s for the Portland Trail Blazers. However, his career as an NBA player did not last as long as he might have hoped for, resulting in him playing in different leagues overseas. In fact, Bates ultimately went from being a superstar with the Trail Blazers, and even becoming known as “Black Superman,” to later finding himself in prison.
Billy Ray Bates started his pro basketball career in the CBA
Billy Ray Bates played college basketball at Kentucky State. His play then led to him going to the Houston Rockets in the third round of the 1978 NBA draft. However, he didn’t make the team’s roster and ended up playing in the CBA.
Bates, though, battled some issues while in the CBA.
“While he racked up points early and often, he was also dogged by what are euphemistically called ‘character questions,’” Sports Illustrated wrote of Bates in 2016. “Here was a player with a sizable risk/reward ratio.”
Bates then got a chance with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1979, as they invited him to camp. He even ran a mile in five minutes, 15 seconds. However, he bragged about being hungover and how he had been around multiple women the night before. The 76ers then cut him. Bates went back to the CBA.
During the 1980 season, though, Bates finally got his shot in the NBA.
He became an NBA star with the Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers were trying to make the playoffs in 1980 when they decided to sign Bates. He ended up winning Player of the Week honors in the NBA within a month of being on the team, too. In 16 games that season, Bates averaged 11.3 points per game in 14.7 minutes. He, however, became a star in the playoffs.
Bates and the Blazers played the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the playoffs that year and ultimately lost in three games. In those three games, though, Bates averaged 25 points, 3.3 rebounds, and four assists.
Bates — who is 6 feet, 4 inches tall — was pretty much LeBron James before LeBron James. Sports Illustrated wrote that “he was strong enough to post up, skilled enough to rain jumpers from 30 feet and athletic enough to dunk with disregard both for defenders and the laws of physics.” Sports Illustrated also said that he earned the nickname “Black Superman.”
Bates played for the Blazers the next two seasons but wasn’t as successful as he was during those playoffs in 1980. He averaged 13.8 points per game in 1980-81 and 11.1 points per game in 1981-82. However, in the postseason in 1980-81, Bates was, again, a dominant scorer. In three postseason games against the Kansas City Kings, Bates averaged 28.3 points per game.
His NBA career ended prematurely
The Trail Blazers waived Bates after the 1981-82 season. He then signed with the Washington Bullets but only played there for two months, according to Sports Illustrated. Bates then signed a 10-day contract with the LA Lakers in 1983, but that’s all it was good for — 10 days.
Bates then played in the Phillippines and became a star. SI reported that he averaged 46.2 points per game in six seasons. He even had his own signature shoe line called the “Black Superman”.
However, after breaking multiple sobriety pacts, he left the Phillippines in the late 80s. Other than a few other short-lived stints overseas, Bates’ basketball career was over.
Billy Ray Bates later went to prison and had run-ins with the law
After his career, Bates spent almost five years in prison for “first-degree aggravated assault and second-degree assault,” according to Sports Illustrated. This came after he and two others held up a gas station.
In addition to the nearly five years he served, Bates served another three-plus months after violating his parole. As of 2016, though, he had been out of prison since 2008.
He then later secured a job in the Philippines as a skills coach, but he got arrested for throwing a rock at a car. Bates then left the country over a year later and was reportedly “escorted to the plane by Bureau of Immigration agents,” per SI.
However, in 2016, Bates had said that he planned to take courses at a nearby college with hopes of getting a degree. He also said that he had started writing an autobiography. What’s it supposed to be called? Born to Play Basketball.
Billy Ray Bates was an absolute star on the basketball court. Fans, however, never got to see him live up to his full potential in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers. We’ll always be left wondering what could have been.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference