NBA Player Roy Tarpley Another Example of the Greatest Threat to Pro Athletes: Substance Abuse

We’ve seen many great athletes rise to a sport’s pinnacle only to fall because of their drug dependency. Unfortunately, that is the case for former NBA player Roy Tarpley. Drug addiction plagued Tarpley’s career during his brief stint in the NBA. A substance abuse problem along with the salary of a pro athlete is a recipe for disaster. With that kind of money, it is easy for drug addiction to spiral out of control.

Roy Tarpley’s NBA career and substance abuse

Roy Tarpley of the Dallas Mavericks looks to inbound the ball
Roy Tarpley of the Dallas Mavericks looks to inbound the ball | Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Coming out of the University of Michigan, Tarpley was among one of the top prospects in the 1986 NBA draft. His dominating performance at Michigan earned him the Big Ten Player of the Year award in 1985. He also led the Wolverines to a Big Ten Championship in the ’85 season. In the ’86 NBA draft, the Dallas Maverick selected Tarpley 7th overall. Standing at 6 feet, 11 inches, with that kind of size and athleticism, the future looked bright for Tarpley.

Tarpley’s NBA career started hot for the Mavericks. During his first year, he made the NBA All-Rookie Team. And in the following season, he earned NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors. However, Tarplet’s career would soon take a turn for the worst. Just six games into the 1990 season, Tarpley received driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest charges. He received a subsequent suspension from the NBA following the incident.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of Tarpley’s downfall. In March of 1991, he received a second DWI charge, which barred another suspension from the NBA. Just a few months later, he violated the NBA drug-use policy and was banned indefinitely. However, he made a brief return to the Mavericks in 1994. Tarpley’s returned was short-lived when yet again he violated the NBA’s drug-use policy and refused the court imposed care program, thus putting an end to his NBA career.

Life after the NBA

Barring his first suspension for the NBA, Tarpley played in the minor basketball league before going to the Greek League. After his second suspension from the NBA, Tarpley returned to the Greek league, where he played for multiple teams. Toward the end of his career, Tarpley played in the Russian league, then the Chinese league. He finished his career returning to the American minor league.

Tarpley saw some success in the Greek league. He won the second-tier FIBA world cup in 1993 with Sato Aris. Yet, he did receive nearly the same amount of recognition he would have received in the NBA. Tarpley would pass away in 2015. The cause of death was liver failure, with many believing it was the result of years of damage from his alcohol dependency.

Substance abuse is serious for pro athletes

Tarpley is just one jarring example of how a professional athlete’s career can take a turn for the worst from substance abuse. Substance abuse is not limited to the NBA. The NFLMLB, and all other professional sports leagues have had their fair share of substance abuse policies.

Unfortunately, it does not look like substance abuse issues among professional athletes are not going away anytime soon. Both leagues and individual teams should work with players who suffer from substance abuse problems.

Proper support and counseling is the best way to curb drug addiction. There have been success stories of athletes getting their careers back on track following substance abuse. If teams truly care about their athletes, they should be there to guide them through their addiction.