Even as a young NBA fan I always seemed attracted to the “outlaws” of the game, so to speak. The guy whose talent is out of this world, but maybe doesn’t always have his head in the game. The type of player often described as an enigma, to put it gently, or a head case if you’re not too politically correct. To be clear, I’ve never been a fan of the guys with just a bad attitude, but more the lovable NBA Knucklehead.
If put on the spot and asked to give some examples of current day players that seem to fit that mold, none other than JaVale “future of the NBA” McGee and DeMarcus “Junk Punch” Cousins‘ names would leap from my cerebral cortex and blurt out loudly before anyone had a chance to blink. But this isn’t about them. This is about the men that set the stage. The guys that paved the way for the current crop of talented yet somewhat troubled NBA stars. Without further ado it’s time to kick off my honored list of all-time favorite NBA knuckleheads from years past.
The first player on the list is near and dear to my heart, as he is about as close as I can get to picking a favorite player of all-time. There are just too many to choose from!
This is a bit of a sad story to me as it does detail the fall from grace of one of my favorite players.
College: University of Kentucky-Trinity Valley Community College
Shawn Kemp started off on his path to “knuckleheaded-ness” at the University of Kentucky where he was accused of pawning two gold chains belonging to teammate Sean Sutton, son of then Kentucky head coach Eddie Sutton. The Suttons decided not to press charges. After Kemp’s best 2 Chains impression didn’t go over well at the U of K, he left to Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. After an uneventful semester at TVCC, where he couldn’t get off the pine, 19-year-old Shawn Kemp declared himself eligible for the 1989 NBA Draft.
NBA: Seattle SuperSonics – The Good
Kemp was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics, becoming the first player since 1975 to be drafted directly to the NBA without any experience at a four-year college or university.
I think we all know about Kemp’s accolades: six-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-NBA Second Team member, not to mention one of the most ferocious dunkers of all time. But this is about being a knucklehead, so let’s get to it.
It seems most of Shawn’s troubles started after one of his best seasons, where he helped lead the SuperSonics to NBA Finals to face none other than Michael Jordan and his 72-win Chicago Bulls. The Bulls took the series in in six games, but Kemp shined averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. His Finals performance all but solidified his status as an elite NBA player. And that’s where part of the problem started.
Kemp signed a long-term contract that at the time of his rise to stardom left him vastly underpaid when compared to his NBA counterparts. Compound that with the fact he had several (rumor is he now has upwards of 15) children out of wedlock with multiple women, whom he was forced to pay child support for. Shawn wanted a raise! With Kemp disgruntled and Seattle unwilling to pony up, he was shipped (banished) off to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for (the town drunk) Vin Baker.
Cleveland Cavaliers – The Bad
Kemp’s first season with the Cavaliers seemed to be a positive one as he led the team in scoring and rebounding while propelling a young team to the playoffs. Then it happened, a lockout hit the NBA and postponed the start of the 1998-99 season. When the lockout ended, Kemp showed up to Cleveland at a reported 275 pounds, but looked closer to 320. Fat Shawn Kemp was born! While vastly overweight he still statistically had one of his best seasons ever. Alas the writing was on the wall as rumors of late night carousing and illegitimate children multiplied. After the season, Shawn was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers for the beloved Brian Grant, much to the chagrin of the whole state of Portland and Trail Blazer fans worldwide.
Portland Trail Blazers – The Ugly
These were not happy times in Portland as the team had the misfortune of being branded the “Jail-Blazers” due to multiple player arrests, fighting, dog fighting, and just flat-out debauchery (Ruben Patterson). At this point, Kemp’s weight had ballooned and his game was in the toilet. Consequently, according to rumors, that’s the same place he would snort cocaine during halftimes. The man who used to be refereed to as the “Reign Man” was turning into the “Caine Man.” With his substance abuse reaching an all-time “high,” Kemp’s first season with the Blazers ended with him checking into rehab. After another dreadful season in Portland, Kemp was waived prior to the 2002–03 season.
Orlando Magic – The Morbidly Obese
Shawn eventually signed with the Orlando Magic, but hardly made a blip on the NBA radar. His only memorable moment came when Kemp played in his 1000th NBA game. He was not re-signed the following year.
Don’t Call It a Comeback, No Really Don’t….
In April of 2005, Shawn Kemp was arrested in Washington for drug possession. Kemp, along with another man, were found with cocaine, about 60 grams of marijuana and a semiautomatic weapon. Kemp was formally charged with drug possession and pleaded guilty.
Shawn was again arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Texas on July 21, 2006.
In April of the 2005-06 NBA season, the eventual Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks considered adding Kemp to their roster for the NBA playoffs. Mavs’ coach, and former Sonic teammate, Avery Johnson scheduled a workout to take place in Houston. Kemp failed to appear for undisclosed reasons. The workout was rescheduled, but when Dallas was refused an injury exception (for a 16th player) by the NBA, he lost his shot. Kemp never got a second chance to join the Mavs.
In June 2006, reports came out that Kemp had slimmed down to the playing weight of his All-Star days and was determined to join an NBA team. The Denver Nuggets were interested, but ultimately turned their attention away from Kemp, signing power forward Reggie Evans. Kemp also drew interest from the Chicago Bulls in 2006, but missed his scheduled workout to visit an ailing relative. Shawn would never play in the NBA again….
Writing this was a labor of love for me. One where I went through the wringer reliving all of these events and riding the roller coaster of emotions that came with it. From happiness to laughter to anger. It made me realize I was mad at Shawn Kemp, my NBA idol, for letting me down, for throwing away the latter part of his career. I was never one to feel that players were role models, but the place I’m speaking from is innocence lost. Mine… and his. I have come to forgive Shawn for his trangressions. I just hope he has figured out how to do the same.
Shawn Kemp will always be considered as one of the best power forwards of his generation, not to mention one of the most athletically-gifted players of all-time. That’s the way I want to remember him, and I hope you do too. So to make this come full-circle lets end on a happy note with Shawn Kemp’s top 10 dunks.
@FrankieBuckets: General all-round basketball obsessive compulsive enthusiast/fantasy expert in training since nine-years-old. I have no filter, although I finally have an editor, but I am still only concerned with beating you at fantasy basketball.