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Draft daze

The sad saga behind the talented NBA Class of '86

Posted: Friday June 23, 2006 12:27PM; Updated: Friday June 30, 2006 11:08AM
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From left: Kenny Walker, Chuck Person, Brad Daugherty, Len Bias and Chris Washburn were part of a much-hyped 1986 draft class that fizzled.
From left: Kenny Walker, Chuck Person, Brad Daugherty, Len Bias and Chris Washburn were part of a much-hyped 1986 draft class that fizzled.
AP
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By Paul Forrester, SI.com

He hadn't called all day.

Really, it shouldn't have been all that alarming. Roy Tarpley was a 24-year-old professional basketball player with a host of obligations. Perhaps he wasn't home. That's what his boss, Dallas Mavericks GM Norm Sonju, thought.

But some knew better. Like his mother, who had called Sonju before Roy played a game in the NBA to tell the Mavs she thought her son was using drugs, a claim the son didn't refute in the summer before making his professional basketball debut. And his sponsor, who knew that after more than a year of 12-step meetings and three phone calls a day, that to not hear from Roy was to worry that the drugs and alcohol that had been a part of his life for so long were back.

So the sponsor went to Tarpley's house on that late December day in 1988, not to knock on his door, but to search through his garbage, where he found the empty beer cans that told him all he needed to know. A few minutes later, the sponsor found Tarpley in a bedroom with a hefty stash of cocaine. 

Sadly, Tarpley's tale wasn't an anomaly for the NBA Draft Class of 1986. What was originally thought of as a talented class, with the likes of Brad Daugherty and Chuck Person, would ultimately be remembered for a few of its other gems who threw their futures away: Chris Washburn, an athletic 6-foot-11 center who averaged 18 points and seven rebounds as a senior at N.C. State; Tarpley, who not only was a beast on the boards, but also possessed a phenomenal jump shot and the ball-handling skills of a Dirk Nowitzki; and Maryland's Len Bias, a bigger version of Michael Jordan and with a better jump shot.

The Class of '86 had everything except, well, luck, and in some cases, smarts. To what else do you attribute the fact that more than half of the pro careers born in the first round that June night were shortened by drug or alcohol use, injury or illness? How do you place the death of a promising rookie 48 hours after the draft into perspective? Twenty years after that fateful draft, the men responsible for the selections that went bad, are still struggling for answers.

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