We have a winner. All you guys looking to be James Dean or John Belushi can retire the act. The sweepstakes of self-destruction is now over, the contest for talent squandered is closed. So all you guys hoping to live fast and die young, you just might as well put down your needles, cork your bottles and garage your Porsches. We've got the guy who figuratively (and only figuratively) can't be caught.
We've got Roy Tarpley, as tragic a figure as can be found this side of the grave. He might seem small potatoes to some of you younger kids. Who'd he ever rape? How many years did he ever do? If he's so dramatic, why's he still alive? And it's true, there is a misdemeanor quality to his rap sheet, speeding tickets, disappearances from the team, some domestic violence. Worst thing he did? Put an iron to his girlfriend's stomach last year.
But you older guys know what Tarp gave up. You remember him coming into the NBA in 1986 as a kind of 7-foot point guard. He could run the wood, do all the little things, and still swat Hakeem off the floor. Everybody agreed he was the next can't-miss player. The Dallas Mavericks couldn't pay him enough.
Through drinking and drugging, he threw it all away. Has anybody ever squandered so much? The fact that he landed in jail on May 13, for failure to appear in court on an assault charge stemming from another incident, is neither here nor there. Just a reminder of where he once was. Less than four years ago, in his third second chance (three more than less talented power forwards get), Tarpley was given a $26 million contract to return to the NBA. Now he's looking to make $10,000 bail.
What happened was, Tarpley proved too much even for our 12-step society, a culture so confident in its rehabilitative powers that failure is interesting, irresistible almost. Even in sports, where there's nothing so popular as the comeback, he'd lost his place. Redemption—you younger guys need to remember this—is all too dependent on your speed in the 40, your fastball, your vertical leap. Steve Howe earned his resurrection as a Yankee because his arm survived cocaine addiction, not because the rest of him did. Maybe Lawrence Phillips will go to the Pro Bowl and get a spread in PEOPLE. But that will depend more on his legs than his head.
It won't happen for Tarpley. He's 33 now, out of the league for good, $20 million short of that $26 million and moving helplessly toward the fringes of society. What glamour remains is in the arrest report, where he stubbornly lists his occupation as "pro athlete," his employer unknown. What you younger guys need to wonder is, how much longer can he do even that?