LOOK UP the Most
Outstanding Player of the 1971 Final Four in the NCAA record book, and you'll
see one word: vacated. Villanova's Howard Porter, who outplayed the 1970 MOP,
Sidney Wicks of UCLA, in a title-game loss to the Bruins, was given the award,
but, he told SI 25 years later, "I've never seen that trophy." There
was no presentation, and within days of the championship game the NCAA was
looking into claims that Porter, who died last week at age 58, had signed a
professional contract. Villanova ultimately forfeited all of its 1971
tournament games, and handed over the $72,000 it received for its NCAA run.
Porter was stripped of the award he never received.
Porter had grown
up poor in Sarasota, Fla., where he perfected his jump shot—which he learned
from an Oscar Robertson instructional book his mother bought him—on a basket
crafted out of a bicycle tire rim and a makeshift backboard. So in the middle
of his senior season, when an agent offered him a $15,000 bonus to sign a
contract with the ABA—which was battling the NBA for top players' signatures—it
didn't take long for him to say yes.
But in seven pro
seasons Porter averaged just 9.2 points per game. After his career he turned to
drugs, in part, he said, because of the shame of having his greatest
achievement voided. "I waited all those years for someone to forgive me,
but no one ever did," he told SI in 1996. "Finally, I decided just to
In 1995 Porter,
who graduated from Villanova with a degree in English and psychology, got a job
as a parole officer in Minneapolis. He also reconnected with Villanova. When
the Wildcats played in Minneapolis in 2006, Porter spoke to the team and became
especially close to guard Randy Foye, who now plays for the Timberwolves. On
May 18, Porter was found severely beaten in an alley; he died eight days later.
Police are still investigating and have not said if there is a connection
between his job and his death. "The guy was a legend," Foye said.
"He was just always there, always offering to help me out with anything I
needed, if I had any questions about basketball or life in general."