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Former NBA lottery pick Robert Swift is attempting a comeback in pro basketball, which is about the best possible news one could hope for regarding the former Seattle SuperSonics and Oklahoma City Thunder big man.
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Swift, who was selected No. 12 in the 2004 draft by Seattle directly out of high school, had sadly made the news several times in recent years for both refusing to give up his trashed, foreclosed-upon home, or by being arrested while serving as the security outfit of sorts for what turned out to be his drug dealer. Swift was later arrested for his role in an alleged attempted robbery.
The 7-1 former center, who has battled addiction to opiates and methamphetamines, spent a month in prison following his initial arrest, on a felony charge that was eventually bargained down toward a sentence of served time and a $600 fine.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard, in a typical must-read feature, recently spent some time with Swift as he rehabilitates through the Woo Pro-Am League:
During the first of his two games on this night, at a fitness club, Swift towers over his teammates, who include former overseas players and a young woman with a deadeye shot. His primary defender is a 6’5″ man whose graying hair and ample gut make him look older than his 43 years. The man does what many might: Fouls the crap out of Swift.
Annoyed, Swift takes him outside. He hits 15-footers and bank shots. Drains a long three. Rises for follow dunks. Extinguishes layups on the backboard. More impressive, he shows on high pick-and-rolls, switches onto guards and talks constantly on D. He makes a pair of beautiful passes to cutters out of the high post. High basketball IQ. “D-League?” I scribble in my notebook. “Overseas for sure.”
Two days prior, Casey Hill offered a gauge of Swift’s progress. “He’s a warrior so you won’t see it during plays,” Hill said. “But watch during free throws and timeouts. If he’s grabbing his shorts that means he’s taking pressure off his back.” On this night, Swift never does, despite playing all 40 minutes. He is, however, wearing a neoprene knee brace. Only, on closer inspection it’s just a hole in his worn leggings. Similarly, his shoes are scuffed and dirty.
Clearly, despite the relative good health, all has not returned for the former SuperSonic.
Swift, now 30, has not played an NBA game in seven and a half years. He managed just 97 career contests between Seattle and Oklahoma City in a career that was scuttled by both ACL and meniscus tears in his knees. Though Swift made over $11.4 million in his NBA career, he is living out of motels thanks to gifts from well-meaning friends and associates, apparently living off of protein shakes (due to lack of funds for meals stout enough to support his 7-1, 275-pound frame) and the occasional fast food binge.
Though he professes to being drug-free, Swift is still drinking alcohol. He claims that the reason he started up with heroin was to combat the pain from an aching back he developed while in the NBA, taking to the harder drugs when 18 beers a night weren’t enough to mask the malady.
Robert Swift was drafted by Seattle straight into the NBA out of high school, partly as a way to support his parents (who had declared bankruptcy twice by the time he’d left school, and another time in the years since), a family that Ballard reports as having a monthly allowance from Swift’s salary that reached “tens of thousands per month.”
Though frail, he boasted a significant series of NBA and even NBA All-Star-level gifts as a prospect. A determined defender, Swift was a fantastic athlete that could move his feet on one while finishing with authority (alongside showcasing the occasional mid-range stroke) on the offensive side of the court. The two knee injuries, clearly, were absolute career crushers.
Until now, Swift hopes.
The big man spent some time in the D-League and overseas playing in Japan until his demons (and the tragic earthquake that hit Japan in 2010) overwhelmed his professional ambitions. Still, despite the significant knee injuries and the damage done to his body through years of admitted alcohol, heroin and meth use, a 30-year old (31 in December) 7-footer’s return to the professional ranks wouldn’t be the strangest story in basketball history.
As Ballard points out, an NBA return might not be in the offing; as in a way those two knee setbacks along with his back woes might be more of a detriment than his felony conviction and drug addictions. However, taking advantage of his early-to-mid 30s with a series of stateside and overseas contracts seems quite do-able. There will be some roadblocks due to his status as a former felon, but if Swift can stay clean …
That’s the block. Determining what led to the unhappiness that pushed Robert Swift into masking so much to begin with, while steeling himself for the eventual return of the sorts of feelings and frustrations that led him toward chasing down what instead eventually caught him.
It would be fantastic if Robert Swift could pull off a comeback in professional basketball. For now, we’re happy to be warmed by the fact that the latest bit of “Robert Swift news” behind the return, however modest in its start, paints him as a man in recovery. Rather than in danger.
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