Dallas — Roy Tarpley, the former University of Michigan and Dallas Mavericks star center whose NBA career was cut short by drug abuse, died Friday at age 50.
According to a Tarrant County medical examiner's report, Tarpley died at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital in Arlington, near Dallas. No cause of death was given in the online report.
"If Roy had stayed healthy, he could have been one of the top-50 players ever," Brad Davis, the Mavericks' radio analyst and player-development coach who played with Tarpley, told the Dallas Morning News. "He could do it all — shoot, score, rebound, pass and defend. We're all sorry to hear of his passing."
The 7-foot Tarpley, who went to Detroit Cooley High, was the seventh overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft out of Michigan. He played for the Mavericks until October 1991, when he was kicked out of the NBA for using cocaine.
Norm Sonju was the Mavericks' chief executive when he drafted Tarpley. He remembers Tarpley as "likable. He was witty. He was funny."
"It's sad. What breaks your heart is he was just 50 years old," Sonju told the Associated Press. "He potentially could have been just an incredible player."
Sonju remembered that cocaine was a pervasive threat in all big-time athletics in the 1980s, so the Mavericks did all they could in researching Tarpley's background at Michigan. "We had people tell us to our face that he had no problems when he was at Michigan," he said.
Temptation by cocaine and alcohol, however, was already near, he said.
After the first ban, Tarpley played in Greece until the NBA reinstated him in 1994. He signed a six-year, $20 million contract with the Mavericks but was permanently banned from the NBA in December 1995 for using alcohol and violating the terms of a court-imposed personal aftercare program.
Tarpley averaged 12.6 points and 10.0 rebounds in 280 regular-season games.
"Our condolences go out to the family of Roy Tarpley," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban tweeted. "RIP Roy. Mavs fans everywhere will remember you fondly."
In 1987-88, he averaged 17.1 points and 15.0 rebounds in a career-high 81 games and was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. He helped Dallas reach the Western Conference finals that season, averaging 17.9 points and 12.9 rebounds in 17 playoff games. Dallas lost to the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
"The Dallas Mavericks' organization is deeply saddened upon hearing the death of former Sixth Man of the Year Roy Tarpley. Our deepest condolences go out to his family," the team said in a statement.
In four seasons at Michigan, Tarpley averaged 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds. As a junior in 1984-85, he averaged 19.0 points and 10.4 rebounds.
After his NBA career ended, he returned to Greece and also played in Cyprus, Russia and China. He also spent time with Wichita Falls, Sioux Falls and Michigan in the Continental Basketball Association and Miami and Dodge City in the U.S. Basketball League, last playing in 2006 with Michigan.
In September 2007, Tarpley sued the NBA and the Mavericks, alleging they discriminated against him on the basis of his disability as a recovering drug and alcohol abuser. Tarpley argued his ban should have been lifted because he had successfully completed the one year of drug and alcohol testing the league requested.
The lawsuit was settled in January 2009, but terms were not disclosed.