Mavericks owner Cuban reflects on late Tarpley

Former Dallas Maverick Roy Tarpley died Friday at the age of 50.

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Roy Tarpley, in so many ways a symbol of the 1980s Dallas Mavericks’ promise and disappointment, died Friday at age  50.

"I loved watching Roy Tarpley play," Mavs owner Mark Cuban told FOX Sports Southwest. "He was one of the reasons I watched and went to Mavs games."

Tarpley passed away at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner did not list a cause of death for 6-foot-11 Tarpley, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

Tarpley, a Michigan product, was the sixth overall pick of the 1986 NBA draft. He won the NBA’s Sixth Man award in his second season and played for the Mavericks until October 1991, when he was kicked out of the NBA for using cocaine.

Tarpley averaged 12.6 points and 10 rebounds in 280 career games and was a key force in the Dallas highlight of that era, a 1987-88  Western Conference Finals berth.

"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."

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, Sonju said.

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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.

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.

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. He starred at Cooley High School in Detroit.

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.