Ralph Remembers: Stanley Roberts
Ralph Lawler | 9/13/11

Photo: NBAE/Getty
“He brought joy to everyone but himself.”

That statement pretty much sums up the life and times of former Clippers center Stanley Roberts, who played in Los Angeles from 1992-97.

Stanley was a 7-footer with the footwork of a ballet dancer and hands as big and soft as a king-sized feather pillow. Yet, his career statistics are pedestrian, at best. Poor conditioning and injuries worked hand in hand to mitigate his extraordinary gifts.

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    There was a time in 1989-90 when Stanley Roberts and Shaquille O’Neal were teammates under Coach Dale Brown at LSU. The two giants would go head-to-head against each other each day in practice and just about everyone felt Stanley was the better pro prospect. What a difference the next couple of years would make.

    Roberts missed the deadline in 1990 to apply for the NBA Draft. He would go on to play in Spain while O'Neal became College Player of the Year two years in a row. Roberts returned to the U.S. and made the rounds of pre-draft workouts with teams all over the league in 1991. It was one work-out and one steak and potato dinner after another. His weight ballooned to 325 pounds and his draft stock tumbled.

    He was eventually selected with the 23rd pick in the draft by the Orlando Magic. He would go on to have a promising rookie season while averaging 10.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in limited minutes. His minutes were limited due to conditioning issues.

    Magic General Manager Pat Williams would muse: "You know the old saying, ‘No man is an island.’ Well, Stanley comes close." He would also add: "We've got him eating the seven basic food groups and now there are only three left."

    Photo: NBAE/Getty

    In an odd twist of fate in 1992, it was the Magic who used the number one overall pick in the draft to choose Shaquille O’Neal. The two mammoth centers were together again. There is some debate about the facts here, but the most prevalent story that I have heard was that Shaq knew how he struggled against Stanley in college and did not want to be upstaged by him in the pros. He reportedly made it clear he did not want to play with Roberts and the Magic put Stanley on the trading block. Larry Brown and the Clippers jumped at the chance to add the talented and nimble big man.

    It was an impressive first season in Los Angeles for the then 22-year old Stanley Roberts. He had the best season of his career under a nurturing coach Brown. His teammates quickly dubbed him “Franchise,” and he played like he might be deserving of the title. He averaged over 11.0 points in less than 24 minutes a game. He rebounded, blocked shots and led the league in personal fouls.

    However, Coach Brown was gone at seasons end. He would be replaced by Bob Weiss, a player’s coach if ever there was one. It appeared that Roberts was on track for a stellar career. Everybody loved the smiling big man.

    Stanley was an easy mark for friends, family and buzzard-like business partners. We were on a road trip somewhere along the line and flying on a fancy MGM Grand Air charter. The plane included a grouping of four-passenger cabins. I was seated in one with Stanley and Clipper point guard Pooh Richardson. Pooh valued every penny he ever earned. He invested wisely and cautiously.

    Big Stanley was explaining nonchalantly how he had dropped $1,000,000 in a failed investment. He thought it was hilarious. Pooh just about jumped off the plane as he shouted at Roberts that the money was gone forever and could never be replaced! No big deal, Stanley thought.
    The lovable big guy just did not know how to say, “No.”

    He had a fancy Westside home but it became so overrun with friends that he left it for them to live in and moved to an apartment in Marina Del Rey. He’d pass out $10,000 to just about anyone who asked.

    That was the backdrop for his second season in Los Angeles. Fourteen games into that season, Stanley Roberts went down with a torn right Achilles tendon. It was a devastating injury for the player and the team. He was finished for the season.

    Bill Fitch took over the Clipper reigns in 1994. The team was training at UC Irvine and Stanley Roberts was in comeback mode. That didn’t mean the same to him as it might to others. He came to camp heavy and sadly out of shape. Former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor was incensed. When asked how much his still promising center weighed, Baylor said, "He weighs too much, that's what he weighs.”

    Photo: NBAE/Getty

    I was told the player weighed in excess of 345 pounds.

    Roberts was limited mostly to low impact pool work as camp opened. I saw him in the lobby of the team hotel and asked jokingly, “Hey Stanley – you out for the season, or what?”
    His answer was revealing when he said, “I wish.”

    It was also prophetic. Finally cleared for play in a preseason game, Roberts then tore his left Achilles. Sure enough, he was out for the season.

    His idle time was not well spent. Off the court issues were reported to be a drag on his life, and friends continued to leach money off the likable 24-year old. His life and his career were both spinning out of control.

    He would go on to play parts of two more seasons for the Clippers and then bounce from Minnesota to Houston to Philadelphia before the merry-go-round stopped for a final time. It was Larry Brown who gave Stanley his final shot in Philly. Finally, even the ever hopeful Hall of Fame coach realized: “Stanley just didn’t want it as much as I wanted it for him.”

    Stanley Robert’s career earnings were long gone a few years later when he contemplated a comeback at the age of 32. His former Houston teammate Scottie Pippen opined: “That guy had all the talent in the world and just let it go to waste. He could have been one of the great players of all time.”

    To his credit, Stanley has never been bitter. He never blamed anyone but himself. He remains close friends with Shaquille O'Neal, his former teammate and a future Hall of Famer. Shaq will offer money and Stanley always declines.

    Interestingly, he has finally learned to say: “No.”

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