The Ghost of Robert Swift

Robert Swift was paid a lot of money for a few years of nondescript basketball. And now he's all the way gone.
Share |

Robert Swift entered the NBA mostly unknown and undefined, and left the NBA not very long after in more or less the same state. During his brief NBA career, Swift was opaque in the way of teenagers and teenage prodigies, but was also never notable or popular enough, or skilled or charismatic enough, to demand attention or to warrant endorsement deals or -- even for the most dedicated basketball pundits -- serious consideration. He was tall and lean and young and had potential, but that type of person and player is a recognizable NBA type. Swift was a rare specimen among humanity, but not all that unique among his cohort.

The Seattle SuperSonics made him a lottery pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. There were basketball reasons why the 7-foot teenager from Bakersfield, California might not have -- and in fact did not -- work out. But there were some non-scientific, non-basketball reasons for this, too. Young players can be too raw or slow or stiff or distractible; many are. Robert Swift, for some of these reasons and some others, always felt more doomed than that.

You can see it in his rookie picture. It starts with his eyes; they’re small, glassy, green fireballs, both sad and flat. The skin above his eyelids is swollen and puffy, his eyebrows are a raised arch of thin, wispy red. He’s looking down, away from you and the camera and everything else. His brandy-colored hair is shaved down to the scalp and his papery skin glows against an equally lifeless grey background. His lips are pursed and you can tell he’s trying, as if for the first time, to lift the corners of his mouth. It looks forced and uncomfortable; the smile just isn’t there.

Swift was 18 years old in that picture. It sure looks like he knows what’s coming, and maybe he does. But of course it would look like that to us now, because we know where things went for him from there.


Swift’s high school coach will tell you that photo never should have happened, or at least not at that moment in Robert Swift’s life. It was too soon. He was a seven-foot teenager, body long and thin; the statistical record does not support this, but people whose jobs depend on this sort of judgment believed Swift was talented enough to be a star. At the time, though, he was what teenagers often are: awkward, introverted, and confused. What potential there was, and it was there, was buried below a roiling and inhospitable surface.

Maybe Swift didn’t want to be a basketball player. Or maybe, after a few years of college ball and emotional and physical growth, all that potential and latent ability, would be realized and made more accessible to him and his future employers. It’s hard to say, and Swift himself couldn’t say, even if he wanted to talk about it, which he doesn’t. He had scholarship offers, from schools that might have strengthened his understanding of everything about basketball and everything away from it. He also had the promise of guaranteed, life-changing millions.

Swift played an even 1,500 minutes over four NBA seasons, and was paid more than $11 million for his efforts. In that sense, and retrospectively only in that sense, he made the right choice.

The 2004 NBA Draft had its share of blunders but it still produced five individual All-Stars, a multiple Defensive Player of the Year award winner, and the first rookie in NBA history to be named Sixth Man of the Year in his rookie season. Dwight Howard, the first player picked, is probably a Hall of Famer. After the draft, 15 of the rookies gathered on stage for a photo. Swift, who went 12th overall that night to Seattle, wasn’t there to commemorate that moment. He didn’t need to be. The men that posed in that picture are still in the league, many still ascending to the peak of their careers. Swift hasn’t held a job in the NBA for three seasons.

His rookie salary was around $2 million dollars per year. In his first season, he hardly played. The next year, the team drafted another center named Johan Petro. He was just as long, just as skinny, just as full of potential. That word again.

It was in 2006 when Swift got a chance to prove his worth, and he did it fairly well. After averaging six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes per game in the previous season, he was slotted in as the team’s starting center the following year. He showed up to training camp early and in shape. He played in the summer league, although it was his third season by that point, and he didn’t need to be there. He showed up with the longshots and the newcomers and the no-hopers and caught the ball on the low-block, where he used his frame, now packed with 30 more pounds of muscle and a whirl of tattoos, to clear space. His hair, once military short, now curled and spilled down to his shoulders. This was going to be his season.

What ended it was a preseason injury. In an exhibition game against the Sacramento Kings, Swift lunged out of bounds to keep a ball in play. Then there was a pop, a rupture, a torn ACL, and an entire season lost. He laid on the floor, clutching his right knee. His fingernails, now painted black, curled into his palms. He punched the floor and then there was nothing left.

He’d made around nine million dollars by this point, which is a lot of money for anyone and maybe too much for someone searching, as all people his age are, for an identity, both on the court and beyond it. During his rehabilitation, the Seattle franchise made its way out of town. They’d been sold to an investment group, headed up by Oklahoma City petro-businessman Clay Bennett.

Bennett lobbied to relocate the team to Oklahoma and in the process he dismantled the team’s management structure. That kid with the bad knee, the one who was always around the training facility, he was left with no coach, no mentor, no internal supporters. The patience the franchise had once shown had dried up, the potential had been forgotten. Swift would play one more short season with Oklahoma City, appearing in 26 games, before limping out of the league. It barely registered.


He didn’t give up, though. Not entirely, and not initially. He tried to get back into the league through the NBDL. He went home and played for the Bakersfield Jam, but that lasted only two games. He left the team, citing personal reasons, which is just what it sounds like, and as opaque as it sounds. It doesn’t offer much explanation, but Will Voigt, then the Jam’s coach, said he thought Swift was done with basketball forever.

He wasn’t. He tried his hand overseas, playing in Tokyo, where his former coach in Seattle, Bob Hill, tried to get him back in NBA shape. He lasted less than a season, and then that was it, really it this time. He was now 25 years old, had made more than $11 million dollars and had nowhere left to go.

Back in Seattle, back to where all of this had started, there wasn’t an NBA team anymore. Bennett had gotten his wish and the Seattle SuperSonics had become the Oklahoma City Thunder. Swift still had his home in the city, though, and that’s where he went. It was large and impressive, but far from opulent and sat on a quiet side street. Less than a year later, that would be gone, too. The banks came calling: his property had been foreclosed and was later revealed to have been disturbingly, stunningly neglected.

There’s a local news segment on it, which is alternately nauseating and heartrending. Empty beer cans littered the lawn, a bullet hole had pierced the garage window, four cars sat in the driveway, some rusted out but each worn and unmoveable. The couple that bought the house in foreclosure found a reeking sink with ancient vomit in it, covered by a towel. In the basement, Swift had set up a sort of improvised shooting range, and had been pumping bullets from an automatic weapon into the foundation of his own home.

Swift stayed inside, refused to leave. Then, years after he was last deemed worthy of attention, came the headlines. Reporters showed up, their cameras on their shoulders, eyes peering into the windows, fists hammering on the doors. They needed to know: what and why and how, how had it come to this. Swift wasn’t just a cautionary tale anymore, he wasn’t just a disappointment, he was everything that everyone else didn’t want him to be. He was a mess, clearly, and he was lost. He was still an enigma, but the stakes seemed notably higher than they had in those first days, when he was just another rookie filled with potential.

Maybe it had always been this way. He’d been told what he could be, what he should be, but never quite seemed to become what he was, or might have been. The last reports of Swift’s whereabouts speculated he was sleeping on a friend’s couch, somewhere in Seattle. He’s 27 now, and his former life, everything he had been trained to do, everything he was supposed to accomplish, seems well and truly gone.


In the first draft of this story, I didn’t use Robert Swift’s name. My editor changed that because it was confusing, but the facts of Swift’s story don’t strictly require that you know his name or remember him as a player. You’ve heard his story before, because it’s familiar. Swift, like many of his peers, made a lot of money and lost nearly all of it, and is now someone to puzzle over or mourn or judge harshly for his failures, secure in the sense that neither you nor I nor anybody else would ever make those mistakes. But, of course, we can never know that.

Robert Swift probably won’t be a basketball player again, and maybe that’s all right. We will likely not hear his name again anytime soon, and maybe that’s all right, too. He deserves privacy like anyone else; he deserves to be happy in his work and as himself, like everyone else. It’s natural to worry about him, given how he was living and how fast and how far he fell. His life, from now on, is his own business.

It’s comforting, in a way, to imagine him somewhere quiet, playing the game. Just him and a ball and a hoop and the sound of leather falling through mesh, chasing it down and getting it back and doing it again, for himself. Or maybe he’s somewhere else. Wherever he is, he’s out there alone, as much as he ever was.

Share |


Thanks for sharing information about it. I really like that. Thanks so lot for your convene. blog comments

Really a great addition. I have read this marvelous post. Thanks for sharing information about it. I really like that. Thanks so lot for your convene.seo Kansas City

type of person and player is a recognizable NBA type. Swift was a rare specimen among humanity, but not all that unique among his cohort.cccam server

Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post. Talk to His Heart System

I ought to do first in the event that I'll make this sort of article… Tahoe DSL I would truly love to visit your site each day. buy traffic

I was reading your article and wondered if you had considered creating an E book on this subject. Saas

I have bookmarked your blog to check out the new stuff you post down to make the browsing more easier. spartagen xt results

This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the good work. I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an

but do not know how to use it. Rahul has shared the Eastern wisdom how to look at money and how to use it.
sabo terlik

High-quality along with your concur permit me to to seize your current give to keep modified by using approaching blog post. free stuff for baby

I have express a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorite’s blog site list and will be checking back soon…What Men Secretly Want

Here We Have Happy New Year 2016 Wishes, Sms, Happy New Year Images 2016, Messages, Quotes, New Year Pictures, Wallpapers and Cards and Much More… New Year Wishes 2016

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.ed miracle review

Very informative post ! There is a lot of information here that can help any business get started with a successful social networking campaign !Save The Marriage System

Actually I read it yesterday but I had some thoughts about it and today I wanted to read it again because it is very well written.roof installation

Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post.

He was tall and lean and young and had potential, but that type of person and player is a recognizable NBA type. Swift was a rare specimen among humanity, but not all that unique among his cohort metallic epoxy garage floor

Thanks friends, for providing such enlightening data.

Nice information, valuable and excellent design, as share good stuff with good ideas and concepts, lots of great information and inspiration, both of which I need, thanks to offer such a helpful information here.viru hambakliinik

I am really and truly thrilled to read this marvelous post. You've really impressed me today. I hope you'll continue to do so! remove dark circles under your eyes

His passion and dedication can serve as an example to all of us here. Following your own road may take longer, but as you can see, it is well worth the work.. Sydney Furniture Stores

Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article.whey protein isolado

I personally use them exclusively high-quality elements : you will notice these folks during:
Homes for Sale in Kelowna

Beaver says I also have such interest, you can read my profile here:
How to make money online

I feel really happy to have seen your webpage and look forward to so many more entertaining times reading here. Thanks once more for all the details.Incredible Dream Machine System Review

This post is positively rousing. I like your post and all that you impart to us is present and exceptionally useful, I need to bookmark the page so I can return here from you that you have made an awesome showing

Glad to chat your blog, I seem to be forward to more reliable articles and I think we all wish to thank so many good articles, blog to share with us. I will really appreciate the writer's choice for choosing this excellent article appropriate to my matter.Here is deep description about the article matter which helped me more.atlanta seo

I am a new user of this site so here i saw multiple articles and posts posted by this site,I curious more interest in some of them hope you will give more information on this topics in your next articles. SEO Miami

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. how much is it to buy instagram followers

The visionaries who conceived of the Proximity’s business model got it just right – green is not only good for the environment, it’s good business too! homepage

I look for such article along time, today i find it finally. this post give me lots of advise it is very useful for me...94 Percent Answers

Just saying thanks wouldn’t just be enough, for the fantastic fluency in your writing. buy reddit account with karma

Actually I read it yesterday but I had some thoughts about it and today I wanted to read it again because it is very well written.Luggage

It's late finding this act. At least, it's a thing to be familiar with that there are such events exist. I agree with your Blog and I will be back to inspect it more in the future so please keep up your act.understand the facts

ogus blogs with no real message but the post was fantast
ic and well worth the read.Thank you for sharing this with me...
gabinete tarot

This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up. Keep blogging. Looking to reading your next post. SEO marketing Dallas

well written articles. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog buy visitors

The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought you have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.garage door boulder co

There you can download for free, see the first of these data.
Small Business

Academy for Power are already in discussions about just such a scheme, and we all look forward to seeing how it pans out.
Musky Guide

On my website you'll see similar texts, write what you think.
reviews on the 21 day fix

Such a very useful article. Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article. car affordability calculator south africa

The training contents of the Bedside Assistant Training Program have been developed with the guideline of community caregiver. soundcloud marketing ! get more followers

Thanks for the nice blog. It was very useful for me. I m happy I found this blog. Thank you for sharing with us,I too always learn something new from your post.

You actually make it look so easy with your performance but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never comprehend. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!The Guy Magnet

It’s natural to worry about him, given how he was living and how fast and how far he fell. His life, from now on, is his own business.small business SEO

I went over this website and I conceive you've got a large number of splendid information,MacFarlane Curry

After a space/time continuum-rupturing hot streak from outside over the series’ first five games, Danny Green made just two of the eleven threes he took in Games Six and Seven. The Spurs managed a paltry 30% from range once the series returned to Miami.военные футболки

It feels awesome to read such informative and unique articles on your websites. instagram followers | instagram likes

This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not every day that I have the possibility to see something like this.visit our website