It didn’t take the events of last Friday in Baton Rouge, La., to root for Stanley Roberts. He has always been one of the good guys. Too good, if anything, the way he couldn’t say no to people close to him and they helped drain the bank account until Roberts estimated he had gone through all $30 million from his playing days.
But what a moment deserving a cheering section as Roberts accepted his diploma in Sports Administration from LSU in graduation ceremonies in the indoor-track facility, after leaving school for the pros in 1990, after one season in Spain followed by stops with the Magic, Clippers, Timberwolves, Rockets and 76ers and a last grasp in Puerto Rico, after selling his car and riding a bike and the bus to classes. After everything.
Roberts had the skills of an elite center but played his way out of the NBA because he couldn’t stay in shape – during the season – and ultimately because he couldn’t stay away from drugs. He went through a lot of money. He had triple-bypass heart surgery in August.
In the perfect symbolism of the moment, he refused to accept advice to drop out of school, re-enroll in the spring and complete the degree then. He was that determined to finish now. He was 42 years old. Enough with the delays.
“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever accomplished,” he told Jim Kleinpeter for the excellent storyin The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com on Roberts’ long path to college graduate. “It was difficult, brutal at times. But through the grace of God I got through it.”
While Shaquille O’Neal was overly generous in saying his former college teammate could have had a better pro career, an in-shape Roberts was an All-Star in waiting. He just never seemed to have the passion to play, which led to the conditioning issues, which led to the breakdown of his career and then the off-court problems. Stanley Roberts is the classic example of the guy who played basketball because he was tall, eventually reaching 7 feet, and everyone told him he should play basketball. Not because he had a love for the game.
His love of people, though, was undeniable. Roberts was a joy to be around, relaxed and overflowing with Southern charm and unable to hold a grudge no matter how cutting the criticism became. Dale Brown, his LSU coach, spoke of Roberts the person in the highest terms. Larry Brown, his coach with the Clippers and 76ers, delighted at being around Roberts, despite the number of potential wins his health issues cost LB in Los Angeles. Magic executive Pat Williams wielded a sharp needle around the expanding Roberts – no man is an island, but Stanley is close, and so on – but also endlessly praised the kindness of a player without pretense.
That is why, as the latest Roberts update gets around, the one about getting his college degree, a lot of people will be happy. As Kleinpeter wrote:
Roberts was better prepared when he returned in the fall of 2008. With encouragement from friends and a course load he could handle, Roberts said his GPA improved to 3.0 or better during the next four semesters. He worked student jobs in the Carl Maddox Field House, where his graduation ceremony will take place, and a campus convenience store. (Dale) Brown’s foundation helped him with apartment rent.
Better still, Roberts earned the respect of his teachers, fellow students and athletic administration. He was a reliable participant in classes, always willing to speak out and start discussions. Because of his maturity, he’s often called upon to speak to Tiger teams about his life experiences and to encourage them not to make the mistakes he’s made. Many of the athletes had never heard of Roberts but he was easily able to relate to them and garner their attention.
“It was hard not to like him,” said Dee Jacobsen, undergraduate sports administration program coordinator who taught Roberts in four classes. “He’s so personable. He can be in any conversation with any group of students.
“He put forward a lot of effort, working while he was going to school. He really worked hard to get through those classes; he would do whatever he had to do to get through them. I think he will be successful at anything he wants to do. He’s an amazing guy.”
For now, Roberts said he will look for a full-time job and also study for graduate school. He is interested in getting into coaching. There are some life lessons he’d like to pass along.