Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a list of five players who have appeared in basketball video games after being suspended from the league, either permanently or temporarily.
The Phoenix Suns have won three of their first five games to open the 2020 season. If they’re to keep racking up wins for the foreseeable future, they’ll be doing so without last year’s number one overall pick Deandre Ayton, who was suspended for 25 games after testing positive for a diuretic. Although no other banned substances were found in his system, the use of a potential masking agent nevertheless triggered an automatic ban under the league’s anti-drug policy. The NBPA is currently appealing the ruling, but even if they’re successful, Ayton will likely still miss several games.
That means that he’ll be on the inactive list in forthcoming roster updates for NBA 2K20, but still available in the game. Of course, getting suspended or banned from the NBA doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be missing from the virtual hardwood. A handful of players have remained active in video games after they were suspended in real life, often in the free agents pool where they can be signed in a franchise game at affordable rates. A noteworthy exception is Chris Andersen, who didn’t appear in any games during his suspension in the mid 2000s. The following five players, however, were not removed after the league prohibited them from playing.
1. Tyreke Evans (NBA 2K20)
Let’s begin with the most recent suspended player to appear in a game: Tyreke Evans. He was banned during last year’s Playoffs, after violating the NBA’s policy on drug abuse. The league isn’t permitted to discuss specifics after a failed drug test, but when a player is indefinitely suspended, it usually means they’ve tested positive for an illicit substance. Evans will be eligible to apply for reinstatement into the league in 2021, but for now, he won’t be suiting up in the NBA. It’s a further fall from grace for the former Rookie of the Year, who joined an elite group when he averaged at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game during his first season with the Kings.
Although the Indiana Pacers are without Tyreke Evans’ services in the wake of his ban, he still appears in the free agent pool in NBA 2K20. One might’ve expected him to be removed given that his ban was announced back in May, though as other names on this list demonstrate, there’s a precedent as far as leaving banned and suspended players in games. That precedent suggests that Evans won’t be removed in any future roster updates, but just in case, you might want to keep a copy of the latest roster! At 76 Overall he remains a serviceable player, and if you’d like to ignore the fact that he’s suspended, he’d definitely make for a decent veteran pickup in a MyLEAGUE game.
2. O.J. Mayo (NBA 2K17)
Before Tyreke Evans was suspended by the league and allowed to remain in NBA 2K, we saw the same situation play out with O.J. Mayo. His ban was reported in July 2016, ruling him out for at least two seasons beginning with the 2017 campaign. As with Evans, no specifics about his suspension were made public. Once again though, such bans are handed out when a player tests positive for a drug of abuse, is convicted of a crime involving a drug of abuse, tests positive for performance enhancing drugs four times, or violates the terms of a drug treatment program. Notably, Mayo was previously suspended in 2011 for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
He was eligible to apply for reinstatement at the beginning of last season, but thus far O.J. Mayo has elected to play basketball overseas, namely in Europe and Asia. As such, he hasn’t appeared in any basketball video games for the last couple of years. He did appear in NBA 2K17 despite being banned months before its release, and actually remained in the free agent pool throughout the season. The handling of O.J. Mayo’s two year dismissal from the NBA seems to have set a precedent for how suspensions and bans will be handled on the virtual hardwood, as the NBA apparently has no issue with these players appearing in games. That means Evans is probably safe this year.
3. Roy Tarpley (NBA Live 96)
When it comes to cautionary tales and “What If” scenarios related to personal issues, the late Roy Tarpley is one of the most prominent examples in NBA history. Taken seventh overall by Dallas in the 1986 Draft, he was one of four players in that fateful class whose career would be defined by substance abuse. There was Len Bias, who died of a cocaine overdose less than two days after the Draft. Chris Washburn was banned from the NBA for life in 1989 for drug violations, while Bedford’s drug use derailed a seemingly promising career. Tarpley himself would be banned for life in 1991, after his third strike following two suspensions for driving while intoxicated.
Tarpley was reinstated in 1994, returning to the Mavericks and playing in 55 games, including one start. His numbers were solid, but not quite at the same borderline All-Star level they had been before his first suspension. The 1988 Sixth Man of the Year would be banned again in December 1995 for using alcohol, a violation of a court-imposed aftercare program. Though he never played a minute in the 1996 season, Tarpley appears in NBA Live 96 as the 16-bit versions feature pre-lockout rosters, and the rosters for the PC version were finalised by the time he was suspended. Sadly, Tarpley passed away in 2015, having previously sued the NBA for discrimination.
4. Richard Dumas (NBA Live 97)
Another cautionary tale from the 90s comes courtesy of Richard Dumas. Drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1991, Dumas missed what should have been his rookie season after he was suspended for substance abuse. He finally made his debut in 1993, on a team that made the NBA Finals and pushed the Chicago Bulls to six games. His future seemed bright after making the All-Rookie Second Team, but he was suspended for the 1994 season after another violation. He was reinstated and appeared in a handful of games for the Suns in 1995 before being cut in May. He signed with Philadelphia prior to the 1996 season, and appeared in 39 games (14 starts) for the 76ers.
The reason his season was cut short? He was suspended for substance abuse for the third time, specifically for violating a clause in his contract which prohibited him from drinking alcohol. The ban was handed down halfway through the 1996 season so it wouldn’t have ever affected NBA Live 96 anyway, but interestingly, Dumas’s career on the virtual hardwood wasn’t finished. In spite of the 76ers officially releasing him in July 1996 and the lifetime ban that he had received months before that, Dumas can still be found in the free agent pool in NBA Live 97. Until O.J. Mayo’s ban, he was the last player to make it into a new video game following a lifetime suspension.
5. Mitch McGary (NBA 2K17)
We return to NBA 2K with a rather unusual example. Although Mitch McGary’s suspension wasn’t a lifetime ban, it could be said that it effectively ended his career in the NBA anyway; or so it seems. McGary spent two seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who selected him in the first round of the 2014 Draft. He played sparingly, particularly in his second season when he appeared in just 20 games. He left the team before the end of the season for “personal reasons”, and then on July 8th 2016, he was suspended for failing a drug test. His refusal to comply with the league’s drug policy resulted in a further ten games being added to his suspension a couple of months later.
Following the preseason, the Thunder cut McGary on October 24th, 2016. This means that if another team were to sign him, he’d have to sit out those fifteen games first. Needless to say, this made him less appealing to any team that had interest in him, as he couldn’t immediately play for them. He’s since traded the hardwood for lanes at the bowling alley, and although he hasn’t ruled out a return to basketball, it’d be a tough road back to the NBA. Nevertheless, thanks to his inclusion in NBA 2K17 – McGary was still under contract with the Thunder when the game was released – he spent an additional year in the virtual NBA, albeit in the free agents after a roster update.
Can you recall any other players who still appeared in video games after they were suspended in real life? Do you remember any of these players? Let me know in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.