Last we checked in with former Seattle SuperSonics lottery pick Robert Swift, he was addicted to heroin, getting arrested for armed robbery, and having police raid a house in which he was living and finding, among other things, a grenade launcher. It’s been 20 months since then, and from the picture of his life that Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard painted today, it seems that Swift is somewhat turning his life around, and will soon make an attempted comeback to professional basketball (likely in the D-League or in Japan).
Two weeks pass. Swift texts. He’s ready to talk. About all of it. So here we are, in his room on the third floor of the Extended Stay America Hotel in Roseville. Outside, I-80 rushes by, just down from the credit union, 7-Eleven and Family Christian store. Plastic shelving holds Campbell’s Chunky soup, next to giant bottles of protein powder. Melatonin and supplements surround his bed. A drained sixer of Sudwerk beer rests on the floor, next to empty fast food bags. The closet is draped with hoops gear. A pile of books leans against his backpack; once interested in philosophy, the man who now uses the runic alphabet to jot private notes reads tomes like The Philosophy of the Dark Knight and a Game of Thrones companion book. He clears clean laundry off a swivel chair for me, apologizing for the mess. “I’ve clearly done nothing but go to the gym the last week or so,” he says.
All Swift can do is hope you believe him. He talks about how he is “older and less emotional.” How he can understand a GM’s perspective now. The “downward spiral,” as he terms it? “I was lost, angry, scared,” Swift says. “I had no goals. I was living literally minute-by-minute. And now, I’m absolutely goal-oriented, I have a long-term plan, I know what I want to do. I know what the next step is. Every decision is based off, ‘Is this going to get me to the next step?’ I do very few instant-gratification things.” He pauses. “If me of all people can make it back, I know other people can.”
Besides, he says, he has a support system now. During our conversation, he receives a text from Jordan Wilson, his phone cackling with the sound of the Joker (Swift is a huge Batman fan). A quiet 24-year-old point guard, Wilson played at William Jessup University, a Christian school in Rocklin, and then in New Zealand. He and Swift work out four or five days a week. Swift texts him daily. Says Wilson: “I know it’s just an adult league, but it’s kind of refreshing to see how serious he takes basketball.”
It’s not sunshine and roses. Swift still has an extremely strained relationship with his family (he says he only communicates with his mother through Facebook, which sounds like hell), still owes child support payments that were set when he was earning millions in the NBA, still has no steady source of income, still seems to drink a lot of beer for a recovering drug addict, and seems to mostly subsist on a diet of fast food and protein powder. Ballard bought two meals for Swift while profiling him, and Swift was worried he was about to get evicted from the hotel he has been living in.
But really, anything is better than living in the back room of your heroin dealer’s house in exchange for cleaning it up some and acting as his enforcer to collect debts, better than regularly passing out in a lawn chair in the living room after having stayed awake for days on a cocktail of booze, coke, heroin, and meth. Robert Swift has lived a tortured existence in his 30 years on earth; hopefully the next 30 are kinder.