How playing in Japan saved ex-NBA player Robert Swift

robert-swift-2Robert Swift was drafted directly out of high school in 2004 and was a favorite amongst several well-respected NBA GMs, but his game never found a groove and he last played in the NBA back in 2009. The days of playing among the best were gone.

Afte the NBA, Swift’s life took a wrong turn. Basketball, that brought structure, discipline and purpose to Swift’s life was no longer there. Without it, he later struggled to cope with his daily existence. His life fell apart.

Swift himself admits that he’s lucky to be alive. What saved him from falling down further was a stint with the Tokyo Apache in Japan’s basketball league.

Swift made a memorable comeback in Japan. He resurrected his career with the now-defunct Apache during the 2010-11 season. For the Apache, Swift was a vital contributor. He averaged 13.8 points and 9.8 rebounds for the season and, like the team, improved immensely as the months marched on.

Asked to share what were highlights from that season in a recent email, Swift responded by writing, “…Off the court we were sightseeing, meeting great and amazing people, but mainly traveling to and meeting my family in Okinawa. I’ve been to almost every state in America and there’s no where here that I’ve felt so at home than when I was in Okinawa.”

“Playing in Tokyo was one of the best experiences I’ve had not only in my basketball career, but in my life. If I were to have an opportunity to play in Japan again, I would go without a second thought,” Swift said.

But when the Apache’s season was cut short by the Great East Japan Earthquake, Swift progress started turning into another downfall. He admitted he started using heroin about a year after the Apache’s final game. He became an addict, and had run-ins with law enforcement due to guns and other problems.

Major media outlets chronicled Swift’s missteps. Swift’s NBA money had dried up. He was unable to make payments on his home near Seattle.

In February of 2013, Swift was reportedly refusing to “abandon his bullet-ridden, beer-can-strewn foreclosed house” – according to a Yahoo report. Swift’s house was foreclosed in January 2013, but former NBA player refused to leave it.

In March 2013, Swift was evicted. An report described Swift and the foreclosed home at the time: “Broke and bitter, he left the home in squalor, with pizza boxes, liquor bottles and other trash strewn all over. Holes were punched in the wall and a makeshift shooting range was found in the basement, with air guns and live ammo left behind.”

That wasn’t the end of Swift’s troubles.

In October 2014, Swift, then living at a house in Kirkland, Washington, was indicted on gun charges. Twenty-five guns were seized from the property, reported, including seven (with a grenade launcher among the arsenal) from Swift’s room during a police raid. Methamphetamine and heroin and drug paraphernalia were also discovered, according to the report, which stated that the home had been used for drug dealing.

robert-swift-3In January 2015, Swift was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm on an outstanding warrant. He was taken to King County Jail in Seattle, and served 28 more days in custody.

At the time of the arrest, Swift was regularly under the influence of drugs, he confirmed later. “That was one of the things that was hard to deal with after. I couldn’t believe how lost I had got,” he said. “But it made me try that much harder to get my life back together.”

For Swift, going back to prison marked a turning point in his life. He realized he needed a fresh start.

Swift revealed that he didn’t have “any focus” or “any motivation” in his life at that time. What’s more, he had “lost a desire to live” and was “surrounded by the wrong people.”

His life was at the crossroads. Ending his use of heroin became a priority.

“I decided to quit and haven’t even been around any of that since,” he said. “It was a personal decision to stop. I went to one treatment class and everyone who was in there just talked about going back to it when they got out of treatment. I didn’t want to be around people like that. I used the Bible and playing basketball to get me through the first few weeks. Then after that I’ve had no desire to ever go back to an unhealthy lifestyle.”

In 2015, Swift moved back to California to begin a new chapter in his life. But he also mentioned he wants to share the painful lessons he’s learned with others.

Swift’s Christian faith is another important part of his turnaround. Nowadays, Swift also credits a local friend and teammate, Jordan Wilson, a former college player, for pushing him on and off the court “to keep moving forward with a basketball career. . . . He’s looking to play again, too, so I always have someone to work out with. He’s a guard so when we play against each other it’s always a challenge for us to guard each other.”

“I’m living healthy, eating healthy, hanging around positive people and exercising,” commented Swift, who now weighs 265 pounds (120 kg), his playing weight toward the end of his Apache stint.

“Time away from the game helped past injuries heal. I don’t have any problems, no injuries. I want to get back into playing (professionally). I know I can play for more years,” said Swift.

NBA Development League teams are always looking for big men, and every NBA team knows a 216-cm player with serviceable or impressive skills can play a role. Other hoop circuits spanning the globe may need starting and/or backup centers. In other words, there are tons of roster spots to fill every year in countless leagues.

Swift — like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, among others — made the quantum leap from high school to the NBA, which isn’t allowed anymore, according to league rules. Looking back on his decision to skip college and turn pro at age 18, Swift said he said he has no regrets.

robert-swift“I think about that every once in a while, but I don’t regret what happened or what situations I was in, getting drafted and not going to college,” he stated. “When I look at it, what it comes down to is I’m comfortable with where I’m at now after working to get everything back this last year, year and a half…”

Swift made it abundantly clear that he has a fierce determination to play at the pro level again.

“Basketball for me is not only a job, a career, but it’s a good way for me to want to work out harder and want to get better in everything, not just on the court,” he explained. “And getting away from that for a while made me lose motivation to want to get better at every aspect of my life.

“When I started playing again, I realized that there’s always something that I can learn on the court and there’s always ways that it can push me off the court to get better and want to do better (in life).”

By the way, Swift is a throwback to a different era. He embraces the old-school basketball tradition of a big man who anchors the middle and gets bumps and bruises along the way. This was evident watching him play from courtside for more than a dozen games for the Tokyo Apache’s abbreviated season.

“Most teams want to copy the Golden State Warriors,” Swift told Hoop Scoop. “They want bigs to set screens and shoot from outside. Outside all the players now want to shoot 3s and make big plays. I like playing with my back to the basket. The more physical the better. It seems that now players don’t like to play physical, they want to shoot from the outside rather than get a few bruises during the game.”

Swift played four seasons in the NBA, three of them with Seattle Supersonics, one with Oklahoma Thunder. He averaged career high 6.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg an 1.2 bpg for the Sonics in 2005-2006.

Swift holds career averages of 4.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 0.9 bpg, and 15.5 mpg in 97 NBA games (34 started).

Sources: JapanTimes, Hoop Scoop

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