The Keith Closs story: from LA Clippers to Santa Barbara Breakers

The 7 foot 3 giant Keith Closs hasn’t played a game in the NBA since the 1999-2000 season. He’s one of those fallen NBA stars that could not beat their own demons, and as a result were denied another chance to play in the NBA.

Closs played college basketball at Central Connecticut State University, leading the nation in blocks his only two years in college. holding the NCAA Division I career record for blocks with 5.87 blocked shots per game.

After starting playing professionally in the Atlantic Basketball Association with the Norwich Neptunes, Closs moved to the Los Angeles Clippers in 1997.

For three seasons Closs was the back-up center for the Clippers, playing limited minutes in each of those three seasons.

In his first season with the Clippers, Closs played 58 games, scoring 232 points (4.2 ppg), grabbing 168 rebounds (2.9 rpg), and blocking 81 shots (1.4 bpg) in just under 13 minutes of playing time.

The next 1998-1999 season was the lowest of Closs’ career, as he appeared in just 15 games, getting just under 6 minutes of playing time, and averaging 2.1 ppg and 1.7 rpg.

In his last season with the Clippers, Closs played 57 games, starting in 6 of them, averaging 4.2 ppg (career high), 3.1 rpg (career high) and 1.3 bpg.

Closs lasted three seasons in the NBA, appearing in 130 games, averaging 3.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg and 1.3 bpg.

After the 99-00 season, the 7’3 Closs never played another NBA game. He had his reasons, or in other words, problems that caused his departure from the league. The main problem was – drinking addiction.

Closs admitted to being an alcoholic, even before joining the Clippers.

During the 1998-99 lockout, Closs picked up two DUIs. He called NBA headquarters directly for help. Nevertheless, the league sent him to a rehab clinic in Georgia. It didn’t work.

The following season, ’99-00, his last in the NBA, Closs felt alienated from his teammates. He had verbal altercations with Michael Olowokandi and Maurice Taylor and skipped practice when he was hung over.

He also took his drinking to a new level. Closs says he started mixing alcohol in his water bottle that last go-round. He’d sometimes pop open emergency exits at the Staples Center at halftime to smoke marijuana in uniform.

In an interview with SLAM (via SB Nation), Closs said his alcoholism was so bad he even drank during games.

“I was drinking on the bench, too. That wasn’t Gatorade in my water bottle; it was whatever I’d brought with me from the liquor store on the way to the arena. I had grown very resentful of the fact that I wasn’t playing…I felt like I was wasting away.”

Closs says he arrived for the team’s ’00-01 media day sober and ready to start fresh. Clippers GM Elgin Baylor told him not to come to training camp, though. Although Closs says he was in shape, L.A. repeatedly failed him on physicals. He would never check into an NBA game again.

“I really let Elgin down because he had high hopes for me,” Closs says. “I let the drinking get in the way.”

Despite his failings far outweighing his successes in the NBA—in total, he played 130 games, averaging 3.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks over the course of those contests – Closs remains beloved among Clipper fans.

“He was the friendliest NBA player,” said “Clipper Darrell” Bailey, the team’s superfan. “If people wanted pictures or autographs, he’d do every single one.”

Closs later played for the Pennsylvania Valley Dawgs of the USBL in 2003, subsequently moving to the CBA.

In January 2007, as he led the latter league in blocks per game at 2.9, he left and signed with the Buffalo Silverbacks of the ABA; he was selected with the 11th pick in the 5th round of the 2007 NBA Development League draft by the Tulsa 66ers.

That same year Closs somehow managed to stop drinking and reportedly has been staying sober ever since.

Closs was taken in the ’07-08 D-League draft by the Tulsa 66ers. It was the closest he’d been to the NBA since 2000. Closs played one season in hopes he’d draw interest from somewhere. In Tulsa, Closs attended AA meetings for the first time since he’d quit drinking. He didn’t revive his NBA career, but the experience helped revive his life.

In December 2008, Closs signed with the Chinese league’s Yunnan Bulls, and averaged 16.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.9 blocked shots per game.

In May of 2012 Closs has been spotted attending a Clippers home game against the Memphis Grizzlies, wearing his own jersey from his days with the team.

Earlier in 2008, a SLAM reader spotted Closs out at a club in China wearing a #33 Closs Mavericks jersey. Who knows, if it really was Closs in China (who was supposedly playing there at the time), maybe it was his dream to be playing in the NBA as a Maverick?

Today, Closs is still playing basketball, for the Santa Barbara Breakers of the West Coast Professional Basketball League. He is on the team’s 2012 roster.

There is very little chance that Closs would come back to the NBA, yet a good thing is that he’s now reportedly sober, and is playing again.


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