How a man responds to adversity truly defines his legacy.
How a man responds to adversity truly defines his legacy.
Robert Swift reached the pinnacle of his sport in 2004 when he was selected 12th overall by the Seattle Supersonics.
Swift didn't pick up a basketball until his seventh grade year. As a 6' middle schooler, he was not yet taking the game seriously. As he shot up to 6'4” in seventh grade and to 6'10” as a freshman, Swift quickly realized a career in basketball was a strong possibility.
“I started to play the game at a higher level after my sophomore year. As a freshman I was still learning the game and trying to figure out my body. I started to get more serious looks once I figured those things out.”
Like most highly-skilled players in the modern era, Swift played the AAU circuit in the offseason. He teamed up with several successful athletes, including Trevor Ariza, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Amir Johnson and Gabe Pruitt.
“We had a monster team,” Swift said. “It was a great experience playing with those guys and I learned a lot from that team.”
As a senior at Bakersfield High School, Swift was selected to the 2004 McDonalds All-American team. His fellow All-Americans included, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Sebastian Telfair, J.R. Smith, Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo and Corey Brewer to name a few. There were 22 players from that game who eventually logged minutes in the NBA.
After a reasonably successful game in which Swift scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots, he declared for the NBA Draft.
“Along with the McDonald's All-American game, I had been lucky enough to be invited to NBA summer camps,” Swift said. “I was able to play against NBA talent from a pretty early age so that gave me the confidence to be able to make the jump.”
The 2004 NBA Draft was held on June 24 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Swift did not attend the draft but remembers that night like it was yesterday.
“From what I was told, I was the only one out of 60 picks to not be in New York the night of the draft,” Swift said. I had an idea that I was going to go in the top 20. I didn't go to the combine. I didn't work out for any team so I wanted to stay around friends and family.”
He kept a close eye on David Stern making his way to the podium 11 times, and with Seattle on the clock and 12, the seven-footer's dream came true.
“A friend and former teammate hosted a draft party for me,” Swift said. “They had three TVs set up in the house. The TV in the room I was in was delayed. I heard everybody in the living room and kitchen going crazy, so by the time David Stern made the announcement I knew where I was going..
With his first NBA paycheck, Swift purchased a vehicle he could finally fit in.
“I bought a 2004 Cadillac Escalade EXT,” he said. “I didn't get my license until I was 18. My mom drove an old van and my dad had a truck so I wasn't able to fit into anything to take the test.”
When Swift arrived in Seattle for his rookie season, he quickly got a taste of what the rigors of an 82-game season would be like.
“The first week I was up in Seattle, there was only one other player in town,” Swift said. “Since they had never watched me work out they brought me to the facility. I went one-on-one with Reggie Evans and I got manhandled. Halfway through the workout I thought I maybe made a mistake. I didn't know at the time but Reggie was one of the most physical players in the league. I remember getting thrown around a little.”
After surviving the workout, Swift would eventually play in his first preseason game against the Western Conference powerhouse Los Angeles Lakers.
“I got on the court about three hours early to get shots up and my workout in,” Swift said. “Probably 20 minutes after I got on the court, Kobe Bryant steps on the floor. It sure wasn't summer league or the camps anymore. It was for real.”
During that first season, teammate Rashard Lewis helped Swift make the adjustment to the league. Lewis made the jump from high school to the pro ranks in 1998 and took the rookie under his wing.
“Rashard (Lewis) helped me more than anybody else,” Swift said. “He understood the transition and what it took to play in this league.”
In his first season with the Supersonics, Swift played in 16 games and scored his first point on a free throw against the Atlanta Hawks. Seattle finished 52-30 in the 2004-2005 season, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.
“That season was a blur. It was an overwhelming sense of emotion,” Swift said. “It was a lot of work trying to enjoy everything but still get better. My rookie season was an amazing experience.”
Being around players like Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Nick Collison helped Swift tremendously, he said.
“With guys that are that successful and that professional, I did everything I could to learn from them and pick up the positive tendencies,” Swift said.
In his second season as a pro, Swift was able to get on the floor with more consistency. His best game was in a road loss to the Denver Nuggets, where he scored 17 points, grabbed 11 boards and blocked four shots.
The most memorable game came against the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 22, 2006, Swift said. Seattle won in double overtime thanks to Ray Allen dropping 42 points, including a buzzer beater in the second overtime. In that game, Swift chipped in 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
“I remember playing quite a bit that game and if I remember correctly it was the first time I played in overtime in the NBA. It was crazy to see Ray (Allen) take over.”
Some players are able to make it their whole career without serious injuries. Unfortunately for Swift, on Oct. 25, 2006 he tore his ACL in the last preseason game against the Sacramento Kings.
“I had just been announced the starting center for the season,” Swift said. “It happened in front of our bench. The best coach I've ever played for, Bob Hill, said they were going to sub me out. I told them to just give me a minute and let me walk it off. I remember trying to take a step and my right leg just dragged.”
Just eight games into the 2006-2007 season, Swift tore the meniscus in the same knee.
“The crazy thing was it happened with my knee brace on,” Swift said. “It happened in Portland. I played the rest of the game but I didn't realize how bad it was until I took the brace.
With the injury bug biting two consecutive seasons, Swift kept a positive mindset as he prepared to return for the 2008-2009 campaign.
“Everything worked out in a sense because I was able to get in the weight room and put on size,” Swift said. “I kept a pretty positive mindset and the injury gave me time to heal my ACL and come back strong the next year.”
In 2008, the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City and rebranded as the Thunder. The team finished their inaugural season in Oklahoma with a record of 23-59.
From the moment the team stepped off the plane, Swift remembers the warm welcome from the die hard Thunder fans.
“The people of Oklahoma City loved the team from day one,” Swift said. “I had a great time in Oklahoma. I haven't been able to get back. I want to but it hasn't happened yet.”
Swift's last game in the NBA came April 13, 2009 against the Portland Trail Blazers in which he logged 15 minutes, scoring two points, two rebounds and two blocks.
Post-NBA, Swift played in two games for the Bakersfield Jam on the NBA's Development League. The next season he was reunited with former coach Bob Hill, who was coaching the Tokyo Apache. Swift has Japanese heritage so his experience overseas was a blessing, he said.
“When I played in Japan I loved it,” Swift said. I got to meet my family from Okinawa. I followed coach Hill out there. I absolutely love playing overseas.”
Two years removed from playing in the NBA, Swift's off the court troubles began.
He was found guilty of reckless driving in 2011. Three years later, Swift's home was foreclosed and he eventually vacated leaving the home in need of significant repairs.
Swift hit rock bottom Oct. 4, 2014 when a SWAT team raided the home of a Seattle-based heroin and methamphetamine dealer. The former NBA player was found inside and after serving 28 days in jail, Swift pleaded guilty and was credited for time served.
There was one final encounter with the law, when Swift was arrested for an attempted armed robbery in early 2015.
The average person would have trouble bouncing back from such a dark period. But thanks to basketball and having a sense of purpose, Swift has been on the path to redemption. He is now clean and sober, continuously working on becoming a better person.
“I decided I didn't want to live that way anymore,” Swift said. “I wanted to get back to having a healthy life. I remember sitting down and putting together a list of things I was planning on doing. I made half of the list reasonable and the other half seemed unreasonable. Now the only thing I have left is to get a contract overseas.”
With the goal of getting a contract with an overseas pro team, Swift is working out in Las Vegas while he waits on the approval of a passport.
“I'm not passport ready yet,” Swift said. “I've applied and going through the process. Once I have it in hand my agent is going to make the calls.”
As part of his journey to redemption, Swift worked with several AAU teams and mentoring programs though Destiny Christian Church.
Looking back on the highs and lows of a four-year NBA career, the trials and tribulations of extensive drug use, Swift wants young athletes to take advantage of the opportunities and embrace the moment.
“To all the athletes with pro potential, I'd say to find the balance between the love of the game and putting in the work, realizing there is always 10 people trying to take your spot,” Swift said. “If you find that balance then anything is possible.”
To those who don't have a pro career ahead of them and are struggling with temptation, Swift offers one sound piece of advice.
“The only thing I can say, no matter how bad things seem, it's never too late to make a change and decide on course of action to better your life,” Swift said.