Goodbye, Roy

Tarpley ducks out on Dallas, probably for the last time

It is Thursday morning, and Roy Tarpley is walking away from what will likely prove his last home practice in a place where he has never really felt at home.

He sees that the sun is shining and says the weather is crazy and that he will not talk to the media--about anything. Period.

Standing on the steps to the parking lot, he squints at the sky and sings a few words from "Happy Days are Here Again." Roy has been singing a lot of funny little songs this season. Figuratively, he has probably sung the last verse in his off-key Dallas ballad.

It is difficult to say just what Roy has done with his year here. He has quit talking to the media. Snippets of his life emerge from teammates and other co-workers to give us some idea of what it is to be Roy Tarpley in Dallas, Texas. We learn about Roy from those on the periphery--like reporters trying to piece together from yearbook snapshots and the words of neighbors a profile of someone who has done something terribly wrong.

Roy hasn't done anything all that wrong--other than go about everything awkwardly. He has just completed his first season back in the NBA since the drug suspension. There have been injuries, sickness, weird behavior, poor play, stellar performances, pats on the back, and just a few smiles.

He is a 30-year-old man on a team of 22- and 23-year-olds. He is building a house in Lewisville. He is the only married man on a team of very single gentlemen, most of whom still call their parents' house "home." He is the one guy who doesn't quite fit in--even though he is the one who needs to fit in somewhere more than any guy. But he does not go to their bars. He does not share their deep friendships.

Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson and the bunch play video games and pool for fun; sometimes, for some of the kids, there is an occasional foray to a girlie bar. Roy simply does not fit in. Earlier in the season, one teammate, speaking of Roy, said it was as though the team had this "retired guy" just hanging around.

Jason Kidd, the hope of the future, says he and Roy, the hope of the past, talk--but not about how to play basketball. "We talk about life and stuff," says Kidd. "I don't usually start the conversations, but we talk. Roy usually says something first.

"He might give advice, just about stuff."
"Stuff" might be how Jason and Roy have both been held up to public scrutiny after ugly, controversial incidents. Kidd won't say. "Every athlete has suffered," says the rookie. "This is just the challenge he has put in front of him. Everybody has challenges."

Roy gets along well enough with teammates. But he seldom associates with them off the court. Instead, he sticks with "his boys"--a group of nonbasketball friends from years ago in Dallas who accompany him socially and provide a disassociation from the Mavericks. They insulate him from the curious in the places where they hang out--often black clubs, where everyone seems to leave Roy pretty much alone.

Just as often, Roy goes home. He plays with his baby. He eats with his wife. He gets in that white Mercedes to go to the video store. He is no saint. He is not horrible.

But he has nothing in common with his teammates save an affinity for basketball--on a team which thrives like few others on its deep fraternal atmosphere. And he certainly has nothing in common with the media, which has become both the rightful target of his anger and the weak scapegoat for his failures.

If, as expected, Roy gets traded--and the Mavericks may actually be able to get more than a box of rocks for him after a string of fine late-season performances--it is doubtful his new media pack will be as indulgent as this one. At least this group has known him for years and learned to like him as a human.

After this final practice, Roy walks past the reporter herd. He hasn't spoken to the media in weeks. It is his new deal. "Hey, Roy," a few of them say in passing. He responds politely with a smile and "How ya doin'?"

But that is as far as it is allowed to go.
I follow Roy past the door. We get near the white Mercedes. He reminds me that he will not say anything to me.

"Y'all never write anything positive," he complains, his voice more weary than mean.

I'll write something positive if he'll just say something positive, I tell him. What does he want to say?

"No, no," Roy shakes his head, opening the car door.
"It's just a brother gets sick of this stuff--everything I do--I have a wreck and everybody...No one is ever fair."

We talk about what I've written. I figure I've given Tarpley the benefit of the doubt for years--all the way back to the CBA and Wichita Falls and round one with drugs.

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