When you are young, it is often the best time to make mistakes. That way there is time to correct them as well as learn from them. For one-time NBA champion DeShawn Stevenson, his immaturity and lack of correcting his mistakes held him back from becoming one of the greatest two-way guards to play the game of basketball.
This example of untapped potential is lost in the NBA archives, and is truly one of the most tragic stories that remains forgotten and deserves to be told.
A once highly touted high school prospect and first round pick, what happened to DeShawn Stevenson?
Stevenson’s Early Life
Born and raised in Fresno, California, Stevenson did not have the most ideal childhood. Upon growing up, Stevenson never got to meet his father Darryl who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. This diagnosis came after he was checked into a facility after several verbal threats made towards family members.
Darryl, who was a former standout athletically, died at the age of 36 from a lost battle with lung cancer while serving time in prison for murdering his mother (Clara Stevenson).
With DeShawn’s father not in the picture, Stevenson was raised by his mother, Genice Popps. Stevenson then moved to Easton where he made a name for himself at the same High School his father had attended, Washington Union.
While there, Stevenson excelled at basketball averaging 30.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game, climbing up the recruiting ranks. By the time his senior season had completed, he was ranked as the third best High School prospect in the nation.
In that same 1999 class were former NBA players such as: Darius Miles (#2 ranked HS prospect), Gerald Wallace (#6 ranked HS prospect), and Zach Randolph (#11 ranked HS prospect).
Given his spectacular play, Stevenson was invited to the McDonald’s All-Star game as well as the High School Dunk Contest. Heading into that game it was presumed by experts that he would attend Kansas University and play for then head coach Roy Williams. Also on that team were former NBA players Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison, and Drew Gooden.
Randolph took home the MVP (23 points and 13 rebounds) of the All-Star game but Stevenson was the top scorer with 25. Stevenson did however take home the dunk contest trophy.
Due to this outing against some of the best High School talent, Stevenson made the bold decision to jump straight to the NBA and forgo College. A decision that many scouts say he would regret.
From Extreme High to Extreme Low
On June 28th in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 60 names would be called in the NBA Draft, changing all of their lives as they would make the jump from amateur basketball players to now being professionals.
This draft saw Kenyon Martin taken with the top overall pick followed by notable players such as: High School prospect Darius Miles third overall and three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner Jamal Crawford who was taken with the eighth overall pick.
Heading into this draft, several NBA scouts had Stevenson compared to none other than “His Airness” Michael Jordan. That’s right. He was that highly touted.
NBADraft.net had several things to report regarding Stevenson in their scouting report such as “One of the most spectacular 17 year old wings you could ever see.” Terms such as “Special player” and “Extremely gifted athlete” were used to describe him.
With all that being said, former NBA Commissioner David Stern took the stage to announce “With the 23rd overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft the Utah Jazz select DeShawn Stevenson from Washington Union, California”.
That same night Stevenson would have his first run in with the law.
Stevenson was attending a High School basketball game at Buchanan High School in Clovis, California where he was signing autographs when a brawl broke out after he claimed he was jumped by five other individuals. He was only charged with fighting in a public place which counted only as a misdemeanor. The Jazz did not punish him for the incident.
Unfortunately, the draft night brawl was not the only time the Jazz rookie would find himself on the wrong side of the law.
Not the Best First Impression in the NBA
In his rookie season with the Jazz, Stevenson would only see action in 40 games while starting in two of them and averaging 2.2 points, 0.7 rebounds, and 0.5 assists per game.
Following the season, on June 19th of 2001 Stevenson was arrested for statutory rape of a 14 year old. Stevenson, then 20 years of age, admitted this to the 14 year old’s mother in a telephone conversation. He was released on bond after surrendering himself to police.
The details of the case included Stevenson along with two former teammates taking this 14 year old as well as a 15 year old girl to a motel where they all drank brandy and engaged in consensual sex.
In court, Stevenson would plead no contest and would have the case dropped down to a misdemeanor and would have to serve community service. A light sentence given the fact that he was facing a possible three year prison sentence.
After this case concluded, Stevenson did not have much more success on the court the next few seasons in Utah. He would eventually become a full-time starter for the Jazz in 2003-2004 where he started and played in all 54 games averaging a career-best 11.4 PPG.
Even with him having the best year of his young career, the Jazz decided to move on from their former first round pick. Stevenson and a 2007 second round pick were traded to the Orlando Magic for Gordan Giricek at the trade deadline.
With a new change of scenery for Stevenson, it was a second chance for him to start new and really excel as a player. That didn’t quite happen.
In two and a half seasons with the Magic, Stevenson started in 133 games while seeing action in 163 games total. He managed to average 10 points, 1.9 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game.
With no major off the court issues in Orlando and his play seeming to be pretty consistent, Stevenson decided to become a free-agent and choose his next landing spot in his career.
That place was Washington to play for the Wizards. He signed a one-year deal worth $932,000. In that year, he averaged 11.2 PPG and played and started in all 82 games for the Wizards, to which he then decided to continue playing in Washington.
So much so that he signed a four year contract worth $12.7 million with Washington. After another 11.2 PPG game season in 2007-2008, Stevenson began to pick a feud with rising superstar LeBron James.
James would get the upper hand on Stevenson in back to back seasons. First by sweeping Stevenson and the Wizards in the 2007 postseason and then knocking out Washington in six games the following year.
In his last full year with the Wizards, Stevenson would only get on the court for 32 games where he averaged a lowly 6.6 points a game. The following season, Stevenson along with teammates Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood would get traded to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Drew Gooden, Josh Howard, Quinton Ross, and James Singleton.
Another career milestone, another arrest
Landing in Dallas following the trade from Washington, Stevenson exercised his player option in 2010 and 2011 and in doing so earned $4.15 million. A smart decision on his end as the Dallas Mavericks caught fire in the post-season and earned a spot in the NBA Finals where they would take on the Miami Heat who had none other than Stevenson’s ‘rival’, LeBron James.
In that series, Stevenson would start in three games and average 7.0 points while shooting a red hot 56.5 3PT%. The series would go six games and with Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki leading the way with 26.0 PPG, Dallas would win the series and become champions.
Stevenson was now and forever an NBA champion. Then it was time to celebrate.
Two days after the buzzer sounded and Stevenson was able to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, Stevenson would end up under arrest for a third and final time. This time, for pubic intoxication.
In the arrest, Stevenson and another man were reported to be extremely loud and intoxicated, banging on doors of an apartment complex that neither Stevenson or the other man lived at. The individual who had called the police stated that Stevenson could not walk straight and had severe slurred speech.
It was also reported by police that he was a threat to himself and others. He was released with a $475 bond.
The ending of one career and the beginning of another
After the Mavericks had won the championship and Stevenson got arrested, he then tested the free agency market. There he got an offer from the New Jersey Nets that he would accept on a one-year deal worth $2.75 million.
He would play in 51 games and average only 2.9 points per game for the Nets. After it had not worked out there, Stevenson would participate in a sign and trade with the Atlanta Hawks where he signed a 3 year, $6.72 million deal. He was part of the deal that would send himself, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Jordan Williams, a 2017 second round pick, and a 2013 1st round pick for Hawks superstar Joe Johnson.
He then would play 56 games for Atlanta and average 5.1 points during the 2012-2013 season. That would be the last season of NBA basketball for Stevenson as he was waived by Atlanta in the off-season.
Stevenson finished with career totals of 824 GP, 7.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, and a 34.0 3PT%.
After three years of not playing competitive basketball, Stevenson would then get the chance to play again in the form of the new basketball league known as the Big 3. Stevenson was included in the 2017 inaugural draft where he was selected with the 11th overall pick by the Power.
He returned the favor by finishing the league season by having the most total three-pointers. The following season in 2018, Stevenson became the co-captain of the Ball Hogs. He then led the league in made three pointers. Then for a third time, Stevenson finished first in made three pointers and second in assists in the 2019 season.
While Stevenson did have his trials and tribulations early and often in his NBA career, he was able to turn a journeyman career and come out of it with an NBA championship.
The career of Stevenson showcases extreme peaks like winning a championship and being drafted in the first round. However, he also has extreme valleys immediately following those peaks including a Draft day arrest and a serious statutory rape case.
With how highly Stevenson was touted as a prospect out of High School, his inability to deliver on that hype makes fans feel robbed of what could have been one of the best players to play for a majority of the 2000’s.