Many things can derail an NBA career. Just ask former NBA point guard Ty Lawson.
For some, it is an injury from which the player is unable to return to what he once was. For Lawson, it was a struggle internally where he had to fend off his own personal demons.
The opponent’s Lawson faced in college and professionally was no match for his bout with alcoholism.
Lawson’s Early Life:
Born Tywon Rowell Lawson on November 3rd, 1987 in Clinton, Maryland, Lawson was destined to be athletic. His quickness can attribute to his mother Jackie Lawson who was the anchor for her high school relay team.
The basketball skill can be credited to his father George Lawson, who was a tech Sargeant at the Andrews Air Force Base and would play pick-up games there often, something a young Ty would participate in starting at age 11.
In 2000 and 2001, Lawson attended sixth and seventh grade at Gwynn Park middle school in Prince George’s County, Maryland. With a promise to play basketball at a high level, Lawson was then recruited to play his eighth-grade season at Newport School in Kensington, Maryland.
Now a high schooler, Lawson would stay in Prince George’s county and play his freshman and sophomore years at Bishop McNamara high school, located in Forestville. Notable alumni from Bishop McNamara include former Sacramento Kings shooting guard Marcus Thornton.
Given his strong performance while at Bishop McNamara, Lawson then transferred to finish his high school career at the powerhouse that is Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. On the same team with Lawson was future NBA superstar Kevin Durant. Both he and Durant had known each other playing in the AAU circuit together.
In that season Oak Hill Academy went 34-2 and won their second consecutive Champions Classic Tournament. In the championship game, Lawson took home MVP over Durant and another teammate of his, Syracuse Orange legend Eric Devendorf. Lawson ended with 32 points on 14-16 from the field while collecting six assists and four steals in the process.
The following season, Durant was onto the University of Texas, but Lawson would get another All-American wing teammate in Michael Beasley. Lawson led the team to a 42-1 season and would put together a strong senior campaign, posting a stat line of 23.8 PPG, 9.1 APG, and 5.0 SPG.
With the success that he achieved this season, Lawson earned accolades such as McDonald’s All-American honors, Parade All-American, First-Team USA Today, Jordan Classic honors, and an invitation to the Nike Hoop Summit. Lawson also went on to compete internationally in the World Juniors Tournament in France where he earned MVP honors.
In the McDonald’s All-American game, Lawson would see action in 19 minutes and recorded four points, five assists, and three rebounds while Chase Budinger took home MVP honors.
Collegiate Career as a Tar Heel:
On May 12th, of 2005 Ty Lawson decided to take his talents to Chapel Hill and compete for one of college basketball’s blue blood schools, the University of North Carolina.
As the fifth-best high school recruit according to RSCI rankings, Lawson joined a team that had future NBA players such as Danny Green, Wayne Ellington (who was also a teammate of Lawson’s in the Nike Hoop Summit), Brendan Wright (ranked 3rd in RCSI — the same year as Lawson). Also on that team was none other than Tar Heel legend Tyler ‘psycho T’ Hansbrough.
Lawson was named a starter for the Tar Heels five games into his freshman season. In that season, the Tar Heels would go on to win the ACC Tournament and get as far as the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Georgetown, who was led by Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, 84-96. A game in which Lawson would play in all 40 minutes but would only muster up five points and six assists.
After being eliminated Lawson’s freshman totals included 38 games played, 31 games started, 10.2 PPG, 5.6 APG, and 2.9 RPG. This was enough to earn him a spot on the All-ACC Freshman Team and the All-ACC Tournament team.
Lawson would then get his first taste of trouble with the law when he was pulled over for a speeding violation and then charged with driving without a license on May 12th of 2007. Lawson was then scheduled to appear in court regarding this issue in November. Unfortunately, Lawson did not appear and had his license taken away.
At the start of his sophomore season for the Tar Heels, the expectation was for them to compete for a National Championship as they came in at No. 1 in the preseason polls. After getting far in the previous year’s tournament and then returning key players like Lawson, Hansbrough, Green, and Ellington, it was a year thought to be destined for success.
With the off the court issues from before the season essentially handled, it did not seem to faze him on the court. Lawson and the rest of North Carolina achieved victory in their first 18 games and earned the top spot in the polls for 11 weeks. They would only lose two regular-season games and went into the ACC Tournament as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Lawson competed throughout despite suffering a bad high ankle sprain against Flordia State a month before the ACC Tournament began. Eventually, the Tar Heels captured both the ACC regular season and tournament championships.
Earning the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels would run roughshod over the competition in the East region, defeating teams by an average of 25.2 PPG while earning a spot in the Final Four.
In the first four rounds, Lawson posted averages of 13.5 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3 RPG, and 1.25 SPG.
In the Final Four matchup vs. the Kansas Jayhawks, the eventual champions of the tournament, Lawson did not meet those averages scoring only nine points and gathering two assists. The Tar Heels would be upset by Kansas as they used a late second half-surge to pull away after it was tied following the first half.
He finished the season with 32 games played, 29 games started, 12.7 PPG, 5.2 APG, and 2.7 RPG.
An Arrest Along With a Championship:
Following the disappointment of missing out on a National Championship appearance, Lawson would be arrested as he got behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol.
On June, 6th 2008 Ty Lawson was driving around in his 2005 Chevrolet when he was pulled over on North Columbia Street due to his car projecting loud amounts of noise.
Lawson was then given a sobriety test where he registered a .03 BAC (blood alcohol content) reading. The charge was given to Lawson as a ‘provisional licensee’ which is essentially anybody under 21 that is found to have alcohol in their system while they are driving.
Added onto his charges was the violation of a city noise ordinance as well as driving with a suspended or provoked license. The incident occurred weeks before the draft and it forced Lawson to withdraw his name from consideration and he would return for his junior season.
The Denver Nuggets went on the record stating that they would have selected him after the sophomore season in the first round with the 20th overall pick, they even brought him in for workouts and he stated he would have loved to play there.
But as he returned for his junior season both he and the Tar Heels would have a year that is still talked about among North Carolina diehards.
Ty Lawson really came into his own as one of the best guards in the nation during his third season at Chapel Hill. With Lawson running the point and fellow running mates like Hansbrough, Green, and Ellington all returning to attend to unfinished business, no team was going to stand in the way of greatness.
While this regular season was not as dominant as the previous, North Carolina still made it look easy, going 27-3 and for the third straight year becoming ACC regular-season champions.
Just days before the ACC Tournament began, Lawson suffered a significant toe injury in practice after he ran into a basket supporter. He would play through the injury with severe pain to finish the regular season.
After playing in the last regular-season game and becoming the ACC Player of the Year, Lawson missed the ACC Tournament altogether where the Tar Heels would fall in the second round to Florida State.
The Tar Heels would still earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and would breeze through their region with ease for a spot in the Final Four, with Lawson in the lineup in all of the games excluding the first round.
North Carolina would go on to defeat Villanova and Andrew Air-Force base teammate and future NBA player Dante Cunningham in the Final Four matchup and get a shot at the National Championship vs. Michigan State.
The Tar Heels made quick and easy work of the Spartans and Ty Lawson would set an NCAA record for most steals in a National Championship game when he stole the ball eight times.
North Carolina earned it’s fourth National Championship and took their spot atop college the basketball world.
In the tournament, Lawson would average 20.8 PPG, 6.8 APG, and 4.2 RPG and earn All-Tournament and NCAA Tournament All-Region region honors along with several other accolades such as All-ACC First Team, Bob Cousy Award Winner, and Second Team All-American honors.
After finishing the season starting and playing in 35 games and averaging 16.6 PPG, 6.6 APG, and 3.0 RPG, his stock was as high as could be. Ty Lawson would then enter his name into the 2009 NBA Draft, and stay in it this time.
Off-Court Problems Persist Professionally:
It did not take long for Lawson’s name to be called off the board as he was one of the most coveted guards heading into the 2009 draft. The scouting report on Lawson from NBADraftnet.com reads: “Very strong PG who loves pushing the ball in transition and very effective with his great body control…There are not many players that can contain him.”
Lawson was selected 18th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but a draft-day trade sent him to the Nuggets, who were still high on Lawson, in exchange for a 2010 first-round pick. Lawson then signed a two-year $2.9 million deal.
Other notable players taken ahead of Lawson in that draft included: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Blake Griffen (No. 1 overall), and DeMar DeRozan. Other recognizable names taken after Lawson included Patrick Beverley, Taj Gibson, and Tar Heel teammate Wayne Ellington.
In his rookie season, Ty Lawson averaged 8.3 PPG, 3.1 APG, and 1.9 RPG. He would see action in 65 games and the Nuggets would lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Utah Jazz.
The following season, Lawson would get 23 more starts and would see a 6.0 MPG boost which resulted in him averaging 11.7 PPG and 4.7 APG, but again it was another first-round exit for Denver, this time falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That effort from Lawson however was enough for head coach George Karl to grant him a full-time starter’s role in the 2011-2012 season along with the Nuggets’ brass to give him a four-year $48 million extension.
In his first full year running the show for the Nuggets (in a lockout-shortened season for which Lawson played internationally for seven games in the EuroLeague for the Lithuanian club Zalgiris Kaunas), Lawson led the Nuggets to another playoff appearance and the highest-scoring offense that season averaging 104.1 PPG and the second-fastest pace in the NBA. For the third straight season, the Nuggets again fell in the first round, this time in a grueling seven-game series with the Los Angeles Lakers. He would finish the season with 16.4 PPG and 6.6 APG.
The following season rendered an identical copy of the previous year as Lawson continued to flourish as he repeated his scoring output of 16.7 PPG and 6.9 APG and again led the Nuggets to the highest-scoring offense as well as the second-fastest pace. This season, the Nuggets won a franchise-best 57 wins but it resulted in yet another first-round playoff elimination, this time to the upstart Golden State Warriors.
However, in January of 2013, which is roughly the middle of the NBA season, Lawson would get arrested for failing to appear in court for a citation he received for driving under restraint as well as careless driving in the offseason.
In the summer months when the season was over Lawson would then be put into handcuffs for a more serious charge.
According to reports, Lawson and his girlfriend, Ashley Nicole Pettiford, got into a verbal altercation at Lawson’s home at 2:30 a.m., where both would throw each other’s phones at one another and the police were called by Pettiford’s mother.
Further reports from the Denver television station KMGH claim that the altercation started when Lawson was on the phone with another female and Pettiford confronted him about it.
Pettiford reported to police that when she went to ask to pack her things from the closet, Lawson grabbed her by the wrists and pushed her on the bed. Then both grabbed each other’s phones and proceeded to destroy them. Pettiford threw Lawson’s phone at him and he then took her phone and began smashing it against a wall and then put it under running water in a sink.
The one thing that makes this report worse is the fact that Pettiford was six months pregnant. Both were charged with criminal mischief and Lawson was also charged with physical harassment. After both were able to post a $1,000 bond, after which they were let free.
The Straw that Broke the Camels Back:
Heading into the 2013-2014 season, Denver was clearly not showing any progress and the front office decided to part ways with head coach George Karl and replace him with then Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw.
Also, the Nuggets could not get Andre Iguodala to re-sign with them after they had traded several key pieces to acquire him from Philadelphia. And then finally, Denver would lose executive Masai Ujiri to the Toronto Raptors where he would eventually build an NBA champion.
The Nuggets would take a huge dive this season record-wise, but Ty Lawson would thrive finishing with a career-high 17.6 PPG. In the 2014-2015 season, Lawson would continue his success, posting a 15.2 PPG and a career-best 9.6 APG stat-line.
In that final season in Denver on January 23rd, 2015, Lawson would get into his white Mercedes on Park Avenue West in Denver after midnight for a drive. Unfortunately, Lawson was pulled over for driving 61 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour speed zone.
According to the officer that pulled him over, Ty Lawson appeared to be intoxicated stating: “breath had a strong odor of an unknown alcoholic beverage, he was swaying/stumbling, and his eyes were bloodshot/watery.”
Later, Lawson was jailed and found to have no proper identification. Upon his arrest, Lawson would further admit to a DUI arrest in the state of Missouri. He then reported to a 30-day rehab facility to try and address his alcoholism.
Then on the 14th of July in 2015, Lawson was arrested in Los Angeles on the 101 Freeway driving his White Mercedes-Benz at 2:30 a.m when an LA highway patrol officer pulled Lawson over for speeding. Once again, upon being pulled over it was found that Lawson was intoxicated and was arrested for a DUI. His second such arrest in a six-month span.
After posting a $5,000 bail, Lawson was set free.
Six days later Denver decided it was time to move on from Lawson and traded him to the Houston Rockets. Houston would receive both Lawson and a 2017 second-round pick in exchange for Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, a protected first-round pick, and $440,000.
To add fuel to the fire, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke stated that Lawson was a chronic alcohol abuser and even went as far as to say that he would show up to practices drunk and it would be easy to smell it on him.
While it was a risk for the Rockets to take a chance on Lawson, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey thought it was something that was worth it, saying: “You got to take risks all over the place. We feel Ty is someone we wanted to add to our team. He’s one of the best playmakers in the league.”
In that lone 2015-16 season with the Rockets, Lawson would get suspended for a total of five games due to the DUI arrests and miss out on a total of $563,840. After playing in 53 games and averaging 5.8 PPG as a bench point guard, the Rockets’ risk did not pan out and they then agreed to a buyout with Lawson and he was a free-agent for the first time.
The Dwindling Years of his NBA career:
It did not take long for Ty Lawson to get claimed off the market, as the Indiana Pacers who were looking for depth as they geared up for their 2016 playoff run, signed him to a one-year $265K deal.
Once the Pacers lost in Eastern Conference first round to the Raptors, the need for Lawson and his 1.0 PPG and 74 total minutes played in the seven-game series were no longer needed and Indiana renounced his free-agent exception rights later in the summer.
With no arrests and Lawson staying out of trouble, he turned his attention to his next NBA destination and found it in the form of the Sacramento Kings with a one-year $1.3 million deal on August 28th of 2016.
In Sacramento, it would be a slightly better season as he would come shy of averaging double-digits with 9.9 PPG.
By no means was Sacramento competitive and when the season was up, the Kings and Lawson knew it was best to part ways.
After no NBA teams were interested in Lawson’s services, he jumped on a plane and headed to China, where agreed to terms with the Shangdong Golden Stars of the CBA (Chinese Basketball League) on a one-year deal worth $2.4 million.
In that league, he would dominate, scoring 25.8 PPG. 2.4 SPG, and 6.6 APG. This was strong enough for the Washington Wizards to sign him to a contract in April of 2018 for their playoff run.
The Wizards would then lose the series in six games to Toronto. After scoring 5.8 PPG in that series, it would be the last time Lawson would see NBA action
He finished with career averages of 12.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 2.7 RPG, and 1.2 SPG.
After Washington, Lawson would return to Shangdong where he would up his scoring average to 26.5 PPG and record 9.0 APG.
Most recently, Lawson was involved in an altercation with Jonae Keyes who is now suing him for physical and psychological damages.
On May 5th, 2019, Lawson and one of Keyes’ friends were getting a ride from Keyes to a club. Lawson and Keyes’ friend then got into a physical altercation in the vehicle. Upon proceeding to break up the fight, Keyes claims that Lawson then choked her and struck her in the head with punches.
With that situation being worked on, Lawson’s professional career changed as well as he switched teams and signed a deal with the Fujian Sturgeons where he played alongside former NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire, averaging 27.6 PPG.
Now 32 years of age, the future for Ty Lawson playing in the NBA again appears bleak…but is it completely dead?
As one of the most promising young guards, Ty Lawson had periods of time in the NBA that showcased his talent. Unfortunately for him as well as his supporters, that brief period of success was stunted due to his run-ins with law enforcement and reliance on alcohol.
There may still hope for a Lawson comeback in the NBA, but if it doesn’t happen, then we as outsiders can only sit back and wonder if Ty Lawson could have strung together a career that made him a basketball icon.