Displayed with permission from Toronto Star
By the time Alvin Robertson sunk the first basket in Toronto Raptors history — a 25-foot, three-point jumper — he already had a lengthy rap sheet and a lousy reputation.
The former defensive stalwart for the San Antonio Spurs arrived in Toronto saddled with baggage both on and off the court, ranging from fights with teammates and coaches to criminal charges related to multiple domestic violence incidents, bar fights and a bizarre burglary.
His recruitment to the fledgling team had already raised eyebrows when just days before starting in the Raptors’ inaugural game, Robertson was arrested and charged with assaulting a pregnant ex-girlfriend at the SkyDome hotel. The case was later dropped when the woman refused to testify.
“The things I’ve done in the past, I hoped it wouldn’t start all over again in Canada,” Robertson lamented to reporters back then, as if he was pursued by his own transgressions.
In fact, Robertson’s personal troubles only worsened in the ensuing years: criminal mischief, harassment, more violence. A rape charge was tossed, but he spent a year in jail when a judge ruled he had breached his probation — from the 1996 burglary — and had “more likely than not” committed the sexual assault.
Now 52, he is facing the most serious allegations of his life and the prospect of spending his remaining years behind bars. In February 2010, Robertson was arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl and conspiring with others to force her into prostitution. He had a court appearance Monday, but a trial isn’t expected for several more months.
Robertson — who lives in San Antonio, where the crimes are alleged to have occurred — denies the charges against him and has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
“These allegations have been, like, the all-time worst,” he told Bleacher Report this month. “I really don’t have any involvement with it. . . . This has really, really killed me. Just killed me.”
“It’s hard for me to believe that he has these charges against him,” Glen Grunwald, the former Raptors GM who was vice-president of legal affairs during Robertson’s short tenure with the team, told the Star on Monday. “He was always easy to talk to and intelligent and well-spoken and well-behaved when he was in Toronto, except for (the alleged SkyDome hotel assault).”
Robertson was never punished by the NBA during his 10-year career, which ended in Toronto. Chances are if he had faced the same charges today — in this post-Ray Rice professional sports climate — he likely would have dealt with some measure of internal discipline from the league or the teams he played on.
With regard to the alleged hotel assault, the Raptors said at the time that Robertson should be deemed innocent until proven guilty and would continue to play while the court process unfolded. Grunwald said he couldn’t remember the specifics of the team’s decision-making process back then. But he remembered Robertson as a “tough” and “competitive” player and recalled seeing him in San Antonio in 1997 or ’98, a year or two after he left the team. “He seemed to be doing okay. He had his construction business.”
That business reportedly fell apart amid Robertson’s legal and financial troubles.
On the court, Robertson was the best kind of nasty. The four-time all-star led the league in steals on three occasions. He’s also one of just four players to record a quadruple double (20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals). He is the NBA’s all-time leader in steals per game.
Prior to this latest, most serious arrest, Robertson’s lawyer, Brent Delapaz, said his client had put his criminal past behind him. According to Delapaz, Robertson was in negotiations with Wal-Mart regarding a basketball instructional video that would be sold in stores.
“I think it’s safe to say he had turned a new page in his life and was doing well — until this.”
Delapaz, like Robertson himself, insists he is innocent. He says Robertson’s loyalty to old friends has led him to be unduly caught up in this case and that he is being targeted because of his high profile.
Since being released on bail, Robertson — who has three children — has been forced to wear a GPS tracker on his ankle and is subject to monitored work release and other bail conditions, with which he has struggled to adhere. This year alone he has violated his conditions on three occasions.
There have been some “misunderstandings with procedures,” Delapaz said, but Robertson has done his best to comply with the orders.
“He’s ready for his day in court. He’s anxious to clear his name.”