Keith Closs talks about drinking away his NBA career


In some ways, it’s wrong to say Keith Closs — a backup center with the Clippers from 1997 to 2000 and was a case study of unfulfilled promise — drank himself out of an NBA career.

That’s because he says he was drinking in junior high, and high school, and college — all while playing basketball well enough to get on NBA radars.

But now four years sober, he admits that it was the drinking that was at the root of the attitude and off the court issues that ended his NBA career. It was at the root of the video most people most remember Closs for, one of him getting beaten up by a Los Angeles gang in a parking lot.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Closs was honest about what happened and how bad things got.

“People thought of me as uncoachable with a bad attitude,” he said. “That was the drinking.”

During the 1998-99 lockout, Closs picked up two DUIs. He called NBA headquarters directly for help. Not recovery help but “how do I get out of this?” help. Nevertheless, the league sent him to a rehab clinic in Georgia. It didn’t work….

The viral video? It was drinking that got him in trouble that night in 2000 in the club parking lot. Though the beating looks vicious, Closs says he wasn’t hurt at all and, in fact, played the following night against Portland.

Closs said there was a lot drinking in the NBA. Still is. These are mostly men in their 20s with a lot of disposable income and time. They do what most 20-somethings do when they have time and money. But for some the party doesn’t stop until it’s too late.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.