5 minute read

Shawn Kemp Biography

Career Statistics, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Further InformationCONTACT INFORMATION


American basketball player

Shawn Kemp

When Shawn Kemp was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 1989, he became the fifth player to go directly to the NBA from high school. His exceptional talent and fierce presence on the court drew comparisons to Michael Jordan, but Kemp's youth was seen as a serious obstacle to his ever reaching superstar status. In a few years the young forward proved that he was indeed All-Star material. His screaming slam dunks and dramatic blocks were loved by fans. But the pressure of being in the media spotlight also increased. Personal problems have haunted Kemp and his level of play has been inconsistent. In 1997 he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he had limited playing time and gained some twenty-five pounds by the end of his three-season stay. Kemp became a Portland Trailblazer in 2000, after which he voluntarily entered a drug rehabilitation program. In 2002 Kemp gave up $20 million to start for the Orlando Magic.

Kemp learned early on that talent and fame are not antidotes to adversity. Growing up in Elkhart, Indiana, he was raised by his mother Barbara and became determined to excel at basketball. As a high school star at Concord High, NBA scouts started coming to his games when he was in the tenth grade. However, Kemp was not preparing himself for the academic demands of college life. He was given a scholarship to the University of Kentucky, but his low score on the SAT exam made him ineligible to play as a freshman. He left the school before he had a chance to play, after getting caught but not charged for selling stolen jewelry that belonged to the coach's son.

Kemp briefly attended Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas before he entered the 1989 NBA draft. As a first round pick for the Seattle Super Sonics, he became a professional basketball player at age nineteen. The young forward was considered well suited to the NBA's style of play, but he faced the daunting prospect of learning the game in front of a vast, critical audience. He needed to do more than his trademark dunks. Kemp worked exceptionally hard as a rookie and was rewarded in 1990, when the Sonics traded Xavier McDaniel and gave him the position of starting power forward. He flourished in this role, and during the 1992-93 season was named an All-Star for the first time. That year he averaged almost eighteen points and eleven rebounds per game.

Soon Kemp was being compared to Michael Jordan, someone who has routinely been described as the greatest basketball player of all time. In a 1992 article for Sport, Mike Kahn remarked, "The natural strength, quickness and jumping, plus the daunting expressions after a particularly impressive move, all bear a striking resemblance to Michael Jordan." Jordan himself saw the resemblance, and agreed that Kemp showed a remarkable talent and creative sense. Amidst such heady comments, Kemp escaped injury twice and was made to realize that he had nothing to fall back on if he didn't succeed in basketball.

Kemp became an extremely popular player in Seattle. However, after the team lost to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 1993-94 season playoffs, he was almost traded to the Chicago Bulls. The discovery hurt Kemp's relationship with the Sonics. He also was unhappy that he was still branded a bad character because of his behavior at Kentucky. He complained that the press ignored more positive aspects of his life, such as the basketball camps he ran in Elkhart. In 1996 the Sonics lost to Chicago in the NBA finals. Following this disappointment, Kemp's next season was punctuated with reports that he was always late and had problems with alcohol.

In 1997 Kemp was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, signing a contract worth $107 million over seven years. During his second season with the Cavs, Kemp accumulated a career-high average of 20.5 points per game. In 1999 he led his team in scoring and blocked shots. At the same time, however, negative reports about Kemp's personal life continued to appear. A 1999 Sports Illustrated story asserted that Kemp had fathered seven children with six women. Other coverage that year speculated that the forward, who had recently been listed as weighing 256 pounds, had ballooned to some 300 pounds. The most damaging concern, however, was the issue of drug use. After being traded to the Portland Trailblazers in 2000, Kemp ended his season ahead of schedule in order to check into a drug rehabilitation program for cocaine abuse. Less than a year later, he would be suspended for five games for not complying with his aftercare agreement.

In 2002 Kemp hoped to find more playing time with the Orlando Magic and gave up some $20 million to leave Portland, where he played behind Rasheed Wallace. He signed a $1.03 million, one-year deal with the Magic, accepting the league minimum for a player with ten years of experience. The move gave Kemp a chance to straighten out his career while, at age thirty-two, he denied being interested in retirement. Orlando desperately needed a strong inside player, making it a critical partnership for both the team and Kemp. The team, however, was making only a brief commitment to Kemp, while his career was on the line.

Kemp has proven that he is one of the most talented players to star in the NBA. Initially criticized for not having a game beyond slam dunks, he developed into a scoring and rebounding leader. As his coach with the Super Sonics, George Carl judged that he was among the top five players in the league. Others compared his playing style to that of Michael Jordan. But Kemp began his NBA career under the shadow of his SAT failure and alleged theft involvement and has yet to shake the image of being a problem player. Anger and resentment are said to be some of the great motivating factors in his career. In Orlando he is faced with the multiple challenge of staying away from drugs and surviving media scrutiny of the process. Once again Shawn Kemp is being asked if he has what it takes to make it in the NBA.


Address: Orlando Magic, Orlando Arena, 1 Magic Place, Orlando, FL 32801. Online: www.reignman.com.

Sketch by Paula Pyzik Scott

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBasketball