With three seconds left in the game and his University of Michigan squad trailing Seton Hall by one point, 22-year-old guard Rumeal Robinson lined up for two all-important free throws. The NCAA Division 1 basketball title hung in the balance. The Zen-like junior fluttered one and then another shot through the net, sealing the 1989 championship for the Wolverines and forever etching Robinson's name into college basketball lore. Among the revelers who erupted inside the Seattle Kingdome that night: Helen and Louis Ford, the Massachusetts couple who had adopted Robinson off the street when he was 10 years old. "We were hoarse by the end of that game," Helen recalls. "Can you imagine the pride of seeing your son do something like that?" All of a sudden, Rumeal Robinson was a household name. Sports Illustrated labeled him "Mr. Clutch" and put him on the cover.
Twenty years and a lucrative NBA career later, Robinson's tumble from glory, which has never before been fully reported, has been cataclysmic. Now 43, he's a bankrupted "strip club addict," according to his adoptive brother Donald Barrows. Federal prosecutors have charged Robinson with fraud, and at least four creditors have sued him for unpaid bills in Miami-Dade County, where he lives. He's had to give up Ducati motorcycles, a Maserati, and a $10,000 fully automatic M16 machine gun, among other things. He now bounces among Biscayne Boulevard budget motels, claiming to have "no money" or possessions besides a change of pants, according to a deposition he gave last year.
Even Robinson's 65-year-old mother, Helen, has given up on the wayward basketball star. This past April, she was evicted from 2 Rumeal Robinson Pl., the Cambridge, Massachusetts, home where she raised him. She contends he "scammed" her. "I'm not worried for him," she says, "because he sure as hell wasn't worried about what happened to me."
His brother Barrows explains: "He was a good kid growing up, and he treated us like family. I don't know where he went wrong, with what he's done to my mom and scores of other people. It's unbelievable."
Phone numbers Robinson has used have all been disconnected. New Times' requests for interviews relayed through three friends were not answered. Robinson's Miami-based lawyer, Hugo Rodriguez, says he doesn't have enough information to comment about the debts, the criminal case, or the matter of the Cambridge house: "I don't know anything yet," he says.
When Helen Ford met 10-year-old Jamaican-born Rumeal Robinson, he was homeless in Cambridge, living on couches or in the stairways of Harvard College dorms, she says. She and her now-deceased husband, Louis, a mail carrier, had four kids of their own. But they also raised countless fosters in their modest home.
"I sat down with Rumeal and asked him why he was sleeping in hallways," Ford recalls. "He started crying and said, 'My mother doesn't want me!' "
In 1978, 12-year-old Robinson became one of five kids the Fords would officially adopt. They watched him gain national fame in college and, in 1990, accompanied the 23-year-old to the NBA draft in New York City. The Atlanta Hawks took him in the first round and awarded him a four-year contract worth $4.29 million. "After his rookie season, he came to me saying, 'Ma, I'm going to do your whole house over,' " Ford says. "I told him: 'Do your job, get established, and save your money first.' "
As a pro, Robinson never lived up to expectations. He garnered playing time on six NBA teams from Atlanta to Los Angeles but only once averaged more than ten points per game.
He made more than $5 million in NBA salary alon but blew much of it on a strip club habit that would have made Pacman Jones blush. "He would go on binges of two whole weeks where he spent $20,000 a night at a strip club," Barrows says. "Not only that, but he'd also have a bunch of the strippers come back to his place, get buck naked, and clean his house for $500 or $1,000 each."
Robinson's financial troubles began when his NBA paychecks dwindled. In 1997, he was warming the Lakers bench when American Express Travel Related Services sued him, according to a Los Angeles County court file that has been mostly destroyed. The next year — his last in basketball's big league — he declared bankruptcy and jilted four creditors, including Mercedes-Benz's financing wing.
After a failed stint as a hip-hop producer in Atlanta, Robinson came to South Florida around 2000 and moved into a condo on posh Williams Island in Aventura. That September, according to state documents, he founded a real estate company called Megaladon Development Inc. His grand plan involved turning a 25,000-acre plot of "raw ground" in his Jamaican hometown of Mandeville into a luxury resort called Harmony Cove, he would later testify in deposition.