[Editor’s note: This article was written by guest columnist and lifelong SuperSonics fan, Kevin Nesgoda. - JRW]
There are stories, legends of the terrible line of centers that the Seattle Supersonics have drafted over the years. In the 2004 draft they picked Robert Swift, an unknown high school prospect from Bakersfield, for some reason. Swift was a stud in high school and was a McDonald’s All-American.
If you’ve read the Chris Ballard article from Sports Illustrated you will know exactly the anguish and the pain Swift has suffered through in his life post basketball. I’ve met Swift on less than a handful of occasions covering the Sonics. I knew virtually nothing about the guy. When we would go out with players after games he was never one of them.
From the moment he was drafted he was an outcast. As stated in the article Ray Allen wanted someone who could help right away and Nate McMillan was not interested in developing a project.
There were very few bright spots in his NBA career and the brightest spot came when playing against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
The first time he guards Tim Duncan, Swift pushes up on him on the block, trying to impress him.
“Nah, nah, don’t do that,” Duncan says.
Swift is surprised. Duncan never talks to opponents. And yet...
“The ball’s going to swing to the other side, get position,” Duncan continues.
The ball swings. Swift follows orders, shuffling his feet across the lane, staying behind Duncan.
“No, further up,” Duncan says. Swift takes a half-step.
“No, a little higher, don’t let me duck in on you.”
“All right, now come back,” Duncan says, moving across the lane. “The ball’s about to be swung back, but it’s not coming to me this time so don’t worry about it. But now you know how to play it.”
In his time with the Sonics Swift never had the kind of mentor he needed. He was universally rejected by the inside of the origination all the way out to the fans who never wanted him in the first place.
The kindest words we know he received were from Tim Duncan, a person who never spoke to opponents, but on this one night would take a few minutes to mentor this young Robert Swift while playing against him. Since he’s so private, stories like this are what we have to cobble together to sketch the character of Tim Duncan: the player and the man.