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?"
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 between 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 adoptive 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 first 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 alone, 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.
In 2004, the 38-year-old Robinson began dating Stephanie Hodge, a 24-year-old Tootsie's Cabaret and Booby Trap stripper who claims to have had several pro-athlete boyfriends, including former Miami Heat forward Chris Gatling. "A few months" into their relationship, Hodge would later testify, Robinson gave her a position as Megaladon's $150,000-a-year "director of marketing."
And then, federal prosecutors claim, the criminal scheming began.
Strapped for cash, he began looking for a loan, but his credit was shot. A friend introduced him to an Iowa-based Community State Bank officer named Brian Jermaine Williams, "who could get the deal done," Robinson later testified. In October 2004, Williams authorized a $377,000 loan to Megaladon, prosecutors claim. The next day, Robinson wired a $100,000 bribe back to the rogue banker.
Over the next 18 months, the FBI claims, Williams authorized loans and wired more than $1.2 million to accounts controlled by Robinson, Stephanie Hodge, or her brother Steven. The total was kept to less than $500,000 per individual to avoid attracting the bank's attention. Williams even altered the loan terms to give Robinson and his cronies more time to make payments.
Megaladon, which never broke ground in Jamaica, quickly fell behind. In August 2006, Community State Bank filed suit and found Robinson had spent the money on clothing and jewelry at upscale boutiques such as Louis Vuitton, Bodega, and the Royal Shop. He had bought steak dinners, plane tickets, and expensive hotel stays at a Jamaican Ritz-Carlton, the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and the Abbey Hotel in Miami Beach. He had blown nearly $800 on smokes at Coco Cigar in Coconut Grove, and even bought a $10,000 M16 machine gun at Miami Police Supply in Little Havana.
He also leased at least three luxury Mercedes and BMW vehicles, and bought new Ducati motorcycles. When he didn't pay those bills, creditors demanded the vehicles back. Since 2006, Robinson has also been sued in Miami-Dade Court for not paying the leases on two Mercedes and a 2005 Maserati Quattroporte.
He didn't drive those precious vehicles very carefully. He has racked up 18 moving violations in Miami-Dade County since 2001, including twice driving with a suspended license. Robinson spent $1,500 of the business loan cash at Traffic Ticket Guy, a Deerfield Beach law firm.
In October 2006, Community State Bank won the civil lawsuit, and Megaladon was ordered to pay $538,000 in damages. But Robinson hasn't filed a tax return since his NBA days, and when he was deposed by lawyers trying to figure out his finances, Robinson claimed his net worth was "zero." Having been evicted from his Aventura condo, he was bouncing between motels and living on "$20 here or there."
"Where are your possessions?" the deposing attorney, Gary Lehman, asked Robinson in February 2007.
"It's in front of you," Robinson replied, indicating the clothes on his body -- before admitting, when pressed, he had a "different pair of pants in the hotel."
But even in poverty, Robinson maintained VIP friends. Lehman asked, "What are you going to do about dinner tonight?"
"The prime minister of the Cayman Islands is coming in, so maybe he'll pay," Robinson ruminated. "I don't know."
Barrows, who lived in Miami until recently, recalls spending an evening with his brother in 2007: "He pulled up in a brand-new Mercedes SL500. He asked me if I had $20 for gas. He took me to seven or eight strip clubs, starting with Tootsie's. He would buy a Coke and nurse it for an hour or two, and I didn't see him give a dollar to the dancers."
This past August 24, the FBI indicted Robinson, Hodge, and Williams for the roles in the alleged Community State Bank scam. The charges: bank fraud, bank bribery, making false statements to a financial institution, and wire fraud. On September 4, Robinson surrendered to U.S. marshals in Miami and posted a $50,000 bond. His trial begins in Iowa federal court November 30.
When Robinson was deposed for the civil suit, he blamed Williams. "You said it's a violation of banking law; Mr. Williams is the banker," he testified. "I didn't hold him over a barrel telling him to give me the money."
His girlfriend Hodge has since left him, stating in a deposition she now lives with a wealthy Miami doctor.
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And earlier this month, Robinson sparked outrage in his hometown when the Cambridge Chronicle reported he had caused his adoptive mother to be booted from her home. Ford claims Robinson tricked her into signing a deed that sold the house to a business associate for $600,000. She received no money. Though Robinson assured her he would take care of the situation, he did nothing. In April, 2009, she was forcibly removed. Grandchildren living with her had to find other homes, and she moved to a small apartment.
Now she's considering suing the boy she brought up.
"Tell her to get in line," responds Robinson's lawyer, Rodriguez. "We have bigger fish to fry."