Porter dies from beating injuries at age 58

Updated: May 28, 2007, 11:03 AM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Howard Porter had recovered from drug addiction and failed NBA dreams to become a mentor to young players and source of hope for troubled adults in the Twin Cities.

His inspirational life ended with a mysterious death.

A week after he was found severely beaten in an alley, Porter, one of the best basketball players in Villanova history, died Saturday night. He was 58.

Minneapolis Police Lt. Kim Lund said Sunday that police were awaiting a report from the medical examiner to determine the cause of death.

Howard Porter
Vernon Biever/WireImage.comPorter was drafted 32nd overall by the Bulls in 1971 and spent three seasons in Chicago.

"Howard provided so many Villanovans with thrills on the basketball court playing for coach [Jack] Kraft," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement released by the school. "Since his playing days ended, he has been an outstanding role model for our current players and coaching staff."

Porter, who worked as a probation officer for Ramsey County, had been hospitalized since he was found in the alley without identification May 19. Authorities didn't know at the time that the man brought to the hospital as an unknown assault victim was Porter.

Police said it was unclear whether the beating was connected to his job. Lund said there have been no arrests and the investigation is continuing.

Porter was a three-time All-American during a brilliant career at Villanova. He led the Wildcats to the 1971 NCAA championship game, where they lost to UCLA 68-62. He was voted the tournament's outstanding player, an honor later vacated because he had been dealing with an agent before the season ended. Villanova's 1971 runner-up finish also was vacated.

For his career from 1968-71, he averaged 22.8 points and 14.8 rebounds. In 1997, Villanova retired Porter's No. 54 jersey and he still holds the school's career record for rebounds with 1,317.

Porter was drafted by Chicago in 1971 and spent three seasons with the Bulls before playing with the New York Knicks and the Detroit Pistons. But a career that showed so much promise in college never blossomed in the NBA, and Porter began using drugs.

"I took a ride with the devil," Porter told the Star Tribune in a 2001 interview. "And the devil picked me up and rolled me for a while. But I always knew, deep down inside, I felt God wasn't through with me yet."

By 1985, he was out of money, addicted to cocaine and sleeping on the couch at his mother's house in Florida, the newspaper reported. He went to rehab at Hazelden in Center City, Minn., in 1989, then moved to a halfway house in St. Paul and began turning his life around.

Porter became a probation officer for Ramsey County in 1995, where he supervised adults who had been released from prison or sentenced to probation. He oversaw violent and nonviolent offenders, making sure they followed the law, as well as terms of their release.

When the Wildcats came to Minneapolis during the NCAA tournament two years ago, Porter spoke to the team and befriended star guard Randy Foye, who was became a lottery pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves before this season.

"The guy was a legend," Foye said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "I met him two or three times at Villanova, but our relationship really grew when I came to Minneapolis. He was just always there, always offering to help me out with anything I needed, if I had any questions about basketball or life in general."

Since taking over the Villanova program, Wright has made a point of including alumni in the team's activities. He spoke glowingly of Porter's presence during the Wildcats' trip to Minneapolis two years ago and called his death a blow to the school's community.

"Howard was a kind, gentle, and humble man who loved his family and Villanova," Wright's statement read. "We will all miss him."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press