Over on Bullets Forever, the summer project is to recount past franchise curiosities. Robert Pack, Jim McIlvaine, LeDell Eackles, Tim Legler, and Haywoode Workman have been covered to date. There are many good players still left to remember, but there’s one particularly interesting character who we all forgot……
Going through the Bullets cards I collected as a 90s youngin’, I came across the gem(s) below. Larry Stewart, was he really a rookie sensation? Stewart wasn’t known to possess a lot of skill, rather he was a hustling, hard-working, versatile 6’8″ big man who made the most of his ability. Making it to the NBA when no one thought he would was, in fact, sensational…….but what’s happened to Larry Stewart since?
High School in Philly
Hailing from Philadelphia, Stewart starred at the famed Dobbins Technical High School. In 1985, the duo of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble led Dobbins Tech to the Philadelphia City Title before heading to USC together in the fall of that year (and later, Loyola Marymount in late ’86). Dobbins has also produced Doug Overton, Dawn Staley (USA Today’s female high school player of the year in 1989), Linda Page (who scored 100 points in a game in 1981), and Horace “Pappy” Owens (’79 McDonald’s All-American and current assistant at LaSalle).
Overton and Stewart were teammates at Dobbins, taking over after the Hank and Bo Show ended. They lost in the runner-up game of the ’87 Philly City Championship their senior year. In 2004, Ted Silary of the Philadelphia Daily News named his 30-Year Philly All-Star Basketball Teams; Overton made 3rd team all-public and Stewart made honorable mention all-public.
Stewart didn’t even play basketball until the 11th grade. His mother did not support his pursuit of basketball because she felt it would interfere with church. He was only 6’4″ when first noticed by Coppin State University head coach, Fang Mitchell. But Stewart kept growing and Mitchell’s hidden gem turned into a baller with big potential.
College in Baltimore
Coppin State, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is a historically black college. When Stewart first arrived on campus, he had trouble hitting the books. He was called “lazy” by Coach Mitchell, who would make Stewart’s teammates run if he missed class. Thus, he was ineligible for his freshman ’87-’88 campaign.
But over the next three years, Stewart would get his act together and score over 1,800 points along with pulling down over 1,000 rebounds. Stewart averaged 20.0 points and 11.6 boards for his Coppin State career, while shooting a whopping 64.6% from the field. On December 12, 1989, Stewart’s junior year, the Coppin State Eagles upset a Maryland team, led by Tony Massenburg, Jerrod Mustaf and Walt Williams, 70-63 at Cole Field House. Maryland didn’t lose another non-conference game at Cole up until it closed in March of 2002.
Larry Stewart will be forever be sealed at the forefront of Coppin State basketball history because he led the Eagles to their first ever NCAA tournament appearance in 1990. Then, Stewart matched-up against Derrick Coleman and his #2 seed Syracuse squad in the first round. Thanks to Coleman, Coppin State shot a horrid 29.7 % on the way to a 70-48 loss. Larry Stewart scored almost 40% of his team’s points with 19. Syracuse would go on to beat Virginia in round two, but lost to Minnesota in the Sweet Sixteen who lost to Georgia Tech in the Elite Eight who lost to UNLV, and tournament MVP Anderson Hunt, in the Final Four who beat Duke for the National Championship….just an FYI.
Coppin State has made three NCAA tournaments since 1990: in 1993, losing to Cincinnati as a #15 seed, in 1997, when the Eagles’ upset of South Carolina made them the first #15 seed to ever beat a #2 seed (Stewart was watching as a Seattle Supersonic in Atlanta before playing the Hawks that night), and also in 2008 when Coppin State became the first 20-loss team ever to make the Big Dance. They lost to Mount St. Mary’s in the play-in game.
Stewart left Coppin State with the McClendon Award, given to the top player at a historically black college. His senior year 13.4 rebounds per game was good enough for 3rd in the nation. Stewart was twice was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) player of the year and was eventually inducted into the MEAC Conference Hall of Fame.
Days as a Bullet
91-92: Going undrafted by the NBA, Stewart was a 1991 training camp invitee for Washington and impressed enough to make the team. Stewart didn’t go completely undrafted after his stellar college career as he was taken 2nd overall by the Rapid City Thrillers in ’91 CBA draft, where appearances were also made by Maryland’s Cedric Lewis (6th overall), UNLV’s Anderson Hunt (25th overall) our Robert Pack out of USC (27th overall), and Dan’s less known brother, Jeff Majerle, both of whom went to Central Michigan (50th overall).
In his rookie season, Larry Stewart appeared in 76 games, actually starting 43 of them, for a Bullets team decimated by injuries. (That season, Pervis Ellison only appeared in 66 games, Harvey Grant in 64, LeDell Eackles in 65, and Rex Chapman in only one game.) Stewart would average 10.4 points and 5.9 boards while shooting 51.4% from the field and 80.7% from the charity stripe in just under 30 minutes per game. Among rookies, he ranked 4th and 6th in rebounds and points respectively on his way to earning NBA All-Rookie Second Team honors, the first undrafted player ever to do so.
When filling in as a starter, Stewart upped his scoring average to 13.1 and rebounds to 6.9. For the season, he finished third on the team in total rebounds, as well as total blocks. His eFG% and True Shooting (TS) % were second to only Pervis Ellison. One particular highlight from Larry’s rookie year was when he scored 19 points on Dennis Rodman (who had won the Defensive POY the previous two seasons) in an early December ’91 matchup against the Detroit Pistons…..the Wizards lost the game.
92-93: After the stellar rookie campaign, the San Antonio Spurs signed Stewart to an offer sheet for four-years and a reported $2.6 million in late July of 1992. Bullets GM, John Nash, matched the offer sheet giving Stewart a raise over his $130,000 rookie year salary.
Larry Stewart remained a key contributer off the bench in his sophomore campaign. Starter minutes were no longer available due to the presence of rookie, Tom Gugliotta. Stewart’s 22.5 minutes per game was 6.8 down from the previous season’s pace, but he ultimately finished the year fourth on the team in total minutes, appearing in 81 games and starting two. Points and rebounds dipped slightly to 9.8 and 4.7 per game respectively, but Stewart upped his FG% by 2.9 percentage points to 54.3%. He was third on the team in eFG% and TS%. His PER also jumped from 12.9 to 14.5 in year two.
Stewart’s big highlight came in a Bullets match-up against the Miami Heat on April 23, 1993 when he came off the bench to score a career high 32 points and nab 13 rebounds. He shot 11-18 from the field and was 10-10 from the line. However, in true early 90s Bullets fashion, they lost to Miami by one point.
The most promising aspect of 92-93 Larry Stewart was his production post All-Star break. His points increased from 81. to 12.5, rebounds from 3.9 to 6.0, assists from 1.0 to 3.0, and FT% from 68.8% to 77.7%. His aforementioned career high came in the second to last game of the season, and he followed that with 26 points and seven boards in the season finale, a loss against the Boston Celtics.
93-94: But then, the injuries came calling. In late August of ’93, Stewart had surgery to help heal a fracture in his right foot. He made it back to play three sporadic games in mid-December before breaking the foot again in a game against the Clippers on the 22nd.
In January of ’94, after Stewart had returned home from attending a Coppin State basketball game, four intruders broke into his house in Arbutus, Baltimore County, MD. He was bound, gagged, stabbed in the thigh, and shot in the neck, the bullet narrowly missing his spinal cord. Stewart actually owned a hang gun, but that was stolen, along with a sports bag and some sweaters. Stewart would have a second surgery on his foot and would not play another game in the ’94-’95 season.
95-96: Despite being medically cleared and ready, the coaching change from Wes Unseld to Jim Lynam did not bode well for Stewart. Some reports say that Lynam was not as big a fan of Stewart as Unseld was, but the new presence of Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, with Don MacLean getting PF minutes off the bench, had something to do with a decrease in playing time as well. His minutes per game dropped to 8.7, but his per 36 numbers stayed relatively on track at 10.6 points and 7.0 boards. Nonetheless, Larry was very familiar with the pine, only appearing in 40 games for a 21-61 Bullets team.
In June 1995, Larry Stewart became part of welcoming Canada to the NBA in being selected 14th overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the ’95 NBA Expansion Draft. Neither Vancouver nor Toronto elected to draft either Kevin Duckworth or Rex Chapman, both also left unprotected by the Bullets. Before he had the chance to suit up for the Grizzlies, Stewart was traded, along with Kevin Pritchard, to the Orlando Magic for Anthony Avent on November 1st. The Magic waived Stewart four days later.
Stewart would move on to the Quad City Thunder of the CBA before heading to play in Zaragoza, Spain in February of ’96 (guess what – former Bullet, Andre Turner, plays for Zaragoza now).
Stewart caught on with the Seattle Supersonics for the ’96-97 season after playing for their summer league squad. He almost didn’t make the team because of a roster crunch, but ended up impressing George Karl and his staff enough
to appear in 70 games, starting 21. Stewart played only spot minutes, to the tune of 14.0 per game, backing Shawn Kemp and Detlef Schrempf. The 21 starts came when he filled in for Schrempf who was out with a torn tendon in his foot. For the season, Stewart pulled down 4.3 ppg and 2.4 rpg (11.0 and 6.3 per 36 minutes respectively).
In game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, Stewart, to his own surprise, was thrown in the game. Karl actually had to call his name a couple times before Stewart realized he was being inserted into the game. Nonetheless, he scored five points and drew a charge in five minutes. The Sonics won the game, but would lose the series.
Before the ’97-98 season, the Sonics signed Jerome Kersey, putting Stewart’s chances of making the team at slim. He declined an offer to attend training camp and tried to latch on with Golden State instead, but was waived by the Warriors in October.
In the following years, Stewart would bounce around Europe: Valvi Girona (Spain) in ’98-99, Casademont Girona (Spain) from ’99-01. C.B. Caceres (Spain) in ’00-01, Peristeriou Athens (Greece) from ’02-04 — where he was marked for controversy, being one of three American players to test positive for marijuana use in Greece within a month, Maroussi Athens (Greece) in ’04-05, Olympia Larissa (Greece) in ’05-06, and Paris Levallois (France) in ’06-07.
Most recently during the ’07-08 season, Stewart was still balling in France for Quimper UJAP at the age of 39. For the year, he held down averages of 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds on 54.6% from the field. In his last game on May 13th of 2008, he led his team with 21 points and 9 rebounds in a loss.
A 2006 article from the Examiner, “Stewart comes fulls circle,” by Sean Walsh covered Stewart’s trek in going back to Coppin State for his degree. A long way from appearing in a Wreckx-N-Effect video in ’92, at least that’s what was printed on the back of my Larry Stewart Topps card.
It remains to be seen if Stewart will return to Europe to play at age 40. Understandably, he hasn’t been comfortable with talking to the media about the incident which almost cost him his life. Coming from humble beginnings, when basketball was once an afterthought, Stewart has made quite the career for himself, playing professional basketball for 18 years and being involved with a bit of history along the way. Here’s to remembering Larry Stewart, one time Bullets rookie sensation.
Basketball a family affair for the Stewarts as his brother Stephen, cited in the Examiner article, is still an assistant coach for the University of Delaware men’s basketball team. Stephen also starred at Coppin State in the early 90s, leading the Eagles to the Big Dance in ’93, where CSU lost as a #15 seed in the first round to Cincinnati, 93-66.
Yet another Stewart brother, Lynard, played four years at Temple, from 1994-1998, and overseas since. In ’04, he was Finals MVP for the British Basketball League, and in ’07-08, he averaged 15.8 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Newcastle Eagles. You can check out a couple Lynard Stewart Newcastle vlogs here and here where I found out that Lynard played on the same high school team (Simon Gratz) as former Bullet, Rasheed Wallace (Lynard was a year younger).
Other Sources Used:
- “Stewart Quietly Impresses Bullets; His Play Does His Talking,” Washington Post (Oct. 25, 1991) Author: David Aldridge
- “From Coppin State to NBA, Stewart has last laugh,” Baltimore Sun (Nov. 21, 1991) Author: John Eisenberg
- “Stewart Gains Foothold Minutes Grow On Road Trip As Flu Bug Hits Sonics,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Nov. 22, 1996) Sheldon Spencer.