What's WRONG? We didn't see this one coming. At CLUB DEAD, The bell tolls for Melvin Turpin, aka "The Big Dipper" aka "Dinner Bell Mel," basketball player for the University of Kentucky and the NBA, gentle giant, and host to who knows what demons, dead at 49 from a self-inflicted gunshot.
I had decided to refrain from posting on CLUB DEAD for a year following the death of my wife Roxanne. But now comes word of the suicide of former University of Kentucky basketball star Melvin Turpin. Mel's death is sadder still because it came at his own hand as he was facing health problems resulting from diabetes. He was one of Roxanne's favorite players, and I don't think it's amiss to remember him as it allows me to think of happy times she and I shared.
I know tonight, there are thousands of Wildcat fans who are calling upon similar memories, as they ask "why". On my LIFE 4.0 blog, I've written about my own thoughts of suicide but to imagine that someone we thought of as family would actually reach that brink is terrifying.
We can only hope that even in his desperation, that Melvin Turpin knew how loved he was, and how many of those family memories he and his teammates enhanced. Yet it may be more scary to accept that even knowing that love, it still wasn't enough. I can't begin to imagine the hell he was facing. I feel, as one poster on a Kentucky fan site said, "If I had known, I'd have driven to Lexington and hugged the man until my arms fell off. Maybe it would have helped. Maybe not. But at least I would have tried. I wish he had given us the chance."
As fans of sports, or movies, or music, we forget that our heroes are people, with fears and weaknesses shared by everyone. Since Roxanne's death, I often implore people to say "I love you" to those nearby, as the day may come when it's too late.
Whatever love Melvin Turpin felt, it obviously wan't enough. John Lennon may have been wrong. Love isn't all you need.
When people who knew him spoke of Melvin, it was of a kind, funny, charming man, a loyal friend. In recent years, following his retirement from basketball, he had taken part in several UK events honoring his and other teams from the past, always welcomed with devotion. In interviews and personal appearances, his heart seemed full of happiness. As I said earlier, Melvin was a favorite of Roxanne's. It was about the time he played when she really began to get involved with basketball. She loved the stories aboiut him that always seemed to pop up, stories about his healthy appetite, about coach Joe B. Hall having people follow him to make sure he wasn't loading up on fast food, about Mel outsmarting the coaches having his girlfriend bring burgers to her house so he could enjoy them there, out of sight of prying eyes.
Turpin was a native of Lexington, and had a great college career in his home town. In 1984 Melvin and Sam Bowie (UK's famed "Twin Towers") led Kentucky to the national semifinals, losing to eventual champion Georgetown.
Turpin was the sixth player chosen in the 1984 NBA draft. He had a steady, if not memorable NBA career with Cleveland, Utah and Washington. But having been selected so highly in a talented group which included several players who would go on to stardom (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton among them,) his accomplishments in the pros never approached what he achieved in college.
A few weeks ago, discussing the possibility that UK's DeMarcus Cousins, another high draft pick, might not find professional success because of potential maturity isses (another crock, but that's a discussion for another time), ESPN's Fran Frischilla referred to Cousins as "(possibly) the next Mel Turpin." Give him the benefit of the doubt; it's an analyst's job to make such comparisons, and I doubt there was any hate involved. But I thought it was a cheap shot on a guy who personified good sportsmanship, and was free of the embarassing off-the-court foolishness happening more frequently among athletes. I remember thinking at the time that were Roxanne alive, she would have chewed Frischilla a new ass, one New Yorker to another. I also remember hoping that Melvin didn't hear that remark.
I hope as the shock fades, we'll remember the tall man with the happy smile, and remember that the smile can often mask the poison in someone's soul.