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My Search For Dean Tolson The College Grad Who Couldn't Read Nor Write
The author Dan W. Miller meets former NBA and University of Arkansas basketball star who graduated from college illiterate
After we met, he vanished. I decided to try to find him.
The first time I saw him, he was walking towards me in a hallway of the V.A. hospital in Seattle, Washington in the summer of 2010. What caught my eye was the fact that he was one of the few people that stands taller than my 6' 6" frame. He was long and lean at 6' 8" but appeared to be even taller than that because of the way he proudly carried himself.
So we quickly struck up a conversation and he mentioned playing for the NBA's Seattle Supersonics. He was even wearing one of the team's official green and gold warm-up jackets with the team logo on the back.
Then it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually speaking with DEAN TOLSON! He was the basketball player I'd read about on the cover of Sports Illustrated and saw on a TV documentary out of the University of Arkansas who had graduated with a degree yet wasn't even able to TO READ NOR WRITE!
That's right! Dean had other students take his tests, go to classes for him while teachers "let him slide" with poor grades, attending class his entire time there until he had graduated. All because he was an outstanding basketball player for the college. No one knew of his illiteracy because he did a great job of hiding it from everyone. Oh, there was no doubt he could play. He got more than a free ride for four years.
If he can play, they'll find a way
The corrupt NCAA college athletic programs of the '70's was peaking at the time when Dean was recruited as an all-state basketball player out of Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri and later named All-American as an Arkansas University Razorback power forward. His family was dirt poor and when a college like Arkansas offers you a full scholarship to play basketball for them, you take it, no questions asked and worry about the classes later.
The school's Athletic Director, Frank Broyles, was well aware of his measly 1.83 high school GPA when he was admitted into Arkansas University. But Broyles never suspected his star recruit had absolutely no reading skills and could barely spell only his own name. He even hired tutors for Dean while letting the university foot the bill.
Drafted and signed by the NBA Seattle Supersonics in 1974, he convinced a friend to read the contract for him. As the years passed, it was getting more and more difficult to hide it from his friends, fans, teammates and coaching staff. After three years in the NBA, Dean went on to play for minor league teams in Europe, South America, and then abroad in the U.S. for another eleven years.
Finally, he admitted his hidden shame in public to Sports Illustrated magazine. The feature on him tabbed him as the perfect example of the corrupt college basketball programs that were quite prevalent during the early 1970s.
But later, he had learned to read and write well enough to eventually go back to his alma mater at Arkansas and earn his Master's Degree in 1988.
Retired, no longer a star, he's a drug addict
Always a fan favorite everywhere he played, Dean participated in many charity basketball events in Seattle for years. In one of those games he horribly ruptured a disc in his back and right then is the moment his personal demons with Vicodin began and he still fights his losing battle to this day. Dean became hard core addicted to Vicodin and other pain killers.
That's why he was at the hospital the day we met because he was loading up on his prescribed drugs from the Navy doctors. Soon after that day, he publicly admitted his addiction to painkillers. He told me that, "Eventually, I didn't even have to go to the doctors. They would just mail me my prescription drugs."
After I left Washington in September 2010, that's when Dean hit rock bottom later in December. He checked himself into a drug rehab program way out in New Jersey that was sponsored by the NBA for their retired players who were down on their luck. That's where he spent his Christmas in 2010. http://hoopshype.com/rumors/tag/dean_tolson
My search finally comes to an end
But halfway through 2011, I tried to get hold of him a couple of times without any luck. Then I just tried to locate him anywhere all through 2012 and all this year, too. This is a guy that you can find on Wikipedia now gone from public view. It seemed he had apparently just "fell off the face of the Earth" and was nowhere to be found.
That search finally ended just today as I write this story on December 12th, 2013. He must have just checked into a drug rehabilitation program earlier this month. I had Googled "Images of Dean Tolson" and there he was with the counselors. Poor Dean was starting over again in another drug rehab home, this time in Florida.
So it was quite a long time since I'd heard anything about him. I never got the chance to ask where he had been and there has never been a public explanation by him, either. He's still trying to get that "monkey off his back" but at least I'm glad to see that he's also getting professional help now. He's overcome his own obstacles that he has caused upon himself. He's done it before and he can do it again.
Epilog: There's still hope
I just don't understand why he falls into these patterns. But I'm not in constant pain. He may not even remember me, our time together talking at the Veteran's Hospital and a phone call was all we communicated.
He's a very nice man. Very amiable, not one to hide his past and we even talked a bit about it. For some reason, it's almost impossible to find a picture of him in action playing basketball for anyone.
I hope that he'll one day put his Master's Degree to good use. He earned it all by himself. He overcame his demons that he kept hidden for many years. I hope he can overcome his demon called addiction. He has the opportunity now and has been given a second chance to do it again the right way this time. You're running out of those second chances, my friend.
Dan W. Miller
Follow-Up 2016 - Dean Tolson Reemerged
Articles Surface In July 2016 On Dean's Comeback
Articles have surfaced in July 2016 by Dave Boling in The Olympian and in the Kansas City Star of Dean Tolson now living in Tacoma, Washington for the past year and going out on the public speaking circuit to high schools and groups to tell his fantastic story. On a personal note, this author is very happy for him. He was so open and very nice to me.
Thank you, Dean.
Dan W. Miller
Dean Tolson's complete NBA statistics
A complete list of all teams Dean Tolson played for from high school through professional
High school Central (Kansas City, Missouri)
College Arkansas (1971–1974)
NBA draft 1974 / Round: 5 / Pick: 80th overall
Selected by the Seattle SuperSonics
Professional career history
1974–1975 Seattle SuperSonics
1975–1976 Hazleton Bullets (CBA)
1976–1977 Seattle SuperSonics
1978–1979 Anchorage Northern Knights (CBA)
1979 Gilbey's Gin (Philippines)
1979–1980 Anchorage Northern Knights (CBA)
1980–1981 Rochester Zeniths (CBA)
1981 St. George's Whiskies (Philippines)
Career highlights and awards
CBA Champion (1980)
© 2013 Dan W Miller