The China syndrome

Kirk Snyder's strange tale gets stranger. Plus, Texas Lutheran's divine intervention.
By MATT TAIBBI  |  December 16, 2009


There was always a little something off about Kirk Snyder, the onetime University of Nevada Wolf Pack star and NBA washout. Maybe it was his habit of jacking up ill-advised threes, his hot on-court temper, or the fact that he seemingly got traded once or twice a week. You'd see him appear in the highlights getting called on technical fouls in Rasheed Wallace–esque quantities (only minus the actual on-court productivity), or else you'd spot him in some strange post-game write-up about an out-of-nowhere fracas with an opposing player.

A verbal throwdown with then–Houston Rocket Bobby Sura comes to mind, as he allegedly shouted a "racist comment" at the white player while playing for the Utah Jazz. After that game, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan pointed out that Michael Jordan could get away with saying things, but that Snyder — a fringy 6-6 swingman with a little range — was "not Michael Jordan." Astute observation!

Snyder was last seen playing in China, until last March, when . . . well, something very odd happened. While living in the small town of Deerfield, Ohio (about midway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh), Snyder decided to get up early (around 3:40 am), bust into a neighboring couple's house, and run upstairs and start knocking the crap out of the husband. The wife managed to pull the hood off of Snyder's head, at which point he ran out the way he came in.

The police call from the victim's wife is one of the more bizarre footnotes in the annals of the NBA. The critical exchange:

CALLER: Please help us, my neighbor came and broke into my house and attacked my husband. His jaw, I think it's broken.
DISPATCHER:And he just ran through the glass?
CALLER:He broke right through the glass. He's like seven feet tall and he beat my husband. Please hurry. My husband's not in good shape.

That is what the Russians call a "strong picture." Police dogs came and followed the scent back to Snyder's house, at which point he was arrested and charged with a whole bag of stuff, including burglary and felonious assault. He was later found not competent to stand trial, assaulted a fellow inmate, and was sent to a mental hospital. In August, after treatment, a judge ruled that the case could move forward.

Here's where you have to wonder about the criminal-justice system. At some point during all of this, Snyder told the court that he wanted to go back to China and play ball for a season. The judge basically signed off on a plan to let him leave the country from the end of October through April.

Despite this free pass, Snyder chose to stay in Ohio with a relative, and removed his electronic-monitoring device for good measure. When asked why Snyder didn't go to China, prosecutor Rachel Hutzel only said, "I can say there are concerns about his mental health."

Now Snyder's back in the clink and being hit with additional charges, so tack on 11 more points to the 70 he racked up last spring. This guy is only 26, and just a few years ago was the 16th player taken in the draft. You wonder if this is going to be the last thing we hear from him.

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