LOOK UP the MostOutstanding Player of the 1971 Final Four in the NCAA record book, and you'llsee one word: vacated. Villanova's Howard Porter, who outplayed the 1970 MOP,Sidney Wicks of UCLA, in a title-game loss to the Bruins, was given the award,but, he told SI 25 years later, "I've never seen that trophy." Therewas no presentation, and within days of the championship game the NCAA waslooking into claims that Porter, who died last week at age 58, had signed aprofessional contract. Villanova ultimately forfeited all of its 1971tournament games, and handed over the $72,000 it received for its NCAA run.Porter was stripped of the award he never received.
Porter had grownup poor in Sarasota, Fla., where he perfected his jump shot—which he learnedfrom an Oscar Robertson instructional book his mother bought him—on a basketcrafted out of a bicycle tire rim and a makeshift backboard. So in the middleof his senior season, when an agent offered him a $15,000 bonus to sign acontract with the ABA—which was battling the NBA for top players' signatures—itdidn't take long for him to say yes.
But in seven proseasons Porter averaged just 9.2 points per game. After his career he turned todrugs, in part, he said, because of the shame of having his greatestachievement voided. "I waited all those years for someone to forgive me,but no one ever did," he told SI in 1996. "Finally, I decided just toforgive myself."
In 1995 Porter,who graduated from Villanova with a degree in English and psychology, got a jobas a parole officer in Minneapolis. He also reconnected with Villanova. Whenthe Wildcats played in Minneapolis in 2006, Porter spoke to the team and becameespecially close to guard Randy Foye, who now plays for the Timberwolves. OnMay 18, Porter was found severely beaten in an alley; he died eight days later.Police are still investigating and have not said if there is a connectionbetween his job and his death. "The guy was a legend," Foye said."He was just always there, always offering to help me out with anything Ineeded, if I had any questions about basketball or life in general."