It is pretty hard to miss most basketball players. Standing at nearly 7 feet tall and up, they don’t exactly blend into the background, and it seems like they would have a hard time disappearing into a crowd. This makes it all the stranger that there have been some odd cases of basketball players who have managed to go beyond that and simply seemingly cease to exist, vanishing into thin air to never be seen again.
The earliest case we have is the odd case of Slim Wintermute, who was a college basketball superstar back in the 1930s and played professionally for the Detroit Eagles. The 6-foot-8-inch (2.03 m) center was perhaps most famous for his time with the Oregon Ducks, who were the winners of the first NCAA Tournament championship, and he would was elected to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1980. He is also rather well-known for his sudden and bizarre disappearance.
After retiring from basketball, Wintermute would work for Boeing for some years, and it was during these years that he took up yachting, usually on Seattle’s Lake Union. On October 21, 1977, Wintermute headed out on one of his yachting excursions along with a friend, leaving Portage Bay at 7 AM in the morning. At 2 PM the boat was found floating about out on the lake, its engine in neutral and Wintermute’s friend sleeping on board but no sign of the basketball player. When the friend was awoken he seemed to be very surprised that Wintermute wasn’t there, as he had been on board when he took his nap. A search of the area turned up no sign of the basketball player, and foul play was ruled out, with no evidence at all to show that the friend had had anything to do with it. Wintermute has never been seen again, and although one idea is that he fell overboard and is officially considered deceased, no body has never been found and he seems to have just evaporated into thin air.
Next we have the tragic story of the basketball player once known as Brian Williams, but more well-known by his other name Bison Dele. The famously eccentric NBA player was a center for such varied teams as the Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls, and Detroit Pistons, at one time being the highest paid player in the Pistons’ history. Towering at a height of 6’10”, he was as well known for his off-court antics as he was for his playing skills, and Dele suddenly up and left the league at the tender age of 30, which was still in the prime of his career, walking away from the remainder of a $36.5 million contract. It was thought that he had just wanted to earn enough money to be independent and that he was never really all that passionate about basketball, and although we can’t be sure of his motives for giving the game up, we can be sure of what happened next.
For a while Dele embarked on a bizarre journey, traveling through Lebanon, Asia, the Mediterranean, and in Australia’s Outback, as some sort of drifter and becoming a beat poet in the process. At some point he got it into his head to buy a catamaran, the Hakuna Matata, in order to set sail on a journey from Tahiti to Hawaii, and on July 7, 2002 he set out to do just that. Aboard with him were his girlfriend, Serena Karlan, the ship’s captain, Bertran Saldo, and Dele’s older brother, Miles Dabord, and it must have seemed like some amped up, party-ass adventure at the time. Unfortunately, some of them would never make it to Hawaii, and indeed have not been seen since.
The last known transmissions from Dele and his girlfriend by satellite phone to their families were made on July 8, after which all went quiet. On July 20, the catamaran came cruising in to Tahiti, with only Dabord on board. Of Dele, Saldo and Karlan there was no sign. Dele’s brother would claim that they had been lost at sea, but this did not sit well with some of the other family members of the missing parties. On September 5, 2002, a sting operation was organized after suspicion fell on Dabord, who had always been a bit of a loose cannon and well known to be jealous of his brother’s success as a basketball player, and he was arrested in Pheonix, Arizona when he tried to buy $152,000 worth of gold with one of Dele’s checks and his passport.
Dabord would be released on bail shortly after and skip town, and it was soon discovered that he was renting a place in Tijuana, just across the border. This did nothing to garner confidence in his innocence, and the investigation expanded to include the FBI, as they closed in on Dabord. For his part, Dabord contacted his mother and insisted on his innocence, saying that he had had nothing to do with the vanishings and would never do anything to hurt Dele. Unfortunately for him, no one believed this, least of all the authorities, who were now under the impression that Dabord had killed Dele, Karlan, and Saldo while out at sea and then dumped their bodies in the middle of the ocean where they would never be found. Dabord would later claim that Dele had gone psycho and killed everyone on board, forcing him to kill his brother in self defense, but his story was so full of holes and inconsistencies that no one knew what was true and what was lies. Sadly, we will never probably never know, as desperate and panicked about going to jail, Dabord would commit suicide by insulin overdose and take his secrets to the grave him. To this day Dele, Karlan, and Saldo have never been found, and probably never will be.
Finally, we have the mysterious case of a well-known college player named Rico Omar Harris, who perhaps had his most fame during his short stint as a member of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters in 2000 and is even more famous still for his mysterious disappearance. The 6 feet 9 inch, 280 pound Harris has a bit of a dark history, once a top 100 college basketball recruit that saw his promising future in the sport compromised by his demons of alcoholism. Indeed, he would not only get sidetracked from a potential career in the NBA, but would also be fired from his job as a security guard for being drunk on the job. This would grow to include other drugs, and he went through a series of arrests in relation to his substance abuse problems, which had already shattered his basketball career and threatened to ruin his life. On top of all of this, his already floundering basketball career took a fatal blow when Harris was injured during an altercation during which he was hit on the head with a baseball bat, causing him to suffer ongoing intense headaches and balance problems that would cost him his job with the Globetrotters.
At this point Harris was pretty much at rock bottom, moving in with his mother in Alhambra, California, and spiraling into more alcoholism and drugs, jobless and aimless, and he was repeatedly arrested for public intoxication. Throughout it all, this once promising potential NBA player found himself out begging for money in the streets to support his substance abuse problems, and a friend of his would say of this, “It was despair, bro. It was down there. It was the darkest of the dark.” This would continue until 2007, when he began to turn his life around, entering a rehabilitation program, getting a job, and moving in with his girlfriend at the time, Wilfredo Mayorga. He would then go on to meet another woman named Jennifer Song from Seattle, beginning a whirlwind long-distance romance that would see Harris going back and forth from Albambra to Seattle and eventually making plans to move there, going so far as to set up an interview for a job in Seattle. As he enacted his plans to relocate, on October 10 of 2014 Harris decided to visit his family in Alhambra one last time before finally permanently heading out to Seattle by car, after which he would drive out along Interstate 5 north towards Washington and apparently off the face of the earth.
Not long after leaving his mother’s house Harris called Song from near Sacramento at 10:45 AM and things seemed to be normal, with him mentioning that he was going to get something to eat and take a nap. This would be the last time anyone heard from him, he would never arrive in Seattle, and a few days later his car was found abandoned, with no gas and and a dead battery, at a county regional park in Yolo County, along a stretch of California State Route 16 by Cache Creek Canyon. Nearby was found Harris’ discarded backpack with all of his money and valuables within it, as well a phone with video of him in his car and photos of the nearby creek and selfies on it, as well as jumper cables. Search and rescue teams were brought in, who scoured the surrounding terrain with aircraft, tracker dogs, and thermal cameras, as well as using divers to search the creek, but after three days not a sign of Harris could be found. It was all incredibly odd, because he was such a large man it seems bizarre that he could have so thoroughly vanished without a trace, and Yolo County sheriff’s detective Dean Nyland would say:
How does this guy not pop up somewhere? I mean, big guy has to eat three or four times a day … I can see how a lot of people who don’t stand out can disappear, but this guy stands out.
There actually would be several alleged sightings made of Harris for around a week after his disappearance, with people spotting a large man walking along State Route 16 and enormous size 18 footprints in the mud, but nothing that could be confirmed. It remains totally unknown what happened to Rico Harris or where he went, but there are some ideas. Since there was absolutely no sign of struggle at the site of the abandoned car foul play has been mostly ruled out, and it is believed that he had probably gone to the road to hitchhike for a ride, but what happened after that or where he got off to or why is anyone’s guess. It is unclear why his backpack and all of his belongings were left behind, or why he would have stopped at that particular spot in the first place, and the whole bizarre vanishing has remained a perplexing mystery, ending up on shows such as Disappeared, and without any answer in sight.
In every one of these instances we have these enormous guys who have nevertheless managed to just vanish without a trace. What happened to them and there did they go? How could they so totally disappear? All of these remain unsolved mysteries for which we may never have the answers we seek, and it seems likely that the only ones who know what really happened are the missing themselves.