Caleb Swanigan, the former Purdue standout who played three seasons in the NBA for the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings, has died at age 25. According to the Allen County Coroner’s Office in Fort Wayne, Ind., Swanigan died of natural causes. No other details have been released.
Swanigan had a difficult upbringing in Indianapolis. He was one of six kids that his mother, Tanya, was trying to take care of while his father battled an addiction to crack-cocaine. The family spent time in homeless shelters before moving to Utah for a spell, but he returned to attend Homestead High School. As a senior in 2015, Swanigan helped lead the Homestead basketball team to their first state championship in the school’s history.
He elected to attend Purdue after decommitting from Michigan State, and was an immediate success. Swanigan started every game as a freshman, set a Purdue record after being named Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times, and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team. He also started every game as a sophomore, and excelled across the entire season. He broke Purdue single-season records for rebounds and double-doubles. He was an unanimous first-team All-American and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. He was also a finalist for the 2017 Wooden Award.
Swanigan made the jump to the NBA after his sophomore season, and was selected 26th overall by the Blazers in the 2017 draft. He played in the Summer League, the G-league, and also spent some time with the Blazers in 2018. He was traded to the Kings in Feb. 2019, and then back to the Blazers 11 months later. In his career, he played in 75 total games, and all but ten were with for Blazers.
Swanigan’s last NBA game was in 2020, when he chose not to join the COVID-19 bubble in Florida due to personal reasons. In late 2020, Swanigan was arrested on a drug charge after police found more than three pounds of marijuana in his car during a traffic stop. He pleaded guilty and avoided jail time.
During his court appearances, photos of Swanigan surfaced showing that he had gained weight. In a profile for ESPN in 2017, he admitted that overeating and obesity had always been a problem for him, partially owing to his unstable upbringing when his family could not afford healthy options. He ate what was available, and weighed 360 pounds by eighth grade. Genetics were also a factor: Swanigan had always been a naturally big guy, and his father had been over 500 pounds when he died in 2014. Following his father’s death, Swanigan lost over 100 pounds in high school and became a powerhouse player for Homestead.
While some on social media were being uncharitable about Swanigan’s post-NBA weight gain, his former teammate Damian Lillard asked people to think about the situation and act with kindness and understanding.
“If you gone post this s *** with real concern that’s cool. But don’t ask ‘how does one go from this to that’ … he clearly having real life issues. That’s how … you don’t know WHAT it is he’s going through to cause a drastic change. If you gone be supportive then do that but don’t ask no s *** like that like it’s not possible when you naturally a big dude and go down a dark road. “
NBA, Purdue community mourn Swanigan’s death
After news of Swanigan’s death broke on Tuesday morning, fans and former teammates paid tribute to him on social media.