Ex-USC star Kevin Porter Jr.'s issues predate alleged assault that fractured girlfriend's vertebra

Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. in a game against the Detroit Pistons.
Houston Rockets' Kevin Porter Jr. in a game against the Detroit Pistons on March 31. The former USC star has been charged with felony assault and strangulation charges. (Michael Wyke / Associated Press)

Kevin Porter Jr.’s immense talent for so long obscured his issues away from the basketball court. His latest incident is likely to damage his NBA career.

The former USC star was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend, former WNBA player Kysre Gondrezick, fracturing her neck vertebra and leaving her with a deep gash above her right eye during an attack early Monday at the Millennium Hilton in New York, according to authorities.

Porter, a Houston Rockets swingman who signed a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension a year ago, pleaded not guilty to felony assault and strangulation charges at his arraignment Tuesday.

“This is a serious domestic violence case,” Mirah Curzer, an assistant Manhattan district attorney, told the judge.

Curzer also said Porter has a history of abusing Gondrezick, including an incident in which he allegedly rammed his car into hers. Porter and Gondrezick have been dating since early 2022, according to her social media post in February that marked their one-year anniversary together.

Read more: USC’s Kevin Porter Jr. chases NBA dream to honor a father he barely knew

According to a criminal complaint obtained by the Associated Press, Gondrezick told police that Porter punched her repeatedly in the face, causing the cut and bruising above her right eye. She also alleged that he wrapped his hands around her neck, causing bruises and the fractured vertebra.

"We are aware of the reports regarding Kevin Porter Jr.," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. "The league office is in contact with the Houston Rockets and in the process of gathering more information."

Porter’s off-the-court issues date back to his freshman season at USC in 2019.

He was suspended indefinitely during the Trojans’ trip to play at Oregon State and Oregon for undisclosed conduct issues.

“The last thing you want to do as a head coach is suspend any of your players, but when there’s conduct issues, we have no choice,” USC coach Andy Enfield said at the time.

Read more: USC suspends Kevin Porter Jr. indefinitely, ends trip with loss to Oregon

Porter sat out only two games before Enfield reinstated him in time to contribute to the Trojans’ blowout win over Arizona. However, Porter averaged only 9.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 21 games and slipped from being a predicted lottery pick to going No. 30 overall in the NBA draft that spring, to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He lasted only one season before being traded to the Rockets. Before training camp began, Porter was accused of punching a woman in the face and ripping off her weave in downtown Cleveland, according to police reports.

A few months later, Porter was involved in a one-car crash and charged with improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, failure to control a motor vehicle and possession of marijuana charges that eventually were dismissed.

Soon thereafter, he threw a tantrum in the locker room after a new player was acquired and Porter's locker was moved. That led to a confrontation with general manager Koby Altman and the trade to the Rockets for a second-round pick.

While his game improved in Houston — he’s averaged 17 points and six assists a game the last three seasons — his behavior remained questionable.

Read more: LeBron James among those critical of broadcaster's 'trigger' comment about Kevin Porter Jr.'s dad

In April 2021, the NBA fined Porter $50,000 for violating the league’s COVID-19 health and safety rules by visiting a Miami strip club, where he and teammate Sterling Brown got into an altercation with other men in the parking lot.

In January 2022, the Rockets suspended Porter after then-coach Stephen Silas said the player had a “spirited debate” and “lost his temper” at halftime, “to the point where I thought what would be best for the team and best for our culture as a group, and just making sure that everybody is one the same page, I thought it would be best for him to be suspended for today’s game.”

The difficult journey Porter took to get to USC and star in the NBA was uplifting. His father — no relation to the Kevin Porter who played in the NBA from 1973-83 — was killed by gunfire in a South Seattle bar when Porter Jr. was 4.

His mother raised him and his reputation grew as his smooth left-handed shot and uncommon athleticism became apparent. His coach at Rainier Beach High in Seattle, Mike Bethea, had also coached Porter's father, and although Porter Jr. was suspended more than once, the two bonded and the player developed into a top prospect. He was named Mr. Basketball in Washington by the state coaches association.

That led to his single season at USC, marked by injury, questionable behavior and occasional brilliance. Porter also listened to those who questioned his maturity and readiness for the NBA and vowed to fulfill his potential.

“That’s my dream, so I pay attention,” Porter told The Times' J. Brady McCullough in 2019. “I’m not going to be the one that says I don’t worry about it. I want to be able to feed my family and my mom never have to work again. I pay attention to it a lot, actually, what people say about me.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.