Ex-Laker Darius Morris dies three months after father, brother convicted of bank fraud

It seems far too soon to be mourning the death of Darius Morris, the memory of the irrepressible point guard stepping into the Lakers’ starting lineup in a 2013 playoff series and shining still fresh in the minds of so many.

Yet a spokesperson with the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner confirmed that Morris died May 2 in a private residence. He was 33. The spokesperson said it could take up to three months for the cause of death to be determined.

What will endure are memories of Morris’ exuberant personality and winning smile while playing for the Lakers alongside his mentor Kobe Bryant after starring at Windward High in Mar Vista and the University of Michigan.

“Darius was an absolutely super nice guy, he always had a smile,” said Mike Bresnahan, The Times’ Lakers beat writer for 12 years who now is a Lakers analyst for Spectrum SportsNet.

“What I appreciated was that when he made it to the NBA he decided he was going to enjoy every minute of it. He was going to have fun. Darius never forgot that part of it.”

Morris also played in 10 games for the Clippers in January 2014, along with stints in Philadelphia, Memphis and Brooklyn. He played overseas and in the NBA development league until 2020 when the COVID shutdown canceled his season in France.

Morris and his parents attended the 50th birthday party of one of his high school coaches a year ago and had warm conversations with friends and former teammates.

“He wanted to get back on the court and hopefully get another shot to play somewhere,” said Miguel Villegas, the coach who led Windward to its first CIF state high school championship in 2009 with Darius as the star player. “We really didn’t talk basketball, it was more about, ‘How are you doing? Great to see you.’”

It’s unclear whether he was pained by the February conviction of his father, Dewayne Morris Sr., and older brother, Dewayne Morris Jr., both of whom were found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of bank fraud following a jury trial. Dewayne Jr. also was found guilty of witness tampering.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 3 in federal district court in San Diego. Both men face up to 30 years in prison.

There is no indication that Darius Morris was connected with the case, in which Dewayne Sr., a career U.S. postal supervisor based in Venice and Marina del Rey, was accused of obtaining thousands of postal money orders worth up to $5.1 million and Dewayne Jr. of fraudulently depositing them in bank accounts then withdrawing the cash.

Dewayne Jr. also was accused of paying his rent with the bogus money orders and he was convicted of threatening his landlord — who had testified against him before a grand jury — while on pretrial release.

With her husband and one son facing sentencing and another son dying unexpectedly, Robin Morris is understandably distraught. A day after Darius was found dead, she called Villegas.

“Imagine that conversation,” Villegas said. “His parents and I are pretty tight. I saw him develop from a gangly 14-year-old through his transformation to becoming a young man. Everyone is just beginning the grieving process.”

Villegas met Morris when he was in eighth grade. As brash as he was scrawny, Morris needed to launch shots with two hands from his hip to reach the basket, yet he promised people he’d be able to dunk and that Windward was going to win a state championship before he graduated.

“The first game I laid eyes on him, I knew he had special talent,” said Villegas, now the athletic director at St. Monica High. “He had the ‘it’ factor.”

Every morning, Morris would be dropped off early at Windward by his father on his way to his job at the post office. Morris would shoot hoops until school started.

By his senior year, he made good on his promises, leading Windward to a Division V state title and being named CIF Southern Section player of the year. He scored 13 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter of the state final.

“Darius put the school on the map,” Villegas said. “To me, the most important part was that he was a great kid, a great teammate, a leader who worked extremely hard. He checked all the boxes as a player and as a person.”

Soon off to Michigan, Morris set a single-season school record with 235 assists as a sophomore. He was named third-team All-Big Ten and was Michigan’s most valuable player.

The Lakers took him in the second round of the 2011 NBA draft with the 41st overall pick. He was offered a two-year contract but opted to sign for one year, figuring that if he made the team he’d deserve a raise in Year 2. Sure enough, he played in 19 games as a rookie and the Lakers doubled his salary in his second season.

“It’s kind of bold, especially for a second-round pick,” Morris said at the time of his contract gamble. “You just have to have faith and believe everything’s going to work out for you as long as you work hard.”

A SportsNet Backstage Lakers segment in 2012 featured Morris playing cinematographer during a Thanksgiving celebration at the home of center Dwight Howard and during a team flight. He took his assigned seat next to Bryant.

“I’m just capturing the moment for the people who aren’t there,” Morris said. “It’s all fun and smiles.”

In the 2012-13 season, the Lakers made the playoffs and faced the San Antonio Spurs despite catastrophic injuries to Bryant (torn Achilles’ tendon) and point guard Steve Nash (broken leg). Morris came off the bench in the first two games and started Games 3 and 4 after guard Steve Blake was sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Although the Lakers lost, Morris had 24 points and six assists matched up against All-Star guard Tony Parker. Morris also started Game 4 and again contributed six assists along with eight points.

Morris’ last NBA season was 2014-15 with the Nets, but he continued to play in the G League as well as in China, Russia and France. He made a final attempt at returning to the NBA in 2019 at the Las Vegas Summer League. He’d played in the summer league early in his career and reflected on the difference.

“I think I’m in that in-between stage of my career where I can offer a lot of advice,” Morris told Bleacher Report. “I’ve started in the playoffs, I’ve started in the regular season, I’ve played with legends, I’ve been cut before, I’ve been in the G League, I’ve signed 10-days, I’ve played side by side with Kobe. I can relate to anybody.

“If you’ve got a young star that’s going back and forth in the G League, I know all that advice. But I’m still entering my prime and I can play at a high level. I have a lot left.”

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