He grew up with an infatuation for Yogi Bear cartoons. As a kid he was a ball boy for the Sacramento Kings. He was a 6'11, undrafted rookie out of California who fulfilled his dream by signing with the Kings and actually having a really solid rookie year. I actually thought he'd be a great fit for the Celtics at that time. Boy was I really wrong about Michael Yogi Stewart.
His rookie year with the Kings he averaged 2.4 blocks per game in just 21 minutes a night, and played in 81 games that season. As what happens with certain guys who put up statistical anomalies as such (see McIlvaine, Jim) he never came close to reaching those kind of numbers again. However he did earn the wrath of a lot of fans, especially in Toronto. See in 1999, Stewart's second season, the Raptors reached out and signed him to a 1 year $1 million contract for the lockout shortened season. But Toronto didn't have enough money to offer Stewart a long time contract that season, so they apparently did a Joe Smith-like "wink-wink" deal where they promised to offer him more money the following year when their salary cap had more flexibility. Being a man of his honor the Raptors GM Glen Grunwald wound up inking Stewart to a contract for $24 million for 6 years, hardly what you'd expect to throw at someone coming off a season that he averaged 9 minutes and 1.5 ppg and 2.4 rebounds (in 42 games), which are the numbers Stewart put up in his first season in Toronto.
This would lead to a lot of disgruntled Raptors fans, epitomized eloquently by this epitaph. Here's an excerpt from it:
No Raptor broadcast from 1998 to 2002 was complete without the obligatory shot panning down the Raptor bench, ending at a yawning Yogi Stewart itching his balls through the crotch of an expensive suit. The player was a lightening rod for fan frustration, a posterboy for the danger of awarding long-term contracts, and a constant source of embarrassment for Glen Grunwald. Each time a bespeckled Yogi Stewart popped up from the bench during a Raptor timeout must have felt like a new herpes sore for Grunwald—a constant reminder of a terrible lapse in judgement.
Stewart and his horrendous contract would stay with the Raptors for the next 3 seasons, none of which he played more than 42 games. Surprisingly with 3 remaining years left on his deal, Toronto found a taker for Yogi's services when they dealt him to Cleveland for Lamond Murray. He'd play 47 games for Cleveland that next season and 8 the following year, before heading to the Celtics in the Eric Williams, Tony Battie deal for Ricky Davis. During that 2004 season he played in 17 games for the Celtics. That was the first season I signed on for League Pass and I must admit I watched all the games that year, yet don't really remember Stewart playing at all. For the record he wore #5 and averaged 0.3 ppg and 0.6 rpg during 4 minutes per game. Maybe his less-than-memorable performance is why I don't remember him.
I may not have gone to Duke, but I'm shrewd!
The following season he was still apparently on the Celtics (although not playing) and was included in the Gary Payton for Antoine Walker trade. After 12 games with the Hawks, his NBA career was over.
What a strange career no doubt. It's amazing how someone could play with such energy his rookie year, his hunger evident from blocking that many shots. But then to be such a non-factor for the entire rest of his career while securing a long-term contract that has Otis Birdsong rolling around in his grave was strange. You'd think he'd have shown a pulse at some other point of his career. During that 1998 season I kept saying the Celtics needed a center to go with their team and I thought Stewart could really be a great fit (based on his rookie year). I think the Evil Emperor had actually shown interest at that point too, and probably would've signed him if he could have. But by the time he showed up in Boston it was obvious that rookie year was the exception and Stewart wasn't the impact-type player some thought he'd be.
WNBA President Donna Orender, Grant Hill, Lesley Visser, & Yogi Stewart, making this the strangest picture ever taken
So what the hell happened to Michael Stewart? He lives in Orlando, Florida today. Back in 2007 he donated $1,000 to the campaign of Kendrick Meek, a politician. You can check in with him on his twitter account at bigyog4 here. In this interview from 2011, he claims to have started a couple of different businesses, both involved in healthcare. He quickly adds how he's "raising his two kids and visiting hospitals." When the interviewer playfully replies "you got a real job now, huh," Stewart modestly replies laughing "kind of."
The only question that remains then is do you think Yogi sends Glen Grunwald a fruit basket annually?