The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of NBA 75, er 76 Voting 

By Peter Vecsey

Where’s Ford Frick’s vote-voiding common sense when we need it?

   Saratoga Springs--One of the best things about writing on an irregular basis, free from pressure to produce on any semblance of a deadline (also one of the worst things), is being able to camp at Lake Placid for however long it takes after something rubs me raw. This is done to avoid tackling issues unprofessionally, insensitively…or by the facemask.

    Ready or not… 

    Almost a month has elapsed since the NBA completed its announcement of the league’s all-time Top 75 players, which became 76 due to a deadlock (pending essay competition) elected by an illogical 88-person panel. 

     In retrospect, it was the soundest portion of the process. 

    Perhaps I’m ill informed, but I thought the original number of voters was 75. Fifty voted for the Top 50, so I figured 75 would vote for 75. At the abysmal least, the extra 13 makes no symmetrical sense. I’m left to deduce a whirlwind of campaigning for the commissioner’s approval must’ve ensued behind the screens by people craving to get credit for something so theoretically sacrosanct.

     Seeing my name, even today, amid the select 50 voters on page 8 of “The NBA At Fifty” book remains a cherished career acknowledgment. Hence, I altogether understand any fervid desire to be recognized for judging the Top 75, er, 76.

     It doesn’t make me any less aroused, though.

     I probably should’ve camped out longer on (in?) the lake. 

   You screw with the sanctity of the voting, you screw with the sanctity of the vote.

     Let’s turn the page to 1996. U wit me, G?

     When the chosen 50 voted for the NBA’s half-century Supreme Court, the marquee players from the assembly were ultimately bestowed with lithographs signed by the 49 living legends (Pete Maravich died Jan. 5, 1988), extravagant commemorative rings and splashy, custom-made leather jackets. 

     It’s safe to say a bunch of rich people now own a large number of those lithos, or maybe only an obsessed couple of memorabilia magnates do.

   George Gervin, I’m informed, was one of the first to cash in on his lithograph, pocketing 120G. Its sale painfully hammered home one of a plethora of financial lifetime mistakes I made by not lunging at Sam Battistone’s offer to buy one (of the 100 made) in ’97 for $15,000. 

   The signed lithographs were the brainstorm of the former Jazz owner. Thus, he could do whatever he wanted with some of them (don’t know how many); the league controlled the majority of the remaining 50, and every now and then, one or two would show up for sale at the NBA Store. 

   Despite an additional dozen deaths among the elite Top 50 since that luminous list was formed, the price has dropped (seems like the opposite would be true, but that’s what I’m told by someone who deals in such souvenirs) to the 30-40G range. Makes me feel only twice as stupid. 

   Many royal jewels also have changed hands, so to speak. One Top 50 player, I hear, sold his, as well as his Hall of Fame and championship (no ‘fingering’ Charles Barkley for this) rings. He then notified the NBA, HOF and the title team his stuff had been stolen. Replicas were made and the legendary lowlife then tried to sell them as originals to one of the above-mentioned moguls. The buyer was aware! He stuffed the cash back in his briefcase. 

     Auction houses already are standing by for beseeching calls subsequent to All-Star Weekend (‪‪Feb. 18-20) in Cleveland, where the 2021 Supreme Court will be honored and showered with correspondingly gaudy gifts. 

     Not coincidentally, the ‘96 Top 50 (had it been 51, Dominique Wilkins would not have fumed 25 years for being defectively denied royal recognition) event also was staged in Cleveland. 

     Time out for a story:

      NBC assigned me to interview unhinged ex-Cadavers’ owner Ted Stepien whose board room behavior forced the NBA to adopt a salary cap and a rule forbidding teams to trade No. 1 picks in consecutive years, I spent several hours at his home. When David Stern got word of Sunday’s halftime feature from network sports boss Dick Ebersol, it was summarily squashed.

     I have it in case Donald Sterling or Robert Sarver would like to hear if anything he said sounds relatable. 

    While not on the subject, it’s worth noting that Bob Lanier was the lone Top 50 voter of consequence not to achieve prominence. He voted for the Top 75 as well and again was bypassed. 

   A convincing case could be made that Lanier should’ve made both lists—the latest at the very least—but that would’ve taken thoughtfulness (i.e. responsibility) rather than plagiarizing a 25-year-old cheat sheet. 

     This is where I stop rationing pablum.   

     The conspicuous hindrance for Lanier and many others (see below) was that two-thirds of the outcome was essentially fixed by the Silver’s NBA bequeathing the 37 living members of the Top 50 a vote. Six turned it down--Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, Tiny Archibald, Karl Malone, Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon. 

      Unconsciously, if not unconscientiously, the NBA’s padding of the ballot box principally dictated the advancement of the Top 50. They were prohibited from naming themselves, but there’s minimal doubt they only had eyes, and ayes, for each other!

   A jesting Cousy told me he decided at the last minute to demur when alerted he couldn’t vote for himself.

    Of course, they supported each other! Their fierce loyalty was to majestic past performances and blood-spattered competition among themselves, not the 30 squads of snipers feasting on projectiles from above the beyond in today’s predominately no-touchy-no-feely league. 

   That explains the 31 voters’ rationale. Silver’s savants should’ve cut the number in half, but obviously wanted fortification the first 50 years of history was sufficiently represented. 

   I begrudgingly accept that clumsy guesswork. What I find downright unacceptable was the conclusion by numerous media voters and innumerable lazy bones to rubber stamp the harebrained determination. 

   One columnist I respect inordinately told me he voted for the full 50 because of not wanting to disrespect the decision-makers, as if they wouldn’t have appreciated how players upgraded regarding agility, strength, outpost accuracy and any other skill and physical element you care to mention.  

   If the same 50 voters had a say in the latest poll, guaranteed their votes would’ve radically changed, it says here.  

   Another columnist wrote he deferred in numerous instances to wise men who knew old-testament players with whom he was unfamiliar. Why stop there? Why not just transfer the bouncing ballot to the sagest soul he could find?

    Yet another columnist extensively researched the project (I’ll give Steve Aschburner, via ‪NBA.com, that). He discovered that six of the 10 on the 25thAnniversary Team—anointed by six owners, three general managers (including Red Auerbach) and league publicity director Haskell Cohen—were not among the 11 chosen for the 35th

   In 1980, the Professional Basketball Writers Association picked the team. Bill Russell, Cousy, Bob Pettit and George Mikan were the lone leftovers, while Dolph Schayes, Paul Arizin, Joe Fulks, Sam Jones, Bill Sharman and Bob Davies were scratched. 

     The four joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, John Havlicek, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West on the 35th, who were selected regardless of position or completion of careers (unlike the 25th, explaining the absence of Wilt, Elgin, Oscar and The Logo). 

   So, Aschburner knew there was a Supreme Court-changing precedent. He also understood that keeping the Top 50 intact would cost many meriting modern-era players their rightful place in history. I know this because we discussed the ramification beforehand.

   Aschburner E-ZPassed the Top 50 anyway. 

     Why? His hackneyed logic was employed by more of my bunko-balloting brethren than should have been allowed by law, and segment void of qualifications (see below) to vote in the first place. 

   “For the prestige and honor to endure, that one and this one had to last,” Aschburner wrote. “That’s when I decided I had to keep the first 50 intact and add 25.”

    A 40-year savvy NBA courtside veteran, Aschburner always has had it goin’ on. In this case, he was dead wrong! This was not an ‘add 25’ term paper…it only became one to those who dis-serviced it. 

    Clearly, the league failed to make it unassailably clear that 1996’s version of the high court was not a lifetime gig. 

     Aschburner allowed also he endorsed the entire 50 because he didn’t want to insult the families of anyone forsaken.


   What about the families of the players who were stiffed back then, I scornfully retort? What about the hurt feelings of Walt Bellamy’s family, as a prime odious omission?

     Shortly after Bells died Nov. 2, 2013, I spoke to his wife, Helen, for a Finals program tribute I wrote on NBA family members—players, coaches and owners--who died that year. 

   “Walt never said a word about not becoming a Top 50 honoree, but it hurt me,” she said when I wondered how he felt about being ignored. “I’m not an envious person and I’m not selfish, but Walt was better than some that made it. I had to turn it loose.” 

    Never to be corrected!

    In the mindlessness of the majority, the Top 50 preamble was so pristine—no deletions and a scant two additions, Bob McAdoo and Dominique--that our task became choosing a Top 23 from the past 25 seasons.

      I could’ve saved a lot of time and effort had I realized the list was written on tablets. 

   Arizin, who died Dec. 12, 2006, wasn’t aware of that, either. Nor was the Hall of Fame forward—a made man on three NBA anniversary lists—so full of himself he felt remotely irreplaceable. Too bad the 88 recent voters didn’t get to hear his voice of reason before senselessly and sightlessly prancing to the polls.

     “In his opinion, at that time (1996-97), there were 15 players whose omission from the list would have impugned the integrity of the entire list, 15 players were non-debatable, locks, his son, Michael, has repeatedly told me.

   “He felt that any one of the remaining 35 in the Top 50, while all great players, could have been replaced by a great player who was not included in the Top 50 without in any way affecting the integrity of the entire list.”

   And yet Aschburner preached the list was so sanctified it could never be revised.

   Think about how many stars are stranded on the shoulder of NBA history for the next 25 years until the Century Commission is in session. 

   Nikola Jokic will be 51 by then, Luka Doncic 47, Klay Thompson 56, Tony Parker 64, Manu Ginobili 69, Grant Hill 74, Joe Dumars 83…to give you a stiff whiff of some affronted players I supported, as well as Dennis Johnson and Bellamy. 

   Advocates of Medusa Howard claim he got screwed. Had they caught sight of Bellamy having his greatest games against Chamberlain and Russell, often outscoring and outrebounding them early in his career, they’d summarily switch allegiance.

   Other than Bill Walton again getting swept in on a misguided current (Mike Pence declined to certify Medical Bill), the most unjustifiable admissions to this versions of the Supremes, I accentuate with steadfast conviction, were Carmelo Anthony and Reggie Miller.

   “You mean to tell me, the ninth-leading scorer in NBA history doesn’t rate inclusion on the list?” Mark Jackson squawked. 

      In 20 seasons, Anthony’s teams parsed past the first round twice in 13 playoff appearances, I counted. I’m not saying he had to win a title, but if you want to make my list, you’ve got to carry your teams deep into the playoffs often, if not always, and escort at least one to star-stained heights (The Finals) on bent and battered wings, whatever it takes.

     Granted, Miller refutes the above stipulation. Nevertheless, there’s an exception to every rule. His 8.9 second, 8-point burst that beat the Knicks, shenanigans with Spike Lee and TNT exposure got him into the Hall of Fame and the Top 76.    

    Miller scored a lot of points. 

   Gave up a lot of points.    

   An overabundance of reinforcement for Anthony and Miller meant D.J. or Klay, or Dumars, or Ginobili, or Parker got written off. 

   It’s gruesome to grasp voters deemed Anthony and Miller more important in the scheme of success than players with multiple titles who doubled as diametrically deft defenders.

   I never pretended my choices were perfect (Top 50, now and life in general), but there’s no denying how many clueless voted for Walton, Anthony and Miller rather than Manu, Parker, D.J., Dumars and Klay--thrice a league champion and a military-grade marksman.

   Guess Manu didn't give up his body enough coming off the bench his whole career. Guess his innumerable game-winning shots were meaningless. How stupid were the voters not to see what he meant to the Spurs’ supremacy! 

   Parker was intimately instrumental to the four championships as well. Gregg Popovich turned the keys over to him (one Finals MVP) and Tim Duncan was all for it. 

  Dumars was in three straight Finals, won ‘em twice, one Finals MVP and accrued consequential conquests of the (Jordan) Bulls and Celtics. 

   D.J. was Finals MVP when the Sonics beat the Bullets in ’79, six times First Team All-Defense, three times Second Team. The Hall of Fame stiffed him well over a decade before getting it right with a posthumous proclamation.

   An obtuse Top 75, er, 76, panel has insulted his memory and irrevocably hurt his family’s feelings.  

   Cited by Larry Bird as the best clutch shooter he ever played with, he and Johnson were fairly-significant parts of two Boston banners that were raised to the Rastafarians.

  Walton crashed the Top 50 & 75 as a result of winning the MVP in the Trail Blazers’ lone franchise championship in 1977. A second title was won as a Celtic in 1986 when he won the Sixth Man award. Walton subsequently won the 1978 regular-season MVP while appearing in just 58 games; the Blazers were 50-10 when he got injured.

   Nobody on either Supreme Court played fewer minutes than Grateful Red. He’s not even close to the accomplishments of Klay, Dumars, D.J., Manu, Parker and countless others, whose glittering pro careers persisted far longer, and ring collection is larger.  

   The Diamond Jubilee vote was not supposed to be about college achievements. It was about honoring the players who did it right and established everlasting, longed-for legacies.

   Time to admit, I suspect, that I lied sundry paragraphs earlier. The league’s manifest lack of a distinct direction was inexcusable, but far tougher to take was its suspect segment of appointed electorates. We’re almost about to get to 15 women and Ahmad Rashad who were gifted votes. 

   At first, I blamed the NBA for Phil Jackson’s arresting absence from the poll, along with a horde of eminently qualified coaches, players, GMs and reporters. As it turns out, he was indeed asked to participate, as I learned from the Zen Hen’s text.  

   “There was too big a list (75), too many decades (8). If one had a pre-3-point line, or 1980 as Era of Modern b-ball, I would have voted. Bobby Davies, for example was a favorite of Red (Holzman). It was a tough task and really not important to me.” 

    Less than an hour later, Jackson sent an unsolicited addendum. 

   “Started thinking about those guys left off that could play—Davies, his backcourt partner (at Seton Hall and Rochester‘s Royals) Bobby Wanzer, Cliff Hagan, Jim Pollard, Jack Sikma, Gus Williams, Bernard King, etc., etc., a challenging list to make choices.”

    Jackson liked my response. 

    “It wasn’t easy for those of us who tried to provide some historical perspective, as opposed to simply promoting the entire Top 50 to the Top 75.” 

    Er, 76.

    I was not alone, but lonely. Mike Breen busted his brain doing homework on the Top 50 players, investigating the serious slights that had occurred, and measuring those from the 1990s until today who appeared to earn entry. 

   The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn also understood Mission Unfeasible.

     “While the contributions from all-time great players should be acknowledged, there is no way all previous Top 50 players should have been chosen for the Top 75.”

   When the fridge full of frozen envelopes was counted, an extensive inventory of modern- and early-era players got seriously shafted. 

     Sue me for reiterating!

   I find Adam Silver and his wokeforce incomprehensibly guilty. They loaded the dice with a predisposed body of Top 50 (31) players, pandered politically to former league executives and genuflected to gender.

    Think about it; nearly 18% of the voters for the best male players in NBA history were females. Only one—creditable veteran, Jackie MacMullan—is an actual reporter, practiced at delving into an undertaking this complicated. 

     I take it back; Japan’s Yoko Mayaji covered the NBA, I’m told, for 34 years. 

     Mainly from Japan!         

     I can name a silo full of non-voting male journalists who, in fact, attended practices, exhibitions, regular-season games, press conferences and playoffs on an unswerving basis more often and longer than Mayaji. 

     Mark Heisler is one. He’s in the Naismith Hall of Fame, but never got a call from the NBA. Same goes for Harvey Araton. Fran Blinebury voted for the Top 50 but got the brush-off this time after 40-plus seasons of duty. Mike Monroe covered the ABA and the NBA until recently. Steve Bulpett’s coverage of the Celtics dates to Larry O’Brien’s term as commissioner. Dan Shaughnessy, Leigh Montville, Ira Berkow, Jonathan Feigen and Ric Bucher must’ve been penalized for being overly experienced. 

    Get back to me if you need additional samples. 

     Was this three-quarter century Prix Fixe Menu really the apt occasion to show the world how ‘progressive’ the NBA is at the expense of infinitely more certified lifers on every level? 

     Clearly, fashioning a woke women’s vote was the intention of Silver and his group grope, the league having barnacled onto that bandwagon years ago. 

    Party favors such as these furthermore endeared it to social and political promoters, demonstrating its awareness to the plight of females.  

  Something to that effect. Please don’t quote me.

   Unrelated, I’ve learned the league plans to do away with the term “offensive foul” at the risk of offending anyone.

   You got that right; the NBA does not care…if active and retired NBA players and coaches feel insulted that active and retired WNBA women got votes.

    Does not care whatsoever that exceedingly less knowledgeable voters jumped the line in front of those exceptionally more acquainted and qualified to evaluate NBA eras.

     Does not give a Flying Wallenda that 14 of 15 women ‘earned’ votes for no other reason than they’re women!

     I wonder how many active and retired NBA players got votes during this past season when the WNBA picked its Top 25? 

    Was the list even revealed? If not, why not? If so, that should answer my question. 

   I’m also curious how the WNBA/women TV analysts managed to compare epochs of ever-changing skills and rules when Phil Jackson reckoned it impossible.

    Of course, they couldn’t. I’m willing to wager all the money you’ve recently lost betting spreads and over/unders, the NBA’s latest encouraged, commercialized craze. 

      For the first 70-something years of its existence, the NBA banned any connection to the corruption and temptation that gambling on games poses to those involved, particularly referees, you might recall. 

     Then, suddenly, when profits decisively dropped due to China—which copped an attitude regarding a single tweet supporting Hong Kong dissidents and pulled the NBA’s TV deal—combined with the onslaught of the coronavirus, and millions of Americans distancing themselves from the league’s in-fans’-faces political slant, the 30 owners adopted an addiction as decadent and devastating as illegal drugs and alcohol.

     Evidently, the NBA does not care that its perverted policy will sooner than later sentence hundreds of thousands of kids, whose phones are their bookies, to lives attending Gamblers Anonymous. 

    We now return to my irregularly scheduled primary grievance. 

    Down the backstretch, I could cut myself a sliver of slack by pretending I have no quarrel with Hannah Storm, Ann Meyers and Nancy Lieberman getting votes. Yes, they’ve paid decades of dues along NBA sidelines and in the TV trench mouth. 

     However, if Storm deserved a vote, Pat Williams, Paul Silas, Dick Motta, Richie Guerin and Phil Chenier are far more deserving.

     If Lieberman deserved a vote, Del Harris, Norm Sonju, Rick Sund, Garry St. Jean and Richie Adubato are far more deserving.

     If Meyers deserved a vote, Eddie Doucette, Stu Lantz, Ralph Lawler, Al McCoy, Bill Worrell and George Blaha are far more deserving. 

     If Doris Burke deserved a vote, Mark Jackson, if not Jeff Van Gundy, and Dick Stockton are far more deserving.

    If Rachel Nichols deserved a vote, Hubie Brown, Kenny Smith and Scott Hastings are far more deserving.

     If Becky Hammon deserved a vote, Larry Brown, Dick Barnett, Henry Bibby, Jim Cleamons, Dave Twardzik, Gar Heard.Tim Grgurich, Pete Carrilare far more deserving.

     If Candace Parker deserved a vote, Don Nelson, Danny Ainge, Jack Sikma, Cliff Hagan and Clifford Ray are far more deserving. 

      If Carol Blazejowski deserved a vote, Donnie Walsh, Steve Patterson, John Gabriel and Mitch Kupchak are far more deserving. 

     If Cynthia Cooper deserved a vote, Charlie Scott, Jeff Mullins, John Lucas, Calvin Murphy and Downtown Freddie Brown are far more deserving. 

    If Kara Lawson deserved a vote, Doug Moe, George Karl, Butch Beard, Mike Dunleavy, Bernie Bickerstaff, Kevin Loughery and Fred Carter are far more deserving.

     If Sheryl Swoopes deserved a vote, Gail Goodrich, Eddie Johnson, Jim Barnett, Geoff Petrie, Rick Carlisle and Jerry Sichting are far more deserving. 

     If Sue Bird deserved a vote, Cheryl Miller is more deserving. 

   In wrapping up this manifesto, I find it hard to believe O. J.’s best man got a vote, much less was able to fill it out for 75 players without the help of a teleprompter.

     Apparently, there was a software glitch after Rashad wrote “My main man” 75 times…

   …or Michael Jordan 175 times.

     How does Silver explain Jim Gray not cracking the NBA’s balloting? Check bounce?

     In closing, allow me to restate what an honor it was to be part of the Top 50. 

   Allow me, also, to deny being part of the Top 75.

    I’m guessing this probably abolishes my chance of an invitation to vote for the Top 100. Then again, maybe the woman commissioner will gift some undeserving males votes.


      I did something here I’ve never done before. I gave Michael Arizin a preview of my vitriol a couple days before Monday’s presentation. His slightly edited reaction follows. I respond respectively. Almost. 

    Arizin: Your rant on automatic Top 50 carryovers was a little confusing to me. You were frustrated that 31 of the surviving Top 50 members were allowed to vote because…

     …In your opinion, the “31” voted as a block in favor of their peers.  I don’t have that data. But who better to judge the older players? 

     Perhaps, I was reading more into it than I should, but for me, it woulda been helpful if you gave your opinion of how many of the Top 50 (not names) should have been carried forward….so that the “no interest in history” contingent of today don’t assume that 40 were “gratis picks,” I suspect you would have retained at least 80% of the original 50? 

     On a different note, I shed no tears for Jokic, Doncic, Thompson, Parker, Ginobili or Hill…only for Dumars having to wait for the Top 100. Dad & Cousy were 70 and Schayes 72 at the time of the Top 50.

        Vecsey: My point is, by giving a block of votes to 31 people when only 75 slots were available, significantly slanted the vote. There are plenty of older coaches, players, scouts and radio/TV broadcasters, as I catalog, scrupulously capable & coherent to judge eras, though Jackson feels differently. Voters from eight eras should've been as proportionate possible.

     As noted in a previous column, I voted for Shaquille O’Neal four years into his career in 1996. Saw enough. Didn't have to see anymore. He belonged on Top 50. Had Shaq suffered a career-ending or debilitating injuries, as Walton did, shortly thereafter, my decision would've proved to be regretful. At the same time, Walton's chronically-injured career was long over when elected to the Top 50. Preposterous he made it, while Maurice Stokes, Connie Hawkins, Brandon Roy, Ralph Sampson and Bernard King weren't vaguely considered for The Supremes. 

     I feel the same way about Joker and Luka. I've seen enough. They belong. Their multi-talents are on par with 90% of the players on the Top 75. 

     The players you named who were 70 or older when the Top 50 were crafted, either made the Top 25 and/or Top 35. Klay, D.J., Dumars, Ginobili and Tony Parker got royally stiffed. Grant Hill, not so much.  

      FYI: After much deliberation and trepidation, I subtracted nine players from the Top 50. 

      If I were pleased with my submission, I would reveal my select 75. However, I felt I’d committed multifarious mistakes minutes after completion.

      On the other hand, I don’t mind disclosing a no vote for James Harden. Couldn’t stomach watching him play in Houston, and know Rockets’ teammates couldn’t stand watching him play either, while on the court together.

Basketball's Last Set Shooter, and Coach of Milwaukee's 1971 Title Team - Larry Costello Deserves A Place In The Hall

By Peter Vecsey

You know those signs at the polling places that read ‘No Electioneering Beyond This Point’?

We’re not beyond this point, so I’m electioneering.

That the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame finds itself odious with omissions and commissions is hardly news. To be fair (for the first and last time in this epistle), any such sports shrine is not immune.

This exclusion is beyond egregious, however.

That’s where I come in.

As a member in shameless Springfield standing, it’s my civic duty to create a crescendo in the clarion call for Costello…

…as in Larry Ronald Costello.

The Milwaukee Bucks’ hoisting of Larry O’Brien’s trophy for the first time in a half-century provides the textbook stumping grounds.

(Hold the ‘caught-ya’ texts; I know the hardware wasn’t named for Larry in 1971 since he didn’t get top billing of the NBA until the summer of ‘75)

Back to the other Larry, who is best remembered as the coach of those marauding 1970-71 Bucks.

Contrary to what many must erroneously think, Costello was not a one-trick pony. Not to say the Hall isn’t swarming with those. But that’ll have to wait for another column. I did not come to bury others today in this space, rather to praise Lawrence Roland Costello. 

I’m committed not to do a number on why so-and-so is in the hallowed Hall while the Costello clan has been awaiting a call for decades.

There’s no ‘tale of the tape’ comparison needed to reopen and bolster Costello’s cold case.

Enlisting the help of John W. Tailby’s self-published (2010) biography/position paper (specifically with regard to testimonials), here are some of the humble highlights.

Long before finding his way to the NBA, the 6-foot-1 Costello—a native of Minoa, New York —was a star at Niagara.

At the place best known for the falls, the spray starch and Calvin Murphy, Costello left as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Playing in the Western New York Little 3 Conference (Niagara, Canisius, pre-Bob Lanier St. Bonaventure), Costello’s Purple Eagles went 46-12 his junior (18.2 ppg) and senior (15.3) seasons.

Assists were not a compiled stat back then, but suffice to say he shared the wealth with Ed Fleming, Charlie Hoxie, Hubie Brown and Frank Layden. 

Niagara went to a pair of National Invitation Tournaments, back when the N-I-T was N-O-T second banana to the N-C-A-A, after which he toured the country with a college All Star team in a dozen game series (7-5) against the talent-loaded Harlem Globetrotters. 

Costello arrived in the NBA in 1954, a spare-parts rookie (second round/12th overall selection) with the Philadelphia Warriors and among the last of the set-shot masters. After spending a year with the 4077th in Korea he returned, becoming both a workhorse and a star.

After another season in Philly, Costello was sold for the princely sum of five grand to the hometown Syracuse Nationals, which allowed him to move back into his childhood bedroom. 

That very same amount, 5G, had bought Dan Biasone--the creator of the 24-second clock—the franchise in 1946.

Proving you can go home again, Costello began a string of eight consecutive seasons of double-figure scoring while perennially among the league leaders in assists and free-throw percentage. He twice led the league in the latter category.

…and his defense?

“People ask me who gave me the most trouble. It wasn’t Oscar Robertson or Jerry West. Larry had that animal determination.” - Bob Cousy.

Costello returned to Philly when the Nats were sold and relocated there for the 1963-64 season. However, a tendon injury forced him to retire the next season. 

What to do? Coach a from-scratch high-school team at his alma mater (reconfigured East Syracuse-Minoa) to an Onondaga (NY) county championship, just failing in sectionals for the state title.

Prior to the ’66-‘67 season, Costello’s former Syracuse coach, Alex Hannum, now running the 76ers, implored him to come to Philly.

At 35, Costello ran a pristine point for the juggernaut title team, spearheaded by Wilt Chamberlain. Dippy had more help that season—Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Wali Jones, Matt Guokas and Billy Melchionni—than any other until he hooked up with Lakers’ Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich and Happy Hairston

The 76ers were 38-4 when Costello again ruptured an Achilles tendon. They finished 68-13, beating Cincinnati, Boston and San Francisco for the championship. 

How tough was Costello? He returned to play, albeit sparingly, seven games before the regular season ended and saw some daylight in the playoffs.

While Costello did return for 28 games (17.6 minutes) with sporadic contributions in ‘67-’68, his days in short pants were over.

It was off to Milwaukee and the birth of the Bucks, where Costello was hired as player-coach, but never donned a uniform. Suggesting that the team’s increased win totals (27 to 56 to 66) were strictly due to a fortuitous flip of the coin (for Lew Alcindor) and the acquisition of one of the game’s greatest guards (Oscar Robertson) would for shit-sure shortchange the influence of the coach.

By all accounts and descriptions, Costello was a scrupulous tactician, as well as an innovative practice and preparation freak. It took the Bucks another nine presidents to (theoretically) get invited to the White House.

Costello’s .589 regular season winning percentage (430-300) was tied for 14th-best all-time with Erik Spoelstra and Mike Budenholzer (before Tuesday’s beatdown of Brooklyn) for coaches with at least five seasons worth of workload.

His .617 post-season percentage (37-23; Milwaukee lost the ’74 Finals to Boston in seven) is 10th all-time.

After his NBA career ended, the Costello caravan briefly saw him coach The Chicago Bulls  the Milwaukee Does of the Women’s Professional Basketball League (first US women’s pro league) for one season as well as Utica College.

The Utica job was part challenge, part favor, requested by his former high-school coach (Dr. Tom Sheldon) to shepherd to program from Division III to Division I. 

Costello was at Utica for seven seasons—six as a D1 independent—and save for a 4-22 first season at the adult table, his teams always won in double figures. His departure after the ‘86-‘87 season coincided with the school’s stepping back to Division III.

So, in a Hall that embraces all basketball contribution, here was a man who coached men in the pros, women in the pros, high schoolers and collegians.

Costello died in December of 2001 at the age of 70. 

It shouldn’t have come to ‘better late than never,’ but it has.

The gatekeepers owe it to Larry Costello and his family to make sure I don’t have to write this again.

The reviews are/were in…

“He’s a man totally dedicated to basketball. He simply wants to get the job done.” - Lew Alcindor (1971)

“I’m not quite sure what sort of player or man you are looking for to grace the Hall, but he will always make my team.” - Wilt Chamberlain 

“Larry was a tenacious opponent, both offensively and defensively. He gave ground to no man defensively.” - Tom Gola

“Having played with and against him, I can assure you he was an outstanding player. He also provided the important intangible of being the complete team player.” - Paul Arizin

“Being associated with Larry taught me the meaning of hard work and team effort. I knew he could score more than most of his teammates, but Larry played to win.” - Billy Cunningham 

“Larry was a marvelous backcourt player both at Niagara and later as a professional with Philadelphia and Syracuse. I think it was a great tribute that he was coaxed out of retirement in 1966 at the age of 35 and became floor general of the team many consider the greatest of all-time, the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers. Later on, I fully began to appreciate Larry’s talents as a coach. He always had his teams well-prepared and ready for anything.” - Red Holzman

“ …add my name to the growing list of supporters for the induction of Larry Costello to the Basketball Hall of Fame. I have coached against many members already elected and I say Larry had one of the great minds of the game. I consider what he did to enhance (Lew Alcindor’s) game one of the great tactical moves of several generations of coaches. He found more ways to get him the ball than I wanted to coach against.” - Tom Heinsohn 

“It was a thrill to play the guard position with him as we were teammates with the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers. Larry was the quickest and fastest player I have seen.” - Hal Greer 

“…and Larry’s playing and coaching careers were exemplary. He excelled as few have as a leader, teacher and proponent of the game.” - Julius Erving

“Definitely a player of (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s) ability has a lot to do with winning, but I think Larry Costello was more responsible with winning in those days than Kareem. You win because of a good system. It was Larry Costello’s system that had the Bucks winning.” - Lucious Allen

“I think the induction of Larry Costello into the Hall of Fame is long overdue. He has been a credit to basketball in every sense of the word.”- Rick Barry

“If ever a player epitomized the ideal basketball player as far as morality, work ethic and coachability, it was Larry Costello.” - Alex Hannum

“I (had) known Larry since we were seniors in college and feel he would be an excellent addition to the Hall of Fame. He not only had an outstanding career as a player for 12 years, but won the NBA title in 1971.” - Bob Pettit

…and last, but certainly not least…

“The purpose of this letter is to recommend Larry Costello for the National Basketball Hall of Fame. I have known Larry for over 20 years and have only regard for his knowledge and abilities. He is a gentleman and would be a proud addition to the Hall of Fame.” - Jerry Colangelo (March 21, 1991)

Colangelo was the owner of the Phoenix Suns at the time. Since 2009, he has been Chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

I am unavailable for comment regarding the above two graphs.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest recap of Costello’s credentials…

—collegiate star (check).

—six-time N-B-A All-Star (check).

—NBA title-winning player (check).

—NBA title-winning coach (check).

—Naismith Hall of Famer (check back with me when the oversight committee finally takes care of that).


   On January 16, 1985, Utica College lost to Marquette, 55-53, in overtime. The game was played at the MECCA, where Costello coached the Bucks. 

   Utica was in its fourth year of Division One while Marquette was eight years detached from winning the 1977 national title.

    It was the lone time 6-8 Utica senior DJ Carstensen remembers “coach going around the locker room after a loss, shaking everyone’s hand, recognizing the effort that was given.”

     DJ is Costello’s most zealous HOF activist and staunchest advocate for Costello as a coach and superior human being. A referee for the last 16 NCAA tournament, DJ was a three-time team captain.

Larry is on his lips whenever the whistle isn’t between them. 

    In the Milwaukee Journal the next day, Costello was asked about the talent gap between Utica College and more established Division I programs. 

     “We’ll never accept it. We’ll never do that,” he declared. “You’ve always got a chance in this game. You don’t step on the court otherwise. You can’t play that way. I’m proud of my kids because they fought.”

    He was the ultimate competitor,” DJ lauded, “and it didn’t matter where he was coaching at, or who he was coaching.”

He's Back... My Criteria For the Diamond Anniversary

By Peter Vecsey

The hell with load management!

After months away enjoying the three R’s—Rest and Relaxation while at intervention-induced Rehab—I’ve returned just in time for the new season.

Having been fully inoculated and only partially emasculated, there’s no telling where these missives might go.

OK, I lied; they’re going first down memory lane. 

Twenty-five years after being selected by the NBA as one of 50 decision makers to elect the league’s All-Time 50 Greatest Players since it began doing business, I again made the cut as the number swelled to 75.

It’s a very rare daily double for which I am greatly honored. I was gonna say ‘humbled,’ but why start now at 78?

For the uninitiated, the selection committee was, and continues to be, comprised of exceptional players (prohibited from voting for themselves), team and league officials and media members. It’s unfortunate many from the latest delegation never eyewitnessed a large percentage of players prior to 1970, probably even 1980. This pretty much explains why so many of the elite from those three or four eras get recurrently short-sheeted in terms of appropriate appreciation.

I neither took my 1996 homework assignment for granted, nor remotely breezed through the reprise, which was excruciatingly challenging. 

I could’ve taken the leisurely way out and simply added 25 names to the 25-year-old list. Then again, there’s nothing faintly simple about picking so few when there is easily twice that many laudable candidates.

Clearly, that’s the case! Because if the inverse were true and I’d been forced to stretch the quest to reach 75 sanctified luminaries, “then the league should’ve disbanded long before the ABA graciously absorbed it,” accentuated column castigator Frank Drucker.

Whittling the Top 75 to its demanding dimension is somewhat similar to choosing annual All-Star teams…only infinitely tougher.

Having personally seen all the greats, while experiencing the obscene of many ingrates (Marv Albert and I, by the way, are the two oldest media voters), I had no other choice but to discard a platoon of boyhood idols who’d seamlessly morphed into adult friends. 

That should tell you everything about how grueling a task this was.

Reaching out to people I respect for advice, the best I heard was “choose a player according to the influence he had on the era he played.”

Starting with roughly 35-40 definite appointments, the remaining Manchurian candidates could not be settled on merely by looking at statistical rungs in the record book, retired numbers and rings. 

Piling up passels of points did not automatically engender my endorsement, far from it, so Hall of Famers and Most Valuable Players be prepared.

My choices had to have brought more to the table than just a knife and fork, as Mel Daniels used to preach on the court’s altar and in the barn; silly stuff such as defending, rebounding, passing, erasing shots and sacrificing the body, theoretically without overthrowing/undermining a coach or several along the way…or taking out a hit on one. 

I am not a believer in ‘could he have played today?’, meaning he played when he played and that’s how he was/wasn’t graded.

Not that mistakes of omission and commission weren’t (by me) in the first incarnation, and severe second-guessing (again by me) didn’t occur after handing in the finished product for this revival.

I was greatly gutted leaving Dan Issel on the cutting-room floor. One of the true crossover artists of his day, Issel’s sacrosanct skills were deftly displayed pre-and post-merger.

He didn’t discriminate, averaging more than 25 points and nearly 11 rebounds in 500 ABA games, then about 20 and eight (718 games) after that…

…at least 80 games played in 12 of his 15 seasons (never less than 76; I’m greatly influenced by this category, as well as minutes played) and eight consecutive seasons of better than 50 percent from the field.

I’m pinky-swearing here and now to fix that glitch when I vote for the centennial squad, by absentee ballot, if necessary. 

In 1996, I included a pre-mutiny/chronically-injured Penny Hardaway while excluding (alphabetically) Hall of Famers Walt Bellamy, Tom Heinsohn, Bob Lanier, Bob McAdoo and Dominique Wilkins.

To my credit, I was adamant Shaquille O’Neal—about to begin his first season as a Laker after flaunting his muscle for four in Orlando—was creditable despite a then-limited body of work.

That ‘limited body of work’ phrase deserves some clarification. If impair-plagued Bill Walton deserved to be chosen (he did not), then how were others in near-comparable circumstances, such as Ralph Sampson and Maurice Stokes, overlooked?

Walton put forth 1½ dominant campaigns in Portland (18.6 points, 14.4 rebounds regular season, 18.2, 15.2 playoffs in ‘77 Blazer title season) while never playing more than 65 games on a single Oregon trail hike.

In Boston, the season before Medical Bill retired, he played a personal-best 80 games (just over 19 minutes per) as the award-winning sixth man during the Vitamin C’s ‘85-‘86 banner year. 

Sampson was the deacon of durability his first three Houston hoedowns, appearing in every game (243), minus three. During that stretch, he averaged more than 20 points and nearly 11 boards. And let’s not forget the Rockets reaching The Finals in 1986, where the Celtics silenced them, but not before Sampson unhesitatingly flexed in a fight with 6-foot Jerry Sichting. 

His dwindling appearance numbers only made it past 48 games once in the last six seasons, done in by knee surgeries and back problems.

Stokes was a triple threat, three-time All-Star in as many seasons for the late-50’s Rochester/Cincinnati Royals (16.4 points, 17.3 rebounds, second to Bob Cousy in number of assists) before his career—and ultimately life—was cut short, the result of post-traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury that damaged his motor-control center, after hitting his head on the court.

While not a fan of required reading, do yourself a favor and learn (relearn) Stokes’ story.

The ‘limited body of work’ category also has to include Connie Hawkins. Unconscionably blackballed, he was denied entry into pro basketball until the age of 25 (ABA’s Pittsburgh Pipers) and the NBA (Suns) until the age of 27.

Again, numbing with numbers is not my thing, but trying gawkin’ at Hawkins’ work sheet—his ‘other league’ and early Phoenix seasons were borderline illegal—then consider how he was robbed of five, six of seven prime-performing years.

While a lover of longevity, how could I omit several of today’s quasars despite tapered resumes leading to the league’s diamond-district season?

It’s not about potential, in case you’re wondering, but rather weighing ‘limited body of work’ against ‘expected continued excellence’ like Shaq and unlike Penny.

We now return to ‘choose a player according to the influence he had on the era he played.‘ 

According to Hall of Fame coach Alex Hannum, to be considered one of the greatest of all time, all phases of the game must be taken into account—“defense, individual and team offense and leadership.”

Hannum, by the way, for many who never heard of him, was the coach to derail the Celtics’ 11-of-13 championship choo-choo (St. Louis Hawks in ‘58, Philly in ‘67).

When in more doubt than usual, I voted for…

—players I would go out of my way, even pay, to see play, 

---pIayers I would watch to see what they were doing, regardless of where the ball was at the time.

---players whose presence affected how the other nine guys on floor played and how the coaches coached.

In other words, my choices made their teams, teammates and coaches better.

I’ve never shied away from revealing my choices for any and all awards. I also disclosed my Top 50 ballot weeks before the NBA announced the final verdict. In this instance, however, I’m not eager to divulge my Top 75 once the league publicizes its result.

That, my friends and foes, is a clear admission I did not get all 75 players correct. I realized that the day after turning in my term paper, but there was no turning back, according to the rules. Even had I been allowed to change one or two choices, though, I still would not have been satisfied I got the project right. 

 I should only invest this much effort and examination into filling out trivial political preferences.


At the time the Top 50 list was released, only Pete Maravich was deceased. A dozen have died since: Wilt Chamberlain, Dave DeBusschere, Paul Arizin, Hal Greer, John Havlicek, George Mikan, Bill Sharman, Moses Malone, Dolph Schayes, Nate Thurmond, Wes Unseld and Elgin Baylor.

 Of the 50 voters who participated in ‘96, almost half have passed: Red Auerbach, Baylor, Marty Blake (NBA GM/scout), Chamberlain, Mitch Chortkoff (Culver City Observer), Chuck Daly, Joe Gilmartin (Phoenix Gazette), Sam Goldaper (New York Times), Hannum, Les Harrison (Rochester Royals owner), Havlicek, Chick Hearn (Lakers TV voice), Red Holzman, Phil Jasner (Philadelphia Inquirer), John Kerr, Leonard Koppett (New York Times/New York Post), Leonard Lewin (New York Post), Dick McGuire, Mikan, Harvey Pollack (76ers’ statistical connoisseur), Jack Ramsay, Schayes, Sharman and Unseld.

As if there wasn’t already ample incentive to do the due diligence, the above two graphs provided extra added coercion. 

Black Mamba, Big Fundamental, Big Ticket and Rudy T

By Peter Vecsey

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2020 enshrinement is set for Saturday evening, with honorees reminded to keep those acceptance speeches short as not to interfere with the start of the play-in playoffs.

The fact the long-delayed shindig is being held in a casino with Michael Jordan as a (Kobe) presenter is nothing if not coincidence.

     ‘Ahmad [Rashād], take my luggage to the room while I find a blackjack table.’

     Think Jordan had anything to do with Isiah Thomas being snubbed as a serial presenter? 

     Am I the only one to notice presenters for each inductee are about to outnumber team assistant coaches?  

   Before Jerry Colangelo steps aside for Junior Bridgeman, or John ‘Why’ Brown, perhaps he’ll consider using play-in presenters for the 2021 class, to be announced May 16th.

     In the meantime, a reminder that no inductee becomes officially legit until he/she is exonerated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

    The smart money is betting big on Bill Russell gaining entry as a coach despite the fact his record was 179-207 (6-9 in the playoffs) when he wasn’t coaching himself with the Celtics--three seasons, two titles. 

     It’s worth mentioning K.C. Jones managed to do okay for himself once he left Russell’s domain (522-252, .674 regular season; 81-57, .587 playoffs). Calmly and cunningly, he channeled the Bullets and Celtics to five Finals. 

     FYI: Jones and Russell are the lone African-American coaches to have won multiple (two) championships. One is being accommodated by the HOF. The other continues to be obtrusively overlooked by its unidentified cluster of committee members.  

    Therapy has alleviated my affinity for anonymity. Rick Adelman, Paul Pierce, Jay Wright, Marques Johnson and Michael Cooper were prominently printed on my uncounted absentee ballot. Since Satch Sanders’ initiation in 2011, I’ve rehabilitated my repentant judgment and converted to a passionate proponent of rewarding vital role players, and coaches who make a meaningful difference in developing players. 

     It says here, Springfield should’ve embraced Paul Silas five years after he retired from playing in 1980, certainly in combination with his later contribution/impact as an assistant/head coach wherever he went. 

    And who won more playoff games with last-second stilettos than Robert Horry? 

      I won’t even try to regurgitate my argument for Willie Wise, James Jones, Mack Calvin, Freddie Lewis, Ron Boone and Donnie Freeman, whose glory days were mostly served in the ABA. Colangelo snobbishly told me years ago, after Louie Dampier was voted to the HOF by his appointed seven-person ABA Committee, he doesn’t believe any others have HOF credentials. 

      I ‘decorously’ dissented. 

     Colangelo took exception. “If it weren’t for me, none of the players who played almost exclusively in the ABA (Roger Brown, Mel Daniels) would’ve gotten Hall of Fame recognition.”  

      “You mean, I’m supposed to thank you for doing what’s right?”

     Clearly, none of the above will reap definitive respect until Chairman Colangelo relinquishes his pompous command post.      

     As for this weekend’s revered group, Kobe and Garnett are the reason the NBA required a high-school diploma to seek employment, and I was forced to take an equivalency exam. 

     Almost from the jump, Bryant, an all rookie choice and an All-Star his second season, was well worth the price of admission, even for those of us who weren’t obliged to pay.

      So many subplots to sift through: 

    —Fans’ hostility/ harmonic convergence with Kobe; 

    —his love/hate/love connection with the Lakers; 

    —-his adulation/aversion for Jerry West;

    —his affection/disconnection with Phil Jackson; 

    —his feud and arranged TNT settlement with Shaquille O’Neal; 

    —his breakup and makeup with his parents, Pam and Joe;

    —his sexual assault arrest; 

    —his marriage separation and reconciliation with Vanessa; 

    —that 60-point unearthly grand finale;

    —and those five titles in 20 seasons, augmented by a procession of trappings, marvels and myths.

      Allow me to dispel a couple. Don’t ask me why I choose them exactly, except it’s interesting how Kobe was the same person at 18 as he was at 28 and 38….and how details get distorted. 

      As a rookie Kobe had improved significantly from training camp when he showed up limping from an ankle sprained playing pickup in Venice Beach. It kept him from seeing any daylight in his first game and limited him to five minutes in Game 2. Hence his first pro point occurred against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. One and done.

     Kobe remained an irregular throughout the season, but earned important minutes closer to the playoffs while chomping for additional responsibility. By the last month, he’d become a crucial component.

   In the final stages of their-win-or-get-wasted Game 5 of the ‘1997-98 Western Conference Finals against the Jazz in Utah, Kobe, by default, received an on-court commission. Shaq fouled out at the 1:46 mark, LA up 87-84. Horry had been ejected for allegedly swinging a fist at somebody (horrible call). Byron Scott was injured in Game 2 and Nick Van Exel-who’d downed 7-7 from beyond the arc in Game 2-hurt his foot with about four minutes left, now having trouble overcoming John Stockton’s defense. 

    Their bench depleted, the Lakers still hung tough to deadlock matters, 89-89. After Stockton tied it, Karl Malone missed a jumper from 15 and Greg Ostertag committed a turnover. Eddie Jones appeared to have an open layup to put LA up two, but Greg Ostertag came off Elden Campbell and snuffed Jones for his ninth block.

     Van Exel’s strip of Ostertag gave the Lakers the last possession. A time out was called with 11.3 seconds remaining. Kobe came straight to Del Harris and avowed, “Coach, if you let me have this shot, I’ll drain it for you.”

      What coach wouldn’t want to hear that! 

     “The thought that went through my mind was this,” Harris told me the following season. “I said, ‘the kid’s 18. This is a moment here. He is either gonna make it or miss it. If he makes it, it’s gonna do a lot for him. If he misses, he’ll at least know there was a white-haired guy who I thought didn’t know anything, believed in me.’

     “And I believed him. And I still believe him. And I’d give him that shot again. I just wanted to make sure we’d get the last shot of regulation. And I wanted a good shot. I knew Kobe could get one off and we’d have a chance to tip. Thing is, he waited too long and missed a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer from 14-15 feet .”

      The Jazz prevailed in overtime. 

     Decades later, memories fogged, people claim that shot by Kobe was an air ball and that he aired out four treys in overtime. 

     “Fact is, we got behind and Kobe rushed two but also scored our only basket (a layup) in the final five minutes.” Harris remembered recently. “He only aired two but was 0-6 for the game from 3-point range.”

     Legend contends, according to countless reports over the years, Kobe and his father found a gym after the season-ending loss hoisting hundreds of long-distance springers.

      That might’ve happened when the Lakers landed in Los Angeles (I never remembered to ask him), but there was no gym visit in Salt Lake City. There was a charter to catch. To this day, Harris doesn’t know if Joe attended Game 5 or met Kobe at the airport.

    On to Garnett, who toiled for years doing superior work with suspect support, not unlike my ‘staph’.

    I’m pulling punches, as the Counterfeit Ticket well knows. However, his acting was so real in ‘Uncut Gems’, I’m gonna momentarily bypass his grievous faults.

    Traded by Minny HaHa to Boston after 12 seasons, Garnett had a bit more success than Joe Kapp, winning one title. 

     This just in: Billy King believes Garnett should go into the Hall as a Net.

     Tim Duncan, as the standings bear out, made Gregg Popovich the smartest man in the room by being the smartest man in the room.

     Proof that a college degree is actually worth something, he hung around Wake Forest in time for the Spurs to win the lottery, lose Bob Hill and give Rick Pitino a valid excuse to return to college coaching.

    Here’s Duncan’s career in a nutshell: No words, no tats, no errors.

     The guy killed opponents and closed captioning at the same time.

    Between the three of them—Kobe, Garnett and Duncan--that’s 48 All-Star Games, or about the same number I’ve avoided watching.

     Which brings us to Rudy Tomjanovich — in under the radar as a coach, but a five-time All Star as a player (17.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) as well. 

     Won those two Chris Christie ‘bridge’ championships while Jordan was telling people to go fungo yourself.

     Had Tomjanovich actually coached Charles Barkley to a title, he would’ve been elected via Vatican white smoke.

      Contrary to common credence, Tomjanovich’s most impressive coaching did not occur in 1994 when the Rockets beat the Knicks in seven games after trailing 2-3. Nor in 1995 when they short-sheeted Shaq and the Magic, 4-0. Did not happen in the 2000 Olympics, when the United States won the gold in Sydney, Australia, though, granted, Rudy did have to overcome the incessant meddling of assistant Larry Brown. 

     It says here, and I underline, Tomjanovich long ago deserved to make the Hall of Fame off his National team’s third-place accomplishment in the 1998 FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Greece. 

    Because the NBA was in lockdown, the USA was prohibited from using its players. Rudy volunteered to coach and was joined by Del Harris and Lon Kruger. Tryouts were held in Chicago. With one exception (David Wood), those selected were exclusively former college players whose pro experience was gained in the CBA and Europe. Brad Miller, undrafted out of Purdue, turned the opportunity into long-term profitable NBA career. 

   The high scorer (10.7) was Jason Sasser. Last week, he competed at the highest level in a Masters Tournament (64 teams from all over the country) in Miami and Deerfield; his team, the Raiders, won the Over-40 tournament.

      Syracuse’s Wendell Alexis-who I favorably compared to Chris Mullin when they battled in the Big East-Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy King, Trajan Langdon & Co. won seven of nine, losing by two points to both Russia (on a controversial call, of course) and Lithuania. Yugoslavia (9-0) triumphed, Russia was second and Rudy’s 7-2 outfit convincingly beat the host Greeks for the bronze medal. 

        USA Men’s Basketball decision makers were so overwhelmed by Tomjanovich’s achievement, they put him in charge of the men’s team at the Games of the XXVII Olympiad. It was undefeated, 8-0. 

Thank you to Frank Drucker for his contributions to this post.

The Man, the Myth and the Logo

By Peter Vecsey and column castigator Frank Drucker  

"If there is one player, I would have liked to play against in his prime it would have been Jerry West. He was a great clutch shooter, he could jump, he was tough, and he was quick. I would have liked to test myself against him at his best."

“How would I have done?”

"We'll never know. From what I have read about Jerry and from what others have told me, he played the game a lot like I did. He was a great scorer, but he also played good defense. Could he have stopped me? I don't think so."

Could I have stopped him?

"I don't know. But it would have been a great matchup."  For The Love Of The Game: My Story By Michael Jordan. Edited by Mark Vancil. 1998

Huge thanks to column castigator Frank Drucker for digging through the treasure troves of stories and anecdotes on The Logo.    

Of the 75 seasons the National Basketball Association has been doing business casual, Jerry West has been intimately involved for 61 of them. 

A fly-by-night Lego Logo he isn’t. 

For West, who turns 83 later this month (May 28th), has made palpable palm prints over four franchises, the pair In Los Angeles sandwiching Memphis and Golden State. 

Where to begin in a six-decade sojourn with so many chapters, so many verses, so much wine and so much song…even when he didn’t always get along? 

West’s staggering stat sheet doesn’t require rehashing here. If you’re unfamiliar, take two aspirin and call Dr. Naismith in the morning. 

What has made the man so complex is that or all the time he’s spent either pursuing or achieving success, it seems there’s been just as much time being unable to enjoy it. 

Even going into a phone booth (dating myself, sue me) and morphing into the suave silhouette of the league is something West hasn’t embraced. 

As a Laker player non-pareil, it was the Celtics who were the bane of West’s existence. 

As a player, West went to The Finals nine of his 14 years. The Lakers lost eight, the first six to the Celtics.  

He then found a way to get even. As the Purple Reign’s general manager, he oversaw Showtime, then purloined both Kobe and Shaq, turning the Lakers into the bane of everyone else’s existence. 

However, West’s Laker tenure—as player, then coach, then GM—saw its share of acrimony. 

West feuded with then-owner Jack Kent Cooke toward the end of his playing career, admitting years later that had there been free agency, he would’ve hightailed it out of Hollywood. 

    In 1976-77, Lakers were 53-29. Won 7-game series v Warriors, Got swept in Western Conference Finals by eventual champion Blazers. Owned Portland in regular season. Didn't have Kermit Washington (dumped after punch decimated Rudy Tomjanovich's face) or injured Lucius Allen.

As GM, he had Bryant and O’Neal both want out, the latter eventually getting his wish (though after West left for the Grizzlies). 

During an historic 18-year run in the Lakers front office, both as general manager (1982-1994) and executive VP of basketball operations (1995-2000), West’s teams captured four NBA Championships (1985, 1987, 1988, 2000) and made eight trips overall to The Finals. Additionally, following his departure after the Lakers’ 2000 NBA title, the team that he'd built completed its three-peat by capturing two additional titles in 2001 and 2002. 

Overall, West was affiliated in one capacity or another with the Lakers for seven of their Championships in Los Angeles (four as an executive, two as a special consultant and one as a player). 

After leaving the Lakers in 2000, West joined the Memphis Grizzlies as the team’s president of basketball operations in 2002. Two years later, in 2003-04, the Grizzlies engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in league history, winning 50 games and making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Following that season, West was rewarded with the NBA’s Executive of the Year award for the second time in his career. Overall during his five-year stint in Memphis, the Grizzlies made three Western Conference playoff appearances, but did not a single game. 

A Force in the Playoffs: Jerry West's points in the 1965 playoff series v Bullets, Western Conference Finals: 
Game 1 - 49 

Game 2 - 52 

Game 3 – 44 

Game 4 – 48 

Game 5 – 43 

Game 6 – 42 

A trip down memory lane with an adoring son: 

Lakers legend gets own statue and tribute from son 

By Peter Vecsey 

February 18, 2011  

LOS ANGELES — One of the things I loved most about my father was him being unafraid to show me his faults once we became co-workers. 

For the first 16 years as a newspaperman, a N.Y. Daily News door my father opened when I was a junior in high school, we often would spend five days a week together on the job, in the car, eating out and playing cards. He had the amazing capacity to help every bookmaker in the building to run a profitable business. 

Because of those shared experiences, I like to think our connection was deepest of the five children. 

Ryan West, a Lakers’ scout, is the sole son of five — David, Mike, Mark and Jonnie — to have worked with his famous father. Because of all the time he spent with his dad traveling around the country scrutinizing college players, gushing basketball and being privy to private pain, he, too, likes to think his relationship is deeper than his brothers. 

Who better to offer close-quartered perspective on Jerry West as we celebrated yesterday’s unfathomably overdue tribute to the former Lakers’ player, coach and executive. His statue was unveiled outside Staples Center flanking Magic Johnson, Chick Hearn, Oscar De La Hoya and Wayne Gretzky . . . and flaunting the preposterous omissions of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor. 

Over the years, I have written many League Logo anecdotes — remarkable, hysterical and outrageous things I have seen or heard about him since the late 1950s when he and Oscar Robertson ruled college basketball. 

And then there are the emotional, heart-wrenching stories he has confided to me about teammates and his life growing up in West Virginia, the son of an angry, drunken, child-beating coal miner. 

Jerry’s soon-to-be-released autobiography — “West by West; My Charmed, Tormented Life,” written with Jonathan Coleman — will plunge into that darkness and much more. 

In the meantime, in an e-mail, I asked Ryan if he would be comfortable giving us an unfiltered look at his father. 

“Wow that’s a tough one, he’s so crazy,” he responded initially before sending me several follow-ups that evening and the following morning. 

“Well, he’s brutally honest, which at times can be tough and hard to hear,” he wrote. “But at the end of the day I appreciate the fact that he was straight forward with me. 

“I remember one time we were in New York on a scouting trip for the Big East Tournament and he asked me to meet him in the lobby at 11 a.m. I got out of the elevator at 10:58 and he was upset because I was late. He’s always on time, a complete perfectionist. 

“I remember the summer when he was trying to sign Shaq,” he wrote. “I was glued to his side throughout the whole process. If I was in my room and the phone rang I ran into his room and listened to every conversation. I saw him go through so many highs and lows that summer and when it finally looked like it was going to get done I’ve never seen him so excited. 

“And after they signed him I saw him drop down into deep depression because Orlando had accused him of tampering. I think of anything negative that ever affected him during his time as an executive that was probably the most hurtful thing because he is moral and honest and always followed the rules, and he was so hurt that someone questioned his character like that. 

“The funny thing with him is, he seems to function the best during chaos,” Ryan wrote. “When everything is cool and calm that’s when he goes crazy. 

“I think maybe the saddest thing for me to see was after the Lakers finally won the championship in 2000 after completely rebuilding the team when Magic retired. He couldn’t enjoy it. The stress and pressures of winning got to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore. 

“I will never forget when we won that year he did not come to Game 6 at Staples. My mom [Karen] and little brother [Jonnie, now playing for West Virginia] and I were at the game. We celebrated in the locker room after the game and the whole time I was saying to myself my dad should be here enjoying this, he put this all together. 

“After we arrived home hours after the game [we were trapped inside Staples because they were rioting outside], I ran upstairs into his room to give him a championship shirt and hat and he was in a horrible mood. He said nothing about the game or the riots. He looked at me and said I need you to run an errand in the morning and got back into bed. I wanted to hug him and share it with him, but he wanted no part of it. It was then that I knew that he needed to retire because he couldn’t enjoy winning anymore. All I’ve ever wanted is to see him happy and enjoy his life, and it’s hard because he’s so all over the place.” 

Ryan, 31, is too young to have seen his father run full speed up court, stop short, ascend to a high-priestess plateau and flick in a flawlessly formed jumper from wherever. Didn’t see him coach, either; Karen was pregnant with him when he was finishing up a mostly unpleasant 3-year commitment. 

“I was born June 9, 1979,” he wrote. “The first time the Lakers ever beat the Celtics for the championship was on my birthday, June 9th, 1985. My mother was having a birthday party at our house during the game. My Dad was in the house watching the game and the cable went out I believe some time during the second quarter. Obviously, he was a nervous wreck. He had to listen to the rest of the game on the radio. 

“That was the only championship ring he would wear, because it represented the Lakers’ victory over the Celtics — we were not allowed to wear green in our house growing up. He is still haunted to this day by all those losses to Boston — on my birthday. 

“We were at the Chicago pre-draft camp when we were both working for the Grizzlies. Most of the time when we did dinner it was my dad and I, and all the Laker guys — Mitch Kupchak, Bill Bertka, Ronnie Lester, Gene Tormohlen. 

“So, we were at dinner and out of nowhere he gave this speech in front of everyone which was extremely embarrassing because I don’t like being the center of attention. He took his 1985 championship ring off and gave it to me. I was so touched it almost brought me to tears. After that day I have never seen him wear another ring.” 

West factoids: 

Jerry was the first ever draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers #2 overall, behind Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati's territorial choice. 

Exec of year with Lakers in 94-95 and Grizzlies in 2003-2004. 

Drafted James Worthy with his first pick as a GM in 1982. 

Selected Nick Van Exel in 2nd round,  37th overall in 1993. 

Drafted the often overlooked underrated star of his era Eddie Jones 10th overall in 1994. 

Drafted Kyle Lowry in 2006 with 24th pick, who was traded Feb. 19, 2009 as part of a 3-team transaction. Grizzlies dealt Lowry to Houston. The Rockts traded Rafter Alston to Orlando. The Magic trade Brian Cook to Houston. And Orlando traded Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks and a 2009 first (DeMarre Carroll) to Memphis. 

Hired as executive board member and consultant by Warriors in 2011. Part of 2015 and 2017 title teams. Joined Clippers as Consultant June 2017. 

62 years old when he left Lakers in 2000.  

69 when he left Memphis after 5 years in 2007 

72 when he was hired by Warriors in 2011 

77 when he was hired by Clippers in 2017 

Turns 83 on the 28th of May

And the Oscar goes to...

By Peter Vecsey

November 25, 2007 | 10:00am

THE last time I spoke to Wilt Chamberlain, 13 months before he died on Oct. 12, 1999, out of nowhere he appealed: “Don’t ever let people forget how good we were.”

Oscar Robertson was one of those unforgettable, too-good-to-be-true players. While his much-saluted triple-double preeminence makes it impossible for contemporary (i.e. largely oblivious regarding NBA history) fans to overlook, the majority, having only witnessed his meticulous wide-ranging efficiency in grainy film snippets, can’t comprehend such greatness.

What’s more, their captivation with Michael Jordan forbids them from facing the unfathomable reality: There once was a 6-foot-5 guard – the league’s first big playmaker – who was as shrewdly competent and uncompromisingly competitive.

In the minds of many, Jordan’s six championship rings to Oscar’s one abruptly ends all comparisons. The disparity certainly seems to separate the two of a kind. Except for Scottie Pippen, Michael’s crowned Jordanaires were transposable. Oscar didn’t cash in until late in his career when he joined forces with Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Conversely, His Airness didn’t have to combat Bill Russell’s Celtics, or Wilt’s 76ers, or Bob Pettit’s Hawks. Meaning the more facts and figures factored into the equation, the more indivisible Jordan and Robertson become.

For example, if you combine Oscar’s first five NBA seasons, he averaged a triple-double. The Elias Sports Bureau has done the math – 30.3 points, 10.4 boards and 10.6 assists. He’s actually one-tenth of a rebound shy of averaging a triple-double for six seasons.

Additionally, “whomever he defended felt like he was bench pressing a California mortgage,” duly notes former Bucks play-by-play connoisseur Eddie Doucette.

This is why numerous antique dealers of league lore – Wayne Embry and Al Attles, to name two – unequivocally identify The Big O as the game’s all-time No. 1 passer and perfectionist as well as its supreme being.

As dumb luck would have it, I caught the full fragrance of Oscar’s majesty at his first recital at the old Madison Square Garden, 50th Street and Eighth Avenue. It was the 1957-58 season and he was a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, in town to play Seton Hall. I was a high-school sophomore and had been given a ticket to see four college teams that meant nothing to me; the attraction was the stimulation of being at the Garden and the next day bragging to friends about being there.

Man, was that ever the place to be that night. Gushing points like an open hydrant, this guy I’d never heard of before saturated the stat sheet for 56 points. I had no idea a player could be so flawless in so many facets.

“Oscar was an illusionist in sneakers, so smooth and clever on the floor that it was difficult for the average fan to appreciate how accomplished he was,” recalls Doucette, who, just out of college, first saw Robertson with the Cincinnati Royals and later had the opportunity to call the final three seasons of his career in Milwaukee.

“I watched his every move from warm-ups to game’s end and never ceased to be amazed at how anyone 6-5 and 225 pounds could slip, unimpeded, through cracks meant only for shafts of light,” Doucette marvels still.

“There was no flash, no sizzle, no soaring dunks that would elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs.’ Oscar was an economy of effort. You’d never see him work on shots in warm-ups that he wouldn’t use in games. Everything was 18 feet and in. He made his way to the hoop like a safecracker hopscotching a laser grid attempting to get to the vault.”

Attles’ first look at Oscar is indelibly etched in his memory bank. Both were 1960 draftees. Early in their rookie season there was a doubleheader in Syracuse – Celtics vs. Royals and Warriors vs. Nationals. Attles and Philly backcourt partner Guy Rodgers grabbed adjoining seats and focused on the already highly acclaimed Big O.

Almost immediately Oscar did something Attles had never witnessed before. As he came down court on a semi-break, K.C. Jones tried to intercept him, while a trailing Sam Jones tried to head him off at the pass from the opposite side.

Revved up by the recollection, Attles says: “Oscar dribbled by both of ’em. That got K.C. into a heated rush. Oscar quickly stepped in between them and quickly stepped out. Bam! K.C. and Sam banged heads. I’d never seen anything like it.

“I’m not telling you something I heard. I’m telling you something I saw.”

Turning to Rodgers, Attles groaned, “We’re going to have a big problem with this guy.”

Attles’ nickname is The Destroyer. Nobody, no matter how big and bad, wanted a piece of the Newark native. Manhandling opponents (teammates, too, when provoked) was the ticket he punched nightly to ride season upon season.

“But I never rattled Oscar. He never blinked at full-court, hands-on pressure,” Attles says in awe. “And I never blocked his shot. He was never concerned about his defender. He always looked straight ahead at his teammates.”

Robertson’s aplomb for getting teammates involved in the first three quarters played into Attles’ defensive game plan. He knew Oscar would look to score only four to six points in the first quarter, the same in the second and maybe eight to 10 in the third. If the verdict was in doubt in the fourth quarter, he’d go off for 12 to 18.

“If I was lucky, I’d be in foul trouble long before then,” Attles says. There was one time, though, when Attles and Rodgers trapped Oscar near midcourt and stole the ball to preserve a win.

“Listen to me,” Attles says, laughing. “Here I am talking about one incident. Once in my whole career I got the best of Oscar.”

If his grandkids know better, they won’t admit to getting tired hearing that story.

Embry vividly remembers Oscar’s outburst of 56 vs. Seton Hall. It was thoroughly expected. At the time Embry was playing for the Royals. For over a year he’d gained first-hand knowledge of Oscar’s oppression.

“If you were any kind of a player, UC was the place to scrimmage in the offseason or on off days. Typically, winners would stay on the court,” Embry says. “It didn’t take long to realize we needed to get our wins early before Oscar showed up.”

The leading scorer for the Royals when Robertson arrived on the UC campus was Jack Twyman. Shortly afterward, the future Hall of Famer challenged the unflappable freshman to a little one-on-one.

“Jack’ll kill me for giving you this,” Embry cackles, “but he hasn’t won a game yet. Oscar waxed us all.”

Embry and Robertson later became Royals teammates and roomed together. That is when Wayne really found out how driven Oscar was to excel and why he had total command of the game’s rudiments.

Oscar would carry a ball with him wherever he went. In fact, nobody but him was allowed to shoot his ball in pre-game warm-ups or practice, ever, honest.

Embry’s revelations about Oscar are endless. Each afternoon on the road he’d lie on the hotel bed shooting his ball into the air for a couple of hours, a perfect rotation and follow-through every time.

Flushing out every last impurity from his system was a prime objective. So was staying ahead of arch-rival Jerry West. When Oscar wasn’t contending on the court, he was contending off it.

Late one season Embry awoke from his afternoon nap to see Oscar studying the sports pages of the New York Post – in those days the only paper to carry a spread sheet of NBA stats.

“I know what they all think,” Oscar said to Embry. “They all think West is going lead the league in scoring. But I’ve figured out I need to get 48 points against the Knicks to pass him. You had better set me some massive picks tonight, big fella.”

In 1970, Embry became Bucks GM, the league’s first African American to have that position. His initial trade, instigated by owner Wes Pavalon, was for Oscar, who still dominated his position and controlled court proceedings more than the coach. He told Larry Costello what would work and what would be good for the team.

Costello liked Oscar but was uncomfortable with that arrangement.

“I told Coz to let it go,” Embry says. “I told him to let Oscar do what he does best and coach all the other players. I told him to be thankful he can walk into the locker room and see No. 1 in one corner and No. 33 in the other. It should make you feel good you’ve now got a chance to win it all.”


Part 2:

November 30, 2007 | 10:00am

SO FAR, I’ve received 172 e-mails regarding Sunday’s Oscar Robertson column, the biggest reader reaction of 2007 exempting last June’s Bill Russell perspective. January’s name-dropping piece of players and coaches responsible for pushing me into this profession elicited roughly the same response from many people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

Clearly, we old folks have incurred little trouble making an Internet transition. My computer definitely helped to coordinate strewn thoughts, prolonging my attention span and enhancing my staying power on one subject.

What’s just as clear is that there are a lot of excitable basketball fans out there, not just the elder generation, mind you, with a craving for the history of the game.

This is precisely why NBA TV initiated a half-hour weekly series, “The Vault” which spotlights – with footage, interviews and studio viewpoints by yours truly, Gail Goodrich and Fred Carter – former players and title teams who may or may not get sufficient credit for their accomplishments.

Robertson and Elgin Baylor were first. The ’79 Sonics were next. This Sunday (6:30 p.m.) the focus is on Mark Price, Andrew Toney and Paul Westphal.

How’s that for a shameless plug? Lucky for you, had I not established a policy early-on in life never to read or a write a book, I’d probably be promoting a novel I just knocked off in this very sentence, or at least take out an advertisement for it on the same page.

But back to the Big O; I can’t put him away without sharing some interesting info that was sent my way off that column.

Thanks to John F. McMullen and Dick Vitale, my consciousness was reawakened to the fact Robertson had outscored Seton Hall, 56-54, the first time I saw him play as a University of Cincinnati sophomore. Numerous other readers swear they attended the doubleheader at the old Garden that momentous evening, too, and I believe ’em all, because each story offered vivid details.

Guess who else was present Jan. 9, 1958? None other than Long Beach High School’s Larry Brown, accompanied by his older brother.

“Cincinnati was recruiting Larry,” e-mailed Herb Brown, currently a Hawks assistant. “Following the game we went to the dressing room. Later we walked to the hotel with the coaching staff and Oscar, who was cradling a basketball. Connie Dierking, from Valley Stream, was the starting center on that team.

“The next day Jimmy Cannon wrote a ‘Nobody Asked Me But’ column about the game. He noted that only about 8,000 people were at the game, but in light of Oscar’s 56 points, every basketball fan in New York City will claim they were at the game.”

Oscar constantly carrying around “his ball,” and allowing nobody to shoot with it, is an enduring image rendered by those who knew him best.

On the first day of training camp of the 1965-66 season, a 12th-round draft choice (No. 88) out of Benedict College, S.C., rebounded Oscar’s ball and shot it.

“Hey, get your own ball, don’t shoot mine,” Oscar scolded Bob McCullough, fresh from scoring 36.5 his senior year, second in the country to Rick Barry.

“Whatcha mean, your ball? Your name Spaulding?”

Robertson and McCullough commenced to exchange harsh words. Wide Wayne Embry was forced to intercede on his teammates’ behalf. He explained to the rising rookie the Royals’ facts of life, but McCullough didn’t want to hear it. This was not the law of his land on the asphalt jungle of New York City, where loose balls and women were up for grabs. He was waived the very next day.

McCullough went back to Harlem and eventually succeeded the deceased Holcolmbe Rucker as tournament commissioner and started Each One, Teach One, a free-of-charge instructive clinic for children.

Each summer in the late ’60s, early ’70s, Embry, who’d become an NBA GM, visited the playground on 155th Street and Eighth Avenue to scout street and ABA talent.

“I’d always make a point of needling Bob,” Embry said, laughing. “I’d tell him, ‘Imagine the pro career you could’ve had if you’d only thrown Oscar his damn ball.’ ”

In August 1987, I had the pleasure of experiencing Oscar’s purist spirit directly. I had been invited to suit up for the annual Maurice Stokes benefit, old-timers only (a first for a writer), at Kutscher’s CC.

Oscar and Pete Maravich, 40 and frisky, was the starting backcourt of our squad. Cazzie Russell, Bob Cousy, Bob Davies and Kevin Loughery were on the other side. Midway into the first period coach Dolph Schayes sent me in for Oscar. You should’ve seen his face contort at the blasphemous substitution.

“No (bleeping) way am I going to be replaced by a sportswriter,” Oscar steamed as he stormed back on the court. “No (bleeping) way that’s gonna happen.”

I understood perfectly.

However, had Satch Sanders not gone out on the floor and cajoled Oscar to the sidelines, I would’ve been deprived of the biggest thrill of my sporting life . . . besting the surreal split second in the Rucker (Harlem Professional) Tournament when I delivered a no-look pass on the run to Julius Erving for a bombastic aghast.

Late in the second half at Kutscher’s I found myself on another fantasy fastbreak, a sportswriter and Pistol Pete skipping the night fantastic, with only one man to beat.

Maravich delivered a pass only his kind of showmanship could provide, and he hit me square in the hands in textbook stride with an around-the-back pass; I thank God to this day I was able to convert it into a lefty layup.

“Don’t ever say I didn’t give you anything,” Pistol said.

Five months later, Jan. 5, 1988, while playing pickup ball in Pasadena, Calif., Maravich died of heart failure.

Slick Stories - In Memory of Slick Leonard

By Peter Vecsey

Damon Runyon was a Slick Leonard character.

     I should probably stop right there. Daring to amplify and illuminate that declaration when Slick is not here to deny or confirm the stories I’m about to blab, could get me in trouble with his immediate family spread densely throughout the state of Indiana. 

     At the same time, anyone who knows anything about Slick knows everything you’re about to read is unassailable. Still, many may feel it’s too soon following his passing last Tuesday at 88 to exhume the 98-proof quintessence of the man. 

     On the other hand, I can opinion with complete certainty Slick would not only unequivocally approve of toothsome stories about his life being re-told in some cases, divulged in others, he’d encourage the courage to do so.

     How can I be so sure? Robin Miller supplied proof positive when we spoke Sunday. At 19, with no journalistic background, he began covering the Pacers for the Indianapolis Star after a year of answering phones in the sports department. 

     Been there, done that, and so has everyone in the Vecsey family.

     During that year of manning phones, Miller, not knowing his place, would call Slick at home (“841, 1520”) and question him about the last game, or the upcoming one. “I’m 18, what I know what I’m supposed to do or not supposed to do. Even though it was an off day, and I asked him countless dumb questions, he always talk to me for ten minutes or so.” 

     That formative relationship rapidly developed into the real deal when Miller began hanging around the Pacers on a regular basis. The hallowed Hoosier welcomed ‘Jimmy Olsen’ into his company, and the cub reporter was given free rein to enter the locker room at halftime. He even sat in on two team meetings. 

    “Slick taught me how to read a racing form, took me to my first strip club, and I learned how to use the word fuck as a noun, a verb and an adjective.” 

     A few years ago, Miller authored ‘We Changed the Game’ (with Bob Netolicky and Pacers’ founding father Dick Tinkham) about the team’s nine-year existence of mischief and misconduct. He stayed in constant touch with Leonard. 

    About a week before Slick died, Miller, undergoing cancer treatment in a clinic, called him in the hospital where Leonard’s long-damaged heart was functioning at 40 percent capacity. 

    “Hey, Robby, need any money? You gotta take care of your grandkids. How come I didn’t have this kind of (pension) money when I could’ve spent it on something worthwhile? Doesn’t do me any good now. 

      “I got an idea, Robby; when you’re finished with your treatment, why don’t you pick me up and we’ll go to the races in Anderson. You can drop me home at night.”

     When Roger Brown died, his eulogy was held at Market Square Arena. George McGinnis was first to speak but stopped abruptly when he began to cry. Mel Daniels got up and cried even more. It was Miller’s turn. 

     As he was about to get up, Slick mockingly asked, “You’re not gonna start crying, too, are you? We’re here to celebrate his life. Let’s put some life into this.” 

      At last, the evidence I initially promised. 

      Given Slick’s unrestricted permission, Miller told a story that’s supposed to stay in the locker room. About the time a beautiful woman emerged from the stands before a game and approached Brown, who was on the layup line, so to speak. 

     “If you take the first shot of the game, I’ll know we’re going to get together later tonight,” she said suggestively.

      Off the opening tap, Miller recounted, Brown “hoisted a 40-footer…an air ball.” 

     Last week, as Miller was getting ready to hang up, Slick said, “I love you, Robby."

     “I love you, too.” 


Front row left to right: Darnell Hillman, Derrick McKey, George McGinnis
Back row left to right: Bob Netolicky, Ted Green, Robin Miller, Davey Craig

In Ted Green’s six-year-old must-devour documentary (‘Heart of a Hoosier’) about Slick Leonard, Hall of Fame coach Branch McCracken insisted his Indiana University players do not smoke, drink or gamble. 

     “Those were Bob’s three favorite occupations,” wryly noted Green, the narrator. 

     One night, a game of quarter and a half stud poker was underway at a den of iniquity when a police raid took place. Everyone made a mad dash for the exit except Slick. “I stuffed the quarters and half dollars in my pocket.” 

      The next morning’s paper listed the rounded up participants. Leonard’s name was not among them. His sigh of relief wasn’t exhaled before McCracken arrived at his room. He ordered Slick to be in his office at 3 o’clock. 

     “He tore me apart. He really reamed me,” Slick recalled in the doc. He said, ‘If I ever have to call you in here again, only one of us will walk out.’ 

     “And you know which one that’ll be,” Slick retorted “as I took off. I know he was laughing after I left. From then on, I was the team leader.” 

     In 1953, Slick converted the free throw that ultimately decided a 69-68 win over Kansas (think Dean Smith) for the NCAA title. At the 27-second mark, he’d been fouled driving to the halo. He claimed to be a decent free throw shooter, but gagged the first try. 

     “The pressure was on for the first one. I thought the pressure was really on now.” 

      Nothin’ but macreame!

     A misfired corner shot with two seconds remaining elevated the two-time All American to pinup status. Interviewed at midcourt, McCracken said Slick had “ice water in his veins.” Slick chuckled. “It felt more like warm water running down my leg.”


     Bob Netolicky played on two of the three Pacer championships coached by Slick. Like many of the players, he tested Leonard, physically and verbally. 

     The most aberrant skirmish between the pair occurred in Duluth, Minnesota soon after Slick replaced Larry Staverman 13 games into the ’68-69 season. Wielding a hockey stick found in the locker room, Slick chased Neto, accused of cruising in the first half. 

     “I escaped by locking myself in the bathroom. He broke the hockey stick against the door.” 

     Another season, Slick, decked out in his customary leisure suit (only its color changed day to day), wrestled with Neto in the mud and the scrubs outside a hotel in West Hempstead as the team checked out. 

     Decades before Latrell Sprewell twice choked P.J. Carlisemo at Warriors’ practice, Slick engaged in a shoving match with an especially reluctant George McGinnis outside a bar. McGinnis pushed Slick so hard to the ground, his comb over flipped sides, says an eyewitness. No problem. Slick got himself upright and returned to the bar with McGinnis and resumed drinking. 

     Incensed by something Slick said at practice, Mel Daniels pinned him against the wall by the throat until he lost consciousness. 

     Yet, to Mel’s dying day, he pledged unending allegiance to Slick. If ever needed, he vowed to do anything, or be anywhere, for him. 

         Same for McGinnis, who says Slick was like a father to him. George’s dad had died in a construction accident. Slick shouldered the role and expressed his love for him. 

    Meanwhile, Neto was so happy the Pacers reacquired him he eagerly accepted backing up McGinnis, being steadily berated by Slick and trying unsuccessfully to drink him off the barstool for money, a bet Daniels failed to cash either.  

     “Foster Brooks got all his routines from Slick,” Neto maintains. “If we were on a losing streak, he was likely to stop in a bar before a game and have a few pops or more. 

     Billy Keller remembers what happened when the Pacers lost a few straight. “He’d have sunglasses on, and hang out far away from us at the end of the airport terminal. Then he’d come late to the bus, and wouldn’t talk to us. He let us know he wasn’t happy.”

      Slick’s competitive spirit would be fable fodder except there was nothing imaginary or exaggerated about it. Keller recalls an exhibition in Slick’s birthplace, Terre Haute, against an NBA team. 

      “He was real angry at us and didn’t mince words. Then he kicked the chalkboard so hard it tipped over and reversed itself. It hit him in the head. He was about ready to fall. After helping him, we got the hell out of the locker room cause he started throwing balls.”

     Netolicky vividly recollects the Pacers losing three or four straight and the upshot. Slick felt the players were panicking. He had them dress early for a home game, and they just sat in the locker room while he read them the riot act individually and collectively.  

    “We’re a family, and we’re getting away from what life is all about,” Slick seethed. “Starting tonight, we’re going to have a team prayer. We’re going to pray for each other. Understand?! Now, bow your mother fuckin’ heads.’” 

     It’s not like Neto is revealing secrets. Slick drank (and smoked) a lot almost to the end of his life. Then again, he probably stopped only when Nancy was on patrol. He also fought a lot throughout his playing and coaching careers. Furthermore, often drank with the person he’d just fought, friend or foe. 

     I’m unsure of the exact year, 1973, perhaps, but I’ll never forget the brawl in Indianapolis pitting the Pacers against Al Bianchi’s Squires. It raged so out of control, the police were forced to get intimately involved. They took their lumps. Which got Bianchi and several players arrested and escorted downtown to get booked. 

     Pacer executives futilely tried to intercede. David Craig, the Pacers’ long-time team trainer, told me “Slick went to the police station and tried to bail out his friend Bianchi. He no doubt wanted to have a drink with him.”  

     Craig was hired by Slick shortly after graduating college. They met at Sandy’s Pound Tavern, 38th& Collins, directly across from the Pacers offices.

      “Do you know who I am?” Slick asked. 

       Craig assured him he did.  

       “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m from Indiana University, and I’m thinking about hiring a kid from Purdue. Let’s have a drink. Not long after, he informed Craig he’d been hired. 

       “Be here tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.”

      “Will you be there?” 

       “No, that’s why I’m hiring you.”

       Craig wound up working 38 years for the Pacers, 35 as head athletic trainer, and three in the front office.

      “Slick was one of the most natural leaders I ever met. Players knew he cared. That’s why he could get the most out of them. He pushed them hard. And he loved them. 

      “He’d give you hell, and then buy you a beer,” Billy Keller said. 

     Craig said it best: “Slick had an ability to put an arm around a player’s shoulder, and one foot up his ass.” 


     One shoulder Slick declined to massage was Rick Mount. From the start of training camp, the Hoosiers’ remarkable guard seemingly had it in for the state’s and Purdue’s all-time seamless shooter. Even before, actually, at the off-season press conference to announce his signing. 

     Team president Mike Storen drafted Mount (3,800 season tickets were sold overnight) over the obstreperous objections of Slick, intent on keeping his championship rotation in tact.

     “I asked Storen why Slick didn’t attend,” Mount told me in an interview in September 2017. “I was told he didn’t want me here. Then I don’t want to be here.”

       Storen refused to trade Mount. Then went to Kentucky and “left me holding the bag.”

    Mount said he came to camp in great shape, but  pulled a hamstring. In 66 games, he averaged a mere 12.6 minutes. “I could’ve gone to Seattle. Lenny Wilkens saw me play in an all-star game in Memphis and said he wanted someone he could pass to. I wanted to stay home.” The Sonics instead drafted Downtown Freddie Brown.

     In Mount’s first rookie scrimmage, “I hit six threes. After each make, Slick would say, “We’re not at Purdue now, Mount.

    “What does that mean?” I asked. 

     “You’re gonna sit here and eat shit?”


      “You’re just gonna sit here and eat shit.”

       “I’m in trouble now, I said to myself.”

        Still, the following season, Mount averaged 14.3 points and 2.9 assists in 27.3 minutes, playing a vital role in the team’s title.

      Mount was traded to Storen’s Kentucky in year three (14.9 ppg).

     “People say, ‘let it go.’ Mount told me during our 2-hour lunch in 2017, an hour from Indianapolis where the ABA was conducting its 50threunion. He had not! Rick refused to attend, knowing Slick would be there. 


       David Benner worked eight years as a Pacers’ beat writer. The last 27 he has been the team’s publicity director. 

      “As a kid, my father would take me to a Pacers’ game every once and awhile, and I’d say to myself, ‘Man, I wouldn’t want to play for that guy.” 

     That guy being Slick, a ranting, raving tyrant. 

     “Once he was done with coaching, and joined the broadcast side, Slick became the sweetest human being ever. ‘Hey, Benny, how you doing?’ And he’d give me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. He was that way with everyone.”

     “Slick never met my mother or father,” Benner said. “But he took the time to come to both their funerals. Obviously, we were friends. Friends do that. Still, it says something about this guy, who is a legend in this state, and, obviously, without him, we don’t have the team we have today. It says everything you have to know about Slick. 

      “My family wasn’t the only one he cared enough about to come and pay his respects. When he passed, when we got the news, for me, and a lot of other people were in tears. Thinking about stuff. Thinking about his philosophies on life. How we continued our education being around him. The sincerity of it all.

      He was quite a character.

     McGinnis, Neto and Darnell Hillman, were invited by Nancy Leonard to speak at Wednesday’s small family ceremony.


     Afterthought: If we’re gonna write about Slick Leonard, we gotta talk to someone who actually saw him play. That would be Del Harris, born in Plainfield, IN, five years later than Slick in Terre Haute. 

    “I definitely saw him play in college, during Indiana’s championship year. He had a step back (I copied as a kid) that transitioned into a set shot. He had great footwork. He’d jab step with a bounce in, then create space by faking right foot, right hand, step backward and shoot two-hander. The defender had to give a little or else he’d go all the way. He also had kind of a jump shot, where he’d fold his legs, a ‘50s and ‘60s thing, not like the straight legged shooters of today.”

     Just thought I’d throw a little basketball in there since this is supposed to be a basketball column.


     Gail Goodrich turns 78 April 23. Today marks five years since the passing of Brooklyn's own Dwayne Alonzo "Pearl" Washington. Pearl would've been 57. 

Puttin' The Rock In The Hoop

Today's Hoop du Jour is presented by Peter Vecsey (brain drizzle), Frank Drucker (author) and Jason Javaherian (researcher).

Later this month (April 22, 1989) marks the 32nd anniversary of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s final regular-season game.

The Lord of the Rims went 5-6 from the Fabulous Forum floor for an efficient ten points.

Thus ended his ‘regular season’ stats, the point total a nearly-symmetrical 38,387.

That hasn’t been surpassed since. Though, it says here, one or more prolific pursuer might’ve purloined the perch had an influx of impairments not arisen.

Hell, even ‘Cap’ wasn’t immune.

Let’s go there first.

Coin-flipped from Westwood to Wisconsin, then-Lew Alcindor made his NBA regular-season debut October 18, 1969 at the age of 22…barely 48 hours after the Mets won the World Series.

He went for 29 (and 19 rebounds) in a coming-out party at the expense of the Pistons, a decent start to an ‘irrelevant’, two-decade (six Milwaukee, 14 LA) career.

A deacon of durability, the Centrifugal Force only went AWOL twice of note, missing 17 games (1974-75) largely from unsanctioned bout with a basket stanchion during preseason and 20 (‘77-‘78) after his fist organized a meet-and-greet with Kent Benson’s face in the season opener. 

 At the time, a Lakers’ source informed me Kareem Did Not break his right hand when he coldcocked Benson in retaliation for elbowing him in the solar plexus. I was told it happened in his Milwaukee hotel, the Pfister.

According to the source, Kareem busted up the room, including a television set and table. His injury was sustained during that outburst, which was covered up by team officials and hotel employees. 

Take those 37 games and multiply them by Abdul-Jabbar’s averages during the two seasons (30 and 25-ish, respectively) and we’re at about 1,010 points.

Add those to the aforementioned 38,387 and we’re at a hypothetical 39,487.

...and lest we forget Kareem did not have any season short-sheeted by a strike, lockout, rule changes, pandemic, dog ate his homework, etc.

Playing until 42 wasn’t bad, either.

Cap’s curse takes control from here on in.

Karl Malone (36,928) sits at No. 2 on the hit parade. The Mailman, another who rarely recoiled from his appointed rounds, as in at least 80 games in 17 of his 18 full (the operative word) seasons.

Speed-bumps...a 50-game lockout season (‘98-‘99, he played in 49) and his fairly-forgettable finale--42 ring-chasing games for ‘03-‘04 Lakers, ‘lowlighted’ by a MCL tear and subsequent misdiagnosis just as Malone was bearing down on Kareem

Give Malone his nearly 24 points per game for 32 games during the abbreviated assemblage and that’s an additional 768 (37,696)

I adamantly refuse to remember his Lakers loitering, so there.

Feel free to speculate the stats had common-law court mate John Stockton hung around for another year, perhaps enticing Malone to stay put.

Then again, we could argue that Malone’s penchant to use varying opponents as elbow macaroni should’ve sent him to deserved detention for far longer than one game at a time, seven total. 

Think about it, Malone was suspended a single game and fined 10G for fracturing the face (40 stitches, Dec. 14, 1991, shelving him for three games) of Isiah Thomas with an errant (no such thing) elbow. Today’s sentence would be ten or more games. 

LeBron resides at No. 3 (35,283) though has hit pause at the moment due to a right ankle sprain he probably would’ve shook off overnight a few years ago. His current age is 36 years, 103 days. 

James’ journey began with the chronological straight-outta-high-school advantage. He needs 3,105 points to abdicate Abdul-Jabbar, or about 1½ seasons’ work at a shade over 25 points per game.

...or longer.

...or not at all.

This already-truncated (72 games) season has seen LeBron miss 13 and counting. Reports have him out another three weeks or so. Only two seasons removed from taking his talents to Tinsel Town, and missing gaggles of games with a groin malfunction (I hate when that happens), duress and desire are about to intersect.

No disrespect, but Father Time and AARP have placed courtesy calls.

Still, LBJ may very well overtake Kareem even without full health, as long as it’s nothing crippling. But he must produce a high scoring standard in the next three seasons. The 3,105 can be had even if he averages a mere 41 games a season at 25 ppg. A fourth year, one in which he will turn 40, with the same number of games he has played (41) this year would put him at 39,383, roughly a thousand more than Kareem.

At the same time, nothing is guaranteed at 40, unless you’re Kareem.

Sitting at No. 4 (33,643) is the late, great Kobe Bean Bryant.

As with James, Bryant arrived having taking no college prep courses, leapfrogging from Lower Merion into the unwanting arms...

...of the Charlotte Hornets. Briefly. 

Stymied at the start of his career (seven starts his first two seasons), Kobe’s career began with a DNP against Phoenix. Next, at home versus Minnesota...six minutes, no points.

It wasn’t until the bright lights of New York City when Kobe was able to score. He converted a free throw at the World’s Most Famous Arena, every kid’s dream. 

There were four times in a six-season stretch (‘99-00 to ‘04-‘05) that he maxed out at 68 games played.

Of course, the Lakers were three-peating during that time, but that’s not the issue here.

Bryant’s bandwagon was derailed in mid-April of 2013, tearing an Achilles against Golden State.

Subsequently, he played in just 25 percent (41 of 164) of LA’s games the next two seasons.

If you want to buy the premise of a healthy Bryant playing 70 games in each of those seasons and averaging 27.3 point (his previous full-season number), that’s 3,822 points.

Then subtract his actual 865 points and you get 2,957. Add that to his above total and the ‘new’ figure is 36,600.

Kobe flaunts the greatest disparity in league history—59 points—between his free throw at the Garden and the 60 he manufactured in his go-away game, and it’s guaranteed to be his to forever have and hold. 

Other Non-bandage blockades...A pair of work stoppages (‘98-99, ‘11-12) caused the league to forego 48 (32 & 16) games. Of the 116 games during those seasons, Bryant appeared in 108.

Sitting at 32,292 points, some guy named Jordan resides at Number Five.

As the leader of the six-ring circus, his career has been thoroughly analyzed by those of us in desperate need of thorough analysis.

What if his minutes hadn’t been massaged upon returning (after missing 64 games) from a broken foot three games into his sophomore season?

What if he hadn’t bolted to the Birmingham Barons, thus missing 1¾ after the Bulls’ third title?

What if Chicago management hadn’t made 1997-98 so uncomfortable for Phil Jackson he was compelled to leave?

What if Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause had not dismembered The Jordanaires after that second three-peat?

What if His Airness hadn’t hibernated a second time, missing a trio of years before taking a Wiz for two?

Hitting .202 for the Barons in 1994 cost Michael 4,763 points We arrive here using his ‘92-93 season average (32.6) and the average games played (81) in his eight healthy seasons.

The lump sum would have given M. J. close to Kobe’s projection of just about 37,000.

That’s still 1,300 or so points shy of Kareem, but with Jordan, there’s always more to the missive.

Jordan’s second retirement came after he played back-to-back-to-back 82-game seasons, averaging 28.7 points in the Last Dance. 

Had he come back the following season(s)—Chicago clothing or not—an 82-game season at 28.7 would’ve meant 2,357 points, leaving him at the top spot with a thousand-point cushion. 

Wait, there’s an Air Jordan asterisk afloat. The ‘98 lockout would’ve reduced (for this purpose) him to 1,435 points (50 games). 

But to truly do Jordan right, let’s take away the 3,015 points he earned with the Wizards and proceed as if he hadn't stepped away a second time. 

Remember, he put up those numbers after three full seasons absent from action. If we give M. J. the 1,435 in the lockout-shortened year and give him the full year of 82 games (1999-2000), that’s another 2,357 points. 

Jordan then would have hit 37,832 at the end of ‘99-‘00, 555 points shy of the record. 

He then would have needed to play a third season (2000-2001), as opposed to the two closeouts in the District. 

If you’re scoring at home (get help), going off the 28.7 a game, a 37-year-old GOAT would have broken the streak in the twentieth game of the 2000-2001 NBA season. You can look up who “they” played. 

Had Jordan played every game that season (as he did as a 40-year-old his actual last), he would have padded the record by 1,779 points and become the first ever to 40,000. 40,166 to be not-quite-exact.

Speed bumps...Did you not just read this?

Whew, my abacus and I are tired.

As a bonus, current contenders/pretenders...

Kevin Durant (23,530). He’s 32, going through an injury-plagued 13th season after missing all of the last one.

He’d need seven 2,000-point seasons to come close to Kareem. To give you an idea of what that takes, two seasons ago, a healthy Durant played in 78 Golden State games (age 30), averaging 27 points. His point total was 2,027. 

Durant thus would have to play supreme ball over complete seasons, averaging 2,000 a year post-Achilles. A freshly-turned 39-year-old Durant needs to play into that 20th season, score 2,000 (77 games 27 ppg), to sit at 37,530. 

That’s still 800 shy of the Sky Hook.

James Harden (22,022). At 31, he’s 11 months younger than Durant, 1,500 fewer points in one less season. 

In 12 years, Harden has put up beaucoup numbers, making a run at another 2,000-point season now, though may come up short with ten fewer games on the schedule. 

This would be his seventh in a row. He dropped 2,818 points in 2018-2019, winning the MVP the prior season with 627 fewer points. If Harden averaged 2,200 a year the next five (11,000), he’d enter the season turning 38 at 33,000 or so points, needing an additional 5,500 to pass Kareem. 

His current streak of 2,000-plus points certainly gives him a boost, but he will most probably, like many before him, need a miracle in the stretch run.

Did you know?

Most of us view the greatest assist and steals man the league has ever seen to be just that, but John Stockton ranks 52nd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 19,711 points. 

In 53rd place, with 19,655, Bernard King.


- Debut Episode Tips Off April 13 and Will Feature NBA Legend and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee Julius “Dr. J” Erving -  

Chicago, ILL. April 8, 2021 - The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) announced today that veteran NBA columnist, renowned basketball insider and Legends Media & Entertainment’s own Peter Vecsey and his Hoop du Jour content will be expanding to podcast format on April 13. The Hoop du Jour podcast will join the Hoop du Jour weekly blog as featured content for Legends Media & Entertainment (LME) - the NBRPA’s multifaceted story-telling platform producing, distributing and quantifying the wide-reaching stories of many of the NBA and WNBA’s biggest stars that was launched in September 2020 and has seen record growth since launch. 

Beginning April 13, and featuring special guest Julius “Dr. J” Erving, the Hoop du Jour podcast will stream new episodes bi-monthly and highlight Vecsey’s opinions, insights and quips about the game’s illustrious past and provide exclusive in-depth conversations with some of the most legendary names in basketball history. Frank Drucker, Vecsey’s inimitable ‘column castigator,’ has also been summoned to add his share of caustic wit and wisdom.  

Fans can follow the Hoop du Jour podcast, the Hoop du Jour blog as well as all LME content on social media at @NBAalumni on TwitterInstagramYouTubeTwitchFacebook at NBA Alumni or at our Legends of Basketball website. The Hoop du Jour podcast will also be available wherever fans get their podcasts by searching “Legends Studios.”    

“Since joining Legends Media & Entertainment, Peter and Hoop du Jour have reinforced why they are must-have content for all basketball fans,” said Scott Rochelle, President and CEO, NBRPA. “Peter’s unique storytelling style, hilarious anecdotes and insights are a perfect fit for our podcast series and we are eagerly looking forward to hearing NBA and ABA Legends tell their favorite stories as only they can.” 

“I’m thrilled to be able to expand on my weekly blog to help amplify the stories and recollections from some of the most dynamic and interesting athletes ever,” said Peter Vecsey, LME columnist. “I’m looking forward to having some good-natured back-and-forth with them and hearing them tell their stories and show a younger generation what is was like to be a hooper back then.” 

Vecsey, a long-time columnist for the New York Post and analyst for TNT/TBS, NBC and NBATV, is a native New Yorker and has been enshrined in four Halls of Fame, including Naismith Basketball (Class of 2009), NYC Basketball, Rucker League and Archbishop Molloy. 

About the National Basketball Retired Players Association:
The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) is comprised of former professional basketball players from the NBA, ABA, WNBA and Harlem Globetrotters. It is a 501(c) 3 organization with a mission to develop, implement and advocate a wide array of programs to benefit its members, supporters and the community. The NBRPA was founded in 1992 by basketball legends Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, Archie Clark, Dave Cowens and Oscar Robertson. The NBRPA works in direct partnerships with the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. Legends Care is the charitable initiative of the NBRPA that positively impacts youth and communities through basketball. Scott Rochelle is President and CEO, and the NBRPA Board of Directors includes Chairman of the Board Johnny Davis, Vice Chairman Dave Cowens, Treasurer Sam Perkins, Secretary Grant Hill, Thurl Bailey, Caron Butler, Jerome Williams, Shawn Marion, David Naves and Sheryl Swoopes. Learn more at legendsofbasketball.com. 

To follow along with the NBRPA, find them on social media at @NBAalumni on TwitterInstagramYouTube and Twitch or on Facebook at NBA Alumni.  



Julio Manteiga, NBRPA, jmanteiga@legendsofbasketball.com, (516) 749-9894

Cooz & Erskine – Tales of Old NY, New England and the Deep South

By Peter Vecsey

   I’ve always liked older people. 

   Old people, actually. 

   Always liked being around them as a kid. Cutting their lawns, shoveling their steps and driveways, walking their dogs, listening to stories about their lives when they were young.

   I’ve always gravitated toward old people. I don’t mean people perceived as being old, like we did as youngsters when we thought men and women in their 30s were ancient. I’m talking about people who needed a ride home after a game or from Queens/Long Island to the city for weekly chemotherapy sessions.

   To this day, I savor nights of hanging out with old timers at the Friar’s Club, Toots Shor’s, the Copacabana, Wally’s. Remember every tale they told; being at Yankee Stadium when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit back-to-back homers--an inside-the-park job by Gehrig; seeing Pete Reiser crash into the Ebbets Field outfield wall in pursuit of a line drive; witnessing the warfare between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in the first game of a doubleheader at the old Garden; recalling how an infinitely respectful young coach, Bob Knight, after dining with Clair Bee, Nat Holman and Joe Lapchick would give a lift home to whomever needed it.

   Now that I’m authentically old testament, I appreciate the company of citizens my senior that much more, well, their phone voices, anyway. 

   Lately, though, my old-folks fascination has advanced to a peculiar phase. For the last several weeks, I’ve interviewed nothing but nonagenarians, all astonishingly cogent! Not a cane for the brain among them!

   You know about Harold Gifford, age 97, the pilot who saved the Lakers’ team from instant extinction—or even a single injury for that matter—in 1960 when he landed a damaged DC-3 at night in a Carroll, Iowa, cornfield during a snowstorm after five hours and 40 minutes in the air without a radio, heat or lights from the git-go, only a prayer.

   ‘Giff’ and I have communicated a lot recently. I even received a delightful Lacquie Lawson Easter ecard from him. As soon as it’s safe to visit him following my second vaccine shot, the plan is to fly or drive to Minneapolis.

   “If you drive, you can stay with me,” he said. “If you fly, I’ll pick you up at the airport, and you can use my Lexus while you’re here.”

   I’m gonna take a wild stab that the car ain’t old.


   Another nonagenarian I’m in touch with on a recurring basis is Carl Erskine,  94, the last living member of Roger Kahn’s ‘The Boys of Summer’.

   In the conceivable future, you’ll be reading many memories in this space from the right-handed pitcher, who lives in his hometown of Anderson, Indiana with his high school sweetheart, Betty Palmer. His son, Jimmy, whom doctors early on decided wouldn’t last till 30 due to Down Syndrome, turned 61 last week...

   ...unless I decide to hoard them for a chapter in The Book I’ll Never Finish. 

   OK, OK, I’ll share one. 

   During Erskine’s 12-season career with the Dodgers (122-78, including a pair of no-hitters) the batter he faced most was Stan Musial. 

    “I had a good won-lost record against the Cardinals, but Musial was the most difficult hitter I ever faced. He was a pure hitter, hit to all fields. 

   “Of the 164 at bats, in over 300 innings, I struck him out four times.”

   Erskine said Musial loved telling people, “Carl had a great curveball. Neither he nor I could figure out how I hit him so well.” 

   After they’d retired, Erskine and Musial got acquainted in an unusual way. Both were invited to a private party. Al Hirt, purportedly the world’s meanest trumpet player, was the orchestra leader.  

   When dining at Musial’s St. Louis restaurant, Stan the Man told Erskine he was going on stage to play the harmonica. 

   When Hirt ate there, he often spontaneously entertained guests and Stan wanted to return the favor. 

   “Too bad I didn’t bring my harmonica,” said Erskine, who played the national anthem at roughly half-a-dozen Pacer games over the years. “I’d go up there with you.”

   Musial reached into his pocket and produced a second harmonica. Afterward, Erskine told him, “You’re a lot easier to play with than against.” 


   Bob Cousy, age 92, is the third nonagenarian I was exceptionally privileged to go one-on-one with of late, for an hour or so.  

   In my early teens, I’d jump the fence at a nearby schoolyard, and pretend I was both Cousy and Dick McGuire (and mimic Marty Glickman doing the play-by-play), the two greatest eyes of the cutters during the ‘50s and ‘60s, maybe ever. 

   McGuire played for St. John’s, then the Knicks before being traded to the Pistons. After getting cut his freshman and sophomore years, Couz played 1½ seasons at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens. I grew up a few miles away in Holliswood. 

   Universally acclaimed as the Houdini of the Hardwood, Cousy, 15 years older, greatly influenced my feeble around-the-back dribbling, look-away passing style (which habitually pissed off Archbishop Molloy coach, Jack Curran: “Who do you think you are, Bob Cousy!” he’d screech) as he did for thousands upon thousands of other impressionable kids. 

   How could we not want to be like Mr. Basketball? Cooz made First Team All-NBA ten straight years, was the MVP (1957) season, led the league in assists eight consecutive seasons and played on six championships teams during his 13-year career with the Celtics. 

   Naturally, if you’re reading this, you already know everything there is to know about Bob Cousy. Every accomplishment in college (a freshman on the Holy Cross ‘47 NCAA championship) and as a pro is duly documented in books, magazines, newspapers, in stone and sonnets by the best in the sports writing business. The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize author, Dave Anderson, wrote he  majored in Cousy” while they were classmates at HC, where he was sports editor of the school paper. 

   Still, I always feel there’s a story or two to be told no matter how many times someone’s been interviewed. Or maybe there’s more to a story that’s been frequently told. Or maybe there’s a topic interviewers have been reticent to broach. 

   Like Cousy’s lisp. “I talk funny, no doubt about it. I was in my mother’s stomach when my parents migrated from France through Ellis Island. I spoke only French the first five years of my life. 

   “I learned English in the street. Couldn’t pronounce my r’s. I rolled them. Was it a speech impediment? The kids called me ‘Flenchy’. That’s what kids did, trade ethnic insults, part of the street ethos, identifying people by their flaws.

    “I finally learned to live with it. When I moved to New England, the situation got more prominent. New York slang coupled with New York twang. Words came out sounding like goulash. 

   “It was very hard on the ears, especially all those years I worked as an analyst on TV. English teachers would send me ‘Get out of the business’ letters. My articulation was painful to their ears.

   “Well, here I am 92, and I still speak funny. And I don’t give a shit anymore! Never been insecure about it, honestly.” 

   In 1950, Cousy was a rookie, as was teammate Chuck Cooper, one of the NBA’s first three black players—Earl Lloyd and Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton—to enter the league that season. They roomed together.

   “I don’t think anyone knew we were rooming together except Red (Auerbach). We didn’t do it for any political reason. We bonded. We simply had a lot in common. The same interests. Liked the same movies. Liked slow, quiet jazz. Liked the game. 

   Three years later, the Celtics were in Raleigh, NC, for an exhibition game. The hotel wouldn’t let Cooper stay in the same hotel as the team. Auerbach raised a fuss and was prepared to call off the game.

   “We told him not to sweat it,” Cousy said. “Let’s play the game and we’ll catch a train through New York. We’ll see you in Boston.” Red went along with it. A 12:30 AM sleeper was booked.

   Back in those days, Cousy said, “We didn’t snort, inhale, inject funny substances, or take un-prescribed pills. However, we did drink a lot of beer.”

   Cousy and Cooper got to the station a couple hours ahead of time and drank till “we had to take a whiz badly. 

   “Chuck was from Pittsburgh, and thought he was pretty cool. I’m from New York and fancied myself as being sophisticated. But neither of us had ever seen a bathroom sign pointing to ‘colored’ one way and ‘white’ the other way. I teared up. I was ashamed to be white.”

   Cousy and Cooper searched for another relief option. “We went out on the end of the platform. There might’ve been another person at the other end. We peed alongside each other off the platform. A real Rosa Parks moment. I haven’t told that story very often.

   “This was 1953,” Cousy said, laughing. “If some redneck cop had seen us, he could’ve shot both of us and gotten away with it.”

Elgin and the Lakers’ Cornfield Angel

By Peter Vecsey

While the masses clustered to venerate Elgin Baylor’s glorious game in death after decades of habitually omitting him his rightful residence among the elite players in planet history whenever the topic was raised and reasoned, I choose to look at his passing from an incongruent angle. 

My paramount thought upon hearing Boneaylor had transitioned was, if not for pilot Harold Gifford’s inestimable expertise and experience, the 6-5 inflight gymnast, owner of the NBA’s third highest scoring average behind Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, would’ve perished 61 years ago along with everyone else on a Lakers’ gas-drained, lights-out DC3 charter forced to land during a snowstorm in a Carroll, Iowa, cornfield.

“Yes,” Gifford concurred when contacted at his home outside Minneapolis. “I had something to do with Baylor completing his legacy and enjoying everlasting fame. But I benefited, too.”

Gifford is 97, a categorically coherent 97. Numerous times he put me to shame with his fine-tuned faculty to name names, only occasionally pausing to dig deep into the distant past.  

“I’m still perking, and I still have all my original parts,” he responded to my compliment about his impeccable memory bank. 

During several extended conversations we’ve had over the last few days, he bombarded me with dozens and dozens of details of that five-hour and 40-minute scramble that began in distress upon takeoff from St. Louis after a loss to the Hawks en route to Minneapolis, and came within Gifford’s ripened reflex of calamity when he scarcely avoided treetops. 

“Elgin was a very private person,” Gifford said when asked what, if anything, he recollected about Baylor. “I was never able to contact him over the years.”

Gifford does remember him being very apprehensive about flying. Remembered him coming into the cockpit and asking how high they were flying, or where they were. Chicago, or some such distinguished place was pointed out, and he’d return to his seat. 

Was that something Baylor often did? 

“Frequently,” Gifford replied. “That night we were up 17,000 feet, I didn’t hear anything from him.” 

There were usually two pilots for each charter, though there were three on that fright flight. Vernon Ullman was the captain; more about his suspect role later. Jim Holznagel, 21 and fresh from receiving his pilot’s license--now 82, and living in Fairbanks, Alaska--was ‘working’ his first trip for Gopher Airlines. He sat in the cabin’s jump seat. He did not get paid. It was a get-the-lay-of-the-skies free trip. 

What a score!

If the pilots wanted to see a Lakers’ game on the road, they were given team equipment bags to carry into arenas to make them look official. They’d sit in back of the players, where flocks of team assistant coaches currently perch three rows deep.

Gifford remembers being behind the Lakers’ bench in the old Madison Square Garden watching Baylor dribbling up the sideline. “Just before he shot, his head would slightly swivel right or left as if he he had a twitch. 

“The guys would kid him, saying Elgin developed it from cheating in card games,” Gifford said.  

“I don’t remember too many distinctive things about Baylor, but I do vaguely recall him outside the plane in the deep snow that night looking up at the stars and praying, thanking God.”

A seamless segue, I submit, for another overriding thought of mine following the news Baylor had passed at 86.  Think about it; if not for Gifford’s unruffled bravado to take control of a terrifying situation when the captain’s capacity to make decisions malfunctioned (see below) the Lakers’ franchise would’ve very possibly ceased to exist. 

True, the NBA probably would’ve conducted a dispersal draft involving the league’s remaining seven teams to restock the Lakers. Nonetheless, the talent would’ve dramatically lacked consequence to justify their relocation to Los Angeles the next season, the first team to go farther west than St. Louis. Moreover, the reconstructed Lakers would not have had the appeal to transform people unfamiliar with professional basketball into paying customers.

Don’t tell Jerry West (a rookie in 60-61) I wrote that.

     Who Knows? Minus the Lakers, winners of five titles  (49-54), the struggling NBA may have become such a Humpty Dumpty league it might’ve folded.


Four years ago—nine after I’d written a piece about the Lakers’ near fatal expedition--I received an email from Harold Gifford, whom I had not interviewed; I’d focused strictly on learning players’ accounts. 


 I was co-pilot on the Lakers flight in 1960. Jim Holznagel was the third pilot. He and I are still alive and well. There had been an avalanche of misinformation about the flight so we decided to attempt to set the record straight by publishing a book, "The Miracle Landing", available on Amazon and Kindle. If you care to hear our story my # is … and Jim's is…. Jeanie Buss wrote a forward for the book and we have remained in contact. Jeanie often suggests the story would make a compelling movie. Several years after the landing, Verne Ullman died of a brain tumor. It has been suspected that his erratic behavior prior to and during the flight had been a result of the lingering problem. 

As illustrated in the book it was you that ignited the spark that revived the story. I have been wanting to talk with you for a long time. I am nearly 93 and no longer do I buy green bananas. 

   Harold Gifford  


    Before delving into the ‘avalanche of misinformation’, first the column I wrote in the New York Post February 8, 2009…  


    CHARLES Lindbergh carved out his hallowed highland in aviation history by becoming the first to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger awed mankind on Jan. 15 by belly-flopping U.S. Airways Flight 1549 onto the Hudson River, saving all 155 people on board.

Forty-nine years before, almost to the day, retired Lt. Col. Vernon Ullman, who saw action in World War II and Korea, and co-pilot Harold Gifford set down a twin-engine DC-3 in heavy snow in a Carroll, Iowa, cornfield.


The pilots lacked a radio, defroster and lights and had almost no visibility. Ten Minneapolis Lakers, nine others in their traveling party (including four children, one of whom was head coach Jim Pollard’s 11-year-old son, Jack) and three crew members rushed completely unscathed from the utterly undamaged aircraft.

Say, what?

In late December, I was in Los Angeles interviewing Elgin Baylor about his extraordinary playing career when suddenly he swerved into an astonishing account of his Minneapolis Lakers team’s near fatal landing during his second NBA season.

A few weeks later, Sullenberger makes the save of the century.

Hold on; not so fast.

No disrespect, but compared to what Ullman and Gifford accomplished and the five-hour-40-minute ordeal their human cargo suffered, the US Airways’ matter-of-minutes West Side miracle was for the birds.

On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 17, 1960, despite Baylor’s 43 points, the 13-20 Lakers lost, 135-119, to the Hawks in St. Louis.

“We were a picture of instability,” recalled Tom Hawkins, a rookie on that Lakers team.

     They were the franchise’s stepchildren, having inherited the unpleasant legacy of the league’s original dynasty – George Mikan, Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen, Whitey Skoog and Pollard – that won five titles from 1948-54.

“We had some good names (Baylor, Hot Rod Hundley, Frank Selvy, Slick Leonard, Rudy LaRusso, Dick Garmaker, Larry Foust, Jim Krebs, Boo Ellis) and some good reps,” Hawkins said. “But people weren’t buying this interim unit. Everything was in upheaval.”

     Lakers owner Bob Short, former undersecretary of the Navy and president of Admiral Transit, a trucking firm, was in dire financial straits. At the time, the furthest west the eight-team NBA had expanded was St. Louis; Short was angling to move to Los Angeles. He did so the very next season and was drawing capacity crowds (14,505) in no time flat.

    On Jan. 2, 1960, Lakers coach John Castellani resigned; he’d coached Baylor two years in college at Seattle. The previous season, he had replaced John Kundla, the brains behind the empire. Shaking off a 33-39 mark to reach the playoffs, the Lakers upset the Hawks in six in the Western Division finals, only to get swept by the Celtics in the championship round.

  “We drove to Game 4 in cars packed with our belongings in order to get a head start to where we lived during the offseason,” Slick Leonard said, giving a pragmatic shrug.

   Pollard took over as coach of the 1959-60 Lakers when they were 11-15. His coaching column read 2-5 when the Lakers –minus LaRusso, home with an ulcer – arrived at St. Louis airport. Due to a light snow and icy conditions, departure was delayed several hours. During that interruption, referee Earl Strom opted for another means of transportation to Minneapolis. 

   Jim Krebs, a good guy but swathed in doom and gloom, told teammates from time to time he wouldn’t live beyond 33, Dick Garmaker recalled. Baylor and Hawkins couldn’t remember Krebs without an Ouija board. In the terminal dining area, the board predicted the Lakers would have a plane accident. “He kept telling us we should not fly that day,” they harmonized.

   At 8:30 p.m., Short’s DC-3-owned craft--cheaper to fly than commercial, decades before it dawned on the Pistons and Bulls to charter--left St. Louis in light snowfall bound for Minneapolis. About five minutes after takeoff, the specially-rigged card table that accommodated eight players was erected in the front aisle.

  “We thought someone was fooling around because the lights began flashing from bright to dim, and then went off altogether,” Baylor said, allowing, “We were in the dark.” Both generators had shut down from overuse while grounded. Everything electrical was lost.

  “The only sound was the whir of two spinning props,” Hawkins recounted.

   Devoid of verbal direction from the control tower, it was impossible to return to the heavily trafficked, jet-busy airport. So the plane climbed to 8,000 feet to escape the snow and headed for home. After 15 minutes, the rapidly intensifying storm overtook and encircled the plane. All optical contact vanished.

 Flying by a manual compass, the aircraft ascended higher and higher in an effort to climb above the blizzard. Then even that instrument failed; the wind and weather caused the compass to gyrate madly. Taking a bearing on the North Star, Ullman and Gifford were obliged to rely exclusively on celestial navigation. Judging by the twists and turns, the pilots apparently were disoriented.

   Because a DC-3 is non-pressurized, it should never go beyond 15,000 feet. Exceeding that altitude numerous times resulted in gasping for breath and the children becoming ill. The floor began to freeze. Thin blankets and winter coats provided futile warmth.

  “It was horrible!” Hawkins said. “The cold and the fear and the lack of oxygen triggered uncontrollable twitching and constriction in the throat. Yet, amazingly, nobody panicked, not even the kids.”

 Hawkins and Leonard recoiled in the last two seats. “I’m a rookie and scared as hell,” Hawkins said, “thinking to myself, ‘This is what I wanted my whole life, to play pro basketball, and here I am flying blind to who knows where.’

“I asked Slick if he thought we were going to make it. He said, ‘Don’t worry, man, we’ll come out of this OK.’ He was very reassuring. He was my mentor and was like that, very positive. Meanwhile, we were bobbing and weaving. I don’t think I believed him.”

That probably was because Hawkins saw the pilots don goggles and stick their heads out the small side panels in order to see. Ice encased the front windows. It was 12:30 a.m. or thereabouts on Jan. 18. They’d been airborne four plus hours when one engine began failing. The pilots decided to come down, but could find no bottom to the storm clouds. According to an altimeter they read by a flashlight held by Jim Holznagel, they had dropped to 200 feet.

Ullman, his face and hands frostbitten, came out of the cockpit and told the passengers there was roughly 30 minutes of fuel remaining. The plane had to be taken down lower still in order to look for a place to land. The lights of a town below abruptly lit up the sky. The Carroll police had phoned residents, the team later learned, and asked them to turn on their lights in the hope the pilots would see the airport. Ullman and Gifford never knew one existed. They had no idea they were in Carroll, Iowa.

At least once, maybe more, according to various descriptions of subsequent close encounters with catastrophe, the plane unexpectedly veered upward to avoid a blacktopped road, a grove of trees, hot wires and an oncoming 18-wheeler.

“Finally,” Ullman was quoted in the Carroll Daily Times Herald, “we spotted this corn field and decided to set down there because the standing corn showed up dark against the snow background, and that gave us visual reference.”

Both pilots had farming backgrounds. Gifford had flown crop dusters. Knowing there were no ditches or rocks and that the field was in neat rows, the prevailing feeling was it’d be the best option to land. After circling twice, Ullman rolled the flaps out and throttled down to an airspeed of 70 knots, toward a slight incline in the standing corn.

Frank Selvy had a 4 1/2 month-old girl, Leslie, and a wife, Barbara. “I was thinking this is a helluva way to go,” he told me.

“I was petrified, but I was afraid to show it because the kids were so calm,” Garmaker admitted when contacted.

“I don’t think everyone was as scared as you’d think,” Boo Ellis claimed.

“We still had a chance. The plane was not out of control. Our biggest concerns were low fuel and not being able to see.”

Yup, other than that, the landing figured to be a breeze.

Baylor told me he left his seat and positioned himself on the floor in the rear, hooking his arms and legs around seat bottoms on both sides. “I’d read the back was the safest place to be,” he said. “By then my fear of dying was gone. If I was going to go, then let it be. But I really felt we were going to be fine.”

The emergency landing, on a farm owned by Elmer Steffes, occurred around 1:40 a.m.

“We practically pancaked in and the plane rolled about 100 yards after we touched down.” Gifford told Stew Thornley, author of “Basketball’s Original Dynasty: The History of the Lakers.”

Inadvertently, the tail wheel had hooked on the top strand of a barbed wire fence, helping the plane to stop. “It was like landing on an aircraft carrier,” said Gifford who flew many missions during World War II.

For more than a few seconds there was total silence.

“When we realized we were safe we erupted in cheers,” Hundley passionately recalled. “We jumped out the back and were like little kids. We threw snowballs at each other and the pilots.”

Upon landing, Garmaker said, Hundley jumped up and shouted, “I live to love again!”

Hundley claimed Garmaker, an offseason insurance agent, sold teammates polices during the flight.

“I wish I were that clever,” Garmaker said, laughing long and loud. “It’s not true. But, please, leave it in; don’t take that part out.”

One of the first people the Lakers stumbled upon when their feet hit the knee-deep snow was the town undertaker. “I’m not shucking you,” said Hawkins. “The guy declared, ‘Thought I had some business tonight, boys.’”

Fire engines, police cars, trucks, and autos lined the field. The 22 passengers and crew were transported to the Burke Motor Inn, owned and managed by Robert A. Wright. Last to leave the site, Pollard rode up front and upright in the hearse.

On the coffee shop placemat was a map and a picture of an ear peeled back. In bold letters it proclaimed Iowa the Tall Corn State. Hundley boasts two placemats (now laminated) signed by team members and the two pilots. Hawkins has one, but isn’t sure where it might be.

There were no telephones in the rooms, so Pollard and his players lined up in front of three pay booths outside the office. Loved ones needed to be notified what had happened, and that everything was copasetic.

Dubbed “Desert Head” by Hundley because he was balding, Larry Foust was known for imbibing a few after games and telling cockamamie tales to his wife, Joanie.

In the adjacent booth, Hawkins overheard Foust say, “We just had a forced landing in an Iowa cornfield.”

On the other end, Joanie reportedly grumbled: “I don’t think that’s the least bit funny. Call me back when you’re sober.” Then she hung up.

Foust turned to Hawkins and said, “Ah, would you mind asking Doris to call Joanie and tell her we really did land in an Iowa cornfield.”

Foust was traded the year of the crash to St. Louis. He played a dozen seasons, averaging 13.7 points and 9.8 rebounds. Drinking and smoking took its toll; he died in 1984 of a heart attack at age 56.

Pollard, the initial Kangaroo Kid years before Billy Cunningham inherited the nickname, and a Hall of Famer, was 71 when he passed on Jan. 22, 1993. He played eight years (13.2, 5.7) and coached the Chicago Packers (18-62) after being short-circuited (14-25) by the Lakers.

LaRusso played 10 seasons (15.6, 9.4) and was 67 when he died on July 9, 2004, from Parkinson’s disease.

Krebs retired (averaging 8.9 and 6.2 for seven seasons) after the 1963-64 campaign. He died May 6, 1965, three years younger than his self-fulfilling prophecy. Asked by a neighbor to help with a half-fallen tree, they cut it and leaned it against the house. As Krebs walked away a gust of wind blew it down, crushing his chest and skull.

Ellis, who had been a freshman at Niagara when Hubie Brown was a senior, played two seasons (5.1, 5.2) for the Lakers. He continued to compete in organized tournaments (winning senior Olympic, national, state and sectional titles) until almost 70, when he moved in with his daughter three years ago in Indianapolis.

Selvy, who’d scored 100 points in a game for Furman, hung tough (10.8, 3.7 and 2.8 assists) for 11 seasons. He fathered three bonus babies after Leslie, has nine grandchildren and is raising the 13-year-old in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Leonard played seven seasons (9.9, 2.9, 3.3) and coached the ABA Pacers to three titles. In his 24th year as the team’s radio color commentator, he’s committed to one last full schedule.

Hundley’s 8-season tenure as a Laker (8.4, 3.3, 3.4) was surpassed by a broadcasting career, five with New Orleans, 35 with Utah that earned him the Curt Gowdy award. With nothing left to accomplish, he’s retiring to Arizona at season’s end.

Hawkins played 10 seasons (8.7, 6.0) before becoming an NBC announcer, both nationally and locally in Los Angeles. His jazz show is rated No. 1 in the country and No. 1 for its time slot. He serves on boards, consults and does speaking engagements. “If it moves, I talk to it,” he said.

Baylor was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977 after averaging 27.4, 13.5 and 4.3 over 14 seasons. Only Wilt Chamberlain’s boasted more extravagant statistics. Enough said!

Garmaker (13.3, 4.2, 3.2 in seven seasons) lives in Tulsa, Okla. Ten days after the landing, he was traded to the Knicks for $25,000 and Ray Felix, allowing Short to make payroll that month. Some 20 years later, Garmaker’s real estate company was buying apartments in St. Paul, Minn. With the weekend looming, the guy who needed to close the deal left the city for home.

Told by a secretary her boss would arrive there in 45 minutes and to call him then, Garmaker inquired, where he’d be calling? “Carroll, Iowa,” she replied.

When the two men finished their business, Garmaker asked: “By the way, do you remember hearing about a plane that went down 20 years ago in your area?”

“I sure do! Jeepers, you landed in my cornfield!” Steffes blurted.

No one’s quite sure exactly when, but the Lakers honored the Ullman, whose wife, Eva Olofson, was the plane’s lone stewardess, at a subsequent home game. Short presented him with a plaque that cost about $15. Its inscription: “To Colonel Vernon Ullman: May You Have Eternal Safe Landings.”

For their part, the players contributed $50 apiece, in those days, the price of a gift of life.

I’m unsure what’s more mind-blowing, the achievement of the two pilots or the FAA suspending Ullman’s license following its investigation. Prior to landing, the pilots debated whether the wheels should be up or down.

Regulations specified a belly flop in such a situation, which very well may have precluded the wheels from hitting the wire.

Ullman ordered wheels down instead to avert skidding into a potential highway or other unknown complications. The next day, the team bus to Minneapolis passed the cornfield. Around 75 yards in front of the ‘unsullied’ plane was a steep ditch to disaster.

Less than a week later, several hundred people watched as a bulldozer cleared the cornfield to stubble. The FAA had commissioned another pilot to fly the DC-3 back home. Ullman fought that command decision. Again he prevailed against all odds.

“I put it in there,” he said. “I’m going to take it out.”

Ullman died of a brain tumor in March 1965.


As it turned out, I only knew peripheral details about what actually happened in the cockpit before and during those critical minutes leading up to the laser landing. Had not Gifford reached out to me, I’d still have it distorted all these years later.

For now, let’s deal exclusively with the core of the crisis, as Gifford is alternately ascending and descending to escape the ice, or get below the cloud of snow in hopes of spotting a judiciously safe place to put it down. 

Ullman had been a Lt. Colonel in the Navy. Gifford had been a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, flying fighter jets, then a B29 during World War II. His plane flew overhead the U.S. S. Missouri while Japan signed its surrender on Tokyo Bay, Sept 2, 1945.

Despite their worsening, directionless, flying-on-fumes circumstances, Ullman wanted to continue to find an airport. Gifford wanted to get as low as possible to find an improvised L.Z. Holznagel manned the flashlight and read the altimeter to inform Gifford how many feet they were above sea level.  

Holznagel let Gifford know when they were at 1000 feet, then 700, then 600. Abruptly, he alerted Gifford they were at 100 feet. 

“You don’t have far down to go when you’re at 100 feet,” he notified me yesterday, chuckling.

“Suddenly, there were trees right in front of my face, and I pulled it up. We were right back in the soup. That definitely gave me an extra blast of adrenalin. 

“You know, Peter, strange thing, I’d been flying tours of 30 days at a time not long before. I’d flown planes twice as big as a DC3 throughout Alaska, Panama, Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Newfoundland, and I was always able to find the bottom of the clouds in any kind of weather. I didn’t have a lot of fear until those trees. 

“However, I was still l confident in what I was doing. I saw a farm light. I had dodged down for more visibility, and saw barns, silos and windmills. The moon was bright. The snow lighted up the night and we could see ahead. I said, ‘Boy, if there’s anyone up there overlooking us, I could sure use some help. A little later, I saw a Pabst beer sign, and I gave a little thank you above. And then all of a sudden, the town lit up after we’d circled ten times.” 

Ullman wanted to touch down on a road they found. Gifford was opposed, because he couldn’t see the power lines. Ullman thought he saw a lake and wanted to land on it. Gifford had spotted a cornfield he felt would provide a cushion. 

“I’d flown a crop duster as a kid. I knew the land was flat and there were no rocks, and the stalks wouldn’t hurt the plane.”

Ullman insisted they land on the road. Gifford felt for the cornfield made more sense. Pollard spent a lot of time in the cockpit throughout the flight. He told Ullman to listen to Gifford. 

A couple players claimed the plane bounce landed. It did not. Hawkins stated it was the smoothest landing he’d ever experienced. 

“We held off telling the way it was for years because we didn’t want to embarrass Vernon and his wife,” Gifford said. “After they died and left no children, we felt it was time to tell what happened. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

On March 7, Holznagel visited Gifford in Minnesota.

“Every time we get together, we give each other big hugs and thanks for saving our respective lives.”


     Last night, I received another email from Gifford: 

    This may not be of interest but in 1937 my brother, Quentin 4 years older than I, had joined the Navy and served on the Battleship, USS Oklahoma. In 1940 I left high school to work on a dairy farm due to the severe depression. That summer, Quentin was home on leave and before returning to his ship, he visited me at work, and asked me to promise I'd return to school, and work hard, and when leaving the Navy he promised to find a way for us to attend college together. I had kept my promise. From then on we were in frequent contact ,and he proudly followed my football and academic activities. Come Pearl Harbor, Quentin went down with the Oklahoma and I KEPT my promise. My hard work had resulted in passing tests to become an Air corps Cadet and left for duty Feb 3 before graduating. I became a pilot and officer in 1944. These events led to a career in Aviation I would not have had if I had not honored my promise to Quentin. My point is, had these events not occurred who would have saved the Lakers? Talk to ya later. Giff

Coach Albeck - Forever Stan-din Tall

By Peter Vecsey

Almost instantaneously upon taking over the ABA Denver Rockets from Joe Belmont 13 games into the 1970-71 season, Stan Albeck got initiated into the unstable head-coaching fraternity and its susceptibility to the impulsive, repulsive, compulsiveness of others.

The profession’s unadulterated wackiness, whims and whammies would surface soon enough.

Spencer Haywood, by far the ABA’s most dominant player and already one of the game’s most rousing above-the-cylinder contortionists at the tender age of 20, was withholding his services due to a contract dispute with the Ringsby trucking family.

Out of Detroit’s Pershing High School, and two years at the University of Detroit, the 6-9 funky forward had signed a long-term pro contract the previous season for $1.9 million thanks to Al Ross, a hot-spit young Beverly Hills lawyer/agent from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Ross pushed hard to gain a landmark court decision that essentially decreed that a certified “hardship case” couldn’t be deprived of his livelihood, date of birth notwithstanding.

Haywood’s winning streak continued when he captured the MVP and rookie awards. He also polished off the scoring and rebounding titles, averaging 30 points and 19.5 boards during the regular season, 36.7 and 19.8 in the playoffs. Instead of being everlastingly grateful to have such superiority on their side, though, Bill Ringsby and son, Don, attempted to devalue the deal, insisting they be permitted to invest his money in a fashionable 10-year plan, er, scam.

Ross warned them, “Either honor it, or we’re out of here.”

Pre-Christmas negotiations to resolve the matter appeared to be going well when the Ringsbys requested a brief recess. They walked into an adjoining room and accidentally (on purpose?) left the door slightly ajar.

“There’s nothing I hate worse than dealing with a n….. and a Beverly Hills Jew,” Ross overheard old man Ringsby blurt – a decadent remark passed down through the decades. Several days ago, Ross, 68 and still in no danger of being downgraded from a hurricane to a storm, confirmed the bigoted remark word for word.

Haywood jumped to the NBA six weeks later, struttin’ his stuff (33 games that season) for Sam Schulman’s Seattle SuperSonics. The Ringsbys were made richer by $1 million in compensation, paid by Schulman. Albeck, meanwhile, learned that a coach is only as good (27-44) as his talent-- minus the league’s mightiest magnet.

The ABA was out of luck and, come the end of that season, Albeck was out of work. Not until eight years later, following shifts as an assistant under Hubie Brown (Kentucky Colonels), Wilt Chamberlain (San Diego Conquistadors) and Jerry West (Lakers), did he get another chance controlling the joy stick.

Bill Fitch, the Cavaliers’ original coach since 1970-’71, had quit after the team again hit the skids in ’78-’79. Owner Nick Mileti offered Albeck the job. He could’ve had more than one year, but preferred to prove himself to his employer before entering into anything long-term. His first move was to call on his good friend Chamberlain, whom he’d covered for during most practices during the ’73-’74 season (37-47), losing to Utah 4-2 in the Western semis.

“He was this close to coming back,” Albeck said haltingly, his speech (but not his legs or travel throughout the world) still limited by a stroke suffered at 2:35 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, 2001 in the Raptors locker room in Toronto.

As I sat with Stan and Phyllis, his wife for 53 years (they met at an Illinois high school tourney in 1949), during an extended visit to their San Antonio home last week, he held up two fingers, one millimeter apart.

Chamberlain, 43 at the time, hadn’t played since the ’72-’73 season, threatening to come out of retirement each subsequent year for years to come.

“I told him I just wanted him to rebound,” recalled Albeck, now 74. “He said, ‘The hell with that, I want to shoot threes.’ I told him, ‘Fine, shoot all the threes you want.’ ”

Cavs GM Ron Hrovat, a basketball neophyte, was entrusted with the responsibility of hand-delivering the contract to Chamberlain’s palatial home in Bel Air. Nobody was there when Hrovat arrived, so he stuck the contract in the gate. By the time Chamberlain showed up, the papers were strewn around his yard.

Chamberlain immediately got Albeck on the phone. “Forget it, Little Man,” he said, using his endearing nickname for Albeck. “I can’t play for a team that handles its business like that.”

In spite of such negligence and the disappointment that Walt Frazier (three games and out; the lone Cavalier not to play in the opener) had reached the end of his career, you’d have to say Albeck was fairly successful that season; the Cavs finished 37-45 and made the playoffs.

But you would have to overlook Albeck’s orchestration of a trade with the Lakers that secured Don Ford (known more for marrying Sharon Tate’s sister than for anything meaningful between the lines) and a 1980 No. 1 pick (Chad Kinch) in exchange for Butch Lee and an ’82 first-round pick that would be translated into James Worthy. 


Before that deal, and before the Cavs were sold to the buffoonish Ted Stepien, Mileti rewarded Albeck with a three-year contract. Indians GM Gabe Paul had warned the Albecks that Stepien was loco in the sombrero when they bumped into each other that summer at an Angels game in Anaheim. On their first day back in Cleveland, they happened to hear Stepien tell radio host Pete Franklin his first order of business was to renegotiate Albeck’s contract.

The Spurs bailed them both out. That September, GM Bob Bass, who’d left Denver just before Albeck got there, offered Stan a three-year deal. Nothing like a simonized superstar, George Gervin, to bring out a man’s slickest strategy. In three years, Albeck amassed 153 wins against 93 losses, once earning the NBA’s top coaching honor.

Albeck completed his head coaching tour in Chicago. Bulls GM Jerry Krause recruited him away from the Nets (at the cost of a second round pick), following a successful two-year stint there. 

That ’85-’86 campaign was basically a bummer, polluted by poor play, bad luck and an injury to Jordan that shelved him for all but 18 games, compounded by his acrid frustration that his minutes were fiercely restricted by owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The toxic cloud lifted a little in the first round. Despite getting swept 3-0 by the Celtics, the Bulls, and Air Jordan’s rapidly multiplying supporters, salvaged their sanity, if not the season, when M.J. averaged 43.7. His 63-point eruption even prompted Larry Legend to gawk and gush.

Most observers believe Albeck was fired for ticking off Jordan by removing him from winnable games, as per instructions from above, after he’d played the designated time. Truth is, Krause got angry because Albeck stopped taking his incessant calls at home during the last two months. Albeck didn’t discoverer ‘consultant’ Doug Collins had tailgated the team the last few weeks on the road, until the day before being dismissed.

When asked for his most treasured memory of his coaching career, Albeck didn’t hesitate, Jordan’s 63. Second place also went to Jordan, for nicknaming Krause “Crumbs.”

Albeck’s next cherished memory was the Nets’ 1984 upset of the defending-champion 76ers, in the opening round. Each team won twice on the road. The deciding fifth game was on the Sixers’ home court.

“They are not going to win [the series] in Philadelphia,” Julius Erving proclaimed. “You can mail in the stats.”

“Oooh,” Phyllis Albeck cooed. “Those were fighting words to Stan. He really used them.”

U.P.S. did not deliver. Dr. J capped a substandard series with 6-of-16 shooting and four turnovers. Micheal Ray Richardson, on the other hand, notched 24 points to give New Jersey its first NBA playoff series victory, 101-98.


Whoops, we have another winner, suddenly perked up Phyllis, as perky as they come.

“I should have reminded you of the Cavs’ quadruple-overtime win over the Lakers with Kareem and Magic and Nixon and all the rest.” 

So many Cavs fouled out that Bill Willoughby had to play center and actually blocked one of Kareem’s sky hooks in the fourth OT, she distinctly recalled. Right after that, Kareem got called for his sixth foul with about a minute and a half left. Mike Mitchell won it with two free throws and Cleveland prevailed by one.

“I think the refs were getting tired and wanted the game over!” Phyllis deduced. 

The Albecks have Joe Tait’s play-by-play on cassette and when they take long auto trips (Stan is always putting on the imaginary brake, Phyllis says, which drives her crazy), they listen to the game and enjoy reliving every detail.

That victory was particularly sweet, Phyllis stressed, because Jerry Buss paid no attention to Albeck as a coaching candidate when West left the sidelines.

“That was so early in Stan’s career, we forget about that as one of the memorable moments,” Phyllis said. “Like picking the first girl you see, and then you see a dozen more beautiful come along … but the pick has already been made.”

Gone But Not Forgotten

By Peter Vecsey

For years, Dutch Garfinkel and I were part of a regular dinner group –– Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier, Fuzzy Levane, Larry ‘The Scout’ Pearlstein) hosted by then Nets’ owner, Joe Taub.

     Dutch and Fuzzy were teammates on pro basketball’s original Fantasy Team, Les Harrison’s 1946 BAA champion Rochester Royals —Bob Davies, Al Cervi, Red Holzman, (Browns QB) Otto Graham (catcher), Del Rice and (The Rifleman) Chuck Connors.

     Restaurants should’ve charged an entertainment tax. Every meal was a skyscraper of stories. Like Harrison discovering Levane wasn’t Jewish and asking him to find one. Fuzzy found two, Holzman and Dutch. How much extra did players receive for winning the title? They threw a blanket out on the court after the clincher and the fans went to their pockets for roughly $200. 

     Shortly before Dutch, 95, passed, we spoke for the last time. He admonished me for retiring too (69) young in 2012. After a long pause, he sorrowfully wondered, “Who’s going to write my obituary?” 

    From July, 30, 2013, through April 30, 2014, the NBA lost 16 family members. No expanse of writing experience provides the know how to express how privileged I feel being entrusted with accentuating their positives, discovering untold stories, and being so fortuitous to put to rest Dutch’s fear of dying forgotten.

     What were these people best known for? Proudest accomplishments? How do their wives, children, teammates, friends and opponents want them remembered? The hope is to cut to the core of the extravagant character and unreasonable will to win and live that connects and cements the 16. 

     Ossie Schectman (March 30, 1919--July 30, 2013): Memorialized as the guy who scored the first two points in NBA history for the Knicks in Toronto. Captaining each team—Tilden High School, Long Island University, Knicks--he played for is an achievement often talked about with his two sons, Stew and Peter. An injury while diving for a loose ball, unintentionally mangled by Max Zaslofsky, kept his career from advancing beyond his rookie year. By all accounts, he was the team’s best player at the time. 

     Ossie’s athletic prowess, which carried over to softball, where he continued to dive for loose balls, on cement to beat a throw, awed Peter, 12, who used to stop bouncing the ball 250 feet away and marvel at his father’s fluidity, fierceness and fielding skills as a hard-hitting third baseman. 

   However, “just as profound to me, and in my reality much more important, my dad never pushed me in basketball, allowing me to develop if I could or if I wanted to,” Peter recounted. “I knew at a young age his competitive nature always burned in his belly and he excelled by playing sports hard, with purpose, and to win. Yet he knew I never possessed that same desire and graciously and lovingly avoided the pitfall of pushing a sensitive youngster too far.”

     Jack ‘Dutch’ Garfinkel (June 13, 1918--August 14, 2013): Informally acknowledged for inventing the no-look pass and being the best at that skill until Bob Cousy and Dick McGuire emerged.

     His most gratifying moment, underlined his son, Rich, was the September night (’92) he was inducted into the NYC Basketball Hal of Fame with Marty Glickman, Sihugo Green, Richie Guerin, Sonny Hertzberg, Joe Lapchick, Frank McGuire, Willis Reed, Satch Sanders and John Isaacs. 

    Beyond belonging to such an exalted class, the greater honor was Pop Gates and Isaacs, of New York Rens eminence, inviting Dutch, long accredited for being colorblind, to join them at their table for some birthday cake. 

     Dean Meminger (May 13, 1948--August 23, 2013): Until 1973, the Celtics had never lost a Game 7 home playoff game. He is best remembered for spearheading the end to that insolence of invincibility. Replacing Earl Monroe in the second quarter of the Eastern Conference Finals, the nuclear sub held Jo Jo White scoreless in the second half while notching 13 points. The Knicks beat the Lakers for the title.

    Overcoming human issues was infinitely more challenging, one tormenting conflict at a time…though you’d never know it by his six-pack, Dean Jr correctly noted. “He took pride in his physical appearance. He wanted to look sharp and be physically fit.” 

     Even in his 60s, Meminger always seemed to be bouncing a ball. You’d hear him coming before you could see him, his daughter, Miesha, smilingly remarked during the exceedingly uplifting celebration of Dean the Dream’s life at Harlem’s St. Charles Borromeo Church—his No. 7 jersey hung on an altar and photographs showing Meminger at Rice HS, Marquette University and the NBA.

    “Most people only know my father as Dean the Dream,” Dean Jr said. “They don’t realize he was a philosopher and great debater on policies relating from religion to politics. He knew real stuff, not just athletics. He was multi-faceted. He came from that era, when everything was being questioned. 

    “He was much more than Dean the Dream. He was definitely Dean the Proud Father. And Dean the Proud Grandfather, with another grandson on the way. He and my sister’s father-in-law were always teasing each other about who would have more time with the new baby.”

     Zelmo Beaty (Oct 25, 1939--August 27, 2013): Irrefutably, one of the game’s roughest customers to take care of business in the occupied area. One of its shrewdest also. 

     “Z couldn’t run. You could beat him down court, but before you took off, you’d pay a price,” Mel Daniels vividly recalled. 

     “Z couldn’t jump. He didn’t have to, ‘cause he’d lock you up with brute strength and studied subtlety,” the HOF center attested.

     “I wish I had thanked Zelmo for everything he taught me,” Daniels closed.

     And, despite being barely 6-7½, ‘Z’ stood unflinchingly erect against some of the greatest centers of all-time for a dozen NBA/ABA seasons (17.1 points, 10.9 rebounds), snatching the MVP award by its thyroid gland in the Utah Stars 1970 championship run.

     How did Beaty become so tough? Bill Downey, 90, a Prairie View A&M alumnus, and Beaty’s most faithful  advocate, supplied the answer upon being tracked down. 

     “When Zelmo came to school, he was milquetoast. Coach Leroy Moore told Johnnie Walker, whose body appeared to be built in a laboratory, to beat up on him every day at practice. He left a monster.” 

      Willie Wise’s ultimate respect for his Stars’ roommate of four years embodied his on-the-court work ethic (“Lazy was a word he couldn’t even spell”) and human rights activism.

     “Slim was greatly influenced by Martin Luther King and became a staunch proponent for equality in all arenas, especially education. That’s why he became a substitute teacher. He went into the unruliest schools in Washington State because he wanted Afro American kids to have a chance to learn.”

     Don ‘Monk’ Meineke (Oct. 30, 1930--Sept. 2, 2013): Best known for winning the initial (1953) NBA rookie award. The 6-7 center was equally pumped for leading the league one year in disqualifications,” Don Jr chuckled. “Losing his front teeth was a badge of honor.”

      Tom Blackburn’s Dayton program (inherited by Don Donoher) was tops in Division I throughout the ‘50s, when Monk gained national recognition for the Flyers, and the ‘60s. The winning was certainly meaningful, for a moment. The camaraderie established as teammates lasted a lifetime. 

     “Dad was most proud of being a Flyer,” Don Jr said. “Those relationships have remained unbroken for decades.” 

     The uniqueness of the Dayton teams of the 50's is illustrated by the circumstance that a lot of those guys-- Meineke, Arlen Bockhorn, Pete Boyle, Carmen Riazzi and Jim Paxson Sr--stayed in the Dayton area. As a result, their kids kind of grew up together and wound up playing for Archbishop Alter HS. Two Meineke’s, one Bockhorn, two Boyles, a Riazzi and John Paxson teamed to win the ’78 Ohio State title. 

     Last August Meineke entered Bethany Lutheran, the same Ohio nursing home/assisted facility where the arthritically afflicted Paxson still resides. Monk’s heart was failing.

      “Jim was very protective the short time he was there,” Don Jr said. “Numerous times, he wheeled himself over to dad’s room in the nursing section to offer encouragement. And he’d bring cookies. Later, he’d call and tell me I had to do something because dad had stopped eating. Jim thought he was giving up.” 

      Joe C. Meriweather (Oct. 26, 1953--Oct. 13, 2013): The  6-10 center was so skinny (215) when the Rockets drafted him in 1975, he had to remove one ‘r’ from his name so it could fit on his uniform. Drum roll, please.

     Upon turning pro, nothing made him swell with satisfaction more than taking care of his mother, Hattie Meriweather. She was able to retire from working in a Columbus, Georgia cotton mill and move into the home he purchased for her.

     Joe and Gail were married 16 years. For the 12 since being divorced, he never missed a Christmas or a Thanksgiving with his ex and their two children, Jonathan and Jillian. Moreover, each morning, he’d send them a text message containing “today’s scripture”.

     “He was an excellent father and a great friend,” Gail said. “He had opportunities to move away from Kansas City, but wanted to be around for his kids. Joe understood how important that was.”

     So much so, Joe started a Fatherhood Program and helped inmates at Leavenworth Prison. He also taught tribal children in Arizona and North Carolina about sports and other life skills.

     Jonathan, 28, played one year in Australia (he was invited to a workout with the Lakers’ Development team). He’s now with Ford, completing his MBA in financing. Jillian graduated cum laude from Harvard with a Social Studies degree, has a masters from UNLV and will be pursuing a Phd. 

     “Though Joe passed under that threshold far too soon, I’m secure knowing he’d been so close to his children,” Gail said. “None of this would’ve happened if they didn’t have both parents moving in the right direction.”

     Bill Sharman (May 25, 1926--Oct. 25, 2013): Of all his accomplishments in his non-seeking limelight life as patriot, official scorer for the first four Celtics’ champions teams, proud father of four children, reverential husband, animal lover, shrew manipulator of megalomaniacs on three title teams in three leagues, savvy executive, adroit athlete for all seasons, creator of the shoot-around and 3-point make, brains behind a record 33 straight Laker wins, one of three (John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens) HOF inductees as both coach and player, one stands out in Joyce Sharman’s wifely eyes.

     Earl Lloyd was the first African American to play (Washington Capitols) in the NBA, Oct. 31, 1950. Before they folded 35 games into the season, the rookie was greatly touched by Sharman, also a rookie. In an essay about his influences and lessons learned about dignity, perseverance and humanity called ‘Handprints’, Lloyd proclaimed appreciation for his former teammate (and others) who risked denigration by supporting him when Sharman could’ve laid low without anyone catching on.

     “In my life, there were many good people who restored my faith in human nature. Bill is one I will never forget.”  In those days, he would drive into the hood and take Earl back and forth to practice and games, and if a restaurant turned him away, Bill would go, too. 

     “DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Lloyd emphasized. If he hadn’t, no one would have criticized him…” 

     A framed copy of those evocative words, compliments of a Lloyd care package, as a token of his love, respect and high esteem, hangs prominently in the Sharman’s den. 

     “I think what Earl wrote about Bill was so important because none of us know how we effect someone else's life by saying a kind word or giving a helping hand,” Joyce said.

 “Bill was the kindest person, genuine through and through. And I think what he did for Earl shows that better than anything else that ever could be said. It was complete kindness and compassion...and that is who Bill was. He never knew Earl would pay him such a profound tribute until many years later. And to have it come from someone like 

Earl makes it even more emotional for me because he is such a great man. How blessed I feel to know both of these amazing men!”

     Walt Bellamy (July 24, 1939--Nov. 2, 2013): Regrettably, he’s best known for being packaged with Howie Komives to the Pistons for Dave DeBusschere, permitting Red Holzman to rearrange roster roles and positions, leading to two Knicks’ title: 

     Rather than being hailed as a ten-or-better Hall of Fame center; or the centerfold for the original Olympic (’60) Dream Team; or for consistently producing at an elite plateau (20.1 points, 13.7 rebounds, 51.6 FG%, 13 seasons) while playing for four different franchises/teammates and many systems, an indelible testament to his career.

     The consequences of that trade, I submit (or maybe it was just being unlucky to play at the same time and being overshadowed by so many great centers) also cost Bellamy in the minds of Top 50 voters 

     “I’m glad you brought that up,” said Helen Bellamy, who would’ve been married to Walt 54 years come July 11. “He never said a word about it or the trade. But it hurt me. I’m not an envious person. And I’m not selfish. But Walt was better than some that made it. I had to turn it loose.

    “Walt loved the NBA. Loved his family. Loved his mother (Theo died a few months after him), who lived with us for 21 years. And loved me. We never had an argument. If I wanted the moon, Walt would get it for me.”

     Vern Mikkelsen (Oct. 21, 1928--Nov. 21, 2013): Minnesota’s macho (bruiser on the court, gentle giant off) HOF forward on four title teams. He also happens to be the career never-to-be-broken (six fouls now v five then) leader in disqualifications, 127. 

     Raised in one of the smallest of small towns in northern Minnesota, Vern lived out a dream come true without sidestepping values. Coach John Kundla knew whom to count on by asking him to have Elgin Baylor’s back when so many people messed with the rookie, especially on the road. Not long ago, he unearthed Elgin’s original numbered shorts and called him to say he would send them. Baylor was ecstatic. He said he planned to frame the shorts and give it to one of his children. 

     In 2008, after Big Mikk suffered a stroke, Little Mikk came from Santa Monica to care for his dad, for a while, he thought. He never left. His dad refused to quit. 

     “He’d had double hip surgery. Had prostate cancer for 13 years. And now he couldn’t use his right hand. But he never complained. He always had a good thought for some one else,” said John; Vern called him by his middle name, Pete. 

      Big Mikk was getting more fan mail in those years than ever before. So, he learned how to write (and eat) with his left hand. It took him ten painstaking minutes to sign one autograph. He’d do three a day, never wanting to turn down a fan. The next day he’d wake up and exclaim, “Hey, we got another day. Love and gratitude. LG, Petey, LG. Here’s to us.” 

     Marv Wolfenson (August 13, 1926--Dec. 21, 2013): Together with lifelong business partner, Harvey Ratner, they returned Minnesota back to NBA relevance, paying $32.5 million for the rights of the 1989 expansion Timberwolves, and financing the Target Center’s construction for 94M.

     “Getting into the NBA was quite a departure from the under-the-radar reality he lived before that,” said his daughter, Ellyn, sister of Ernie and David. “But he grabbed onto it like everything else. Whatever he did, he really loved. And whomever he did it with, loved him back.

     “My dad loved going to work, the excitement and invigoration of his business life was a thrill to him, but he always told us, ‘Don’t fall in love with your business, fall in love with your family.’ He lived that principle every day. 

      “The Timberwolves were an incredibly thrilling time for all of us, but my dad made it perfectly clear the five of us at home—a winning, functional, happy ‘5-man’ team--was the most important one he ever built.” 

     Fifteen years ago, Wolfenson had a stroke after hip surgery. Walking and talking were difficult. He apologized to Ellyn for having trouble communicating. “I have so much more to tell you,” he said.

     “Dad was a fabulous athlete his whole life. Early on, he was a star basketball and baseball player. Later, he became an excellent tennis player and golfer. He survived so long because he was so competitive. He was just not a person who quit. 

     “Dad always chose life, no matter what. Even in sickness. Even in his last breath, he wished he could’ve lived longer.”

     Conrad ‘Connie’ Dierking (Oct 2, 1936—Dec 29, 2013): Fifty-seven years after the 6-9 slender center played for Cincinnati, he still holds the school’s single-season rebounding average, 18.8 and single-game mark, 33. Yet, the man is far better known for being partial payment in a trade for Wilt Chamberlain 

     “There were five of us. As the oldest, Connie had the toughest time of all,” said Fred Dierking, who followed his brother to UC and helped win back-to-back NCAA titles after Oscar Robertson and Connie graduated.

     “My father was a laborer. He didn’t understand the value of an education. He felt you should get a job and keep it. Connie had to sneak out of the house to play ball and sneak back in afterward.”

     In ten seasons, Connie’s scoring average was 10. So, when he drained 45 one enchanting evening against none other than Chamberlain, a big deal was made by all. Dippy even signed the game ball, which became the centerpiece on the Dierking’s living room mantle.

     Looking for a ball to play H.O.R.S.E in the backyard, and unaware of the leather treasure’s significance, Kammy, 8, took it. Next thing she knew, it had rolled down the hill and into a creek, never to be seen again. 

     “My mother had a conniption, “Kammy recalled. ‘Oh, my, God, what did you do!’ “But when my dad got home and heard the news, he just shrugged, ‘Oh, well,’ and laughed. That was him. He didn’t care about stuff. He’d always tell us, ‘It’s people and memories that matter.’”

     Tom Gola (Jan. 13, 1933--Jan. 26, 2014): Scrabble should’ve named the blank in its set after the near 6-6 portable player, who capably clamped down on college centers and serial scoring guards alike. 

    The NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder (2,201; as well as 2,462 points) carried upstart LaSalle to NIT (’52) and NCAA (’54) championships, and was runner-up to Bill Russell’s Dons in ’55. In ’56, he joined lowly Philadelphia and figured out how to best serve in an understudy capacity to shooting stars Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston during the Warriors’ title crusade. 

     “Tom was one of the game’s all-time intellectuals,” Sonny Hill testified. “Almost an Oscar Robertson type. He’d place teammates in their strength positions and, without getting in their way, do whatever else needed to be done.” 

     Gola was recruited by 200-plus colleges, but loved the Christian Brothers, his HS teaching order. “Tom was very confused. He had no one to guide him,” said Caroline, his wife since ’55. “So, he went to see the president of LaSalle and they spoke for 20 minutes. That was it. He felt comfortable there and got a great education.” 

     That flawlessly summarizes Gola; easy to understand, no fuss, no muss, no favors, no nonsense, no bringing the game home, win or lose, no regrets, Caroline expounded. 

     On the flip side of his prayer card picture, Gola’s fundamentally pure words say it all: “I am a contented person. I gave it my best in all that I did, in sports, in businesses and in public office. I would have never second- guessed myself.”

    In 2013, the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Legends, in its inaugural ceremony staged at Brooklyn’s Barkley Center, honored Gola, who was inducted into every imaginable basketball HOF and has LaSalle’s arena named after him. 

     He was bedridden for the last 8½ years of his life, and thus unable to attend. Caroline substituted. Another recipient, Monk Meineke, introduced himself. “I have to tell you a story when I was a senior and Tom was a freshman,” she related. “Dayton played LaSalle for the NIT championship. Before the game, I said, ‘Dear Lord, he has three years to get better and this is my last game. Please let me win.’”  

      Sam Lacey (March 8, 1948—March 14, 2014): In 1970, after signing with Cincinnati, he spent part of his bonus on a Canary yellow Grand Prix, drove it to Indianola, Mississippi and gave it to Andrew Brown, his Gentry HS coach.

     Otis Birdsong maintains ‘Slammin’ Sam’ was “the unequivocal leader” on a Kings team that had very strong personalities, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Phil Ford, for example. “He was all-out aggression, all the time, to compensate for his lack of height and bulk. He was always on the march forward.” 

     The seeing-eye center was also the best passing big man Birdsong ever played off. “He’d find me on cuts for three or four layups a game.”

     Gretchen Lacey said her dad was a very private person, but you’d never know it. “A hundred people would line up and he’d talk to all of them. He was generous with his time, almost to a fault…

     “…Sam would often sing to Gretchen’s daughter, 11. He’d come into the house, stick his head through her door and say, ‘Alyvia, I heard you gave away my hugs.’”

     Peyton turned 13 in May. “It’s so strange to watch him play, passing, passing, passing,” Gretchen said wistfully. He had switched from Sam’s No. 44 to Walter Payton’s 34. Devastated when Sam died, Peyton asked for his old number back to “make grandpa proud.” 

     “He’s really shining right now. He sees the floor and threads the needle like Sam did.” At an April game, every other word out of the mouths of Gretchen and her husband, Brent Downey, was, “Wow!’”

     Lou Hudson (July 11, 1944—April 11, 2014): The obsession to succeed, to overcome any obstacles blocking ambitions that great athletes brandish is not a characteristic lost when applause dies. 

     Much is known about Sweet Lou’s simonized springer that earned him six All-Star appearances, a 20.2 average and the rare retirement of a Hawks number (23). Clearly, scoring 17,940 points is not done by being passive, or lacking fighting spirit. 

     When Hudson broke his right wrist one season, he played in a cast and averaged 18 points shooting lefty. When he suffered a stroke in 2005, confining him to a wheelchair, he made public appearances as an “ambassador’ for the “Power to End Stroke” organization.

     Four years later, Hudson, whose condition had improved very little, was brought to Atlanta for an event. Former teammate Jim Washington picked him at the airport. On the baggage belt were Lou’s golf clubs.

     “I started to say, ‘why did you bring your…’ until it dawned on me, this was his way of saying, ‘I’m going to get better. Next year, I’ll be out on the course with you.’ So, I switched up and said, ‘you could’ve used mine.’

     A couple years ago, Hudson moved back to Atlanta from Park City, Utah. Each day he’d work out three times, 35 minutes per. He declined an offer of a motorized wheelchair, and the promise of greater mobility and independence. In his mind, it would’ve meant giving up. 

     Following another stroke in late March, upon being removed from life support, Hudson lasted two weeks in hospice. Normally, it’s one.

     Michael Heisley (March 13, 1937—April 26, 2014): “I’ve always admired people who are charitable and don’t want the whole world to know about it,” Jerry West said. “That’s what I’d like people to know about Michael. “He did so many great things for people. Anytime there was a cause, he was there, yet never wanted credit.”

     West had plenty of prosperous years with the Lakers. “Probably the happiest” was his second year (2004) as GM with the Grizzlies when he hired Hubie Brown to coach and they made the playoffs. “It was definitely my proudest moment.”

      Heisley desperately wanted to win, West said. “He’d tell me, ‘I just want us to make the playoffs one year.’ “I guaranteed him we’d make it more than that. He was thrilled beyond description when we made it. The enthusiasm in the building was fantastic. It was one of the highlights of my life to see him so happy.  

     “People often misread Michael because he was unbelievably honest and could sometimes be irascible with that big, old booming voice of his,” West said. “That’s the side most people saw, his toughness because he was self-made, taking companies on their death bed and turning them around with his unique leadership qualities. But he was so different. 

     “I never had anyone in my life treat me like he did. I’m not talking financially. The more I was around him the more I felt something special. He was one of the people I liked the most.” 

     Jack Ramsay (Feb 21, 1925—April 28, 2014):Who didn't Dr. Jack touch as a husband, father, friend, World War II veteran, general manager, coach at the college & pro levels, broadcaster, fitness/fashion freak and cancer patient who never retreated, whose unflinching faith in God enabled him to retain his spirit, vibrancy and NBA voice almost to the end of a multi-decorated life lived decorously.

     Who wasn’t touched by him?

     No one, consensus attests, suffered defeat harder. Which partially explains why Dr. Jack remained unconquerable for 15 years despite eight different forms of malignancy that swamped his body. 

     “Losing would destroy him,” said Magic executive Pat Williams 46 years after Ramsay gave him his first NBA chance, handling business for the 76ers, so Dr. Jack could concentrate on his return to the sidelines after leaving St. Joseph’s two years earlier due to retina trouble related to stress.

      Why Ramsay’s eyes didn’t succumb to NBA stress remains a mystery. “I remember losing in Chicago Stadium. Not a good place to leave unescorted ” Williams related. “Jack waved off the bus. He walked back to the hotel.”  And made it unscathed.

     “That’s how bad things are going,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t even get mugged.”

     When your best player is coachable and reinforces everything you say, it’s easy to be successful, Dr. Jack would underscore. He and Bill Walton enjoyed a fervently committed relationship. He often reminisced about it, as he did the Blazers’ 1977 championship season and its selfless components.

    After each team pre-game meeting, Walton would say, “Come on, now, let’s go out on the floor and do what coach taught us.” 

     Let’s go.

     The above tributes were written for the 2014 NBA Finals program.

Bad Timing, Bad Credit, Bad Manners, Badass and Loving Tributes

By Peter Vecsey

About a year ago, 15 book editors thoroughly rejected my introductory (the operative word) submission—four expansive Michael Jordan chapters, three elongated on Larry Bird, a protracted section on Rucker Park, which deals essentially with Julius Erving playing four summers with my organized-and-coached Westsiders team (beginning after he left the University of Massachusetts and before his rookie year with the Virginia Squires) and descriptions of what else would be delivered. 

    Clearly, my proclivity for procrastination cost me dearly. Although I’d begun writing about Jordan years before ‘The Last Dance’ undraping, by the time I presented a proposal (with promises of revelations that I concealed for fear anyone casting eyes on such juicy substance could be tempted toward leaking and/or larceny), the prevailing feeling was people, though titillated and entertained, were marinated with Michael.  

      No hard feelings. Truly! 

     Except that people hadn’t read or heard nearly the whole truth concerning many issues raised (or not) by Jordan’s production plagiarists. So many of David Halberstam’s compositions were used without a speck of credit, as if it were crisp.  And then you had a horde of hacks and stagehands pretending to be telling untold tales.  

     With one irrefutable exclusion! Sam Smith, who scripted The Jordan Rules! Minus his unpaid, copious contribution, ESPN’s credibility would’ve reeked exhaustively. 

     Equally enlightening, with all due immodesty, ‘The Last Dance’ was missing what I have on recall to disclose. Hence, the title of my unpublished database, “Save the Last Dance For Me.” 

      A few weeks following the unified brushoff, the most disapproving editor granted me and my agent a requested audience in the backyard of his Sag Harbor home. I asked him to illuminate the decision for his unembellished deficiency in enthusiasm.          

     The answer can be found by re-reading the second paragraph.  

     His additional message apropos to a reboot was a theme was required. Disconnected subject matter, no matter how regal or rambunctious its subjects, didn’t grab him…in spite of the plain fact the book was about my 50-year plus career covering professional basketball.  

     Seems like everybody I chose to write about can’t help but be connected. After all, my dots are my own, as are my news breaking stories complete with background congruency, behind-the-screen revelations about NBC, the Daily News, the New York Post, The National, TNT, NBATV, CBS, USA Network, and major mistakes I committed. I’d love to teach an unconventional ethics college course incorporating every lapse of judgment I ever made, as well as life as a columnist crisscrossing the blurry divider between work and working at being a playa.   

       Toward the conclusion of our cordial consultation that lasted maybe an hour or so, the editor firmly stated he found my manuscript suggestion of pure anecdotes purely unappealing.  

    Moments later, the editor and my agent gushed about their ardor for ‘Loose Balls,’ a compilation of outlandish behavior by ABA members on all levels.  

     Irrespective of whether all the stories are true or false, it hardly represented what the red, white and through league was all about, it says here, an appearance that outrages its prominent players to this day.  

       So, what does an aspiring author do with the goods publishers don’t know, yet don’t desire, anyway? He finds an outlet (NBA Retired Players Association), unseals the spigot and releases some spicy stuff, courtesy of Charles Oakley. 

     The 50th anniversary, a couple days ago, of the Ali-Frazier bout at Madison Square Garden, for distinct reason, brought to mind a 54-minute phone conversation Oakley and I had ten years ago, in which he recounted a succession of fight stories he excelled in as an active and retired player. 

     Some have been told, no doubt, but not in such coarse terms.  

    Try the time Oakley slapped Charles Barkley in the face during a union meeting in Atlantic City during the ’99 lockout. Barkley made the mistake of mouthing off to Oakley about his position, then failed to keep a safe distance.  

     “I told him I was going to get him and I did,” Oak said. “He has most people fooled, but he’s full of shit! Sure, he was a talent, but he wasted a lot of it by not practicing hard, being out of shape or partying all night before a game. He says some really dumb shit on TV and in the papers, but basically kept his mouth shut on the court ‘cause he knew there were people like me who would close it for him.  

     “He don’t know shit, really, and he’s an asshole. I heard TNT wouldn’t put me in the same studio with him because people were afraid I would do something. I don’t hate him, but don’t come and put your arm around me or come within my reach.” 

      Things got real physical one day with Oakley and Tyrone Hill, then with the Sixers, who hadn’t repaid a 20G debt. 

     “We knew each other from Cleveland. He’s from Ohio (Cincinnati), I’m from Cleveland. He didn’t owe me the money from a card game as some writers wrote. I lent it to him when he couldn’t cover a bet in a dice game I was watching. After a while I got tired of listening to his excuses.  

    “The last straw was when he told me he couldn’t come up with the cash because he was going through a divorce. I told him you’re going to be going through a lot worse than that if you don’t give me my money.  

    “When we were in Philly soon after, I hit him while he was on the layup line. Then I had a ball boy deliver flowers to the locker room with a note that his mother had sent them for his funeral. The next time we played each other he called in sick. Larry Brown got hip to what was going on and made him pay me the 20G. He should’ve paid interest. I told him I should be doubling it.”  

      The best was yet to come. About five or six years after they’d retired, Oakley agreed to play in a pickup game in an Atlanta church. Normally, he wanted no part of such games because of all the complaining that goes on. Tyrone Hill was on the opposite team.  

     “We were killing ‘em, 8-1. Ty called for the ball on a play, claiming he was fouled. I told him ‘it’s not happening.’ He walked up on me like he was gonna do something and I hit him four or five times. Then you know what he did? He went to the people who ran the church and had them call the police. 

     “A warrant was issued for my arrest. They came to my apartment. He wanted them to put me in jail. It went to court and I had to pay the court costs, his lawyer ‘s fee and mine. A restraining order was issued and I was forbidden to come within 200-300 yards. The next summer I’m with M.J. at a Miami club and we’re 15 deep. And we spot Tyrone across the floor.  

    “Please do not touch that man, Jordan pleaded. “Please, do not touch that man.” 

     A fight with teammate Sidney Green occurred on a Knicks’ charter. There were roughly 30-35 people on board. Eddie Lee Wilkens and Pete Myers are in the back, and they start throwing grapes at Sidney, who’s in the front reading a book, Oakley related. “He gets up and comes to the back. ‘The next time I get hit I’m gonna come back here again and fuck you up,’ pointing his finger at the group. No sooner did he sit down then Pete fired another one and Green came storming to the back. I hit him a bunch of times. He returned to his seat bloodied. ‘When we land we’re going to finish this!’ Sid warned.  

     “We were headed to the team bus when here comes Sid, and he starts punching Pete, who’s taking some shots, but mockingly laughing all the same. ‘You weren’t this tough when Oak was whoopin’ your ass.’” 

     Anthony Mason and Oakley were good once they retired, but when they were Knicks teammates, they got into it all the time.  

       “He was always complaining about everything, always,” Oakley stressed. “The coaches couldn’t control him. This one day I told him to shut the fuck up. I wasn’t going anywhere. We fought the whole practice. Nobody tried to break it up, just let us go. 

     “Once during a Bulls playoff game, I told him during a time to shut the fuck up. Mase was tough but anybody ever see him take a charge?” 

    Oakley also reported when Don Nelson briefly coached the Knicks, sometimes he would play blackjack with Patrick Ewing, Chris Childs and Oak. Once, he won 100G at a single sitting. No, it did not factor into Nelson’s dismissal despite the team’s 34-25 record.  

    The primary reason was Ewing’s displeasure about Nelson making Mason the focal point of each offensive play, allowing him to decide where the ball was passed/shot.  



    Born yesterday, 99 years ago: Harvey Pollack 

    Today, four years ago, Ben Jobe passed.  

    March 4th was 24 years since Roger Brown died. 

     Scott Skiles and Reggie Williams celebrated their 57th birthday March 5th. Each played ten years in the NBA. Scott 600 games, Reggie 599. Scott, 16,789 minutes, Reggie 16,013. Scott, 11.1 ppg, Reggie 12.5. 

     Leroy Ellis was born March 10, Jim McMillian the 11th.  Both attended Thomas Jefferson HS in NYC. They were teammates on the ’72 Lakers title team whose 33 straight wins record still stands. Ellis died June 2, 2012; he’d be 80. Jimmy Mac passed May 16, 2016; he’d be 75.  

    March 4th was 24 years since Roger Brown died. 

   So, there it is, a column featuring bad timing, bad credit, bad manners, a badass and loving tributes to some lovely people. 

   You couldn’t have enjoyed it more if you were actually paying for it.