Tim Hardaway

Born: September 1, 1966
Position: Point Guard
Professional Career:
Golden State Warriors (NBA): 1989-’96
Miami Heat (NBA): 1996-2001
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 2001-’02
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 2002
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 2003

Tim Hardaway (Hoops Vibe)
Tim Hardaway (Hoops Vibe)

Yes! Yes!… YES! In your face!

That’s the kind of bravado that defined the career of Tim Hardaway. Hard as it is to believe, his game did speak louder than his words. The brash pinball whirled and barreled his way into a decade-long all-star sojourn in the NBA. The bravado and talent persevered despite a treacherous ACL tear that robbed him of his most brazen athleticism midway through his career.

Luckily for Hardaway and basketball fans, the least brazen of his  athleticism was still pretty brazen.

The 6’0″ (on a good day with thick socks on) guard was an electrifying sensation when he burst into the NBA with the Golden State Warriors in the 1989-90 season. Hardaway completed the fabled, but short-lived, triptych of Run-TMC with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. Warriors coach Don Nelson drove those players to push the ball at insane speeds and to score at any given opportunity.

Continue reading

Maurice Lucas

Born: February 18, 1952
Died: October 31, 2010
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Spirits of St. Louis (ABA): 1974-’75
Kentucky Colonels (ABA): 1975-’76
Portland Trail Blazers (NBA): 1976-’80; 1987-’88
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 1980-’81
New York Knicks (NBA): 1981-’82
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1982-’85
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1985-’86
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1986-’87

Maurice Lucas (ESPN)
Maurice Lucas (ESPN)

Lucas, the fearsome ABA enforcer, is another vegetarian, in addition to being one of the most complete power forwards in the league; at times [Bill] Walton appears stunned when, high over the backboard, he glances across the rim to witness Lucas ripping another rebound asunder and scattering the bodies below him. “Bill’s a gorilla until the fight starts. Then he goes in hiding while I straighten things out,” Lucas says.

That Sports Illustrated article accurately surmised Maurice Lucas in 1977. After decking 7’2″ Artis Gilmore in an ABA game his rookie season, the 6’9″ Lucas became the most feared enforcer in the basketball. The reputation never dissipated as Lucas continued to angrily confront other players for their transgressions against Lucas or his teammates. In fact, Lucas’ spirited confrontation with Darryl Dawkins is credited with helping swing the 1977 NBA Finals from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Portland Trail Blazers.

The “enforcer” label has obscured many of Lucas’s other fine basketball qualities. The defensive ability and rebounding tenacity aren’t too surprising. A quarreling forward who defends like made and cleans the boards fits common perception. Correctly fitting that bill, Lucas, from 1975 to 1984, averaged 10.1 rebounds per game. He was also named to the All-NBA Defensive 1st Team in 1978. Although that was his only first team selection for defense, he easily could have been placed on several more. There’s only so much space to go around on those five-man squads, though.

Continue reading

Bill Sharman

Born: May 25, 1926
Died: October 25, 2013
Position: Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Washington Capitals (NBA): 1950-’51
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1951-’61
Los Angeles Jets (ABL): 1961-’62

Bill Sharman
Bill Sharman

Ask folks for a list of great shooting guards from NBA history and you will likely get Michael Jordan. Then Kobe Bryant. Perhaps, Jerry West and Reggie Miller. Maybe…. maybe Sam Jones. But Bill Sharman? He would likely never crop up despite in many regards being the man who prototyped the shooting guard position.

Bill Sharman started out his NBA career at the age of 24 with the Washington Capitals in the 1950-51 season. At this stage in his life, Sharman appeared more likely to enjoy a lengthy pro baseball career than a prolonged NBA life. In 1950, he appeared in just over 120 minor league baseball games batting .288. The next year, Sharman was called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although he never played a game from the Dodgers, he was ejected from one, making him the only player in Major League Baseball history ejected from a major league game without ever appearing in one.

By that point in September 1951, it was still unclear whether Sharman’s basketball career was more promising than his baseball hopes. Tje Capitals folded midway through the 1950-51 season leaving Sharman without a basketball employer. Sharman, however, showed promise averaging 12 points in 31 games. Not exactly the stuff that would leave teams around the league scrambling for Sharman, but enough for someone to take a flier on him.

Continue reading

Jack Sikma

Born: November 14, 1955
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977-’86
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1986-’91

Jack SIkma card

Four years ago someone asked the Sonics’ then-general manager, Zollie Volchok, if he would consider trading Sikma for Moses Malone. “I wouldn’t trade Jack Sikma for the resurrection of Marilyn Monroe in my bedroom,” was Volchok’s reply, and the feeling was that he spoke for a majority of the bedrooms in Seattle.

Via A Buck, For a Change

You can say this about lots of players, but Jack Sikma’s NBA career truly was an improbable success story. He played college ball at Illinois Wesleyan, a small university in the NAIA garnering very little attention nationwide. However, he did catch the eye of Seattle Supersonics executive Lenny Wilkens. Much to the disbelief, chagrin and jeers of Sonics fans, Sikma was selected 8th overall in the 1977 draft. By the time he was traded to Milwaukee nearly a decade later, Sikma had become a cherished idol of Sonics fans with his rock steady play.

Sikma’s game was a curious blend of power and finesse. Until his senior year in high school, he played guard. However, his height exploded to 6’10” shifting him to the post. Barely able to hop over a phonebook and still figuring out his own dimensions and abilities in his new body, Sikma routinely had his shot blocked by opponents. As he recalled it, “I had SPALDING written across my forehead a few times.”

Continue reading

Bob Pettit

Born: December 12, 1932
Position: Power forward
Professional Career:
Milwaukee Hawks (NBA): 1954-’55
St. Louis Hawks (NBA): 1955-’65

Bob Pettit layup

“I never tried to be a team leader in basketball. I wasn’t a guy who did a lot of talking. I just wanted everybody to see that I worked hard, that I’d give my full effort all the time. In business, I try to surround myself with the best people and then let them do their thing.” And if that doesn’t succeed? “Then we all sit down, talk it over, and work things out.”

– Via Dr. Jack Ramsay’s “Transition Game: Bob Pettit”

That’s a fairly accurate description Bob Pettit gave of himself in that interview with Jack Ramsay. Many have worked as hard as Pettit but none harder. You listen to him speak for any length of time and invariably he returns to the ethos of hard work, determination and consistency. These would be hallmarks of his Hall of Fame career.

Bob’s initial forays into basketball were strongly encouraged by his father, a sheriff in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Despite being cut from the high school team twice, the practice ultimately paid off as Pettit eventually made the squad and would subsequently led them to the Louisiana state title. A fairly successful stint at Louisiana State University followed where he averaged ho-hum 27 points and 15 rebounds a game in his time as a Tiger. His play in these years, however, was predicated on him being a back-to-the-basket, low post threat. And at 6’9″ he had the height, but with only a scant 200 lbs to that frame, he didn’t have the weight to succeed in the pros that way.

So, Pettit totally retooled his game upon entering the NBA and would prove to better than ever.

Continue reading

Lou Hudson

Born: July 11, 1944
Died: April 11, 2014
Position: Small forward / Shooting guard
Professional Career:
St. Louis Hawks (NBA): 1966-’68
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1968-’77
Los Angeles Lakers  (NBA): 1977-’79

Lou Hudson
Lou Hudson

…Sweet Lou, sweet as in cool jazz put down by a lightly plucked bass and the hushed swirling of brushes around a drumhead. His skin is the color of light coffee, his features regular and smooth, his temperament equable. His game is heavy on the sugar: there is a gentle rhythm to his constant motion on offense and a classic softness in his jump shot, of which there is none prettier.

Via “He’s Shooting the Works” by Peter Carry

Cool Jazz: Lou Hudson was indeed a cool character on the court. His seeming lack of flair is probably to blame for his footnote status in NBA history. To boot, he spent the bulk of his playing days in the cold outer reaches of the basketball universe. First was his collegiate stint at the University of Minnesota under coach John Kundla, who won several titles as coach of the Minneapolis Lakers in the NBL, BAA, and NBA, but achieved little with the Golden Gophers. Second, Hudson was drafted a lofty #4 by the St. Louis Hawks in 1966 after averaging a 20-and-8 with a broken wrist during his senior year at Minnesota.

As you may know, the Hawks are no longer in St. Louis, so any potential myth/narrative/memory of Hudson carrying on the torch lit by Bob Pettit, Ed Macauley & co. was squashed. Third, those Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968, a city notorious – fair or not – for its fair-weather attitude toward professional sports. However, like a cool, swinging jazz bass, you may not consciously notice Hudson was expertly plying his craft, but just like that bass once you are awakened to Lou’s presence, you deeply dig the groove.

Continue reading

Wilt Chamberlain’s Sabotage of the NBA’s Free Throw Percentage: A Pro Hoops History Investigation

Sabotaging Storm Troopers

The mammoth impact of Wilt Chamberlain has been written about often here at Pro Hoops History. Most notably his 100-point game and his 55-rebound game. But today I’d like to focus on a rather amazing correlation, perhaps even causation.

Wilt Chamberlain’s free throw shooting seems to have significantly reduced the overall FT% of the entire NBA for a decade.

The season before Wilt joined the NBA (1958-59) the league-wide FT% was .756. The next season Wilt was a rookie and the league’s FT% dropped to .735. The NBA wouldn’t climb above the .750 mark again until the 1969-70 season, when Wilt wound up missing all but 12 games due to a knee injury. The correlation is startling and shows the tremendous influence a force like Wilt could have in a league of eight teams in 1960.

The Percentages

Season Wilt’s FT% NBA FT%
1955 0.738
1956 0.745
1957 0.751
1958 0.746
1959 0.756
1960 0.582 0.735
1961 0.504 0.733
1962 0.613 0.727
1963 0.593 0.727
1964 0.531 0.722
1965 0.464 0.721
1966 0.513 0.727
1967 0.441 0.732
1968 0.380 0.720
1969 0.446 0.714
1970 0.446 0.751
1971 0.538 0.745
1972 0.422 0.748
1973 0.510 0.758
1974 0.772
1975 0.765
1976 0.751

Well, that doesn’t bode well for Wilt’s reputation. To make matters visually worse, here’s a graph of the Wilt-induced trough. The horizontal lines demarcate Wilt’s rookie year (black), his knee injury (blue) and his retirement (orangish):

Wilt FTs NBA FTs

Well, let’s dig a little deeper and see just how gargantuan Wilt’s share of FTs missed and attempted were these years. You’ll notice that as his share of total FTAs decreased – thanks to a combination of his own declining FT numbers as well as the NBA adding more teams and thus FT attempts from other players – Wilt underwent Herculean efforts to maintain his destabilizing impact by decreasing his FT%. Which, if you remember from above, bottomed out at 38% in 1968. He attempted 11.4 FTs a game that season, too.

Wilt FT chartsOk, so the entirety of the NBA’s bad FT shooting from 1960 to 1973 can’t be blamed on Wilt, but a whole helluva lot of it can. These were the worst years for NBA free throw shooting and Wilt was the most voluminous bad free throw shooter in NBA history. The Walt Bellamys (career .632 FT%) and Bill Russells (career .561 FT%) helped Chamberlain out, but in terms of just one overwhelming source, it was Wilt (career .511 FT%) that sabotaged free throw shooting.