Robert Parish

Born: August 30, 1953
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Golden State Warriors (NBA): 1976-’80
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1980-’94
Charlotte Hornets (NBA): 1994-’96
Chicago Bulls (NBA): 1996-’97

Robert Parish (Celtics Pride)
Robert Parish (Celtics Pride)

Robert Parish’s NBA career lasted longer than any player in history. He strung together 21 seasons and played in 1795 games between the regular season and playoffs. Naturally, luck plays a role in anyone being able to play for that long, but also credit Parish’s stringent training, yoga, and vegetarian diet for keeping him spry year after year.

Most of those years, of course, were spent with the Boston Celtics. From the 1980-81 season through the 1993-94 campaign, the Chief called Boston home. His presence alongside Larry Bird and Kevin McHale created what many think is the best frontcourt trio in NBA history. They have a good case given the trio of titles they captured together.

Parish, no doubt, was the lowest key of the three. He didn’t say much to begin with and his game was perhaps even quieter. He wasn’t prone to dazzling displays of athleticism, he never averaged over 20 points a game, and he didn’t swat shots into the 5th or 6th row.

But what Parish delivered certainly was constant and consistent. In his second NBA season (with the Golden State Warriors) in 1978, Parish scored 12.5 points per game. 16 years later in 1994, Parish at the age of 40 was still scoring 11.7 points a night. His defense and rebounding followed a similar ever-ready suit. Opposing centers rarely got the upper hand on the Chief who resolutely patrolled the paint and registered stifling resistance night after night.

For another perspective on Parish’s triumphant longevity, He was just a year younger than Bill Walton, his teammate on the 1986 Celtics. Walton entered the NBA in 1975, Parish in 1976. By the time Parish retired in 1997, Walton had been retired from the NBA for a decade and was in the midst of broadcasting playoff games that Parish was still appearing in. Parish was also just a year younger than George Gervin. Imagine the Ice Man still on an NBA roster in ’97. That’s the longevity of Parish.

Robert Parish schools Kareem

If there was anything “flashy” about Parish it was his insanely high-arching turn-around jumper. Already 7’0″, Parish lofting a shot from such a perch was impossible to block and he hit the shot an absurd amount. That shot enabled Parish to have games like a 31-point demolition of Detroit in the 1987 playoffs while making 10 of his 12 field goals, plus 11 of his 12 free throws.

The other patented Parish move was his one-handed, always-in-stride dunk. The Chief was an underrated finisher on the break since he never ran that fast, but he never stopped running so he could get down the court and finish with authority.

Notice how unfast Parish was running in that clip, but he kept a-movin’ and got the jam.  And at the age of 43 Parish was still doing his unfast floor trot to slam home dunks…

That’s the kind of ceaseless determination that defined the career of Robert Parish.

 

Honors

4x Champion (1981, 1984, 1986, 1997)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1982)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1989)
9x All-Star (1981-’87, 1990-’91)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1611 games):
14.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.571 TS%, .537 FG%, .721 FT%
19.2 PER, .154 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (184 games):
15.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.547 TS%, .506 FG%, .722 FT%
16.6 PER, .121 WS/48

Sam Cassell

Born: November 18, 1969
Position: Point Guard
Professional Career:
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1993-’96
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1996
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1996-’97
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 1997-’99
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1999-2003
Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA): 2003-’04
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA): 2005-’08
Boston Celtics (NBA): 2008

Sam Cassell

Sam Cassell enjoyed a lengthy career as an NBA point guard, but only after an arduous college basketball journey. At age 20, he began playing junior college ball with San Jacinto College outside Houston. Then, at age 22, he transferred to Florida State. After two successful seasons there, Cassell was finally drafted into the NBA at age 24.

And nearly everywhere he went in the NBA, Cassell catalyzed improvement for his teams.

Selected by the Houston Rockets, the geriatric rookie immediately made a huge impact for the Rockets. No one doubts Hakeem Olajuwon was the primary fuel for the Rockets that won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995, but Cassell’s role as backup point guard and big game performer helped pull Houston out of some tough fixes. In the 1994 Finals, Cassell hit a huge three-pointer in the final moments to win Game 3. He finished that game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. Not bad for a rookie who averaged 7 points in the regular season. In the 1995 Finals, Cassell exploded for 31 points on 12 shots leading Houston to a 2-0 series lead over the Magic.

These huge playoff performances paid dividends for Cassell. By his third season, 1995-96, he was averaging 14.5 points and 5 assists per game off of Houston’s bench. Following that season, however, Cassell was traded to the Phoenix Suns and thus began his wandering days.

Over the next three seasons, Sam played for the Suns, Nets, and Mavericks before finally settling in Milwaukee. Not that he wasn’t productive. Cassell averaged 18 points and 6.5 assists in this span, but no club seemed to truly appreciate what he offered. The Nets were particularly foolish. They made their lone postseason between 1994 and 2002 while improving from 26 to 43 wins in their one full season with Cassell.

With the Bucks, though, Cassell found a home and exploited his talents to the max. His biggest assets, oddly for a point guard, were his abilities to post-up and generate lots of free throws. Milwaukee lacked a power forward or center capable of scoring, so Cassell’s production of 19 points and 7 assists per game while making 87% of his free throws was sorely needed. In 2001, teaming with Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen, Cassell’s Bucks narrowly missed out on the NBA Finals losing to the 76ers in a tough 7-game series.

Ever the wanderer, though, Cassell’s time in Milwaukee finished in 2003. Still, Cassell had a couple of curtain calls left.

The Timberwolves in 2004 enjoyed their best season in franchise history after Cassell’s acquisition. Indeed, it was a career year for Cassell who finally made the All-Star Team and was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team at the tender age of 34. With Kevin Garnett as league MVP and Cassell riding shotgun Minnesota made the Western Conference Finals. An unfortunate back injury to Sam kept the Wolves from mounting a full challenge to the Lakers, though, and they lost the series in six games.

In 2006, after an injury-plagued 2005 season, Cassell helped lift the Los Angeles Clippers from their wretched depths. Yes, the Clippers, a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff series since 1976 as the Buffalo Braves. Cassell’s savvy, leadership, and still potent skills mixed beautifully with another superb power forward (Elton Brand) as the Clippers won 47 games. In the playoffs, Sam’s Clippers advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals where they lost to the Suns in seven games. From that point on, Cassell was severely limited by injuries, but managed to snag a final NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

With his ebullient energy, pull-up jumpers, fearless forays to the rim, and confidence Cassell improved every team he appeared with. The Rockets, Nets, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Clippers were all demonstrably better with the services of Cassell. Even if those teams’ appreciation for Cassell usually proved very short-lived, that kind of track record is no accident, but proof of his prowess. In a career that was anything but short-lived, you can see that prowess almost from the get-go.

Honors

3x Champion (1993-’94, 2008)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2004)
All-Star (2004)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (993 games):
15.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG
.544 TS%, .454 FG%, .331 3PT%, .861 FT%
19.5 PER, .141 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (136 games):
1.2 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG
.525 TS%, .414 FG%, .363 3PT%, .847 FT%
15.9 PER, .093 WS/48

George Yardley

Born: November 3, 1928
Died: August 13, 2004
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Fort Wayne Pistons (NBA): 1953-’57
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1957-’59
Syracuse Nationals (NBA): 1959-’60
Los Angeles Jets (ABL): 1961-’62

George Yardley
George Yardley

The one thing I’m most proud of as a coach is playing Yardley. He became the first player to score 2,000 points in a season, and he was such a skinny, chalky-white bastard that you thought he was dying from malnutrition.

– Fort Wayne Pistons coach Charley Eckman in Tall Tales

George Yardley was indeed the first player to score 2000 points in an NBA season. The Bird, as the fleet forward was called, pulled off the feat in the 1957-58 season. In the final game of the year, he needed 25 points to reach the 2000-point mark. Against the Syracuse Nationals, he scored 26 points and ended the year with 2001 points on 27.8 points per game.

That little factoid can be Yardley’s calling card, but the swingman deserves to be remembered for so much more.

Along with Philadelphia Warrior forward Paul Arizin, Yardley was a pioneer of off-the-dribble jump shooting. As Yardley himself once attested, Arizin and he were the only guys who took their jump shots at the apex of their jump instead of while shooting on the way up.

Seems like a small, insignificant thing. However, it was another important evolution of shooting. Shooting while going up meant the shot was more pushed than released. At the apex required greater strength from the arms, wrists, and hands rather than letting the legs provide the momentum.

Given his shooting and scoring methods, Yardley was probably the most athletic slasher and shooter in the mid-1950s NBA.

George Yardley

Aside from his jumping shot, he possessed a lightning-quick first step. This put defenders in a bind since Yardley could nail his jumper standing still, but if you closed out too hard he would blow by you in a hurry to the basket. And even if you did recover, Yardley was a beast at making off-balance or fading away jumpers. Basically, he’s the antecedent for players like Reggie Miller, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant who love to fire up jump shots from a litany of contorting angles.

Yardley spent the majority of his career with the Fort Wayne Pistons, had a  short stint in Detroit after the Pistons relocated there in 1957, and closed out his brief seven-year career with the Syracuse Nationals. The brevity is partly because he had to serve two years in the Navy thus delaying the start of his career and partly because he retired early to start his own engineering company.

He still packed those seven years with significant achievement. He was a six-time all-star and played in back-to-back NBA Finals with the Pistons in 1955 and 1956. The first of those was a nail-biting seven-game series with Fort Wayne against Syracuse. The Pistons lost the final game by one point. The next season the Pistons again lost to the Philadelphia Warriors in a much-closer-than-it-looks five games. They lost three of the four games by a combined eight points. The Yardbird was absolutely beastly in the ’56 Finals, despite the negative result for his Pistons. He averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds in the five-game series.

As his career wound down, Yardley helped lead the Pistons – now in Detroit – to the Western Division Finals in 1958. In 1959, after the trade to Syracuse, Yardley injected the Nationals with enough punch to nearly knock off the emerging Celtics Dynasty. Yardley averaged 26 PPG in the Eastern Division Finals against in Boston in ’59. In the decisive Game 7, Syracuse lost by a mere 5 points on Boston’s home court. Yardley was superb with 32 points in the narrow loss.

When Yardley did finally step away from the NBA after the 1960 season, he still had plenty of juice left averaging 20 points and eight rebounds on career-highs in FG% and FT%. His 20.2 PPG that year made him the first player to retire while averaging over 20 PPG in his final season. Since then he’s been joined by only Bob Pettit, Rudy LaRusso, Paul Arizin, and Michael Jordan.

And yet, Yardley wasn’t quite done with pro basketball just yet. He joined the Los Angeles Jets of the upstart American Basketball League in the 1961-62 season. George swooped in and averaged 19.2 points in 25 games before the Jets prematurely folded due to financial trouble.

What’s most intriguing of Yardley’s brief sojourn in the ABL was the three-point shot. The ABL was the first pro league to use the three-pointer and Yardley made 14 of 37 attempts that year for a cool average of 37.8%. Yardley was already an offensive menace. Imagine him with a three-pointer to his already impressive arsenal.

As it stands, Yardley was damn good enough and one of the best scoring small forwards in basketball history.

Honors

All-NBA 1st Team (1958)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1957)
6x All-Star (1955-’60)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (497 games):
19.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.8 APG
.499 TS%, .421 FG%, .378 3PT%, .781 FT%
20.5 PER, .178 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (46 games):
20.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.4 APG
.507 TS%, .422 FG%, .817 FT%
20.7 PER, .174 WS/48

Grant Hill

Born: October 5, 1972
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1994-2000
Orlando Magic (NBA): 2000-’07
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 2007-’12
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA): 2012-’13

Grant Hill
Grant Hill

What Grant Hill’s career could have been is something of joyful imagination mixed with sorrowful reality. The prodigious talent was mixed with demoralizing foot injuries, the endless rehabs, the near-fatal staph infection he suffered… it’s all enough to dash the fantastic dreams we had of Grant Hill leading the Detroit Pistons or the Orlando Magic to potential title glory.

It surely was enough to dash what should have been the middle portion of Hill’s career.

From the 2000-01 season to the 2005-06 season, Hill played in just 135 of 492 potential games. And half of those 135 came in the 2004-05 season. He also missed all of the 2003-04 season. His sojourn in Orlando was just rife with pain. But taking a step back from the sorrow, we do realize that Hill’s career was its own brand of magnificent.

He was co-Rookie of the Year in 1995 for the Detroit Pistons. In just his second season, he was approaching triple-double territory with regularity averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. He kept up a similar pace through the 2000 season. This era was undoubtedly the apex of Grant Hill. Amongst all NBA players of this era, Hill ranked 9th in PPG, 15th in APG, and 24th in RPG fully displaying his versatility.

But his final games for Detroit were played on an injured ankle that should have been rested. Hill’s impending free agency, however, cast an unfair pall. If Hill wisely sat out the playoffs to heal his ankle, accusations would have arisen claiming he was unfairly putting himself above his team. Yet another selfish millionaire athlete. If he played, he’d be a “team player”, but he’d put his health in jeopardy. Which is exactly what happened. To keep alive the season for a middling Pistons squad, Hill practically sacrificed five years of his career.

After finally emerging fully healthy in 2006, Hill enjoyed a surprising rejuvenation. Over the next five years – one with Orlando, the rest with Phoenix – Hill would average a respectable 13 points and 5 rebounds. Clearly, not what he once was, but after what he had experienced, these twilight years were glorious for Hill.

Only three other players (Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Larry Bird) had replicated Hill’s 1996 season of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. But his season at age 38 in 2011 was nearly as remarkable. His 13 PPG that season was the 11th highest ever for a player that age or older. And he did it shooting nearly 40% from three-point range, quite the change from his early days. Nearly 20 years before, Hill happened to have the world’s best spin-cycle on his drives going to the hoop… but he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn from downtown.

Nonetheless, he did what he had to do as time went on to remain an effective basketball player. Truthfully, he did what he had to do just to simply remain any kind of basketball player. He easily could have given up at any number of points without any complaints. But his perseverance is astounding.

Don’t sleep on Grant Hill’s actual talents, though. Few small forwards ever handled the ball like Hill. Few have ever passed like Hill. Few have ever encapsulated so many grand qualities with such grace like Hill. He’s a Hall of Fame type talent and an astounding one at that.

Honors

Rookie of the Year (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1997)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1996, 1998-2000)
7x All-Star (1995-’98, 2000-’01, 2005)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1026 games):
16.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG
.551 TS%, .483 FG%, .769 FT%
19.0 PER, .138 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (39 games):
13.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG
.531 TS%, .469 FG%, .781 FT%
18.1 PER, .102 WS/48

Willis Reed

Born: June 25, 1942
Position: Center and Power Forward
Professional Career:
New York Knicks (NBA): 1964-’74

Willis Reed (Sports Illustrated)
Willis Reed (Sports Illustrated)

It’s unfortunate, but fitting, that the moment Willis Reed is most remembered for is hobbling onto the court during Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. He emotionally jolted the New York Knicks with his surprise appearance, nailed his first two jump shots, but contributed nothing else for the rest of the game. But the Knicks were a complete team and behind Walt Frazier took the game and the title from the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s a shame, but instructive, that  moment has come to overshadow what Reed accomplished not just for his whole career, but even that single season. He secured a spot on the All-NBA 1st Team, the All-Star Team, and the All-Defensive 1st Team in 1970. He was voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the regular season. He was voted the Finals MVP, not just for a gallant entrance in Game 7, but for a magnificent total series where averaged 32 points per game prior to his hamstring injury.

How Reed scored those points, and generally played, are nothing like the hobbled man who came out of the Madison Square Garden tunnel.

Reed was a galloping center who routinely finished fast breaks with ferocious dunks and elastic layups. He possessed a gorgeous mid-range jumper to draw out taller centers and free up the lane. He captured rebounds with an intensity that few men have ever displayed. He was gentlemanly off the court and was stately on it, but if opponents rubbed him or teammates the wrong way, he turned into the most feared brawler of his era.

His career began in the mid-1960s as the NBA’s 1965 Rookie of the Year. For the next few years he shared the frontcourt with Walt Bellamy. Bells was installed at center and Reed was shifted to power forward. The duo were an effective but not seamless fit. Both men were centers and eventually Bellamy was traded for Dave DeBusschere. That trade helped balance the roster as did the drafting of Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley.

With these building blocks in place, the Knicks became the Eastern Conference’s premier team of the early 1970s appearing in three NBA Finals and winning two of them. The second title in 1973 was won with Reed in the fold, but he was nowhere near the dominant force he was in 1970.

And even by the end of the 1970 season, Reed was past his prime. It seems crazy, but it’s true. As mentioned above, he was an All-Star and NBA MVP, he averaged 32 points per game in the first four games of the NBA Finals, but then came the hamstring injury. He barely played the final three games of the ’70 Finals, scoring a grand total of 11 points over those concluding contests.

For the 1971 season, Reed turned in another superb season of 21 points and 14 rebounds per game. However his field goal percentage dove from 50% in 1970 to 46% in 1971. Wear and tear – and the tenacious Baltimore Bullets – further eroded Reed in the playoffs: 16 PPG, 12 RPG, and 41% shooting.

A left knee injury all but knocked him out for the entire 1972 season and he never fully recovered. The acquisition of Jerry Lucas helped give Reed a final productive year in that title season of 1973, but it was average NBA center production of 11 points and 8.5 rebounds. It wasn’t the Reed of the previous five seasons or so who was averaging around 20 points and 14 rebounds every year. In the 1973 playoffs, the well-rounded Knicks were stout enough to capture a second NBA title with Reed finding enough pep to average 16 points and win Finals MVP as no single Knicks player really outshone the others in that series.

The next season saw Willis cobble together just 11 more games in the regular season and 11 awful games in the playoffs. It was clear that he couldn’t go on anymore and retirement swiftly followed.

His career was fairly short and the highly productive portion even shorter. Still, he did more in those seven highly productive years than nearly every other NBA player has been able to do in careers twice as long. There’s a reason why everyone in New York went wild when Reed limped onto the court. He was the NBA’s MVP in 1970 and deserving of the honor.

Remember that why next time footage of Reed coming out of the tunnel comes on the tube.

Honors

MVP (1970)
2x Champion (1970, 1973)
2x Finals MVP (1970, 1973)
All-NBA 1st Team (1970)
All-Defensive 1st Team (1970)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1967-’69, 1971)
All-Rookie Team (1965)
Rookie of the Year (1965)
7x All-Star (1965-’71)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (650 games):
18.7 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 1.8 APG
.523 TS%, .476 FG%, .747 FT%
18.6 PER, .156 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (78 games):
17.4 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1.9 APG
.511 TS%, .474 FG%, .765 FT%
17.8 PER, .144 WS/48

Hal Greer

Born: June 26, 1936
Position: Shooting Guard and Point Guard
Professional Career:
Syracuse Nationals (NBA): 1958-’63
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 1963-’73

Hal Greer

Consistently consistent. Unassumedly unassumed.

Hal Greer just trucked along in the background of the 1960s NBA.

He never led the league in scoring, never came close in fact, but he was one of the league’s best scorers. He never came close to sniffing an assist title, but he was a crafty passer. He never made the All-NBA 1st Team, but he did tally seven consecutive All-NBA 2nd Team appearances and ten straight All-Star games.

From 1961 to 1971, Greer never averaged below 18.6 points and never above 24.1. His teams made the playoffs every year from 1959 to 1971. During the same period, he played 1003 of a possible 1037 games. Players in the league recognized Greer as one of the exemplars of excellent guard play.

And yet he just trucks along in the background, even though he had one of the silkiest jump shots to grace the hardwood. He rarely gets put down as one of the great shooting guards in NBA history when popular Top 10 lists come out. Surprising, given that when he retired in 1973, Greer had scored more points than any player to that point, except Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and Elgin Baylor. He had also played more games than any player ever. Only Oscar, Wilt, and Bill Russell had played more minutes.

But Greer is in the background because he started his career in 1959 with the Syracuse Nationals, the smallest of the NBA’s markets at the time. At the beginning of his career in Syracuse, perennial All-Star Dolph Schayes commanded what attention Syracuse received. Greer didn’t become a starter until 1961. From 1962 to 1964, Greer was the Nats/76ers best player (Syracuse having moved to Philly in 1963). However, it was the lowest ebb in talent for the club as its initial core of Schayes, Red Kerr, and Larry Costello aged, and younger players like Chet Walker were still maturing into full-fledged stardom.

Then in 1965 along came the outsized personality, ego, and talent of Wilt Chamberlain. Greer was a bit piqued at the Dipper’s arrival. Hal may have been in the background for the popular basketball conscience, but by this point he was the 76ers’s #1 player and scoring option. Chamberlain certainly changed that equation and thus Greer had to adapt and relegate himself to second banana status once again. Even with Wilt’s departure in 1968, a new star in Billy Cunningham assumed the mantle as Philly’s best player. Even on his own team, Greer had trouble standing out.

But just because someone fails to standout doesn’t mean they aren’t noteworthy. To this day, Greer remains unsurpassed in Nats/76ers history in total points scored.

In 1967, the 76ers stormed to a then-record 68 wins and the championship. Wilt was rightly NBA MVP, but Greer – along with Chet Walker – was charged with breaking down defenses if the offense got a little stale. And on the flip side, Greer was always game to harass and dig into the opponent’s best guard. In the 1967 playoffs, Greer came through with a nightly average of 28 points. And in the NBA Finals, Greer was tireless in averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists per game.

Lastly, Greer’s longevity – hinted at above with his games and minutes played – also merits bringing him out from the historical shadows. When he retired in 1973, he and Elgin Baylor were the only NBA players to have scored over 10,000 points after turning 30 years old. And at age 34 he was still scoring 18.6 PPG. That may seem trivial, but it’s more noteworthy than you think.

Then again that’s Hal Greer, more noteworthy than you think.

After all, he did shoot jump shots for free throws.

 

Honors

Champion (1967)
7x All-NBA 2nd Team (1963-’69)
10x All-Star (1961-’70)
All-Star Game MVP (1968)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1122 games):
19.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG
.506 TS%, .452 FG%, .801 FT%
15.7 PER, .124 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (92 games):
20.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
.491 TS%, .425 FG%, .812 FT%
14.7 PER, .096 WS/48

George Gervin

Born: April 27, 1952
Position: Shooting Guard and Small Forward
Professional Career:
Virginia Squires (ABA): 1972-’74
San Antonio Spurs (ABA/NBA): 1974-’85
Chicago Bulls (NBA): 1985-’86

George Gervin
George Gervin

One of the smoothest players to ever lace up a pair of Nikes, George Gervin was an effortless scoring machine. Nothing ever seemed to rattle, faze, or perturb the Ice Man. Inspired by Elgin Baylor’s litany of acrobatic and scooping shots, Gervin patented his own finger roll to stunning results.

The shot was a so unorthodox and yet so effective it couldn’t help but make Gervin a star. His offensive arsenal went beyond the finger roll, though. He had a stellar, if gawky, jump shot. His skin-and-bones frame meant post ups were out of the question, but Gervin was constantly able to squirm and sliver through defenses to attack the rim.

He couldn’t play a lick of defense but when you snag four scoring titles in five years, on outstanding field goal percentages, your team figures out how to make due. Indeed, Gervin had a scorching stretch from 1978 to 1984 where he averaged 28.8 points per game while shooting 51% from the field and 84% from the free throw line.

The San Antonio Spurs, whether in the ABA or NBA, certainly made the most of Gervin’s career as they missed the playoffs just once and advanced to the second round seven times including three trips to the Conference Finals.

Gervin’s offensive deluges were aided by players like James Silas – the floor general and leader of the Spurs in the 1970s – and Larry Kenon early in his career. Then a second band of helpmates in Johnny Moore, Mike Mitchell, and Artis Gilmore came aboard in the early 1980s. These players handled the passing, the defense, and the rebounding while Ice handled the scoring. Dick Motta in 1982 summed up defensive strategies for Gervin:

“You don’t stop George Gervin. You just hope that his arm gets tired after 40 shots. I believe the guy can score when he wants to. I wonder if he gets bored out there.”

At the tail-end of his career when the ice began to melt, Spurs coach Cotton Fitzsimmons broached Gervin with the idea of being a sixth man. After all, Gervin was in his early 30s now and his defense – never good – was getting horrendous. Gervin retorted, “I ain’t no John Havlicek.” Indeed he wasn’t. Havlicek was an all-around player while Gervin was “singular, comet-like” to use Terry Stembridge’s words.

Even if singular, his talent was awe-inspiring and it was enough to ensure that the San Antonio Spurs were a viable enough franchise to be absorbed by the NBA when the ABA finally collapsed in 1976. Future Spurs legends may have hung the title banners, but Gervin’s presence is what kept the franchise alive instead of having it permanently put on ice.

Honors

5x All-NBA 1st Team (1978-’82)
2x All-ABA 2nd Team (1975-’76)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1977, 1983)
12x ABA/NBA All-Star (1974-’85)
NBA All-Star Game MVP (1980)
ABA All-Rookie 1st Team (1973)

 

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1060 games):
25.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG
.564 TS%, .504 FG%, .841 FT%
21.4 PER, .157 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (84 games):
26.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG
.560 TS%, .501 FG%, .820 FT%
21.2 PER, .146 WS/48