Fat Lever

Born: August 18, 1960
Position: Point Guard
Professional Career:
Portland Trail Blazers (NBA): 1982-’84
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 1984-’90
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1990-’94

Fat Lever

Lever’s low profile has been largely of his own doing. On the court his moves are efficient and, thanks to his stamina, relentless rather than spectacular. And he shows all the apparent passion of a CPA at a Chapter 11 hearing. “Some guys show their feelings, some guys don’t,” he says. “I may not, but they’re jumping around inside.”

– Via Fat is Lean and Tough

Lafayette “Fat” Lever was indeed “relentless rather than spectacular.” But in a peculiar twist, that relentlessness became spectacular. Think of him as the stream of water that unerringly flows forth through the years, centuries and millennia and eventually turns into the mighty Mississippi or carves out the Grand Canyon.

This 6’3″ point guard was like that mighty stream. He just wore you down in every stat, every facet and every way.

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Tommy Heinsohn

Born: August 26, 1934
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1956-’65

Tom Heinsohn SI

Tom Heinsohn’s influence in today’s NBA has boiled down to how many Tommy Points he hands out on a given night to the Boston Celtics. Or how many vitriolic rants he aims toward incompetent referees.

Back in the day, though, Heinsohn still dished out points, but they were the ones that actually counted on the court. As the Boston Celtics’ official gunner, he shot so much and so often that he was nicknamed “Tommy Gun” and “Ack-Ack.” You know, “Ack-Ack” as in the sound a tommy guns made in those old black-and-white gangster movies.

On many teams having a man flinging hook shots nearly 20 feet from the basket would result in discord and ill-feelings. The Boston Celtics, though, could subsume Heinsohn’s free-shooting ways and turn it into a strength. The Celtics would look to score easily on the break, but if that failed Heinsohn could always work his way into a good shoot… or at least a shot… that no other Celtic could manage in the half-court as time ran low on the shot clock.

Compared to his contemporaries, only Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain could outmatch Heinsohn’s propensity to shoot:

Player – Shots per minute 1956 – 1965
Wilt Chamberlain (Warriors/76ers) – 0.69 shots
Elgin Baylor (Lakers) – 0.63
Heinsohn – 0.61
Bob Pettit (Hawks) – 0.56
Sam Jones (Celtics) – 0.55
Cliff Hagan (Hawks) – 0.54
Jack Twyman (Royals) – 0.54
Jerry West (Lakers) – 0.53
Oscar Robertson (Royals) – 0.49
Hal Greer (Nationals/76ers) – 0.48
Richie Guerin (Knicks/Hawks) – 0.47

That’s a lot of shots per minute, but Heinsohn’s unremarkable conditioning limited him to barely 30 minutes a night in his career. However he possessed a natural agility that made him hard to handle for defenses when he was in the game. He could score on his vaunted hook shots, a sweet jump shot, and strong driving moves.

Heinsohn also served as the resident whipping boy for Red Auerbach. When other players were too sensitive for critique, Auerbach would lay into Heinsohn’s conditioning or some other issue release stress. That Heinsohn absorbed such insult with more or less good nature was of emotional import to the Celtics.


Tommy Heinsohn

His finest moment may have come in his very first season as he scored 37 points and hauled in 23 rebounds in Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals to clinch Boston its first NBA title. Teammate Bill Sharman gushed over Heinsohn’s superb performance: “What a show Tommy put on. I never saw anyone play like that under pressure, let alone a rookie.”

The glory continued for Heinsohn through the years.

In 1959, as Boston cruised to its second title in a four-game sweep of Minneapolis, Heinsohn was absolute dynamite averaging 24.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in the series. The Lakers defense proved powerless to hold him down as a he also shot .475 FG% and .808 FT% in the series.

In 1961, despite playing just 26 minutes a game, Heinsohn led the Celtics in points scored with 22 a game in the Finals as they brushed off the St. Louis Hawks in five games. Playing relatively few minutes while still leading the team in scoring was Heinsohn’s M.O.

Indeed, in Boston’s first seven Finals appearances (1957-’63), Heinsohn was their leading scorer in four of the series, before tailing off in their final two appearances (1964-’65) in the NBA championship. In those first seven Finals, Heinsohn averaged a robust 21.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in a relatively scant 32 minutes.

His shots per minute? 0.64.

Before retiring in 1965 due to chronic knee problems, Heinsohn won six NBA titles helping (and being helped by) teammates like Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Jim Loscutoff and, of course, Bill Russell. As coach of the Celtics in the 1970s he led them to two more titles in 1974 and 1976 giving Heinsohn a personal total of 10 NBA titles.

That’s a pretty good haul for Boston’s vaunted gunner.

Before we close this out, though, it would be remiss to not bring up Heinsohn’s instrumental role in the labor strife of ’64. Taking over from teammate Bob Cousy, Heinsohn led the NBPA during the early and mid-1960s. Here’s Heinsohn in his 1976 autobiography describing the events that unfolded:

It was unanimously agreed that there would be no All-Star game unless we received a written commitment on a pension plan. We had been turned down in the morning by [NBA Commissioner] Walter Kennedy and [Pistons owner] Fred Zollner, representing the Board of Governors and the pension committee.

We knew Zollner’s attitude toward the Association, which gave us a fair idea of the result.  Walter Kennedy was new at the game but knew we had tried to talk with the Board of Governors in New York in October of that season and had been ignored. We left humiliated, angry, and determined to establish our dignity, at the least.

At six o’clock the night of the All-Star game, after we had met with all the players, Bob Pettit and I went to Commissioner Kennedy’s hotel room and informed him we would not play without a pension guarantee. We asked for a meeting with the owners before the game or else. We were not militant people by nature or background but were forced to challenge the owners’ one-way attitude in some way.

And thus began the standoff. Owners refused to budge, as did the players. Commissioner Kennedy pleaded with both sides as the ABC cameras prepared to broadcast the event, a rarity for the NBA then. Five minutes before shootaround, Kennedy gave his word to the Heinsohn and the players that he’d set up a meeting to work out a pension deal. Heinsohn accepted Kennedy’s word and suggested players vote to participate in the game. They did so and the NBA was saved from extreme embarrassment.

True to his word, Kennedy was able to cajole owners into formulating a pension plan for players. Give it up for Mr. Heinsohn in helping lead the way for the first major player’s union victory in NBA history.


8x Champion (1957, 1959-’65)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1961-’64)
6x All-Star (1957, 1961-’65)
Rookie of the Year (1957)


Regular Season Career Averages (654 games):
18.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, .405 FG%, .790 FT%
17.8 PER, .150 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (104 games):
19.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, .402 FG%, .743 FT%
17.7 PER, .136 WS/48

Marques Johnson

Born: February 8, 1956
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1977-84
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA): 1984-86
Golden State Warriors (NBA): 1989

The Lowdown: Quick and mobile, Marques Johnson was a handful for opposing forwards. Fewer small forwards crashed the offensive board as well as Marques. His mid-range jumper was just about automatic. And when trapped or pinned down, he had a way of whipping the ball out of trouble and to open teammates. His perennial 20-point, 7-rebound, 4-assist average spoke to his all-around skill. A terrible injury in 1986 cut his career short, but for nine seasons he plied his way as one of the league’s foremost forwards.


From the Bruins to the Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks were a perennial contender during the late 1970s and 1980s. The Bucks possessed one of the league’s best and most versatile lineups that largely grew from the presence of three men: coach Don Nelson who found creative ways to mix and match talent, guard Sidney Moncrief, and the slinky forward Marques Johnson.

Johnson joined the Bucks in the 1977-78 season as a rookie out of UCLA and was an instant sensation. At 6’7″, Johnson had a great height for a small forward but was also incredibly quick on the go. He didn’t possess a tremendous range on his jump shot, but from about 18 feet in he was a marksman.

Perhaps most disheartening for opponents though was Marques’ ability to crash the offensive glass. After playing a possession of good defense and forcing a missed shot, Bucks opponents would be crushed by Johnson getting second-chance points. He was also a beast in the post, although not on post ups. Johnson was a master at spinning off his defender, catching lob passes and finishing with a dunk or layup.

Being a small forward, Marques didn’t neglect other skills. He was a superb passer, could rise up to challenge shots, and was a very good defender. In his rookie season, Marques led the Bucks to the playoffs and carried them to the semi-finals where they lost to the Denver Nuggets in seven games. Johnson was magnificent averaging 24 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 blocks on 55% shooting. As the Bucks assembled a better-balanced squad over the ensuing seasons, Marques wouldn’t be required to unleash that kind of titanic performance time and time again.

Requirements aside, Marques generally maintained his super 1978 playoff performance for the duration of the 1979 regular season: 25.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.2 BPG and a white hot 55% shooting from the field. For his spectacular efforts, Johnson was named to the All-NBA 1st Team that season, but the Bucks finished with just 38 wins. Two moves would soon help improve and stabilize the Bucks: drafting Sidney Moncrief and trading for Bob Lanier.

With other able players like Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters, and Quinn Buckner, Marques’s Bucks were looking up.


Phase 2: Bucks Boogaloo

Spurred on by their acquisitions, the Milwaukee Bucks soared to 49 wins in the 1979-80 season. The trade for Lanier in February particularly was an instant success. Milwaukee went 20-6 after acquiring the big man. And in the playoffs, Moncrief finally emerged as a force to compliment Lanier and Marques. Their postseason adventure was ended, however, by the defending champion Seattle SuperSonics. Game 6 in particular was a heart-breaking experience. Up 3-2 in the series, Johnson delivered 22 points for the Bucks, who nonetheless lost the game 86-85 at home. Game 7 in Seattle was a close affair that the Sonics pulled out 98-94.

Unfortunately, the dye was cast for Marques, Moncrief, Lanier and the Bucks. They would rumble through the regular season and then lose, usually in close fashion, to another powerhouse in the playoffs. In 1981, the Bucks won 60 games in the regular season, but lost 99-98 to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Marques was a monster in the series averaging 25 points (including 36 in Game 7), 9.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 55.6% shooting. It was his finest playoff series as he crushed the 76ers for six… SIX!… offensive rebounds a game in the series.

Perhaps the big performance, and his third straight All-Star selection, convinced Marques he was being underpaid by the Bucks. So as the 1981-82 season geared up, Marques was a hold out demanding a new contract from Milwaukee. The stand off with management lasted through training camp, the preseason, and the first 18 games of the 1981-82 season. Johnson did ultimately receive the raise he wanted, but the lost time meant a relatively lackluster season.

It also led to suspicions that more than money was irking Marques in Milwaukee:

“Despite Johnson’s attempts to portray money as the primary issue of his holdout, there is growing suspicion that the city of Milwaukee is an equally strong – or stronger – factor… some of Johnson’s closest friends feel strongly that Johnson’s main gripe is having to play and live in Milwaukee for another two seasons.”

With the contract issue settled, Marques was rejuvenated for the 1983 and 1984 seasons. Over the course of those campaigns, he averaged 21 points, 7 rebound and 4.5 assists per game. And both seasons the Bucks reached the Eastern Conference Finals. However, each time they’d lose to the eventual NBA champ: the 76ers in 1983 and the Celtics in 1984.

In the summer of 1984, Marques welcomed a trade from Milwaukee to Los Angeles. The move fit better with Johnson’s off-court acting interests, but unfortunately for him he was traded to LA’s Clippers, not the Lakers. As many other players would learn in the future, playing for Donald Sterling’s Clippers was an unmitigated pain in the ass.



Clipper Land

A broken hand limited Johnson’s effectiveness in his first Clipper season. But he rebounded tremendously in 1986 snagging his fifth and final All-Star appearance. Behind Marques, the Clips finished with 32 wins. That would be their highest win total between the 1981 and 1992 seasons. The superb – by Clippers standards – season came despite an attempt by Sterling to void the trade that brought Marques to the Clippers a year earlier.

The real source of Sterling’s move appeared being a cheapskate, but the Clippers official reasoning harkened back to a minor drug problem Marques experienced years earlier:

“No, Marques and I haven’t sat down and talked,” [ Clippers team President Alan] Rothenberg said. “But I think he realizes it is a business decision, something the club felt it had to do. It’s nothing personal at all, really.”


A Times story last Feb. 9 reported that Johnson had undergone treatment at St. Mary’s Drug Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis in the summer of 1983. The story also quoted Rothenberg as saying that the club would have “thought twice” about making the trade had it known about Johnson’s previous drug problem.

Marques carried himself with dignity through the sordid ordeal and spoke positively of his drug rehab experience: “I didn’t think I had a problem before, but I went through that program, and they showed me I did. I came out a better person for it.”

The Clippers obviously lost their bid, but Marques’s career was just about finished unknown to everyone. Just 10 games into the next season (1986-87), Johnson collided with teammate Benoit Benjamin. The resulting spinal cord and neck injury effectively ended his career much too soon.

The despicable nature of Sterling’s ownership continued to harass Johnson, though, refusing to pay the rest of his salary. Marques recalled the galling nature of the situation:

“A quick story — in 1986, I had what was really a career-ending neck injury and in 1987, I lost a son in a drowning accident. An intermediary told me to call Donald because he wanted to reach out and talk to me about a contract dispute [after the season]. I called Donald up and he told me he was going to ruin me, that he was going to crush me financially, and that I needed to go ahead and settle on his terms if I wanted to have any money left. He talked to me to me like I was a piece of just bat guano.”

Worn down by the emotional and physical toll of events, Johnson settled with Sterling. He played 10 more games in a comeback attempt with the Golden State Warriors in the 1989-90 season, but it was uneventful.


Despite the brevity of his career, Johnson presaged many of the tall ball-handling small forwards we’ve become accustomed to over the years from Scottie Pippen to LeBron James. His utility made Don Nelson’s anarchic Bucks offense work sublimely. Meanwhile his tenacious offensive-rebounding and second-chance scoring was reincarnated a generation later by the slithering small forward Cedric Ceballos. Add on to that his smooth jump shot and quick anticipation for stealing the ball and you got yourself one hell of a ball player.

Marques Johnson is proof that few things are ever truly new. Usually we just refine and progress what’s come before us. Many of today’s small forwards owe that progressive, refined debt to Johnson, even if they don’t realize it. He was a fine and exquisite baller through and through.


All-NBA 1st Team (1979)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1980-’81)
5x All-Star (1979-’81, 1983, 1986)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1978)


Regular Season Career Averages (691 games):
20.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG, .518 FG%,  .739 FT%
20.1 PER, .162 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (54 games):
21.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 SPG, .489 FG%, .701 FT%
19.1 PER, .152 WS/48

Neil Johnston

Born: February 4, 1929
Died: September 28, 1978
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Philadelphia Warriors (NBA): 1951-59


“I doubt if Johnston will ever receive the recognition that Mikan got because Neil didn’t come into the league with the fanfare and blowing of trumpets that accompanied Mikan.” And the fact that Chamberlain came immediately after him, in the same city, also didn’t help.

Via Eddie Gottlieb and Alex Sachare from the 100 Greatest Basketball Players of All Time

If ever a player picked a bad time to dominate the NBA, it was Neil Johnston. He rose to prominence as George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers dynasty came to a close. He faded as Bill Russell began constructing a new one in Boston. Dynasties get the glory, interregnums, however, get a shoulder shrug.

His place in the mid-1950s, even if falsely reduced to merely a placeholder, was still pretty remarkable.

For three straight seasons, Johnston led the NBA in points per game with his ability to nail sweeping hook shots with either hand. So dependable was his hook shot that he also led the NBA in field goal percentage three times, although not consecutively. He was the finest, most dependable offensive weapon in the mid-1950s NBA with the exception perhaps of his Philadelphia Warriors teammate, Paul Arizin.
Johnston forming a dynamic one-two punch with Arizin would have seemed unfathomable in 1949. Neil wasn’t drafted by any pro basketball team. Instead his pro sports career began in the Philadelphia Phillies’s minor league system:

“It was my dad’s dream to see me play big league baseball. He would rather see me play one baseball game than 50 basketball games.”

So Neil went his father’s way, pitching at Terre Haute in 1949 and 1950… In 1951 he was moved to Wilmington of the Interstate League and there his arm started “tightening up.”

“I was a fastball pitcher without a fast ball.”

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Dan Issel

Born: October 25, 1948
Position: Center, Power Forward
Professional Career:
Kentucky Colonels (ABA): 1970-1975
Denver Nuggets (ABA/NBA): 1975-1985

Pat Williams, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, says of Issel, “He’s not a pro-type center, not defensive-minded, not an intimidator, and you can’t win a title with him. But when his career is over, he’ll be an immortal.”

Via “King of the Rocky Mountains” by Douglas Looney

The complaints of so-called dainty “big men” that prance around the perimeter are nothing new, basketball fans. Elvin Hayes and Bob McAdoo took their fair share of heat in the 1970s for not being “tough enough” and so did Dan Issel despite the evident utility of such big men then and now.

And by the way, Pat Williams, Dan Issel’s Kentucky Colonels did win the ABA title in 1975.

Ten years later on May 22, 1985, a great career came to end in Los Angeles. In the final game of that year’s Western Conference Finals, the Laker fans in attendance gave a rousing standing ovation as Dan Issel trotted off the court for the last time. Moments earlier Issel, a 6’9″ center, had nailed a three-pointer. It was one of just two field goals he made that night exhibiting the decline his body and skills had taken over 16 years of pro ball.

Of course, Dan Issel never played a single year, game, or minute for the Lakers. Still, the fans of Los Angeles and basketball worldwide had to give it up for a player such as Dan Issel.

As he retired, Issel possessed the following all-time ranks for pro basketball: 5th in games played, 6th in minutes played, 6th in field goals made, 4th in free throws made, and 15th in rebounds grabbed. Most importantly, only Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Julius Erving had scored more points than Dan up to that point. This was a basketball institution leaving the court for the last time.

Issel, simply put, was a scoring machine. He still remains the University of Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer despite only playing 3 years there. In pro basketball Issel did put up some highly impressive single season scoring averages, but his career scoring totals were heavily indebted to a remarkable longevity, consistency, and durability.

Issel only missed 24 of a possible 1242 games in his career.

The course he took to these points was unorthodox for a center. Like Hayes and McAdoo, Issel was a marksman from long-distance. His jumper extended nearly out to the three-point line, which invariably drew opposing centers out of their comfort zone. Issel would either calmly sink the jumper or deceive the defender with a pump fake and make his way toward the rim. Another favored method for Issel was scoring on the break.

He was by no means someone you could describe as fast, but neither were opposing centers in his era, for the most part, and Issel had the bonus of a motor that never stopped running. And he hit the ground running in his professional basketball career.


When he first entered the hardwood domain of the ABA back in 1970, Issel wasn’t yet an institution but he certainly had the framework. He led the ABA in scoring with 30 points per game that season and with the aid of little Louie Dampier, he took the Kentucky Colonels to the ABA Finals where they lost in seven games to the Utah Stars.

The Colonels beefed up their title chances the next year adding Artis Gilmore. The Issel-Dampier-Gilmore Colonels were a cornerstone of the ABA. Gilmore brought the intimidating inside defense, hook shots, and rebounding. Dampier brought the hot outside shooting and steady ball-handling. Issel brought a boatload of careening hustle, more rebounding, mobile offense from a big man, and easy fastbreak points.

The Colonels were a huge success during these years. In 1973, they lost another seven-game Finals series, this time to the Indiana Pacers. Then in 1975, the Colonels got revenge on their rivals in a 4-1 series manhandling of Indiana.

Amazingly winning the championship would be Issel’s last act as a Colonel. In the summer of 1975 he was traded first to the infamous Baltimore Hustlers/Claws, which quickly folded, and then to the Denver Nuggets. Moving back to center, Issel teamed up with David Thompson and Bobby Jones to lead Denver to the ABA Finals in 1976 (beating Kentucky along the way) before losing to the New York Nets in six games. Denver had the better overall team, but Julius Erving turned into a supernova for the Nets that series.

Merging with the NBA that summer, Issel and the Nuggets took their act to the NBA and there was no drama to their play. Despite roster changes (Thompson and Jones making way for George McGinnis and then Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe in the early 80s) and coaching switches (Larry Brown for Donnie Walsh and then Doug Moe) the Nuggets always scored like Chicagoans voted: early and often.

This style reached its zenith between 1981 and 1985 when the Nuggets never failed to average less than 120 points a game for a season. FIVE different times Issel was part of a troika of teammates that averaged at least 20 PPG a piece. That’s something that rarely happens – let alone happens that many times on one team.

Even with all that high-flying amazement, the Nuggets never got back to a Finals with Issel. The closest they came was the Western Conference Finals in 1978 (losing to Seattle) and in 1985 (losing to the Lakers). That ’85 series would see Issel score his final NBA points. Going out in style, Dan swished that 3-point bomb as the Great Western Forum crowd cheered him on.

A 6’9″ perpetually-balding center with a devilish grin is certainly not what we expect when thinking of ABA personalities and NBA legends. But Dan Issel was certainly one of the best and, indeed, he is immortal: his number is retired by the Nuggets, he’s a Hall of Famer, and to this day retains the most successful pro career of any Kentucky Wildcat. Eat your heart out, Ron Mercer.


Champion (1975)
Rookie of the Year (1971)
All-ABA 1st Team (1971)
4x All-ABA 2nd Team (1971, 1973-’74, 1976)
All-Star Game MVP (1972)
6x All-Star (1971-’76)

All-Star (1977)


Regular Season Career Averages (1218 games):
22.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, .499 FG%, .793 FT%
21.4 PER, .181 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (133 games):
22.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, .487 FG%, .822 FT%
20.1 PER, .161 WS/48

Bob Feerick

Born: January 2, 1920
Died: June 8, 1976
Position: Forward
Professional Career:
Oshkosh All-Stars (NBL): 1945-1946
Washington Capitols (BAA): 1946-1949
Washington Capitols (NBA): 1949-50

Bob Feerick didn’t enjoy a lengthy pro career, but – as with so many things of the mid-20th century – you can blame that on World War II. Like so many men of military age, Feerick was in the armed forces. Luckily for Feerick, he wasn’t sent to fight, and possibly die, on the beaches of Normandy or the sands of Saipan.

Instead he was sent to the domestic naval station at Norfolk where he encountered the fiery oddball, Red Auerbach. Feerick, who’d been a standout college player at Santa Clara, was an ace of the so-called Norfolk Naval Training Station Quintet. The team barnstormed on the weekends to make some extra cash, but the relationship formed between assistant coach Auerbach and Feerick would pay dividends in the coming years.

After leaving the service, Bob Feerick found himself in little Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as a member of their NBL squad, the All-Stars. During his one season (1945-46) with the team, Feerick averaged 9.5 points and 82% free-throw shooting. Oshkosh would lose in a hard-fought five-game series against their bitter rivals, the Sheboygan Redskins, in the playoffs. The NBL title was absolutely legit, but back in the 1940s, the World Professional Basketball Tournament held in Chicago was the most prestigious title to win.

The All-Stars made that tournament and Feerick turned up his play. In the semi-final against the Chicago Gears (and their rookie center George Mikan), Feerick lodged 22 points in a 72-66 victory to put them in the Finals. The venerable Leroy Edwards, a mainstay of the All-Stars, made a valiant effort with 24 points and Feerick chipped in 19, but the All-Stars were defeated by the Fort Wayne Pistons in the third and deciding game of that Finals series. For Feerick, this brief stay in the NBL proved he was indeed one of pro ball’s best players.

A new pro league and an old acquaintance soon came calling for his help.

Red Auerbach, stuck coaching high school ball in DC, persuaded the owner of the Washington Capitols to make him the new coach of this new franchise in the brand new Basketball Association of America. Red immediately got together some of his old Norfolk buddies, Feerick and Fred Scolari, and a basketball powerhouse was born.

Feerick, aged 25 and at the peak of his game, was widely regarded as the BAA’s best all-around player that season and the next. He was good on the boards, good at passing, and could rifle in a set-shot with no problem. And despite Auerbach being the official coach, Feerick was a brilliant basketball mind and was the de facto coach on the floor. He often called timeouts to stem opponents’ runs and walked to the bench mumbling under his breath at how incompetent the 29-year old Auerbach was at times.

With Feerick leading the BAA in FG% and finishing 2nd in PPG, the Caps set a blistering pace that year with a 49-11 record, which included just one home loss.

The torrid regular season pace came back to haunt the Caps in the playoffs. Their fastbreaking style and Auerbach’s insistent use of just seven players left them worn out. It also didn’t help the BAA inexplicably pitted its two best teams in an opening round playoff series. The second seed Chicago Stags upset top-seed Washington 4-games-to-2.

Over the next two seasons, the Caps continued to be regular season powerhouses. They placed first in their division 1949 season and finally reached the BAA Finals where they tangled with the Minneapolis Lakers losing in six games. Feerick, however, wasn’t around. He was out with injury for all but two of the games that postseason.

After a brief stint in 1949-50 as the Caps’ player-coach in the newly-formed NBA, Feerick retired from professional basketball to coach his alma mater, Santa Clara.

Feerick’s starring role on one of pro basketball’s best teams of the 1940s is his crowning achievement. The 1947 Caps’ win percentage of .817 was never bettered by a BAA team, and no NBA team did so until the 1966-67 Sixers won 68 games, a percentage of .840.

That success came as a result of Feerick’s all-around play at forward. His career is also as a reminder of an awkward time in pro basketball’s history. A grand basketball career of possibly 12 years gets cut to a career of just five years thanks to war, drafts, and jobs that paid better with half the hassle. Despite that reduction in career length, Feerick obviously made the most of it in his short time as a pro ball player.



2x All-BAA 1st Team (1947-’48)
All-BAA 2nd Team (1949)


Regular Season Career Averages (242 games):
13.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, .362 FG%, .805 FT%

Playoff Career Averages (14 games):
10.2 PPG, 1.4 APG, .311 FG%, .795 FT%

Adrian Dantley

Born: February 28, 1956
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Buffalo Braves (NBA): 1976-1977
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 1977
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1977-1979
Utah Jazz (NBA): 1979-1986
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1986-1989
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1989-1990
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1991


Adrian Dantley

One of the most unstoppable post players in the history of basketball stood a mere 6’5″ on a good day… in an extra thick pair of high knee socks.

That truth seemed like a doubtful assertion back in the 1970s when Adrian Dantley was routinely told time and again that he was too short to keep playing in the post. Or that he was too heavy and chunky to be any good in college, let alone the pros. And, yet, Dantley proved the naysayers wrong his entire career.

During his final two seasons at Notre Dame, AD dropped a shade under 30 points a night to go along with 10 rebounds and 56% shooting from the field. As his professional career unfolded, it turned out that Dantley’s rebounding would diminish but his scoring and, more remarkably, his FG% would not take a hit.

Despite winning Rookie of the Year in 1977, Dantley bounced from Buffalo to Indiana to the Lakers during his first three NBA seasons. His NBA per game averages to that point were 19.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, .515 FG% and .816 FT%. Not bad, but apparently not good enough for any team to retain.

Finally, though, Dantley found a home in 1979. The Lakers traded him to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Spencer Haywood. With the Jazz Dantley was given the freedom to fully unleashed his devastation upon the NBA.

From 1980 to 1986, Dantley averaged an absurd 29.6 points a night. Despite the increase in usage, his FG% actually rose considerably to an insanely high 56% for those seven seasons.

He rarely dunked and yet he maintained that percentage on a series of shots around the rim.  He’d have remarkable control of his body no matter how much pounding or twirling he’d do in the paint. And heaven help you, if you wound up fouling Dantley. He’d still probably make the shot thanks to his stocky strength and with his 80+ percent shooting from the foul line you were just giving him free points. Indeed, he led the NBA in free throws made four times in this span, in addition to winning the scoring title twice.

Dantley’s white hot streak peaked in 1984 when he led the league in scoring, win shares, PER, and WS/48.

As often happens, though, a player’s most prodigious statistical seasons don’t coincide with his most successful seasons from a team perspective. The Jazz only made the playoff three times during these seasons, but they managed to win two playoff series.

However, a trade to Detroit for the 1986-87 season gave Dantley a chance to be on a true contender. His scoring average dipped to 20 points a night, but with the Pistons having Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson, no one man needed to take a massive offensive load.

In 1987, the Pistons came within a mere three points of making the NBA Finals, but fell to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals by a score of 117 to 114. Dantley was an uncontrollable monster for the series averaging 23.6 points on 57.7% shooting,

The next season Detroit dispatched Boston and advanced to the NBA Finals. In Game 1 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, Dantley was a man possessed scoring 34 points on 14-16 shooting from the field and 6-7 shooting from the charity stripe. The Pistons won that game and eventually took a 3-2 series lead. They likely would have won the Finals if not for Isiah Thomas severely sprained ankle in Game 6. The Lakers pulled out that game by a single point and eked by in Game 7 with a three-point victory.

Unfortunately for Dantley he’d be traded midway through the 1989 season to Dallas in exchange for Mark Aguirre. The Pistons new high-scoring 1980s forward would capture two titles, while Dantley’s career wound down on mediocre, losing teams. Sadly, that’s the way basketball bounces sometimes.

One man’s lucky break is another’s bad misfortune. Still, Dantley’s career was a marvel. What he did control, he controlled with an ability rarely seen. And he did it with fantastic style: gorgeous knee-high socks, awesome chops on his face, and a great corkscrew free throw shot.




Rookie of the Year (1977)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1981, 1984)
6x All-Star (1980-’82, 1984-’86)
All-Rookie Team (1977)


Regular Season Career Averages (955 games):
24.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, .540% FG, .818% FT
21.5 PER, .189 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (73 games):
21.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, .525 FG%, .796 FT%
19.3 PER, .172 WS/48