Forgotten Warriors: Paul Arizin

Years Active: 1951-52; 1955 – 1962
Regular Season Stats: 713 games, 38.4 mpg
22.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 42.1% FG, 81% FT
Playoff Stats: 49 games, 38.6 mpg
24.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 41.1% FG, 82.9% FT
Accolades: 10x All-Star (1951-52; 1955-62), 3x All-NBA 1st Team (1952, 1956-57), All-NBA 2nd Team (1959), All-Star Game MVP (1952), NBA Champion (1956); 2x PPG Leader (1952, 1957), FG% Leader (1952)

Photo via The Modern Encyclopedia Of Basketball

“We went out to San Diego to play the San Diego Recruit Depot for the Marine Corps championship. And we were told ‘If you don’t win, you’re not coming back. You’re going to Korea.’ Now talk about playing under pressure. That is playing under pressure. Fortunately, we won…”

Via Paul Arizin from NBA Basketballography

Paul Arizin’s Hall of Fame resume began rather inauspiciously, if not down right ignominiously. A native of Philadelphia, Arizin tried out only once for his high school basketball team, during his senior year, but failed to make it. Enrolling at Villanova University as a chemistry major, Arizin continued to play basketball in various intramural, Catholic and independent leagues. Scouting the local talent, Villanova’s head coach, Al Severance, spotted Arizin during one of the games and offered him a chance to go to Villanova. Arizin politely informed him he already attended the school and the next year as a sophomore, Arizin joined the team.

Arizin rapidly progressed to become the nation’s best college player. As a junior he leveled 85 points in a single game. He even topped the 100 point mark in a single game, but the feat isn’t recognized because it came against a junior college. Nevertheless, his scoring average escalated from 11 to 22 to 25 by his senior year when he was declared Player of the Year and selected to the AP All-America 1st Team in 1950.

Arizin’s success was attributable in large part to his unstoppable offensive weapon, the jump shot. During his pre-Villanova days, Paul claimed that his intramural games would be played in dance halls with slick floors. The popular shot of the day for a player in motion, aside from layups, was the hook. However, the slick floors prevented Arizin from firmly planting a foot to balance the hook. Already possessing a good one-handed shot and unconscionable hang-time, Arizin figured that jumping and firing the one-handed shot was his best option to take advantage of defenses and the slick floors. Another side effect of the dance hall scene was that Arizi’s shot had an incredibly low trajectory thanks to the low ceilings of the venues.

Leaving behind the dance halls and Villanova, Arizin joined the NBA in 1950. Playing alongside star forward Joe Fulks, Arizin’s rookie season was the least impressive of his career. Although scoring only 17 points a game, Arizin proved a tenacious rebounder averaging 9.8 per contest. The next season, 1951-52, Arizin broke out as the Warrior’ best player as Fulks began to fade and rookie Neil Johnston rode the bench. Not only was it a breakout season, it may have been Arzin’s finest ever. His scoring average of 25.4 led the league and he paced all shooters with a field goal percentage of .448. Paul also proved to be the league’s most durable workhorse by ­playing in all 66 games and led the NBA with 44.5 minutes played per game. Everyone quickly realized that season that Arizin was now the Warriors’ main threat:

It used to be: stop Joe Fulks, and you stop the Philadelphia Warriors. Not so any more. Not while a gent named Paul Arizin is around. Arizin, a tireless, six-foot-four Jumping Jack , currently is the big gun in Philadelphia’s attack the Warriors have played three games so far and Arizin has been a high scorer each time, netting, in order, 22, 23 and 29 points.

Making his 2nd straight All-Star game in 1952, Arizin would take home the MVP award after scoring 26 points on a scintillating 9-13 shooting from the field and 8-8 from the free throw line. Arizin would also be selected to his first All-NBA 1st Team. The Warriors finished 33-33 and were ousted in the Eastern first round, 2 games to 1, by Syracuse.

Arizin had clearly arrived as one of the NBA’s top acts. This was not solely due to his amazing jump shot. That was but one weapon in his arsenal. If left wide open, he would take a one-handed set shot. If defended he would take to a hard-dribble and close in on the basket. Sometimes he would pull up for the jump shot. (In fact, he never took a jump shot while standing still. It was always off the dribble.) Other times, he progressed all the way to the basket for a winding layup utilizing his spectacular jumping ability or was hammered hard by defenders and would go to the free throw line. For his career, he nearly averaged as many FTs made (7.0) as FGs made (7.9).

Arizin’s perch atop the NBA was short-lived as he was spirited away by the United States Marine Corps. With the Korean War still raging, the draft was in full effect and Arizin got his call prior to the 1952-53 season. He would spend the next two years on the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia as a bookkeeper. In his absence, Joe Fulks retired and Neil Johnston surged to the forefront as the NBA’s leading scorer. But without a helping mate, Johnston’s Warriors floundered to a 12- and then a 29-win season. Finally, Arizin returned for the 1954-55 campaign and a dynamite duo was created.

Working his way back into NBA shape, Arizin posted a respectable season as a the Warriors improved to a 33-39 record. The following season, Arizin, Johnston and their band of Warriors (future Hall of Famer Tom Gola, Â Joe Graboski and Jack George) stormed their way to an NBA best 45-27 record and met the Fort Wayne Pistons in the Finals:

The Fort Wayne Pistons’ biggest problem appears to be stopping Paul Arizin as they try to square their [NBA] championship series with Philadelphia here tonight. Arizin has scored 82 points in three games and the Warriors hold a 2-1 edge in the best of seven series. They won two four-point victories at Philadelphia and the Pistons won by a single point here. Fort Wayne may have to put two men on Arzin to keep the home floor hex working. Philadelphia hasn’t won a game here in four years but almost made it Sunday.

The Pistons hex didn’t quite work out as Arizin and the Warriors won the last two games to finish up the series in 5 games and took home the title. The Warriors were perhaps on the cusp of a mini-dynasty, but bad luck and the military draft happened. Between Tom Gola serving in the military in 1957 and Neil Johnston’ career-ending injury in 1959, the Warriors were never quite able to fulfill their promise suffering a first-round sweep in 1957, a 5-game smack down by Boston in the 1958 Eastern Finals and missing the playoffs entirely in 1959.

Photo Via

Through it all Arizin, was the one constant for Philadelphia. He again led the league in scoring with 25.7 points per game in 1957 and averaged a career high 26.4 in the 1959 season. He made two more All-NBA 1st Team appearances in 1956 and 1957 followed by a 2nd Team selection in 1959 and was an all-star every one of these seasons. Indeed, he made the all-star game in every year of his career.

The 1959-60 season saw the Warriors surge back to relevance behind the sensational rookie season of Wilt Chamberlain. His 37.6 points and 27 rebounds were clearly the talk of the town, but Arizin remained steady with averages of 22 points and 8.5 rebounds for the season. Â With Tom Gola (15ppg, 10.5rpg, 5.5apg) still in tow and new addition Guy Rodgers (11.6ppg, 7apg, 6rpg), the Warriors appeared a legitimate challenge to defending champion Boston, but fell in 6 games in the Eastern Finals that year.

1961-62 would see the last challenge mounted by the Philadelphia Warriors to Boston’s increasingly vice-like grip on the conference and the league. First, the Warriors would have to dispatch the Syracuse Nationals in the opening round of the playoffs:

10 year veteran Paul Arizin fired in 43 points in 41 minutes last night to power the Philadelphia Warriors to a 110-103 victory over the Syracuse Nationals in the opener of the best of five Eastern Division National Basketball Association playoff… Arizin sank 16 field goals in 28 shots, 11 of 15 free throws and corralled 10 rebounds to his season high and turn in one of the finest performances in 10 years with the Warriors.

With Pitchin’ Paul’s hot start Philadelphia survived in 5 games to face Boston in the Eastern Finals. The series was a back-and-forth struggle in which the home team won every game. Boston opened things up with a 117-89 whacking of the Warriors in Boston Garden in Game 1, but the Warriors remained undeterred forcing things to a seventh and deciding game after Arizin netted 28 points in Game 6. The Celtics, however, escaped the series on a last second shot by Sam Jones to win the 7th game 109 – 107. That shot by Jones punctuated the end of an era in Philadelphia basketball.

The Warriors that offseason headed cross-country and became the San Francisco (and eventually Golden State) Warriors. Paul Arizin did not make the trip. He elected to retire from the NBA, take a better-paying job at IBM and moonlight in nearby Camden, New Jersey’s team in the Eastern Basketball League for three more years. Nonetheless, he left the NBA as the league’s third all-time leading scorer with 16,266 points. He was the first player to string together nine straight 20+ppg seasons. At 6’4″ he’s also the shortest player in league history to average at least 8 rebounds a game for his career. And of course there’s that magnificent jump shot of his that forever changed how the game was played.

All in all, he was the steadiest of the Philadelphia Warriors greats. He was the linchpin of the franchise. The only one to play with Fulks, Johnston and Chamberlain. If he had not missed two seasons due to the military, he very well could have been the 1st player to top 20,000 career points. As it stands, he’ll just settle for the Hall of Fame, 10 all star games and his 1956 title. A pretty good haul for a man who was cut from his high school team and even after his All-America days at Villanova thought he had no future in professional basketball.

6 thoughts on “Forgotten Warriors: Paul Arizin

  1. […] For three straight seasons, he 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. […]

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