A playground legend on the streets of New York City. A rookie sensation in Cincinnati. A bona fide superstar in Kansas City (and Omaha). A failure back New York. A reclamation and redemption in Boston. Nathaniel “Tiny” Archibald lived quite the basketball life.
Arriving on the banks of the Ohio River for the 1970-71 season, Archibald had the not so tiny task of replacing the recently departed Oscar Robertson as the Cincinnati Royals’ point guard. Initially sharing the backcourt with the outstanding Norm Van Lier (who led the NBA in APG that season), Archibald played mostly off-guard his rookie year in 1971. Van Lier, though, was traded to Chicago giving Archibald full control of the team in his 2nd season. By Archibald’s 3rd season, he practically was the team as the Cincinnati Royals moved to Kansas City and became the Kings.
Archibald’s progression and ascendancy was simply astounding:
1971: 16 PPG, 5.5 APG, 44.4% FG, 75.7% FT
1972: 28 PPG, 9 APG, 48.6% FG, 82.2% FT
1973: 34 PPG, 11.5 APG, 48.8% FG, 84.7% FT
However, the Royals/Kings franchise didn’t follow a similar pattern. They racked up 33, 30, and 36 wins during this same period. More Archibald, at least this kind of Archibald, didn’t mean more success.
By 1975, the Kings had figured out a winning formula that included a lot of Tiny’s awesome game, but the involvement of a more egalitarian offense. Archibald still averaged 26.5 points, but seven other teammates also finished in double figures for the season and the Kings made the playoffs for the only time in Archibald’s career with them.
From there Archibald was released into the NBA’s wilderness. The Kings traded him to the New York Nets prior to the 1976-77 season. Archibald only played 35 games for the franchise due to a foot injury. The Nets then traded Archibald to the Buffalo Braves prior to the 1977-78 season. Archibald never played a game for Buffalo thanks to an Achilles tear. The Braves (by now the San Diego Clippers) then traded the has-been guard to the Boston Celtics prior to the 1978-79 season.
An NBA GM summed up this depressing portion of Archibald’s career:
“The sad part,” one NBA general manager told Sport magazine in 1980, “is that I’m not sure anyone would have taken Tiny. Heck, he was 30 years old, had a bad reputation and a huge contract. He seemed to have lost his game.”
His stay in Boston began in rocky fashion, but Archibald found redemption in the 1979-80 season thanks to new coach Bill Fitch who instituted a coherent structure and let Archibald run the offense. It didn’t hurt that Tiny also had a rookie Larry Bird to ease the burden. Archibald’s unflappable dribbling and command of the offense helped propel Boston to a string of 60-win seasons and the NBA title in 1981.
Personally, he was rewarded with three-straight all-star appearances (his first since 1976) and was named the MVP of the 1981 contest. His numbers of 12.5 points and 7 assists with the Celtics paled in comparison to his Royals/Kings days, but Archibald was just as great with Boston as he was in his early years. His ability to penetrate and finish at the basket, hit lofting left-handed jumpers, and confidently dribble through a defense didn’t diminish. He was capable of all those things, he just applied them in a different and more successful way.
Years Played: 1970 – 1984
3x All-NBA 1st Team (1973, 1975-’76)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1972, 1981)
6x All-Star (1973, 1975-’76, 1980-’82)
All-Star Game MVP (1981)
NBA - 876 Games
18.8 PPG, 7.4 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 46.7% FG, 81.0% FT
PPG Leader (1973), APG Leader (1973)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1970-71 through 1983-84 season)
1st Assists, 5th APG
7th Points, 33rd PPG
2nd FTs Made, 29th FT%
12th FGs Made, 33rd Steals
8th Games Played, 6th Minutes Played