Photo by MikeBehnken via Flickr
“What did I get the most thrill out of? It was winning the championship. Individual honors are nice but it’s not like winning. Winning and making a positive contribution is, I think, the most satisfying thing I’ve ever experienced. It’s just a shame we couldn’t have kept that team.”
- Paul Arizin on the 1956 NBA champion Warriors
No matter how great three players are, they cannot write, tell or compose the whole story of a franchise. Before their move to San Francisco in 1962, the Philadelphia Warriors revolved around the trio of Joe Fulks, Neil Johnston and Arizin, but there was certainly more talent in the fold. Those three men played with of some of the finest players of the era and even a couple of other hall of famers and all-time greats.
There was PF/C Woody Sauldsberry. After college ball at Texas Southern University and a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters, Sauldsberry was the 60th pick in the 1957 draft and would surprise everyone by turning in 12.8 points and 9.4 rebounds in his three seasons with the Warriors from 1958 to 1960. His unexpected play made the transition from Neil Johnston to Wilt Chamberlain smoother than it otherwise would have been. An all-star in 1959, he remains to this day the lowest draft pick to ever win Rookie of the Year. And my goodness, does he have a story to tell that sadly reminds of the racism, particularly of the St. Louis Hawks, in the 1950s and 1960s NBA.
Youngsters Tom Meschery and Al Attles made some noise in Philly that would soon become a cacophony when the Warriors moved west. Meschery debuted in the Warriors’ last season in Philly to the tune of 12 points and 9 rebounds. The eventual all-star wasn’t the least bit gun shy that postseason averaging 20 points and 11.5 rebounds as the Warriors went down in 7 games to Boston in the Eastern Finals. Tom also has a personal story worth reading up on. Spending part of your childhood in a Japanese prison during World War II tends to warrant a read.
Attles was a defensive pit bull (nicknamed the Destroyer) with the crew cut to match. He spent two seasons in Philadelphia and would be with the Warriors organization until 1970 as a player, then was coach (winning the 1975 NBA title) until 1983 and was a team executive until… well, until the present. It’s 50 years and going strong for Attles and the Warriors.
Philly native Guy Rodgers was another of the late-50s youngbloods that re-invigorated the Warriors following Neil Johnston’s retirement. The point guard would eventually play in 4 all-star games and lead the league in assists twice. And if anyone can take a heap of credit for aiding Wilt Chamberlain in his 100-point game it was Rodgers who dished out 20 assists that night in Hershey, PA. Rodgers accomplished a Wiltonian feat of his very own the next season in 1963 when he dished out 28 assists to tie Bob Cousy’s single-game record.
Jack George was the man that Rodgers succeeded in the Philadelphia backcourt. Not as dynamic as Rodgers, George was nonetheless the steady hand that routinely gave 12 points, 5.5 assists and 4 rebounds a night. 1956 was his third pro season and his banner campaign. He averaged career highs of 14 points and 6.3 assists, led the league in minutes played, made his first of two all-star teams and earned his only All-NBA selection. His ascension perhaps explains the Warriors’ breakout as NBA champions that year.
Or maybe it was rookie F/G Tom Gola who put Philly over the top in 1956. Debuting with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists per game, he would remain an all-around presence to fill in the holes in Philadelphia as his play barely wavered from that rookie campaign. During his 400 games in Philadelphia, Gola averaged 13.5 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, made three straight All-Star games (1960-62) and was a member of the 1958 All-NBA 2nd Team.
The final big piece on the ’56 title team was PF Joe Graboski (a name that screams early 50s NBA). He was the third player to enter the NBA straight from high school back in the 1948-49 season with the Chicago Stags. Taken in by the Warriors in 1953, Joe never appeared in an all-star and his shooting percentage was atrocious, but he bruised with the best of them down low. In his six seasons as a starter (1954 – 1959), Graboski averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds.
And the man that sent Graboski to the Philly bench in the 1959-60 season was none other than the Big Dipper, Wilt Chamberlain. It was as a Philadelphia Warrior that Wilt set the single-season records for points per game (50.4), rebounds per game (27.2) and minutes per game (48.5). In 1961 he was the first Warrior and NBA player to shoot above 50% from the field for an entire season.
Of these Philadelphia Warriors greats, only those who spent time in the Bay Area (Chamberlain, Attles, and Merschery) have been recognized by the Warriors franchise with jersey retirements. That’s Golden State’s prerogative, of course, but I disagree with it. Even the Kings have done justice to their previous stops and have jersey numbers retired from their Rochester, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Omaha days.
It’s particularly galling with Arizin who is still splattered all over the Warriors’ record books. He’s top five in games (4th), minutes (3rd), field goals made (4th), free throws made (1st), rebounds (5th), points (3rd), and win shares (2nd). If he stands no chance, the others certainly don’t.
Not that most of these fellows would be around to bask in their own glory. Joe Fulks was murdered in 1976. Neil Johnston passed away in 1978. Jack George exited this world in 1989. Arizin, Chamberlain, Rodgers, Graboski and Sauldsberry have left us too in the past dozen years. Of these greats, only Attles, Gola and Meschery can still attest what it meant to be a Philadelphia Warrior.
And make no doubt about it, they were great times. 16 years, 12 playoffs, 6 Eastern Finals appearances, 3 NBA Finals appearances and 2 titles. As individuals these men collected 27 All-Star games, 18 All-NBA teams, 10 scoring titles, 4 rebounding titles, 2 Rookie of the Year awards and 1 MVP. That’s quite a nice haul from some pretty nice players…