When NBA Stars Go Back Home

In Sports Illustrated late last week, LeBron James announced he was going home. What success LeBron will have going back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers remains to be seen, but there are comparable precedents. So here I am to help examine previous, notable examples of star players going home… or at least back to the team that first drafted them. And you’ll notice, LeBron is one of the few to have won a title in his pit stop before returning home.

Old and Beat Up – Returning to Your First NBA Team as an Old Man

Bob Dandridge
Bob Dandridge

Bob Dandridge – Won a Title Before Going Back!
Drafted 45th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 Draft, Bob Dandridge went on to become a 3x All-Star with the Bucks from 1969-70 to 1976-77. During this period he averaged 18.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 48.8% FG and 77.1% FT for the Bucks. The superb small forward was hailed as a defensive stopper and efficient offensive scorer helping Milwaukee to a title in 1971 and another Finals appearance in 1974. In 1977, Dandridge became one of the first star players to change teams via free agency signing with the Washington Bullets. During his first season there, the Greyhound led Washington to an NBA title and helped push them back to the Finals the next season in 1979. At age 34, Dandridge returned to the Bucks in November 1981 but played a mere 11 games before being waived.

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The MemoraBull, VeneraBull and IncredaBull Luol Deng

photo by Keith Allison (Flickr)
photo by Keith Allison (Flickr)

Ending one longtime era and starting a new, certainly different one, the Bulls traded Luol Deng to the Cavaliers late Monday night for center Andrew Bynum and three draft picks.

The Bulls will waive Bynum before the second half of his $12.3 million contract becomes guaranteed on Tuesday. That move will drop them below the luxury-tax threshold in a season in which they no longer are championship contenders after the loss of Derrick Rose to a knee injury, saving them close to $15 million.

So, Luol Deng is gone from the Windy City. The hustling, defending, never-ending Deng always ready to play 40 minutes a night. And Coach Thibs always willing play him those 40 minutes and more.

Playing so many minutes and doing so for nearly a decade in Chicago has made Deng one of the most venerable Chicago Bulls. Other people will do a better job of describing Deng’s on-court impact, so instead of that, I’ll just toss out some perspective via Deng’s franchise ranks in Chicago.

On-court Time
In terms of minutes, only Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Jerry Sloan have played more minutes in a Bulls uniform than Deng. Unsurprisingly, all three of those players have their jerseys retired by the Bulls. And just behind Deng at #5 on the list is Bob Love, who happens to complete the list of players with jerseys retired by Chicago.

With regard to games played, just Jordan, Pippen, Sloan and John Paxson have suited for more nightly tilts than Luol. Combine the 22,882 minutes played over the course of 637 games and Deng averages 35.9 minutes for each game played as a Bull.

On-court Production
With all that on-court time, Deng obviously will have some significant on-court production. Here are some testaments to his offensive output:

  • Points: 10,286 good enough for 4th all-time
  • Field Goals Made: 3987, 5th all-time
  • Field Goals Attempted: 8675, 5th all-time
  • Free Throws Made: 1925, 8th all-time
  • Free Throws Attempted: 2490, 8th all-time
  • 3-Pointers Made: 387, 7th all-time
  • 3-Pointers Attempted: 1170, 5th all-time

With “hustle” stats Deng also does quite well. He’s got the 5th most steals of any Bull ever with 639 – that puts him behind legendary defenders Jordan, Pippen, and “Stormin’ Norman” Van Lier… and also Kirk Hinrich. Luol also is 8th in total rebounds for the Chicago franchise with 4078.

And all of that production doesn’t measure the kind of defensive acumen and pressure Deng was capable of playing.

Mr. Bull of the 2000s
So, Deng does pretty well all-time in Bulls franchise history but focusing on the period after Michael Jordan retired and the Bulls dynasty collapsed, Luol takes on even greater prominence. Since the 1998-99 season, these are Deng’s ranks in categories:

  • Games – 1st
  • Minutes – 1st
  • Points – 1st
  • Field Goals Made – 1st
  • Free Throws Made – 1st
  • Total Rebounds – 1st
  • Defensive Rebounds – 1st
  • Offensive Rebounds – 2nd
  • Steals – 2nd
  • Assists – 3rd
  • Blocks – 4th
  • 3-Pointers Made – 4th

That’s quite a resume from Deng as he sails on to Cleveland and clearly establishes him as the Mr. Bull of his era. We’ll see in the years to come whether Chicago and NBA fans remember Deng as such.

Remembering Zelmo Beaty

One of the great players in basketball history departed Saturday as Zelmo Beaty passed away at age 73.

The 6’9″ center played from 1962 to 1975 in the NBA and ABA with the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks, the Utah Stars, and the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ve written many words on Zelmo’s fantastic career and I encourage you to read them:

 - The Original Big Z
– Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame: Zelmo Beaty

However in remembering Zelmo’s career today, I’ve simply decided to select a newspaper headline from every year of his career to demonstrate his greatness and tell a part of his story…

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We Survived… A Wretched Use of American History In A Sport Column

photo courtesy of "A Little Bit of Change"
photo courtesy of “A Little Bit of Change”

Whether or not baseball goes to any expanded use of instant replay isn’t something that raises my ire one way or the other. What does raise my ire is when someone tosses out a bunch of nonsensical rhetoric based upon American history to make their muddled point.

The culprit in this abuse of American history was Charles Hurt.

The whole article haranguing MLB for expanding instant replay begins on a depressingly awful note. The title imagery cloaks itself in asinine Cold War era masculinity: THE NUCLEAR OPTION — America’s Tipping Point: The Impending Baseball Nanny State. This warmongering title is followed up by every Cold War warrior’s favorite masturbatory image… a fireball of nuclear war!

The Nuclear Option3That perspective that Hurt brings to his column is one of unrelenting savagery. But it’s unrelenting savagery that’s sugar-coated, unthinking bravado. As frightening as a fireball of nuclear war is, the aftermath is even more wretched and would make any sane person think twice (or a never) about callously and wantonly creating a recurring article called “The Nuclear Option.”

In reality, the Nuclear Option means death, destruction, cancer, suffering, and devastation. The opening photo to this here article is of Hiroshima after the Nuclear Option was visited upon that city. A Google image search of “Hiroshima after nuclear attack” reveals even more gut-wrenching photos of what a Nuclear Option actually means for humanity.

But moving beyond that horrific opening, there’s the actual substance, if you can call it that, of the article.

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ProHoopsHistory HOF: Neil Johnston

Neil Johnston
Neil Johnston

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 gets a shoulder shrug.

His place in the mid-1950s, if only a placeholder, was still pretty remarkable.

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.

However, Arizin and Johnston’s mighty formation as an offensive one-two punch didn’t instantly congeal. In Johnston’s rookie season (1951-52),  Arizin led the entire NBA in scoring while Neil mostly sat on the bench. He averaged a scant 6 points per game. The next season, Arizin was drafted by the Marines, and Johnston was given all the playing time he could hope for on a Warriors team that was left pretty atrocious without Arizin. Joe Fulks was well past his prime and most other players on the team never had one.

It was in this landscape that Johnston worked his hook shot magic.

And it would be easy to say he simply scored lots of points on awful teams, but when Paul Arizin returned in time for the 1954-55 season Johnston maintained his exact excellent level of play. Without Arizin, Johnston scored 23.5 points per game with 12.5 rebounds in a staggering 45.5 minutes per game. With Arizin, Johnston scored 22 points with 13 rebounds in a more leisurely 37 minutes per game.

The Warriors quickly added more depth and by 1956 they were title contenders. Securing the NBA’s best regular season record, the Warriors survived a see-saw series with the Syracuse Nationals in the Eastern Division Finals. Johnston pulled his weight with titanic performances like Game 2 (43 points) and Game 4 (35 points).

Defeating the Nats 3-games-to-2, the Warriors dispatched the Fort Wayne Pistons 4-games-to-1 in the NBA Finals. Johnston had a somewhat disappointing series, but the Warriors could now survive if he had an off game, or an off series. Tom Gola, Joe Graboski, Jack George, and Arizin combined for a series of well-played efforts to win the NBA title.

Unfortunately, Johnston’s time at the NBA summit proved short-lived like any interregnum. Bill Russell arrived in the NBA the next year revolutionizing defense and bolstering the Boston Celtics. The Warriors and Celtics clashed in the 1958 Eastern Division Finals, but the Celtics prevailed 4-games-to-1.

A rematch never occurred for Johnston. He missed most of the 1958-59 season with a seriously injured knee that wound up costing him the rest of his playing career. Playing in just 28 games that season, Johnston was right back where his career began: 6 PPG off the bench.

But for the six seasons in between Neil was a truly terrifying offensive force that hooked his way to six All-Star Teams and four appearances on the All-NBA 1st Team. Over the course of the NBA’s 60-plus year history, only Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and, yes, Neil Johnston have led the league in points per game, rebounds per game, and field goal percentage.

So, perhaps someone had to fill in the gap between Mikan and Russell. But Johnston proved without a doubt that he wasn’t just a flavor of the month, but a talent for all times.

Years Played: 1951 – 1959

Philadelphia Warriors
Philadelphia Warriors

Accolades

NBA -
Champion (1956)
4x All-NBA 1st Team (1953-’56)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1957)
6x All-Star (1953-’58)

Statistics

NBA - 516 Games
19.4 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 44.4% FG, 76.8% FT
3x PPG Leader (1953-’55), 3x FG% Leader (1953, 1956-’57)
2x MPG Leader (1953-’54), RPG Leader (1955)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1951-52 through 1958-59 season)
3rd Points, 5th PPG
5th FGs Made, 3rd FG%
2nd FTs Made, 31st FT%
4th Rebounds, 8th RPG
16th Assists, 37th APG
10th Games Played, 7th Minutes Played

Basketball History GIFs: The Dream slaps the Whopper

Back in Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon’s rookie season, the Houston Rockets made the playoffs and tangled with the Utah Jazz. Apparently Hakeem had enough of Jazz center Billy “the Whopper” Paultz

Rockets-Hakeem-Olajuwon-slap-Utah-Jazz-Billy-Paultz

Paultz had the last laugh though. The 15-year veteran center helped lead the Jazz in an upset of the Rockets. In victory Jazz teammate Rich Kelly gave away why Hakeem probably smacked Billy silly: “If there’s one thing Billy and I know how to do, it’s lean on people.”