Neil Johnston

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

neil-Johnston

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bob Love

Born: December 8, 1942
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Trenton Colonials (EPBL): 1965-1966
Cincinnati Royals (NBA): 1966-1968
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1968
Chicago Bulls (NBA): 1968-1976
New York Nets (NBA): 1976-1977
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977

Bob Love’s road to NBA stardom was a long one. Drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in 1965, Love wound up spending his rookie professional season in the Eastern Professional Basketball League. Turns out the 4th Round pick of the Royals was not deemed good enough for the NBA, but with the Trenton Colonials in the Eastern League, Love soared and took home of Rookie of the Year honors in 1966.

With a second shot at the NBA, Love made the Royals roster, but languished as a reserve in 1967 and 1968.  The Royals left the unimpressive forward unprotected for the Milwaukee Bucks’ expansion draft. The Bucks snagged Love but traded him after just 14 games to the Chicago Bulls. He continued to ride the pine and averaged a career-low 5 points for the Bulls.

That’s two leagues and four teams for Love in his first four seasons.

Finally, in his fifth pro season at age 27, Love began to soar. Averaging 21 points a game in 1970, Love then notched 25 points per game in 1971, and peaked in 1972 with 26 points a night. Overall from 1970 to 1976, the forward would maintain a 22.6 PPG and 7.1 RPG average with the Chicago Bulls.

The smooth-scoring forward earned the nickname “Butterbean” for his effortless and gossamer shots. Love could turn baseline and nail tough fade-aways, go middle and knock down turn-arounds, curl off picks for catch-and-shoots… if there was a way to make a jump shot Bob Love knew how to do it and do it well.

Teaming with Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Chet Walker, and Tom Boerwinkle, Love formed the core of a highly successful Bulls team in the early-and-mid 1970s. The squad perennially pushed deep into the playoffs, but never quite got over the hump. For his efforts, though, Love was recognized as one of basketball’s best forwards in the era with a combined 8 All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defensive team selections.

But with such a late rise to greatness, Love’s peak didn’t last extraordinarily long. By his 10th NBA season he was already 34-years old. He endured a quick, precipitous decline. In 1976, his field goal percentage plummeted to 39% and the next year (1977) he played briefly for the Bulls, New York Nets, and Seattle SuperSonics. For those trio of teams, Love averaged only 7 points in what would be his final season.

It was an abrupt, unceremonious end. Given how his basketball career began in a similar unceremonious fashion it was somewhat fitting for Love. But the splendor of what occurred in between shouldn’t be discounted. The Butterbean was one smooth shooter.

Honors

NBA –
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1971-’72)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1972, 1974-’75)
3x All-Star (1971-’73)

EPBL –
Rookie of the Year (1966)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (789 games):
17.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, .429 FG%, .805 FT%
14.9 PER, .096 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (47 games):
22.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, .431 FG%, .776 FT%
15.1 PER, .082 WS/48

Billy Paultz

Born: July 30, 1948
Position: Center, Power Forward
Professional Career:
New York Nets (ABA): 1970-1975
San Antonio Spurs (ABA/NBA): 1975-1980; 1983
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1980-1983
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1983-1984
Utah Jazz (NBA): 1984-1985

In a 1972 game against the Squires, [Paultz] hit his first eight shots, and finished with 13 field goals in 15 attempts. Rick Barry scored 43 points and John Roche 37 points that same evening. “I get 33 and I’m the third high scorer on the team,” complained Paultz. “Are you kidding me?”

Via Complete Handbook of ProBasketball by Jim O’Brien

Now there’s an insightful quote into both, Billy Paultz and the ABA. The league was about flash and pizzazz, glitz and glamor. On a night where Paultz goes a-wreckin’ for 33 points on 13-15 shooting, he’s still not the brightest light shining on the court. Nonetheless, Paultz revealed his affable, self-effacing and humble personality in discussing his misfortune. Barry and Roche may have overshadowed him that night, but for someone with no organized basketball experience until his senior year in high school (1966), Paultz was doing quite well for himself.

Drafted by the NBA’s San Diego Rockets and the ABA’s Virginia Squires in 1971, Paultz opted for the ABA and was soon traded by Virginia to his hometown New York Nets. What the Nets got was an uncoordinated heap of man that would be nicknamed “The Whopper” for his well apportioned waistline and the hamburger that kept it so.

Nets teammate Rick Barry quipped “I didn’t believe he could possibly make it…” and Jim O’Brien added his two cents: “An ardent surfer, but the way he moved at the outset of his rookie season it was hard to envision him keeping his balance on shore let alone sea.” The off-balance Whopper nonetheless averaged 14.7 points and 8.4 rebounds during his rookie year.

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Penny Hardaway

Born: July 18, 1971
Position: Point/Shooting Guard, Small Forward
Professional Career:
Orlando Magic (NBA): 1993-1999
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1999-2004
New York Knicks (NBA): 2004-2005
Miami Heat (NBA): 2007

During the last half of the 1990s, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was on top of the basketball world.  Playing on a fresh new franchise and arriving just after the retirements of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan, Hardaway promised to escalate the NBA’s popularity with a style that melded many of the talents of the aforementioned legends. His raw athleticism trumped Bird’s, his scoring outbursts surpassed those of Magic, and his passing was more deceptive than MJ could ever consistently hope for.

The aesthetic beauty of Penny Hardaway’s basketball game is still hard to imagine decades later. A long, lanky and tall point guard gliding up and down the court. Probing defenses for thunderous dunks or slick dimes. Anfernee’s distinctive nickname, “Penny”, gave a much-deserved trademark to the on-court festivities.

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