Bill Sharman

Born: May 25, 1926
Died: October 25, 2013
Position: Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Washington Capitals (NBA): 1950-’51
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1951-’61
Los Angeles Jets (ABL): 1961-’62

Bill Sharman
Bill Sharman

Ask folks for a list of great shooting guards from NBA history and you will likely get Michael Jordan. Then Kobe Bryant. Perhaps, Jerry West and Reggie Miller. Maybe…. maybe Sam Jones. But Bill Sharman? He would likely never crop up despite in many regards being the man who prototyped the shooting guard position.

Bill Sharman started out his NBA career at the age of 24 with the Washington Capitals in the 1950-51 season. At this stage in his life, Sharman appeared more likely to enjoy a lengthy pro baseball career than a prolonged NBA life. In 1950, he appeared in just over 120 minor league baseball games batting .288. The next year, Sharman was called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although he never played a game from the Dodgers, he was ejected from one, making him the only player in Major League Baseball history ejected from a major league game without ever appearing in one.

By that point in September 1951, it was still unclear whether Sharman’s basketball career was more promising than his baseball hopes. Tje Capitals folded midway through the 1950-51 season leaving Sharman without a basketball employer. Sharman, however, showed promise averaging 12 points in 31 games. Not exactly the stuff that would leave teams around the league scrambling for Sharman, but enough for someone to take a flier on him.

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Bob Pettit

Born: December 12, 1932
Position: Power forward
Professional Career:
Milwaukee Hawks (NBA): 1954-’55
St. Louis Hawks (NBA): 1955-’65

Bob Pettit layup

“I never tried to be a team leader in basketball. I wasn’t a guy who did a lot of talking. I just wanted everybody to see that I worked hard, that I’d give my full effort all the time. In business, I try to surround myself with the best people and then let them do their thing.” And if that doesn’t succeed? “Then we all sit down, talk it over, and work things out.”

– Via Dr. Jack Ramsay’s “Transition Game: Bob Pettit”

That’s a fairly accurate description Bob Pettit gave of himself in that interview with Jack Ramsay. Many have worked as hard as Pettit but none harder. You listen to him speak for any length of time and invariably he returns to the ethos of hard work, determination and consistency. These would be hallmarks of his Hall of Fame career.

Bob’s initial forays into basketball were strongly encouraged by his father, a sheriff in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Despite being cut from the high school team twice, the practice ultimately paid off as Pettit eventually made the squad and would subsequently led them to the Louisiana state title. A fairly successful stint at Louisiana State University followed where he averaged ho-hum 27 points and 15 rebounds a game in his time as a Tiger. His play in these years, however, was predicated on him being a back-to-the-basket, low post threat. And at 6’9″ he had the height, but with only a scant 200 lbs to that frame, he didn’t have the weight to succeed in the pros that way.

So, Pettit totally retooled his game upon entering the NBA and would prove to better than ever.

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Tommy Heinsohn

Born: August 26, 1934
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1956-’65

Tom Heinsohn SI

Tom Heinsohn’s influence in today’s NBA has boiled down to how many Tommy Points he hands out on a given night to the Boston Celtics. Or how many vitriolic rants he aims toward incompetent referees.

Back in the day, though, Heinsohn still dished out points, but they were the ones that actually counted on the court. As the Boston Celtics’ official gunner, he shot so much and so often that he was nicknamed “Tommy Gun” and “Ack-Ack.” You know, “Ack-Ack” as in the sound a tommy guns made in those old black-and-white gangster movies.

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Neil Johnston

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


“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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Moonfixer: Earl Lloyd’s Enlightening Biography

The Moon

Earl Lloyd was the first African-American to play in an NBA game in the 1950-51 season. Three others – Hank DeZonie, Sweetwater Clifton, and Chuck Cooper – quickly followed within the week. Born in 1928, Lloyd is the last remaining of those quartet of trail blazers.

In his autobiography, co-written with Sean Kirst, Lloyd recalls his youth in segregated Virginia, his college days in West Virginia, professional career in the NBA, and life afterwards. Reading the stories and seeing how they’re told, Lloyd comes across as a passionate man who aspires for all men to have dignity as they traverse life.

I won’t detail too much of what happens because the book is genuinely worth getting, but this excerpt concerning a racist yard decoration is remarkable and shows Lloyd’s quiet disappointment with his white Syracuse Nationals teammates:

“I had another teammate, I remember we went to a party at his house, and he had a statue of a black jockey on his lawn. I told the guy, ‘That offends me.’ He explained to me how there was nothing wrong with it, and I said to him, ‘As long as you have that out there, I’d prefer you didn’t invite me.’ I asked him if he would ever put a statue out there of a drunken Irishman hanging from a light pole. He couldn’t understand, and I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t understand why I was upset. I said to him, ‘You read. You watch television. You ever just stop and ask yourself why there are no black folks in your neighborhood? You think we all live where we live by choice alone?’ He had no answer for that, but the statue didn’t come down.

“There would be other times in my career when people stood up: Bones McKinney in Washington. Freddy Scolari, who spoke up for me when the Capitols broke up. Dick McGuire in Detroit. You remember those things forever. That’s all I needed in Syracuse, for just one person to say, ‘Earl, this isn’t right.’ But no one ever did. And you realize in the end that you’re alone.”

Reading that passage, I’m personally reminded of the ongoing battle Native Americans are waging against their “mascotization” in society. In any case, story after story is presented in similar, succinct poise – whether joyous or hurt – throughout Earl Lloyd’s biography.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lloyd’s book.

PS – my copy happened to come signed by Lloyd himself, so you never know what surprise might await!

The Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams: 1956-1959

Three Galahs by Richard Taylor (Flickr)
Three Galahs by Richard Taylor (Flickr)

Ed. Note: Prior to the 1988-89 season, the NBA only had All-NBA 1st and All-NBA 2nd Teams. To fill in that historical award gap, the crack Pro Hoops History committee of one has gone back and created the Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams.

You’ll notice through these years that Carl Braun has made himself very comfortable on the All-NBA 3rd Team even though he was a grizzled veteran of over a decade by 1959. His three selections in this era augment two previous All-NBA 3rd Team selections (1950, 1953) bringing credentials to 5x All-Star, All-NBA 2nd Team (1954), All-BAA 2nd Team (1948), and five All-NBA 3rd Team. Not bad for a guy who also lost two years of his career to the military draft during the Korean War.

Other big winners include Vern Mikkelsen who enjoyed a career renaissance after four straight All-NBA 2nd Teams in the early part of the 1950s; Tom Gola a jack-of-all-trades guard for the Warriors; and Larry Costello the last great player to employ the two-hand set-shoot in the NBA. Mikkelsen was at the end of his career, though, while Gola and Costello have a few more All-NBA Teams to make in the early 1960s.

And last little thing: Bill Russell would have made the All-NBA 3rd Team in 1957 (his rookie year), but he missed a 1/3 of the season, while Clyde Lovellette missed just three games. Talent matters but so does court time.

1955-56 Season

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
F Vern Mikkelsen Minneapolis Lakers 72 13.4 8.4 2.4 0.386 0.804 5.4 16.8
F George Yardley Fort Wayne Pistons 71 17.4 9.7 2.2 0.407 0.742 7.5 20.0
C Larry Foust Fort Wayne Pistons 72 16.2 9.0 1.8 0.447 0.778 11.1 23.8
G Tom Gola Philadelphia Warriors 68 10.8 9.1 5.9 0.412 0.733 6.5 16.7
G Carl Braun New York Knicks 72 15.4 3.6 4.6 0.372 0.838 3.6 15.2

1956-57 Season

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
F Tom Heinsohn Boston Celtics 72 16.2 9.8 1.6 0.397 0.790 7.1 18.0
F Vern Mikkelsen Minneapolis Lakers 72 13.7 8.8 1.7 0.377 0.807 6.1 16.0
C Clyde Lovellette Minneapolis Lakers 69 20.8 13.5 2.0 0.426 0.717 8.2 21.9
G Jack Twyman Rochester Royals 72 16.3 4.9 1.7 0.439 0.760 8.8 17.0
G Carl Braun New York Knicks 72 13.9 3.6 3.6 0.381 0.809 3.7 13.8

1957-58 Season

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
F Frank Ramsey Boston Celtics 69 16.5 7.3 2.4 0.419 0.811 10.0 19.5
F Paul Arizin Philadelphia Warriors 68 20.7 7.4 2.0 0.393 0.809 7.7 18.2
C Neil Johnston Philadelphia Warriors 71 19.5 11.1 2.3 0.429 0.819 11.3 22.5
G Larry Costello Syracuse Nationals 72 14.9 5.3 4.4 0.426 0.847 9.2 15.1
G Carl Braun New York Knicks 71 16.5 4.6 5.5 0.418 0.849 7.6 17.5

1958-59 Season

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
F Kenny Sears New York Knicks 71 21.0 9.3 1.9 0.490 0.861 13.3 22.6
F Jack Twyman Rochester Royals 72 25.8 9.1 2.9 0.420 0.783 7.3 21.3
C Red Kerr Syracuse Nationals 72 17.8 14.0 2.0 0.441 0.766 8.7 19.4
G Larry Costello Syracuse Nationals 70 15.8 5.2 5.4 0.437 0.802 8.5 15.0
G Tom Gola Philadelphia Warriors 64 14.1 11.1 4.2 0.415 0.787 7.4 17.4

The Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams: 1953-1955

Three Cubs in a Row by Tambako the Jaguar (Flickr)
Three Cubs in a Row by Tambako the Jaguar (Flickr)

Ed. Note: Prior to the 1988-89 season, the NBA only had All-NBA 1st and All-NBA 2nd Teams. To fill in that historical award gap, the crack Pro Hoops History committee of one has gone back and created the Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams. From 1949-50 through 1954-55, the All-NBA teams were selected regardless of position, so the Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams will follow that format for the appropriate seasons. Thereafter it will adhere to the current C, F, F, G, and G format.

The three All-NBA 3rd Teams presented below are the last to use a position-less format, one that I wish the NBA would return to. It forces voters to really pick out the best players, even if the best players skew toward several centers for example. Instead very good players get in over a great players on the All-NBA teams based purely on position.

Enough of my complaining.

A word of explanation, before the full teams are revealed, however, for Mel Hutchins and Slater Martin. They look like woeful selections considering their offensive output, but these guys – along with the versatile Jack Coleman – were premier defenders at their respective positions. The lack of recorded blocks and steals undermines their statistical argument, but their contemporaries hail them as defenders you’d much rather not come across.

1952-53 Season

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
C Harry Gallatin New York Knicks 70 12.4 13.1 1.8 0.444 0.700 11.3 23.3
G Carl Braun New York Knicks 70 14.0 3.3 3.5 0.400 0.825 9.0 17.5
G Paul Seymour Syracuse Nationals 67 14.2 3.7 4.4 0.383 0.817 8.7 16.0
G Slater Martin Minneapolis Lakers 70 10.6 2.7 3.6 0.410 0.780 8.2 13.5
F Jim Pollard Minneapolis Lakers 66 13.0 6.8 3.5 0.357 0.769 4.6 16.0

1953-54 Season

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
C Ray Felix Baltimore Bullets 72 17.6 13.1 1.1 0.417 0.638 8.6 22.9
C Larry Foust Fort Wayne Pistons 72 15.1 13.4 2.2 0.409 0.712 10.4 22.8
G Andy Phillip Fort Wayne Pistons 71 10.6 3.7 6.3 0.375 0.730 7.1 16.0
G Bob Davies Rochester Royals 72 12.3 2.7 4.5 0.371 0.719 7.7 18.0
G Bill Sharman Boston Celtics 72 16.0 3.5 3.2 0.450 0.844 10.4 18.6

1954-55 Season

Position Player Team G PPG RPG APG FG% FT% WS PER
C Ed Macauley Boston Celtics 71 17.6 8.5 3.9 0.424 0.792 8.9 18.6
F Paul Arizin Philadelphia Warriors 72 21.0 9.4 2.9 0.399 0.776 8.7 18.2
F Mel Hutchins Fort Wayne Pistons 72 12.0 9.2 3.4 0.378 0.708 3.9 12.7
F Jack Coleman Rochester Royals 72 12.8 10.1 3.2 0.462 0.678 6.2 18.2
G Bob Davies Rochester Royals 72 12.1 2.8 4.9 0.415 0.751 5.2 18.5