Dave Bing

Born: November 24, 1943
Position: Point Guard and Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1966-’75
Washington Bullets (NBA): 1975-’77
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1977-’78

Dave Bing warm ups

Dave Bing’s remarkable career is rather stunning. He was one of the best guards – whether shooting or point – for a decade in the NBA averaging 20 points and six assists per game. And he did that despite two horrific eye injuries. As a child Bing’s vision was marred when a nail scarred his left eye. As a professional, another eye injury, this time a detached retina, further dimmed his vision. But the injuries, remarkably, never dimmed his basketball abilities.

The prior to detaching his retina, Bing was an awesome scorer for the Detroit Pistons. He was wily and always winding with the basketball. His ability to contort while elevated in the air beguiled opponents. Whatever his official label – point, shooting, combo, whatever-guard – Bing in just his second season led the NBA in total points scored in 1967 while also finishing second in points per game with 27.1. Up through 1971, Bing averaged 24.3 points a night along with 5.7 assists.

Then came his retina injury.

The points per game for the rest of his career fell to 17.2. Bing’s passing ability, however, remained unchanged and even got better. He averaged a career-high 7.8 APG in 1973. Per 36 minutes he tallied 6.2 assists after his eye injury compared with 5.5 before. As it turns out, the same slithering attributes that made his shot hard to stop, often allowed him to pass the ball when opponents least expected it.

Bing spent the vast majority of his career with the Detroit Pistons. He represented Motown six times in the All-Star Game and in 1968 he spurred the Pistons to a 40-42 record. Doesn’t sound like much but it was the best regular season record for the franchise since 1956 when they were in Fort Wayne. In the 1968 playoffs, the Pistons lost 4-games-to-2 to the eventual champion Celtics. In the deciding Game 6, Bing scored 44 points overall including 37 in the second half and 16 of those second half points came in a blistering row.

The Pistons high-water mark in the Bing Era came in 1974 when the club won 52 games. Alongside Bob Lanier, Bing’s Pistons eventually lost to the Chicago Bulls in the Western Conference Semi-Finals by 2 points in the Game 7. That achievement would be the best regular season and playoff showing for the Detroit Pistons until the Bad Boys game around a dozen years later.

From there the Pistons declined and Bing was traded to the Washington Bullets. His chance at an NBA title never seemed higher, initially at least, when he joined the Bullets. Washington had appeared in the 1975 NBA Finals, losing to Golden State. They hoped Bing was another, if not final, piece toward securing the championship. Dave made one final All-Star appearance in 1976. He made it worth his while snagging the game’s MVP.

However, the Bullets would be bounced in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in both of Bing’s seasons with the franchise. And by the end of the 1977 postseason, it was clear Bing was diminished considerably. He finally ended his career in 1978 with the Boston Celtics.

Twice he averaged 27 points in a season and twice he was named to the All-NBA 1st Team. Unfortunately, Bing never achieved the ultimate team glory, but his wizardry with the ball was a spellbinding sensation. All the more remarkable considering he did it all with a bad eye. Makes you wonder what might have happened if both his eyes were 100% healthy.

Accolades

2x All-NBA 1st Team (1968, 1971)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1974)
7x All-Star (1968-’69, 1971, 1973-’76)
All-Star Game MVP (1976)
Rookie of the Year (1967)
All-Rookie Team (1967)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (901 games):
20.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG
.502 TS%, .441 FG%, .775 FT%
17.6 PER, .101 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (31 games):
15.4 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.7 RPG, 0.6 SPG
.470 TS%, .423 FG%,  .748 FT%
15.6 PER, .067 WS/48

Willis Reed

Born: June 25, 1942
Position: Center and Power Forward
Professional Career:
New York Knicks (NBA): 1964-’74

Willis Reed (Sports Illustrated)
Willis Reed (Sports Illustrated)

It’s unfortunate, but fitting, that the moment Willis Reed is most remembered for is hobbling onto the court during Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. He emotionally jolted the New York Knicks with his surprise appearance, nailed his first two jump shots, but contributed nothing else for the rest of the game. But the Knicks were a complete team and behind Walt Frazier took the game and the title from the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s a shame, but instructive, that  moment has come to overshadow what Reed accomplished not just for his whole career, but even that single season. He secured a spot on the All-NBA 1st Team, the All-Star Team, and the All-Defensive 1st Team in 1970. He was voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the regular season. He was voted the Finals MVP, not just for a gallant entrance in Game 7, but for a magnificent total series where averaged 32 points per game prior to his hamstring injury.

How Reed scored those points, and generally played, are nothing like the hobbled man who came out of the Madison Square Garden tunnel.

Reed was a galloping center who routinely finished fast breaks with ferocious dunks and elastic layups. He possessed a gorgeous mid-range jumper to draw out taller centers and free up the lane. He captured rebounds with an intensity that few men have ever displayed. He was gentlemanly off the court and was stately on it, but if opponents rubbed him or teammates the wrong way, he turned into the most feared brawler of his era.

His career began in the mid-1960s as the NBA’s 1965 Rookie of the Year. For the next few years he shared the frontcourt with Walt Bellamy. Bells was installed at center and Reed was shifted to power forward. The duo were an effective but not seamless fit. Both men were centers and eventually Bellamy was traded for Dave DeBusschere. That trade helped balance the roster as did the drafting of Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley.

With these building blocks in place, the Knicks became the Eastern Conference’s premier team of the early 1970s appearing in three NBA Finals and winning two of them. The second title in 1973 was won with Reed in the fold, but he was nowhere near the dominant force he was in 1970.

And even by the end of the 1970 season, Reed was past his prime. It seems crazy, but it’s true. As mentioned above, he was an All-Star and NBA MVP, he averaged 32 points per game in the first four games of the NBA Finals, but then came the hamstring injury. He barely played the final three games of the ’70 Finals, scoring a grand total of 11 points over those concluding contests.

For the 1971 season, Reed turned in another superb season of 21 points and 14 rebounds per game. However his field goal percentage dove from 50% in 1970 to 46% in 1971. Wear and tear – and the tenacious Baltimore Bullets – further eroded Reed in the playoffs: 16 PPG, 12 RPG, and 41% shooting.

A left knee injury all but knocked him out for the entire 1972 season and he never fully recovered. The acquisition of Jerry Lucas helped give Reed a final productive year in that title season of 1973, but it was average NBA center production of 11 points and 8.5 rebounds. It wasn’t the Reed of the previous five seasons or so who was averaging around 20 points and 14 rebounds every year. In the 1973 playoffs, the well-rounded Knicks were stout enough to capture a second NBA title with Reed finding enough pep to average 16 points and win Finals MVP as no single Knicks player really outshone the others in that series.

The next season saw Willis cobble together just 11 more games in the regular season and 11 awful games in the playoffs. It was clear that he couldn’t go on anymore and retirement swiftly followed.

His career was fairly short and the highly productive portion even shorter. Still, he did more in those seven highly productive years than nearly every other NBA player has been able to do in careers twice as long. There’s a reason why everyone in New York went wild when Reed limped onto the court. He was the NBA’s MVP in 1970 and deserving of the honor.

Remember that why next time footage of Reed coming out of the tunnel comes on the tube.

Honors

MVP (1970)
2x Champion (1970, 1973)
2x Finals MVP (1970, 1973)
All-NBA 1st Team (1970)
All-Defensive 1st Team (1970)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1967-’69, 1971)
All-Rookie Team (1965)
Rookie of the Year (1965)
7x All-Star (1965-’71)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (650 games):
18.7 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 1.8 APG
.523 TS%, .476 FG%, .747 FT%
18.6 PER, .156 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (78 games):
17.4 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1.9 APG
.511 TS%, .474 FG%, .765 FT%
17.8 PER, .144 WS/48

Hal Greer

Born: June 26, 1936
Position: Shooting Guard and Point Guard
Professional Career:
Syracuse Nationals (NBA): 1958-’63
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 1963-’73

Hal Greer

Consistently consistent. Unassumedly unassumed.

Hal Greer just trucked along in the background of the 1960s NBA.

He never led the league in scoring, never came close in fact, but he was one of the league’s best scorers. He never came close to sniffing an assist title, but he was a crafty passer. He never made the All-NBA 1st Team, but he did tally seven consecutive All-NBA 2nd Team appearances and ten straight All-Star games.

From 1961 to 1971, Greer never averaged below 18.6 points and never above 24.1. His teams made the playoffs every year from 1959 to 1971. During the same period, he played 1003 of a possible 1037 games. Players in the league recognized Greer as one of the exemplars of excellent guard play.

And yet he just trucks along in the background, even though he had one of the silkiest jump shots to grace the hardwood. He rarely gets put down as one of the great shooting guards in NBA history when popular Top 10 lists come out. Surprising, given that when he retired in 1973, Greer had scored more points than any player to that point, except Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and Elgin Baylor. He had also played more games than any player ever. Only Oscar, Wilt, and Bill Russell had played more minutes.

But Greer is in the background because he started his career in 1959 with the Syracuse Nationals, the smallest of the NBA’s markets at the time. At the beginning of his career in Syracuse, perennial All-Star Dolph Schayes commanded what attention Syracuse received. Greer didn’t become a starter until 1961. From 1962 to 1964, Greer was the Nats/76ers best player (Syracuse having moved to Philly in 1963). However, it was the lowest ebb in talent for the club as its initial core of Schayes, Red Kerr, and Larry Costello aged, and younger players like Chet Walker were still maturing into full-fledged stardom.

Then in 1965 along came the outsized personality, ego, and talent of Wilt Chamberlain. Greer was a bit piqued at the Dipper’s arrival. Hal may have been in the background for the popular basketball conscience, but by this point he was the 76ers’s #1 player and scoring option. Chamberlain certainly changed that equation and thus Greer had to adapt and relegate himself to second banana status once again. Even with Wilt’s departure in 1968, a new star in Billy Cunningham assumed the mantle as Philly’s best player. Even on his own team, Greer had trouble standing out.

But just because someone fails to standout doesn’t mean they aren’t noteworthy. To this day, Greer remains unsurpassed in Nats/76ers history in total points scored.

In 1967, the 76ers stormed to a then-record 68 wins and the championship. Wilt was rightly NBA MVP, but Greer – along with Chet Walker – was charged with breaking down defenses if the offense got a little stale. And on the flip side, Greer was always game to harass and dig into the opponent’s best guard. In the 1967 playoffs, Greer came through with a nightly average of 28 points. And in the NBA Finals, Greer was tireless in averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists per game.

Lastly, Greer’s longevity – hinted at above with his games and minutes played – also merits bringing him out from the historical shadows. When he retired in 1973, he and Elgin Baylor were the only NBA players to have scored over 10,000 points after turning 30 years old. And at age 34 he was still scoring 18.6 PPG. That may seem trivial, but it’s more noteworthy than you think.

Then again that’s Hal Greer, more noteworthy than you think.

After all, he did shoot jump shots for free throws.

 

Honors

Champion (1967)
7x All-NBA 2nd Team (1963-’69)
10x All-Star (1961-’70)
All-Star Game MVP (1968)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1122 games):
19.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG
.506 TS%, .452 FG%, .801 FT%
15.7 PER, .124 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (92 games):
20.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
.491 TS%, .425 FG%, .812 FT%
14.7 PER, .096 WS/48

Bob Cousy

Born: August 9, 1928
Position: Point Guard
Professional Career:
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1950-’63
Cincinatti Royals (NBA): 1969-’70

Bob Cousy

When George Mikan retired from the NBA in 1954, the NBA lost its first great star. The man ssuming Mikan’s massive place as the Face of the NBA, was surprisingly only 6’1″ tall. Well, only surprising if you accounted for stature. If you counted for talent and wizardry, then it’s not the least bit shocking that Bob Cousy mesmerized NBA fans in the 1950s and became the league’s big star.

The Cooz captivated crowds with his straight-from-the-playground theatrics. He never did these things for show, however. It was perfectly natural for Cousy to dribble behind the back and flip no-look passes. Elevating to dump dimes by dropping them over his head were legitimately done not for showmanship. These types of dazzling displays were genuinely natural Cousy. It’s how the game made sense to him. The deceitful pass beguiled the opponent and therefore gave his team the advantage.

Cooz

Cousy’s breathtaking passing has always, and rightly, held supreme over his ability to score. However, he was a fearful scorer. From 1951 to 1959 he finished in the top 10 in points per game seven times topping out in 1954 and 1955 with back-to-back second-place finishes. All the while, Cousy was leading the league in assists per game for eight straight years, 1953 through 1960.

Only Nate Archibald, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson have also finished so high in PPG and APG simultaneously. And of course, the Cooz was the first of these four to accomplish it.

The Houdini of the Hardwood helped transform the Boston Celtics from bottom dwellers in the East to perennial contenders. Along with Ed Macauley and Bill Sharman he formed the first of Boston’s many fabled Big 3s. And although Cousy ended his Celtics career with six titles, it was a rough road to that glory.

The Cousy-Sharman-Macauley Celtics always made the playoffs from 1951 to 1956, but were always thwarted, particularly by the Syracuse Nationals. The team was an offensive juggernaut, but was a sieve on the defensive end. Sharman more than held his own on both ends, but Cousy and Macauley just weren’t good enough on defense. That agony finally faded when Boston traded Macauley for Bill Russell while also drafting Tommy Heinsohn in 1957. With the team finally finding the right balance of offense and defense, the Celtics were better than ever winning the title in ’57 and Cousy won his only MVP award that same season.

It came not a moment too soon. After the numerous playoff failures, the Celtics management contemplated breaking up the most expensive roster in the NBA if they lost the 1957 Finals. The ultimate victory was particularly sweet as Boston swept their longtime tormenters, the Nationals, in the Eastern Division Finals. After breaking though that year, though, Cousy enjoyed five more championship victories over the next six years, finally retiring in 1963.

It’s often hard for those of us today to fully appreciate just how out-of-this-world Cousy was as a rookie 1951. His moves don’t seem as miraculous 60 years later. His 9.5 APG were earth-shattering in 1960, but have since become routine. The best we can do is remind ourselves that once upon a time in Beantown, NBA fans were dazzled by a Houdini of the Hardwood with never before seen tricks and left everyone spellbound.

Honors

MVP (1957)
6x Champion (1957, 1959-’63)
10x All-NBA 1st Team (1952-’61)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1962-’63)
13x All-Star (1951-’63)
2x All-Star Game MVP (1954, 1957)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (924 games):
18.4 PPG, 7.5 APG, 5.2 RPG, .375 FG%, .803 FT%
19.8 PER, .139 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (109 games):
18.5 PPG, 8.6 APG, 5.0 RPG, .342 FG%, .801 FT%
17.4 PER, .109 WS/48

 

 

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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Lou Hudson

Born: July 11, 1944
Died: April 11, 2014
Position: Small forward / Shooting guard
Professional Career:
St. Louis Hawks (NBA): 1966-’68
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1968-’77
Los Angeles Lakers  (NBA): 1977-’79

Lou Hudson
Lou Hudson

…Sweet Lou, sweet as in cool jazz put down by a lightly plucked bass and the hushed swirling of brushes around a drumhead. His skin is the color of light coffee, his features regular and smooth, his temperament equable. His game is heavy on the sugar: there is a gentle rhythm to his constant motion on offense and a classic softness in his jump shot, of which there is none prettier.

Via “He’s Shooting the Works” by Peter Carry

Cool Jazz: Lou Hudson was indeed a cool character on the court. His seeming lack of flair is probably to blame for his footnote status in NBA history. To boot, he spent the bulk of his playing days in the cold outer reaches of the basketball universe. First was his collegiate stint at the University of Minnesota under coach John Kundla, who won several titles as coach of the Minneapolis Lakers in the NBL, BAA, and NBA, but achieved little with the Golden Gophers. Second, Hudson was drafted a lofty #4 by the St. Louis Hawks in 1966 after averaging a 20-and-8 with a broken wrist during his senior year at Minnesota.

As you may know, the Hawks are no longer in St. Louis, so any potential myth/narrative/memory of Hudson carrying on the torch lit by Bob Pettit, Ed Macauley & co. was squashed. Third, those Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968, a city notorious – fair or not – for its fair-weather attitude toward professional sports. However, like a cool, swinging jazz bass, you may not consciously notice Hudson was expertly plying his craft, but just like that bass once you are awakened to Lou’s presence, you deeply dig the groove.

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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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