Gus Williams

Born: October 10, 1953
Position: Point Guard and Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Golden State Warriors (NBA): 1975-’77
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977-’84
Washington Bullets (NBA): 1984-’86
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1987

Gus Williams
Gus Williams

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, few, if any, guards could match the greatness of Gus Williams.

From 1978 to 1985, Gus averaged 20 points, 6 assists and 2.3 steals a game. At 6’2″, Williams was able to play either guard position. He was at his best busting out on the break and creating sublime scoring opportunities on the run. As time wore on and his team’s needs changed, Gus became more and more of a play-maker topping off with 8.5 APG in 1984.

Williams’ heyday was certainly with the Seattle SuperSonics, but his illustrious career began in Golden State.

Drafted by the Warriors in 1975, Williams was a sturdy backup in his first two years (1976 and 1977). That Warriors squad should have been a perennial contender in the late 1970s. Rick Barry was moving just a touch past his prime but with Williams, Jamaal Wilkes, Phil Smith, Clifford Ray and Robert Parish, that team initially had more than enough talent to contend. Indeed, The Warriors won the NBA title the year before Gus showed up (1975) and they reeled off an NBA best 59 wins in his rookie season (1976).

Ultimately, the Warriors fell apart in the 1976 postseason, losing the Western Conference Finals to 42-win Phoenix, and never recovered. Overlooked as a prized asset, the Warriors let Gus leave and sign with the Sonics after the 1976-77 season. One man’s afterthought is another’s franchise cornerstone.

Gus_Williams_to_Jack_Sikma

Williams was inserted into Seattle’s starting lineup and his career truly took off. With Dennis Johnson playing alongside him, Williams wasn’t a full-time point guard or a full-time shooting guard. He just went out and played in the backcourt to stunning results. The Sonics made the NBA Finals in 1978, losing to the Washington Bullets in 7 games. The next year, Seattle returned to the Finals in a rematch with Washington. This time they captured the title in just 5 games with Gus averaging 29 points in the series.

Much like the Golden State year’s though, Gus’s time in Seattle was marred by a team that fell apart at the seams and didn’t maintain its greatest potential. Gus was no bystander in the Sonics’ fall. Offered a 3-year, $1.5 million deal by management, Williams rejected the deal and held out in the summer of 1980. The hold out continued into the fall. Then into the new year. The contract dispute ending up lasting the duration of the 1980-81 season.

Finally, Gus and Seattle agreed to a deal that paid him $700,000 a year, but the Sonics won just one more playoff series through the rest of Williams’ tenure with the club. In the summer of 1984, he was traded to the Washington Bullets where enjoyed one final campaign of brilliance in 1985 before the undefeated Father Time began to take his toll on Gus.

Gus Williams’ career unfortunately gets lost in what is sometimes perceived as the NBA’s doldrums, the late 1970s. His Sonics were a top-shelf contender in 1978, 1979, and 1980, losing in the NBA Finals, winning the title, and losing in the Western Conference Finals, respectively. But they lost in the WCF to the Showtime Lakers who ran away with the West, and the subsequent media attention, for the 1980s leaving Gus and his accomplishments in the dust.

However, it’s never too late to appreciate greatness. Memory may not instantly recognize Gus Williams and his Sonics of the era as great, but the history shows that indeed they were, and indeed he was.

Honors

Champion (1979)
All-NBA 1st Team (1982)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1980)
2x All-Star (1982-’83)
All-Rookie Team (1976)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (825 games):
17.1 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.7 RPG, 2.0 SPG
.505 TS%, .461 FG%, .756 FT%
18.5 PER, .127 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (99 games):
19.5 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.8 SPG
.542 TS%, .476 FG%, .737 FT%
20.4 PER, .150 WS/48

 

Elvin Hayes

Born: November 17, 1945
Position: Power Forward and Center
Professional Career:
San Diego Rockets (NBA): 1968-’71
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1971-’72; 1981-’84
Baltimore Bullets (NBA): 1972-’73
Capital Bullets (NBA): 1973-’74
Washington Bullets (NBA): 1975-’81

Elvin Hayes (celtic-nation.com)
Elvin Hayes (celtic-nation.com)

The Big E is the only player in NBA history to have played 50,000 minutes.

Oh sure, three other players have played more minutes than that, but none have played exactly 50,000 minutes like Elvin. That kind of monumental memorability was something typical of Hayes’ career. As a college standout at the University of Houston, Hayes helped defeat the juggernaut UCLA Bruins led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Game of the Century played in the Astrodome (which was the world’s 8th Wonder at the time).

As a rookie, Hayes led the NBA in points per game with a sterling 28.4 starring for the San Diego Rockets. The next season he led the league in rebounds with a sizzling 16.9 per game. That same year he led the league in minutes played per game with an exhausting 44.7.

However, the Rockets were a dud on the court. They made one playoff appearance, which was in Elvin’s rookie season. A move to Houston in time for the 1971-72 season didn’t help. Hayes feuded with his coaches and the Rockets were sick of their disgruntled star center.

Hayes was traded to the Baltimore (soon-to-be-Washington) Bullets in the 1972 off-season and found much greater success. Formerly a center, the Big E slid now slid to power forward beside Wes Unseld. Hayes was the shot-blocking protector of air space around the basket, while Unseld was the rock that clogged the physical space of the defensive lane. Hayes was quick, Unseld immovable. They complemented each other perfectly and the Bullets were off flying high like Hayes dunking on the break…

Elvin_Hayes_dunks

The two stars propelled Washington to three Finals appearances in the decade (1975, 1978, 1979) and captured the 1978 NBA title after the additions of forward Bobby Dandridge and outstanding coach Dick Motta. All the while, Hayes continued to rack up the prodigious stats thanks to his lathe-like frame, his proficient mid-range jump shot, and his shot-blocking ability.

He wasn’t the most efficient player around, but there’s something to be said for a player who can produce. And from 1969 to 1980, the Big E was producing. He averaged 23.6 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals in this stretch. His field goal percentage nestled in at 45% and his free throws at 67%. Again, not the most efficient player, but efficiency is just but one measure of a man. Hayes in this same 12-year stretch averaged 42 minutes a game and missed only six games.

Give him immense credit for those marks of health and longevity. At age 36 in the 1981-82, he started all 82 games for the Houston Rockets (he was traded back to the Rockets in 1981) and played 37 minutes a night doing so. Only Wilt Chamberlain at that same age played more minutes than Hayes mustered.

Upon his retirement in 1984, after that second-stint with the Rockets, the Big E ranked third all-time in points, rebounds, and blocks. And of course his minutes played were the most at that time. So were his games played.

These prodigious stats certainly don’t mean Elvin was perfect or without fault. His shooting percentage was a bit low for a power forward. His free throw percentage a tad woeful. But these nitpicks are just that, nitpicks.

He’s one of the handful of truly great power forwards in the game’s history… even if we tend to forget that fact.

Honors

Champion (1978)
3x All-NBA 1st Team (1975, 1977, 1979)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1973-74, 1976)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1974-75)
All-Rookie Team (1969)
12x All-Star (1969-80)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1303 games):
21.0 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.0 SPG
.491 TS%, .452 FG%, .670 FT%
17.7 PER, .116 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (96 games):
22.9 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 1.1 SPG
.501 TS%, .464 FG%, .652 FT%
19.1 PER, .135 WS/48

Clyde Drexler

Born: June 22, 1962
Position: Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Portland Trail Blazers (NBA): 1983-’95
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1995-’98

Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)
Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)

To pull out an old, cliched writing trick… Webster’s Dictionary defines “glide” as the following:

: to move smoothly, continuously, and effortlessly

: to go or pass imperceptibly

It’s a term that connotes ease, that signifies freedom from agitation. Clyde Drexler as a basketball player encapsulated these attitudes and mores. Despite being one of the more exciting players in the NBA during the 1980s and 1990s, it was quite often an understated excitement, if possible.

His dunks came about in such a gliding ease. He rose majestically and flowed seamlessly through the atmospheric fluid flushing home the jam. Seemingly lacking even less effort was the way Drexler could extend  and wind his way into gorgeous finger rolls and scooping layups that no man should ever have any business of taking, let alone making.

Well, after viewing Drexler’s highlight package, it’s kind of clear that not all of his dunks were done devoid of invigorating passion. The man could throw down a hammer on opponents.

There was so much more to Drexler’s game than the dunks and flashy layups though. He was an extraordinary passer from the big guard spot, was great on cleaning up the defensive glass, and was magnificent at anticipating woeful passes to steal. Combining all of those traits with his flair for dunking and Drexler became perhaps the most feared player on the fastbreak during his era.

He possessed beguiling dribbling handles for a man 6’7″ tall, even if he did dribbled with his head down. The tunnel vision drive, though, just made the ultimate outcome of his forays even less in doubt. He was going to glide in stride and leave you embarrassed at the end of the occasion.

The full package of skills for Clyde took a little bit to unveil itself. During his first few seasons in Portland he shared time on the wings with Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe – both All-Star players in their own right. The glut of wing depth in Portland famously caused the Blazers to pass on Michael Jordan in favor Sam Bowie, which over time would fuel comparisons between Drexler and Jordan. They had similar – though by no means not exactly the same – playing styles. And they’d eventually meet in the NBA Finals.

Drexler’s full emergence pushed aside Paxson and Vandeweghe by 1988. He averaged a sensational 27 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.5 steals that season as Portland finished with 53 wins. It was their best regular season since 1978. A brief regression in 1989 was corrected with the addition of burly power forward Buck Williams.

Drexler, Buck, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey, and Terry Porter steered Portland to a three-year reign as the Western Conference’s dominant team with 59, 63, and 57 wins respectively in the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons. The Blazers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals, and succumbed to the Detroit Pistons in the 1990 NBA Finals and Jordan’s Bulls in the ’92 Finals.

Grueling hamstring injuries to Drexler helped to undue the run of Blazer glory. By 1995, the Oregon squad was almost completely turned over and Drexler was shipped off to the Houston Rockets. Although Houston was average with Drexler during the final stretch of the 1995 season, they caught fire in the playoffs thanks to Hakeem Olajuwon’s undeniable brilliance and won the 1995 NBA title.

Although not up to the heights of his Portland days, Drexler was instrumental in the title run. In a must-win Game 4 against Utah in the 1st Round, Drexler poured in 41 points, nine rebounds, and six assists while making 12 of his 18 shot attempts. In the must-win Game 5 of the same series he produced 31 points and 10 rebounds. In Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns, Clyde the Glide soared his way to 29 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Three more seasons with the Rockets followed before Drexler retired in 1998. As his career wound down, Clyde continued to be productive averaging about 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game each year. Not bad for a shooting guard in his mid-30s.

His assortment of abilities led him to play in the NBA Finals three different times  and delivered a membership on the Dream Team in 1992. He’s one of just five retired players to have averaged over 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists for a career. However, when it comes to naming great shooting guards in the NBA’s history, Drexler’s name can often glide by without notice.

Well, let this serve as a reminder to always remember the magnificent ride of Clyde the Glide.

Honors

Champion (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1992)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988, 1991)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1990, 1995)
10x All-Star (1986, 1988-’94, 1996-’97)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1086 games):
20.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.547 TS%, .472 FG%, .318 3PT%, .788 FT%
21.1 PER, .173 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (145 games):
20.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.532 TS%, .447 FG%, .288 3PT%, .787 FT%
19.7 PER, .134 WS/48

 

Robert Parish

Born: August 30, 1953
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Golden State Warriors (NBA): 1976-’80
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1980-’94
Charlotte Hornets (NBA): 1994-’96
Chicago Bulls (NBA): 1996-’97

Robert Parish (Celtics Pride)
Robert Parish (Celtics Pride)

Robert Parish’s NBA career lasted longer than any player in history. He strung together 21 seasons and played in 1795 games between the regular season and playoffs. Naturally, luck plays a role in anyone being able to play for that long, but also credit Parish’s stringent training, yoga, and vegetarian diet for keeping him spry year after year.

Most of those years, of course, were spent with the Boston Celtics. From the 1980-81 season through the 1993-94 campaign, the Chief called Boston home. His presence alongside Larry Bird and Kevin McHale created what many think is the best frontcourt trio in NBA history. They have a good case given the trio of titles they captured together.

Parish, no doubt, was the lowest key of the three. He didn’t say much to begin with and his game was perhaps even quieter. He wasn’t prone to dazzling displays of athleticism, he never averaged over 20 points a game, and he didn’t swat shots into the 5th or 6th row.

But what Parish delivered certainly was constant and consistent. In his second NBA season (with the Golden State Warriors) in 1978, Parish scored 12.5 points per game. 16 years later in 1994, Parish at the age of 40 was still scoring 11.7 points a night. His defense and rebounding followed a similar ever-ready suit. Opposing centers rarely got the upper hand on the Chief who resolutely patrolled the paint and registered stifling resistance night after night.

For another perspective on Parish’s triumphant longevity, He was just a year younger than Bill Walton, his teammate on the 1986 Celtics. Walton entered the NBA in 1975, Parish in 1976. By the time Parish retired in 1997, Walton had been retired from the NBA for a decade and was in the midst of broadcasting playoff games that Parish was still appearing in. Parish was also just a year younger than George Gervin. Imagine the Ice Man still on an NBA roster in ’97. That’s the longevity of Parish.

Robert Parish schools Kareem

If there was anything “flashy” about Parish it was his insanely high-arching turn-around jumper. Already 7’0″, Parish lofting a shot from such a perch was impossible to block and he hit the shot an absurd amount. That shot enabled Parish to have games like a 31-point demolition of Detroit in the 1987 playoffs while making 10 of his 12 field goals, plus 11 of his 12 free throws.

The other patented Parish move was his one-handed, always-in-stride dunk. The Chief was an underrated finisher on the break since he never ran that fast, but he never stopped running so he could get down the court and finish with authority.

Notice how unfast Parish was running in that clip, but he kept a-movin’ and got the jam.  And at the age of 43 Parish was still doing his unfast floor trot to slam home dunks…

That’s the kind of ceaseless determination that defined the career of Robert Parish.

 

Honors

4x Champion (1981, 1984, 1986, 1997)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1982)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1989)
9x All-Star (1981-’87, 1990-’91)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1611 games):
14.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.571 TS%, .537 FG%, .721 FT%
19.2 PER, .154 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (184 games):
15.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.547 TS%, .506 FG%, .722 FT%
16.6 PER, .121 WS/48

George Gervin

Born: April 27, 1952
Position: Shooting Guard and Small Forward
Professional Career:
Virginia Squires (ABA): 1972-’74
San Antonio Spurs (ABA/NBA): 1974-’85
Chicago Bulls (NBA): 1985-’86

George Gervin
George Gervin

One of the smoothest players to ever lace up a pair of Nikes, George Gervin was an effortless scoring machine. Nothing ever seemed to rattle, faze, or perturb the Ice Man. Inspired by Elgin Baylor’s litany of acrobatic and scooping shots, Gervin patented his own finger roll to stunning results.

The shot was a so unorthodox and yet so effective it couldn’t help but make Gervin a star. His offensive arsenal went beyond the finger roll, though. He had a stellar, if gawky, jump shot. His skin-and-bones frame meant post ups were out of the question, but Gervin was constantly able to squirm and sliver through defenses to attack the rim.

He couldn’t play a lick of defense but when you snag four scoring titles in five years, on outstanding field goal percentages, your team figures out how to make due. Indeed, Gervin had a scorching stretch from 1978 to 1984 where he averaged 28.8 points per game while shooting 51% from the field and 84% from the free throw line.

The San Antonio Spurs, whether in the ABA or NBA, certainly made the most of Gervin’s career as they missed the playoffs just once and advanced to the second round seven times including three trips to the Conference Finals.

Gervin’s offensive deluges were aided by players like James Silas – the floor general and leader of the Spurs in the 1970s – and Larry Kenon early in his career. Then a second band of helpmates in Johnny Moore, Mike Mitchell, and Artis Gilmore came aboard in the early 1980s. These players handled the passing, the defense, and the rebounding while Ice handled the scoring. Dick Motta in 1982 summed up defensive strategies for Gervin:

“You don’t stop George Gervin. You just hope that his arm gets tired after 40 shots. I believe the guy can score when he wants to. I wonder if he gets bored out there.”

At the tail-end of his career when the ice began to melt, Spurs coach Cotton Fitzsimmons broached Gervin with the idea of being a sixth man. After all, Gervin was in his early 30s now and his defense – never good – was getting horrendous. Gervin retorted, “I ain’t no John Havlicek.” Indeed he wasn’t. Havlicek was an all-around player while Gervin was “singular, comet-like” to use Terry Stembridge’s words.

Even if singular, his talent was awe-inspiring and it was enough to ensure that the San Antonio Spurs were a viable enough franchise to be absorbed by the NBA when the ABA finally collapsed in 1976. Future Spurs legends may have hung the title banners, but Gervin’s presence is what kept the franchise alive instead of having it permanently put on ice.

Honors

5x All-NBA 1st Team (1978-’82)
2x All-ABA 2nd Team (1975-’76)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1977, 1983)
12x ABA/NBA All-Star (1974-’85)
NBA All-Star Game MVP (1980)
ABA All-Rookie 1st Team (1973)

 

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1060 games):
25.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG
.564 TS%, .504 FG%, .841 FT%
21.4 PER, .157 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (84 games):
26.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG
.560 TS%, .501 FG%, .820 FT%
21.2 PER, .146 WS/48

Maurice Lucas

Born: February 18, 1952
Died: October 31, 2010
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Spirits of St. Louis (ABA): 1974-’75
Kentucky Colonels (ABA): 1975-’76
Portland Trail Blazers (NBA): 1976-’80; 1987-’88
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 1980-’81
New York Knicks (NBA): 1981-’82
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1982-’85
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1985-’86
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1986-’87

Maurice Lucas (ESPN)
Maurice Lucas (ESPN)

Lucas, the fearsome ABA enforcer, is another vegetarian, in addition to being one of the most complete power forwards in the league; at times [Bill] Walton appears stunned when, high over the backboard, he glances across the rim to witness Lucas ripping another rebound asunder and scattering the bodies below him. “Bill’s a gorilla until the fight starts. Then he goes in hiding while I straighten things out,” Lucas says.

That Sports Illustrated article accurately surmised Maurice Lucas in 1977. After decking 7’2″ Artis Gilmore in an ABA game his rookie season, the 6’9″ Lucas became the most feared enforcer in the basketball. The reputation never dissipated as Lucas continued to angrily confront other players for their transgressions against Lucas or his teammates. In fact, Lucas’ spirited confrontation with Darryl Dawkins is credited with helping swing the 1977 NBA Finals from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Portland Trail Blazers.

The “enforcer” label has obscured many of Lucas’s other fine basketball qualities. The defensive ability and rebounding tenacity aren’t too surprising. A quarreling forward who defends like made and cleans the boards fits common perception. Correctly fitting that bill, Lucas, from 1975 to 1984, averaged 10.1 rebounds per game. He was also named to the All-NBA Defensive 1st Team in 1978. Although that was his only first team selection for defense, he easily could have been placed on several more. There’s only so much space to go around on those five-man squads, though.

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Jack Sikma

Born: November 14, 1955
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977-’86
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1986-’91

Jack SIkma card

Four years ago someone asked the Sonics’ then-general manager, Zollie Volchok, if he would consider trading Sikma for Moses Malone. “I wouldn’t trade Jack Sikma for the resurrection of Marilyn Monroe in my bedroom,” was Volchok’s reply, and the feeling was that he spoke for a majority of the bedrooms in Seattle.

Via A Buck, For a Change

You can say this about lots of players, but Jack Sikma’s NBA career truly was an improbable success story. He played college ball at Illinois Wesleyan, a small university in the NAIA garnering very little attention nationwide. However, he did catch the eye of Seattle Supersonics executive Lenny Wilkens. Much to the disbelief, chagrin and jeers of Sonics fans, Sikma was selected 8th overall in the 1977 draft. By the time he was traded to Milwaukee nearly a decade later, Sikma had become a cherished idol of Sonics fans with his rock steady play.

Sikma’s game was a curious blend of power and finesse. Until his senior year in high school, he played guard. However, his height exploded to 6’10” shifting him to the post. Barely able to hop over a phonebook and still figuring out his own dimensions and abilities in his new body, Sikma routinely had his shot blocked by opponents. As he recalled it, “I had SPALDING written across my forehead a few times.”

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