Pro Hoops History HOF: Warren Jabali

Warren Jabali
Warren Jabali

At a stocky 6’2″ and 200 lbs., Warren Jabali was one of the hardest players to guard and control in the ABA. Born Warren Armstrong, his changed surname means “the Rock” in Swahili and frankly it couldn’t have described him better. The name change occured toward the end of his career, but all throughout his life, Jabali exhibited an intensity on the court and off the court that often made people wary.

He was known as a merciless defender and averaged 2 steals per game in his career. His coaches wouldn’t hesitate to through him on any opposing guard or forward, no matter their height. If Jabali was on the court, you basically had the other teams best offensive guard and/or forward dutifully harassed

Despite his own short height, Jabali would fly in with reckless abandon to snare rebounds. Capturing the board, he would sprint down court and loved to throw down left-handed dunks – despite being right-handed. In the halfcourt setting, Jabali was absolutely too strong for opposing guards to contain and absolutely too fast and short for forwards to have any hope of slowing him down.

Jabali put his unqiue blend of talent and personality to immediate use in the ABA during his rookie season with the Oakland Oaks. Stacked with Rick Barry, Doug Moe, and Larry Brown, Jabali emerged as perhaps the team’s best player. That title was without dispute once Barry was lost to a knee injury early in the season. Averaging 21.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists, Jabali was named the ABA’s Rookie of the Year and lead Oakland to a 60-18 record – best in the ABA.

In the playoffs, Jabali was outstanding. Averaging 29 points and 13 rebounds for the playoffs (and 33 points in the Finals), the 6’2″ guard led the Oaks to the ABA title and was easily named the MVP of the playoffs.

A sensational follow up season was in store for Warren as the Oaks moved to Washington, DC, and became the Capitols. He upped his production to averages of 23 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He was named to the first of his four All-Star games. But his season was cut short and his career altered by a knee injury.

Returning in the 1970-71 season with the Indiana Pacers, Jabali’s limitless versatility was perhaps overused. Indiana had won the 1970 ABA title, so clearly had a solid core in place with Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, and Freddie Lewis. Jabali was basically designated as a Swiss Army Knife sliding up and down the lineup plugging holes instead of having a firm role.

After that lone season in Indy, Jabali was picked up by the Floridians forming a dynamic backcourt with the equally short Mack Calvin. Jabali returned to his All-Star form with averages of 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He also added a new wrinkle to his game: the three-point shot. His outside shooting had always been his biggest weakness, but in 1972 he led the ABA in three-pointers attempted while finishing fifth in percentage by nailing 36% of his downtown attempts.

Jabali was again on the move for the 1972-73 season. Landing with the Denver Rockets, Jabali’s unbounded athleticism was becoming a thing of the past. His rebounds fell to just 5 a game, but he still managed 17 points and 6.5 assists. Also, we finally get a glimpse at his steals totals since the ABA began tracking the stat this season. Warren swiped 2.1 per game.

In any event, 1973 proved Jabali’s last great season. At the All-Star Game, he secured MVP honors. But by the playoffs Rockets coach Alex Hannum had cooled on Jabali, drastically cutting his playing time.

What may have been Jabali’s undoing in pro basketball was his personality, the reaction others had to it, and his reaction to the reaction. No one in their right mind picked a fight with Jabali. During his vaunted rookie season, the firebrand stomped on an opponent and received a 15-game suspension.

More than that though, he was considered a radical black nationalist. After all, he had given up his born name of Armstrong for Jabali when he converted to Islam. Indeed, his outspoken beliefs made ABA management fearful of retaining him. In the 1974 season, Denver put Jabali on the waiver wire and no ABA team picked up the rest of that season.

A return to the ABA came in 1974-75 season for Warren with the San Diego Conquistadors, but he averaged an underwhelming (for himself) 12 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals a game. After those 62 games with the Qs, Jabali was done as a professional ball player.

Jabali explained his politics and seemingly aloof nature, but not many people in pro basketball wanted to take the time out – then or now – to fully grapple with the issues he saw swirling in sport and American society. In his later years, Jabali more keenly focused the rage he felt toward the injustices and became a devoted community organizer.

Even though his basketball career was spectacular, one wishes he had the same time and space to replicate his latter life solemn focus on to the court. Instead, injuries and personality curtailed the murky yet still amazing career of Warren Jabali.

Years Played: 1968-1975

Oakland Oaks

Accolades

ABA -
Champion (1969)
Playoff MVP (1969)
Rookie of the Year (1969)
All-ABA 1st Team (1973)
4x All-Star (1970, 1972-’74)
All-Star Game MVP (1973)

Statistics

ABA Career (1968-69 through 1974-75)

Average and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Career Rank
Games 447 36 27th
PPG 17.1 18.1 27th
RPG 6.7 8.5 42nd
APG 5.3 3.2 6th
SPG 1.99 N/A 9th
BPG 0.26 N/A 59th
TS% 0.521 0.496 58th
2PT% 0.453 0.451 83rd
3PT% 0.319 0.167 16th
FT% 0.756 0.702 61st
PER 16.3 15.8 31st
WS/48 0.11 0.11 39th
Ortg 100 N/A
Drtg 105 N/A

Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Career Rank
Games 447 36 27th
Minutes 15264 1209 21st
Points 7666 651 20th
Rebounds 2985 306 29th
Assists 2389 115 6th
Steals 384 N/A 8th
Blocks 29 N/A 66th
2PTs 2341 210 29th
3PTs 322 11 5th
FTs 2018 198 12th
WS 35.1 2.8 22nd

Pro Hoops History HOF: Cliff Hagan

Cliff Hagan ABA

Cliff Hagan possessed one of the greatest hook shots in basketball history. It wasn’t a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook that dropped in from the heavens. It wasn’t a George Mikan right-handed hook that was launched after his left arm pulverized you. Hagan’s hook was a spring-loaded catapult. He would gallop into the lane and jump as high as he could off of his left leg. His body stiffened into a straight rod and his right arm slung the hook at his apex.

That sweet shot allowed Hagan to play center in college Kentucky with enormous success. But when he got to the pros in 1956 after a two-year stint with the Army, the 6’4″ Hagan was declared too short to play forward, let alone center, in the NBA. St. Louis Hawks’ coach Red Holzman tried Hagan at shooting guard with disastrous results. A mid-season coaching change made Alex Hannum the Hawks coach. Hannum, instead of resisting the obvious, gave Hannum a shot at playing forward.

The results were tremendous when the postseason rolled around. After averaging just 5.5 points in the regular season, Hagan hooked his way to 17 points and 11 rebounds a night in the playoffs. His play helped lead the Hawks to the NBA Finals. Pitted against the Boston Celtics (the team that initially drafted Hagan but traded him for Bill Russell), Hagan had a magnificent, game-winning tip-in during Game 6 of the series. Nonetheless, the Hawks lost in Game 7 to the Celtics.

But Cliff Hagan had arrived.

In 1958, he along with Bob Pettit scorched the Boston Celtics for a six-game Finals victory avenging their defeat the previous year. Pettit had the ultimate climax with 50 points in the decisive Game 6, but Hagan proved equally indispensable as he led all playoff performers that year in points per game (27.7) and field goal percentage (50.2%) to go along with 10.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

For five straight years he was an NBA All-Star. He would also be named to the All-NBA 2nd Team twice. In 1960, the superb Hagan reached his apex as a star. That regular season he finished 10th in APG and RPG among all NBA players. He was also 9th in FT% and 5th in FG%.  Naturally, he was also 5th in PPG.

In the 1963 season, however, the 31-year old Hagan transitioned from heavy work horse to instant offense machine. For the rest of his NBA career – lasting through 1966 – Hagan averaged 15 points in 25 minutes a game. His retirement from the Hawks following the 1966 campaign was short-lived.

The new ABA lured Hagan to their league with the opportunity to coach the Dallas Chaparrals. Hagan also suited up as a player for the Chaps and was named an ABA All-Star in 1968. The 36-year old legend averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5assists proving his skills had aged but not eroded.

The same could be said of his competitive spirit. A soft-spoken, gentleman off the court Hagan was a hellion on the hardwood. He got into so many altercations, that Dallas management forced him to sit out games, but that lasted only so long. Cliff would put himself into a game if he thought it’d give the club the last push needed for success. So, what better way to conclude Hagan’s pro playing career than with a little story straight from Loose Balls told by Max Williams, general manager of the Chaps:

With 40 seconds left [in the game] I saw Cliff rip off his warm-ups and put himself into the game. Cliff cut across the lane, caught a pass and made that great hook shot of his. Then one of the Anaheim players jumped on his back and rode Cliff right to the floor. Cliff stood up, looked at the guy and cold-cocked him.

I thought, “He’s only been in the game for five seconds and he already punched somebody.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Cliff Hagan.

Years Played: 1956 – 1969

St. Louis Hawks
St. Louis Hawks

Accolades

NBA -
Champion (1958)
2x All ABA 2nd Team (1958-’59)
5x All-Star (1958-’62)

ABA -
All-Star (1968)

Statistics

NBA – 745 Games
18.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45.0% FG, 79.8% FT

ABA -
94 Games
15.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 49.6% FG, 80.7% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1956-57 through 1965-66 season)
6th Points, 18th PPG
5th FGs, 17th FG%
11th FTs, 19th FT%
13th Assists, 26th APG
15th Rebounds, 40th RPG
3rd Games Played, 8th Minutes Played

New York, New York: Julius Erving, the Nets-Knicks Feud, and America’s Bicentennial

via the Daily Mail
A pleasant ride on the NY Subway in 1976 (via the Daily Mail)

1976 was an awkward time for the United States of America.

The previous few years had seen the military massacre college students at home and abandon an unpopular, costly war abroad. A president had resigned, narrowly escaping impeachment. And as James Brown eloquently stated in his song, “Funky President (People It’s Bad),” times were bad, people:

Stock market going up, Jobs going down
And ain’t no funky jobs to be found

Taxes keep going up, I changed from a glass
Now I drink from a paper cup, It’s getting bad

Amidst all the social tumult, the United States also prepared for the bicentennial of its revolutionary birth. It was a much needed shot of enthusiasm to reinvigorate the triumphant American spirit which was on a prolonged vacation after such harrowing gut checks.

Once the capital of the United States, New York City reflected this strange dichotomy of enthusiasm and desperation. Crime and poverty were rising for the five boroughs, but so were the magnificent Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The social grime that created miserable hardship also was giving birth to the vibrant expressions of disco and hip-hop.

The dichotomy even extended to basketball. The New York Knickerbockers were falling off the turnip truck, while the New York Nets were riding high.

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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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Pro Hoops History HOF: Roger Brown

Roger Brown
Roger Brown

Roger Brown’s professional basketball career came perilously close to mirroring the fate of his college career. Coming out of New York City, Brown was one of the most highly recruited players in the country and the University of Dayton snagged the superb baller. But a point-shaving and gambling scandal surrounding Jack Molinas took down many promising young players like Connie Hawkins, Doug Moe, and Roger Brown.

Dayton and the NCAA banned Brown in 1960. The NBA likewise did so when Brown became eligible for their draft four years later. Brown had already moved to Dayton, Ohio, far from his New York home and was stuck. Over the years he kept his game and skills alive via amateur and semi-pro games, often against NBA players like Oscar Robertson.

Finally, in 1967, a chance for revival occurred thanks to the Indiana Pacers of the ABA. The new league was looking for any and all talent. Brown, Moe, and Hawkins all got their breaks thanks to the ABA. But of the three, Brown certainly made the most of the ABA as a player.

The strong and burl swingman gave the Pacers an instant star and credibility. Then in 1968 the Pacers traded for center Mel Daniels who gave Indiana the dynamic core of their three ABA titles. Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, George McGinnis, Bill Keller, and others flowed around this tandem, but when times got critical and the clock got low, it was Roger Brown who invariably got the ball.

The 1969 and 1970 postseasons were the absolute highlights of Brown’s ABA career as he averaged 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. In 1969, the Pacers lost to the Oakland Oaks in the Finals. In 1970, Brown wouldn’t allow for a repeat of that heartache and secured a tough 4-games-to-2 series win over the Los Angeles Stars. Brown was monstrous down the stretch of that series scoring 53, 39, and 45 points in the final three games.

The scintillating performances earned him the Playoff MVP award.

Brown unleashed those spectacular games using a bevvy of one-on-one moves no defender could hope to stop on his own. Brown would lean and twist his body into a defender creating the space for him to nail his sweet sweet jumper. On the break, Brown had good handles to strike all the way to the basket. But the threat of his pull up jumper kept the defense confused and on figurative roller skates.

(check out my review of the fantastic documentary on Roger Brown by director Ted Green)

Rajah, as he was affectionately and devotedly called, was also one of the first players to skillfully utilize the three-point shot. He could catch the rock, stand still, stare you down, then rise up on the wing and bury the three. His three-point accuracy increased with age as he finished in the ABA’s top 5 in 3PT% three times toward the end of his career in the mid-1970s.

The end of his pro career came in 1974-75. Prior to that season he had spent all of his ABA days with the Pacers, but that season Brown spent time with the Memphis Sounds and Utah Stars before finally returning home to Indiana by season’s end where he retired.

And make no mistake, Indiana was now home for Brown. He served as a city councilman and was immersed in the community. When he passed way in 1997 at age 54, his funeral was held at the Pacers’ Market Square Arena – an arena that wouldn’t have existed without Brown’s basketball exploits two decades earlier. Old teammates who had become family for Brown carried him off the court, in his casket, for the final time.

That Brown never spent a single second in the NBA just proves that basketball’s greatest players can be found in any place. They’re success as professionals may rest on their own shoulders but their failure can just as easily be heaped on unjust forces. Roger Brown initially looked to be the latter: a victim of railroad “justice”. Fortunately for Roger Brown, the Pacers gave him the opportunity. Even more important, Roger was willing to risk one more potential letdown for basketball redemption. Thankfully, the regal Rajah didn’t fail, but instead succeeded beyond belief.

Years Played: 1967 – 1975

Indiana Pacers
Indiana Pacers

Accolades

ABA -
3x Champion (1970, 1972-’73)
Playoff MVP (1970)
All-ABA 1st Team (1971)
2x All-ABA 2nd Team (1968, 1970)
4x All-Star (1968, 1970-’72)

Statistics

ABA - 605 Games
17.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG

All-Time ABA Ranks
10th Points, 25th PPG
13th FGs Made, 48th FG%
8th FTs Made, 36th FT%
7th 3PTs Made, 11th 3PT%
10th Assists, 19th APG
24th Rebounds
11th Games Played, 6th Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Dan Issel

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Dan Issel
Dan Issel

On May 22, 1985, a great career came to end in Los Angeles, which is want to happen. 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.

As he retired, Issel possessed the following all-time ranks for pro basketball: 5th in games played, 6th in minutes played, 6th in field goals made, 4th in free throws made, 15th in rebounds grabbed, and 4th in points scored. Only Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Julius Erving had scored more points than Dan up to that point. This was a basketball institution leaving the court for the last time.

When he first entered the hardwood domain of the ABA back in 1970, Issel wasn’t yet an institution but he certainly had the framework. He led the ABA in scoring with 30 points per game that season and with the aid of little Louie Dampier, he took the Kentucky Colonels to the ABA Finals where they lost in seven games to the Utah Stars.

The Colonels beefed up their title chances the next year adding Artis Gilmore. The Issel-Dampier-Gilmore Colonels were a cornerstone of the ABA. Gilmore brought the intimidating inside defense, hook shots, and rebounding. Dampier brought the hot outside shooting and steady ball-handling. Issel brought a boatload of careening hustle, more rebounding, mobile offense from a big man, and easy fastbreak points.

Yep, a man who was no one’s exemplar of speed, would clean up on fastbreak points. He had the ability, much like Robert Parish, to never stop running and would invariably catch his winded and unsuspecting opponents off-guard for an easy lay up or dunk.

The Colonels captured the ABA title in 1975 after a few close brushes with championship glory, but the nucleus that brought them the ring was broken up that offseason. Issel was traded to the Denver Nuggets and there he’d stay for the rest of his career. He’d play with super players like David Thompson, Bobby Jones, George McGinnis, Kiki Vandeghwe, and Alex English over the years, but the Nuggets never repeated the title success of the Colonels.

Oh, they came close a couple of times. In 1976 they lost in the ABA Finals to the New York Nets. In 1978 they were taken down by the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals. And in 1985, they were bounced by the Los Angeles Lakers.

It was the end of the line for Dan Issel as a player, but it was a mighty fine road to that point that deserved all the appreciation it received and all that’s yet to come.

Years Played: 1970 – 1985

Accolades

ABA -
Champion (1975)
Rookie of the Year (1971)
All-ABA 1st Team (1971)
4x All-ABA 2nd Team (1971, 1973-’74, 1976)
All-Star Game MVP (1972)
6x All-Star (1971-’76)

NBA -
All-Star (1977)

Statistics

ABA - 1100 Games
25.6 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 49.1% FG, 78.6% FT
PPG Leader (1971)

NBA - 718 Games
20.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 50.6% FG, 79.7% FT

Contemporary ABA/NBA Ranks (1970-71 through 1984-85 season)
3rd Points, 11th PPG
1st FTs Made, 3rd FGs Made
5th Rebounds, 25th RPG
24th Steals, 29th Blocks
1st Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: James Silas

James Silas
James Silas

Standing all of 6’1″, James Silas carried himself with all of the swash-buckling swagger of a carrack commander. His career numbers belie such confidence, though.

How could someone who averaged over 20 points per game just once, and had a career average of 16 points, be worthy of commandeering admiration? Especially considering that as a point guard he dished out over 5 assists per game just once, and had a career average of 3.8.

The answer lies in the fact that numbers can’t tell you exactly how a player plays. They show the final results of plays, they can be somewhat predicative, but they can’t fully tell you how a man plays. And James Silas was a man so full of big plays, timely counter moves, and cold-blooded veins that he was given the nickname “Captain Late”.

The good captain, the great commander, would show up time and time again to pull the San Antonio Spurs out of a fix. Yes, George Gervin and Larry Kenon may have scored more points throughout the course of their games, but Silas was the man they cleared out for in the final moments.

Using his stocky, well-built frame, Silas could back down opposing guards and rise up for jumpers near the basket. He was also fond of just taking it to the rack off the dribble and getting foul shots. For his career, Silas shots 49.5% from the field and 85.5% from the line. When he took his shot, he was gonna make it.

His fourth-quarter heroics and general dependability made Silas an All-ABA 1st Teamer in 1976, but that postseason he injured his knee in a collision against the New York Nets. For the next two seasons, his first two in the NBA, Silas was on the mend. Finally recovering for the 1978-79 season, Silas was again dependable, but not quite what he once was. Most noticeable was that the highest gear of his explosiveness had gone.

Silas retired from pro basketball in 1982 and became the first player in Spurs history to have his jersey retired.

The James Silas that NBA fans saw was a terrific player, but the one that a select few ABA fans saw was outstanding and legendary. Opposing coaches and the press recall Silas delivering multiple 20-point outbursts in fourth quarters. The season he busted his knee, Silas was one of the best guards in all of basketball.

The following comparison of stats from the 1975-76 season tells it all, really:
Silas – 23.8 PPG, 5.4 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 51.9% FG, 87.2% FT, 7.7 FTA
Gervin – 21.8 PPG, 2.5 APG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 49.9% FG, 85.7% FT, 4.9 FTA

The Ice Man’s uniquely brilliant finger roll got the headlines, but Silas was the engine driving the Spurs of the ABA. But this here is just the starting tale on Captain Late. There’s a lot more to know on this forgotten but fantastic San Antonio Spur.

Years Played: 1972 – 1982

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Accolades

ABA -
All-ABA 1st Team (1976)
All-ABA 2nd Team (1975)
2x All-Star (1975-’76)
All-Rookie Team (1973)

Statistics

ABA - 328 Games
18.2 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 50.4% FG, 85.7% FT

NBA - 357 Games
14.2 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.1 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 48.5% FG, 85.2% FT

Contemporary ABA/NBA Ranks (1972-73 through 1981-82 season)
29th Points, 39th FGs Made
12th FTs Made, 8th FT%
23rd Assists, 35th APG
28th Games Played, 35th Minutes Played