Willie Wise

Born: March 3, 1947
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Los Angeles Stars (ABA): 1969-’70
Utah Stars (ABA): 1970-’74
Virginia Squires (ABA): 1975-’76
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 1976-’77
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977

Willie Wise

“My first and only goal coming into the ABA was to be a great defensive player,” explained Wise. “I loved playing defense. It was always a challenge to see if I could stop guys like Rick Barry, John Brisker, and Roger Brown. But I didn’t like to think of myself as the best defensive player in the league. That’s because when I started to think about that I might have let down.”

Remember the ABA: Willie Wise

Like the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, Willie Wise was never quite satisfied with himself. No matter how well he played, how well he shot, how well he shut down opponents, he was never ever satisfied with himself. For Wise basketball was a game meant for passion and zeal. To believe perfection had been attained was to acquiesce with complacency.

Wise had no time and no place for resting on laurels.

He was a man dedicated to improving every facet of his game. Working with Utah Stars coach Bill Sharman, himself a great shooting guard, Wise drastically improved his offensive game and by 1972 was averaging 23 points a game while shooting a touch over 50% from the field. His defense was stifling and suffocating. And even though he stood just 6’5″ he was also a superb rebounder, snaring 10.7 boards a game over his first three seasons (1970-’72).

Just ask the poor Kentucky Colonels who faced the wonderful Wise in 1971. Stars center Zelmo Beaty had a whale of a game with 40 points and 15 rebounds, but Wise was right behind him:

“Beaty did a great job,” Sharman said following the game. “But Wise was outstanding.” The Utah coach described Wise’s 26 points and 24 rebounds as “just too much to expect.”

Wise and Beaty had huge games at the right moment. It was Game 2 of the 1971 Finals and they edged out Kentucky 131 to 121. They eventually won the title in seven games. The Stars behind Wise, Beaty, and Ron Boone were a constant power in the ABA from 1970 to 1974, making at least the Conference Finals every season.

Wise may have hated to praise himself, but this team success left him gushing all over. And as this successful team filled with teammates and friends aged it was dismantled. Wise, a man who played for passion, lost much of his drive and zeal as he saw management discard his brothers in basketball arms.

After the 1974 season ended with a Finals defeat against the New York Nets, the Stars tossed aside Beaty and super scorer Jimmy Jones while Wise went into hiding refusing to play. After months of stalemate, the Stars sold Wise to the Virginia Squires late in the 1974-75 season. Willie played just 16 games but, despite the layoff, he looked close to his normal, All-Star self averaging 21 points and six rebounds.

The next season (1975-76) Wise began suffering from a balky knee. The knee quickly proved extremely troublesome and his career was totally over by 1977 at age 30. Wise, true to his name, wasn’t one to beleaguer the point. He didn’t try and hang on for years making comebacks. One moment revealed to him it was all over:

I remember they put me on the Iceman. That’s George Gervin. And I don’t mean this in a vain, proud way, but I used to be able to stay with the Iceman as long as he was out on the court. If he took me down on the block, he could elevate over me because he was 6’7″, almost 6’8″, and he could leap. But if he tried to beat me out on the floor, he couldn’t. And boy, he blew by me. I thought, Whoa. And that’s when it really hit me that I just couldn’t move laterally anymore. That was the time on the court that I thought, You know what? I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.

But when Willie could do it, he was one of the best.

Accolades

Champion (1971)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1973-’74)
2x All-ABA 2nd Team (1972, 1974)
3x All-Star (1972-’74)
All-Rookie Team (1970)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (552 games):
17.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG
.529 TS%, .475 FG%, .724 FT%
18.1 PER, .127 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (74 games):
19.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.0 SPG
.542 TS%, .498 FG%, .709 FT%
19.0 PER, .143 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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

George McGinnis

Born: August 12, 1950
Position: Power/Point Forward
Professional Career:
Indiana Pacers (ABA): 1971-1975
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 1975-1978
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 1978-1980
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 1980-1982

(philly.com)
(philly.com)

The Lowdown: George McGinnis was one of the finest all-around players basketball has ever seen. As a power forward, he certainly lived up to the typical job description. He tussled aggressively on the boards and was one of the strongest men in basketball. McGinnis’s chiseled physique didn’t mean he was a lumbering giant, though. He was able to grab a board and dribble the length of the court to flush home a dunk or perform able duty as point forward. His combination of power and speed made him regular season and playoff MVP of the ABA by his fourth pro season. After jumping to the NBA, McGinnis’s success faded but not before enjoying a few more All-Star seasons and cementing his mark as one of pro basketball’s finest players of the 1970s.


 

The Man-Child

(Sports Illustrated)

In 1971, the Indiana Pacers were on the cusp of completely dominating the American Basketball Association. Over the previous three seasons they had lost in the Finals (1969), won the Finals (1970), and lost in the Western Division Finals (1971). Now the perennial contenders were looking to add a young dynamic piece who would put them into the realm of dynasty.

Hailing from Indianapolis, George McGinnis was attending Indiana University when the Pacers lured him to the ABA after his freshman season in college. It was a very unusual move at the time. Hardly any underclassman had gone pro in decades, but given McGinnis’s 30-point and 15-rebound averages that one college season, he certainly appeared ready for tougher competition.

McGinnis was an absolute mammoth of a power forward who, aside from Artis Gilmore, was probably the strongest man in the ABA. Unsurprisingly, he was an absolute beast on the boards trampling and demolishing opponents, particularly on the offensive glass. His career average of 3.7 is 10th all-time amongst players who have appeared in at least 240 games (equivalent to about three seasons).

This steady stream of offensive boards and subsequent putbacks partially fed his healthy point production. Also of aid was his dependable mid-range jumper and his cunning-but-not-quite-graceful drives to the hoop. During one stretch of his career, McGinnis wound up averaging over 20 points a game for seven straight seasons. It culminated in 1975 when he peaked at 29.8 points per game.

And as if this wasn’t enough of an offensive threat, he could pass the ball extremely well. For six straight seasons he held an assist per game average above 3.5, including three seasons above 4.5 in that stretch. Big George also had quick, strong hands which led to a career steals per game average of 1.9. That’s an incredibly high total for anyone let alone a power forward. In fact, that 1.9 average is fourth all-time amongst forwards and 26th overall for all players.

McGinnis, however, surly had pitfalls to his game. For starters, he turned the ball over with a galling frequency: 4 a game over the course of his career. Also his free throw shooting was always poor. It showed signs of incremental improvement until 1975 (topping off at 74%) and thereafter it plummeted to embarrassing levels by his retirement (45.3%).

With McGinnis on hand, the Pacers became an embarrassment of riches with the superb core of ABA MVP Mel Daniels, All-Stars Bob Netolicky, Roger Brown, and Freddie Lewis, and solid role players in Billy Keller, Darnell Hillman, and Rick Mount. The already impressive Pacers were imagining a vice-like grip upon the ABA. The well-balanced machine had seven players average between 10 and 20 points in the 1971-72 season and they squeezed by Denver and Utah in order to reach the Finals yet again.

Although mostly in a supporting role to the veterans, McGinnis was invaluable against the New York Nets in the Finals, particularly in Game 3:

New York coach Lou Carnesecca was quoted as saying that Indiana’s muscular 6-foot-8, 235 pound rookie George McGinnis looked like a heavy weight contender. Carnesecca amended his evaluation following the third game [of the ABA Finals] Friday night.

“Now, you can say he’s the champion,” said the diminutive Nets’ coach, who barely would reach McGinnis’ elbow.

Carnesecca made his reevaluation after the burly McGinnis wrecked the Nets, scoring 30 points and grabbing a game high 20 rebounds…

The next year, Big George emerged as the Pacers’ best player.

Averaging 27.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals he was an unstoppable force and claimed spots on the All-Star and All-ABA 2nd teams. Again reaching the Finals, the Pacers this time faced their mortal enemy, the Kentucky Colonels. The series went the distance, as it usually did between these two. McGinnis sealed Game 5 with a steal of an inbounds pass and an ensuing slam dunk with 23 seconds left. In Game 7, the Pacers captured the title in Louisville thanks to McGinnis’s 27 points. He was understandably named MVP of the playoffs.

The 1974 edition of the Pacers failed to secure a three-peat, however. They were ousted in seven games by their other mortal enemy, the Utah Stars, in the West Finals. Despite the team’s relative failure, McGinnis continued his ascension: 26 PPG, 15 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2 SPG. Thank to that production, he received his first appearance on the All-ABA 1st Team.

For the 1974-75 season, McGinnis would take his game to yet another notch and raise hell for the whole ABA.


 

All Grown Up

McGinnis and Nater

For the 1974-75 season, McGinnis undoubtedly reached the summit and apex of his skills. The Pacers jettisoned much of the old guard and the team was solidly George’s to have and to mold. Helping him along were rookies Len Elmore and Billy Knight and heretofore unused Don Buse along with holdover Darnell Hillman.

A December 1974 game against the San Antonio Spurs exemplified the hurt McGinnis laid on the ABA all season long:

George McGinnis may eventually replace the speedway as the No. 1 tourist attraction in Indianapolis.

The husky 6-foot-8 forward of the Indiana Pacers is one of those players, who as the saying goes, “can do it all.” Wednesday night he gave a demonstration of his amazing versatility to the San Antonio Spurs – 45 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists while leading the Pacers to a 128 – 122 victory.

McGinnis was spectacular from start to finish that season. He averaged a ridiculous 30 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists and 2.5 steals. He even connected on 35.4% of his three-point attempts that year for good measure. McGinnis was named the ABA’s co-MVP along with Julius Erving of the New York Nets.

Amazingly, in the postseason, Mac again took his game to another level.

The unfortunate Spurs were again a victim of Big George. In Game 2 of their semi-final series, McGinnis dismantled them in the second half. He shot 11-18 from the field, connected on eight of his 10 free throw attempts, hauled in eight rebounds, sent out five dimes and just turned the ball over once. And this was after his Game 1 performance of 32 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists. Finishing the Spurs off in six games, the Pacers next faced the Denver Nuggets, owners of the best record in the West during the regular season. The series was a classic affair and McGinnis (and side kick Billy Knight) carried the Pacers through.

In Game 1, McGinnis pummeled the Nuggets with 39 points, 22 rebounds, eight assists and five steals, but Denver survived 131 to 128. McGinnis had an off-night in Game 2, but the Pacers still won tying the series.

In Indianapolis for Game 3, the Pacers were dead in the water down 95-84 at the beginning of the 4th quarter, but then George took over and led a tremendous comeback. With 4:13 left in the game and the scored tied at 102, McGinnis hit two jumpers, made a key assist and nailed two free throws to seal the 118-112 victory over Denver. He finished the game with 32 points, 21 rebounds and 13 assists.

The two teams continued their scrap, ultimately coming down to a Game 7 in Denver. In this final game, McGinnis rose to the occasion: 40 points, 23 rebounds, eight assists and three steals. He thrashed Denver for 10 of Indiana’s final 14 points and nailed a three-pointer at the 3:54 mark that effectively sealed the 104-96 win for the Pacers.

The Pacers’ magical run came to a halt in the Finals against Kentucky. Despite McGinnis’ 35 points, the Pacers were smashed 120-94 in Game 1. The rest of the series would be closer, but the tone had clearly been set. Indiana’s one chance at a possible upset slipped through McGinnis’s hands in Game 2. Tied at 93, George was unable to handle a bounce pass from Roger Brown and Kentucky received control of the ball. With just 10 seconds remaining, Artis Gilmore delivered the game-winning shot for Kentucky. The Colonels ultimately won the series in 5 games.

McGinnis’s postseason had nonetheless been remarkable as he averaged 32 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and two steals over the course of 18 games. But this mammoth, gargantuan display was to be his last for Indiana.


 

NBA Superstar… but only for a Moment

After a convoluted and heated bidding war, McGinnis left the Pacers of the ABA and landed with the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA for the 1975-76 season. Teaming alongside Doug Collins, Steve Mix, World B. Free, fresh out high school Darryl Dawkins, and Fred Carter, the McGinnis Sixers went 46-36 (a 12-game improvement over the previous season). A heart-breaking, 1-point loss to Buffalo in a deciding Game 3 of the 1st Round ended their season.

However, the next year, the Sixers surged to the Finals thanks to the acquisition of Julius Erving. The Sixers possessed in Erving and McGinnis two of the now-liquidated ABA’s best players. But the co-existence of the two was never fluid. There was no animosity, just a mismatch of talent. Facing off against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Sixers took the first two games of the series before Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas and the Oregon gang stormed back winning the next four games and the title. The effortless team ball of the Blazers was lauded while the Sixers were derided as a playground team of stars who didn’t know how to play real basketball.

Although taken to a nonsensical level with that last accusation, there were problems with teaming Dr. J and Big George. Maybe all it would have took was a couple of seasons of play to mesh these two tremendous talents, but the chance never occurred. McGinnis was traded in 1978 to the Denver Nuggets for Bobby Jones. Now McGinnis found himself teamed with Dan Issel and David Thompson, two more stars of the former ABA.

His stint with Denver lasted just a year-and-a-half. Although he was initially productive – making a sixth and final All-Star Team in 1978 – McGinnis’s play began to slide. Perhaps the most talented and best player in pro basketball in 1975 was struggling with his confidence by 1979.

This was best exemplified in his free throw shooting. Reaching a peak percentage of .740 in 1976, McGinnis’s FT% initially started to taper off and then quickly dropped like a rock to a ridiculously bad .453 percentage in 1982. By then he was back in Indiana – traded there by Denver in 1980 – trying to resuscitate his career, but it was not to be. Former Sixers coach Gene Shue summed up the problem:

“I don’t think he’s lost any of his skills,” says Shue, who’s now coaching the Washington Bullets for the second time. “He’s still an excellent rebounder. The only thing George needs is to get with a team that says, ‘Here’s the ball, George. Go do it.’ “

McGinnis needed the team to have faith in him, to give him the ball. Despite his prodigious talents and proven success, he was never one to seize control of a team. When placed among a multitude of stars his own age, like he was in Philadelphia and Denver, McGinnis seemed to slink into the background. By 1982, at only 31 years of the age, the game had passed McGinnis by. Averaging only 5 points and 5 rebounds, he finally retired.

It was a sad ending for a talent who was transcendent for six full seasons. George McGinnis was someone who combined speed and power in ways rarely seen before or since. Former ABA All-Star Willie Wise declared the only way to stop George was to shoot yourself and then hope McGinnis would have mercy on you. From 1972 to 1977, there was no mercy from George. His teams gave him the ball and he delivered with ferocious ability.

McGinnis himself marveled at just how good he was on the court from the jump:

“When I came into the ABA,” McGinnis says, “I was like a god. I felt there was no one who was ever going to stop me, that I was going to be a dominant force every time I took the court. That’s how supreme I felt and that’s how supreme I played.”


 

 Honors

ABA –
2x Champion (1972-’73)
MVP (1975)
Playoff MVP (1973)
2x All-ABA 1st Team (1974-’75)
All ABA 2nd Team (1973)
3x All-Star (1973-’75)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1972)

NBA –
All-NBA 1st Team (1976)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1977)
3x All-Star (1976-’77, 1979)

Statistics

Career Regular Season Averages (842 games):
20.2 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .458 FG%, .273 3PT%, .664 FT%
20.0 PER, .127 WS/48

Peak Career Regular Season Averages (1972-73 through 1978-79):
24.4 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.5 BPG, .461 FG%, .311 3PT%, .695 FT%
21.9 PER, .152 WS/48

ABA Regular Season Averages (1971-72 through 1974-75):
25.2 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG, .470% FG, .682% FT
22.1 PER, .154 WS/48

NBA Regular Season Averages
(1975-76 through 1981-82):
17.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .448 FG%, .651 FT%
18.6 PER, .107 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (104 games):
20.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .435 FG%, .290 3PT%, .682 FT%
19.7 PER, .114 WS/48

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