Like any proper ABA legend, Mack Calvin has one fantastic name. Also, like any proper ABA legend, Mack Calvin had a fantastic game.
The most exciting little man in the annals of the ABA, Calvin was blindingly quick. He could burst by you and leave your retinas blistered, your corneas busted, and your pupils punctured. The fury of his drives was unstoppable and led to insufferable nights for opponents. Calvin loved it all though, making the All-ABA 1st Team three times in his career.
Little Mack averaged a tremendous 7.7 free throws per game in the ABA and made 86.6% of them. In 1975 and 1976 he led the league with free throw percentages of 89.6% and 88.8%, respectively. To foul him was to basically give up the points anyways. The problem, though, was that Calvin would force the issue and leave you in an untenable position. Fouling was all that you could do. The diminutive Calvin is the ABA’s all-time leader in free throws made and attempted, and is third all-time in that league in FT%. Rarely do you find out that someone 6’0″ tall is the leader in free throws made.
Mack’s quickness didn’t just lead to forays at the rim and the line, he also had a devastating pull up jumper. The compact Calvin was strong beyond his size and could always muster up a good shot. And his best shots all came in the ABA. Whether with the Los Angeles Stars (who Mack led to the ABA Finals as a rookie), the Floridians (with whom Mack was the only bright spot), the Carolina Cougars (who utilized Mack as a sort of “Release the Kracken” offensive force), the Virginia Squires (the less said the better), or the Denver Nuggets (a game away from another Finals appearance), Calvin was a stud in the ABA.
The NBA, though, never thought too highly of Calvin. When Mack entered the draft out of Southern California, the hometown Lakers drafted him 187th overall, gave him an invite to training camp, and a possible t-shirt. Little wonder he chose the LA Stars of the ABA. Bob Bass pretty much summed up why Calvin was able to succeed in the ABA:
“[The ABA] was a wide-open league, a league that ran the fast break and didn’t have a lot of big men clogging the middle. That was why little guards such as Larry [Brown] and Mack Calvin bloomed in that league; the accent was on speed and finesse, while the NBA played walk the ball up the court and jam it down your throat.”
For seven great years, Calvin was able to play wild, loose, and free in the ABA. Maybe if the NBA was more amenable to his style of play “Mack the Knife” would have cut out a greater legacy for himself. As it stands, you can’t say the ABA’s 2nd all-time leading playmaker and 8th leading scorer didn’t do well nonetheless.
Years Played: 1969 – 1981
3x All-ABA 1st Team (1971, 1974-’75)
All-ABA 2nd Team (1973)
5x All-Star (1971-’75)
All-Rookie Team (1970)
ABA – 533 Games
19.9 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.1 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 45.1% FG, 86.6% FT
APG Leader (1975), 2x FT% Leader (1975-’76)
NBA - 222 Games
7.0 PPG, 2.5 APG, 1.2 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 42.0% FG, 84.8% FT
Contemporary ABA/NBA Ranks (1969-70 through 1980-81 season)
13th Assists, 18th APG
6th FTs Made, 4th FT%
26th Games Played, 40th Minutes Played