Pro Hoops History HOF: Jamaal Wilkes

Jamaal Wilkes
Jamaal Wilkes

“I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter,” [John] Wooden told the New York Post in 1985. “Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that.”

- NBA.com

Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes? Wherever he went, the small forward brought success with him, so you were bound to reap some high rewards.

Despite being taken 11th in the NBA draft, Wilkes showed no let down in the skills that made him an AP All-American in college and a two-time NCAA champion at UCLA. In his rookie year with the Golden State Warriors in the 1974-75 season, Wilkes took home Rookie of the Year honors as he averaged 14 points and eight rebounds per game. With Rick Barry the clear leader on that Warriors team, Wilkes settled into a needed role as secondary offensive threat and frustrating defender.

As the 1975 postseason began, Wilkes was somewhat erratic, as rookies can be. He had several games of single-digit scoring and in the Finals against the Washington Bullets he averaged just 11.5 points.

However, Wilkes had some well-timed hot streaks that kept the Warriors’ season alive. With Golden State tied two-games-to-two against the Seattle Super Sonics in the Western Semi-Finals, Wilkes helped capture the series with a Game 5 performance of 24 points and a Game 6 encore of 20 points.

Against the Chicago Bulls in the Western Conference Finals, Wilkes started off hot with 26 points in Game 1. However the Bulls’ tenacious defense hounded Jamaal into 11 PPG from Games 2 through 6. The slog-fest series came down to Game 7 in Oakland. The Bulls built a 14-point lead, but Wilkes kept Golden State alive with 21 points in the second and third quarters. In the fourth, Rick Barry then took up the slack and slung 14 points at the Bulls to win the game 83-79.

In the Finals, the 48-win Warriors swept the heavily favored 60-win Washington Bullets.

Jamaal Wilkes
Jamaal Wilkes

Those Warriors were in great position to repeat and control the Western Conference through the late 1970s. In 1976, Wilkes was named to his first All-Star Game and Golden State won an imposing 59 games, but they were the victims of a stunning upset. The 42-win Phoenix Suns deposed them in the Western Conference Finals. After another disappointing playoff exit in 1977, Wilkes become one of the first big name players to switch teams via free agency.

The three year veteran went down the California coast back to Los Angeles – the site of his college glory years with the UCLA Bruins – joining the Lakers. With the purple and gold, Wilkes averaged 19 points per game and was selected to two more All-Star games. His smooth shooting stroke and unassuming demeanor earned him the nickname “Silk”.

The good thing about Wilkes’ silky smooth play was that he could silently knock out opponents on the court. Sometimes you’d look up and wonder how Wilkes had so convincingly put you asunder. Silent assassins don’t cause much of a stir in the publicity department, though. The perfect example of how Wilkes could decimate the opposition without anyone really remembering is his Game 6 performance in the 1980 NBA Finals.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the league’s MVP dropping 40 points and 15 rebounds in Game 5 on the 76ers, but a severely sprained ankle kept him out of Game 6. Magic Johnson was the star rookie who famously started at center with a spectacular final stat line of 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. Oh, and Jamaal Wilkes?  He scored a ho-hum 37 points that happened to be his highest scoring output of the season and clinched the title for the Lakers.

When you have three players going for those kinds of numbers (plus Norm Nixon and Michael Cooper), it’s unsurprising more championships followed in 1982 and 1985 for Wilkes and the Lakers. By that third title in ’85, however, Jamaal had been supplanted by James Worthy as the Lakers’ new scoring machine at small forward. After 13 games with the Los Angeles Clippers in the fall of 1985 that everyone would like to forget, Wilkes retired from the NBA.

His tough defense, his ability to score inside, outside, and every place in between with jumpers, slithering layups, and superb off the ball cuts – plus his unselfish enthusiasm – helped guide every team he ever played for to the playoffs. The exception of course the hapless Clippers. But let’s chalk up that tidbit to misfortune and leave it at that.

As for how good Wilkes was, let’s leave it at this: Rookie of the Year honors, four titles, and three all-star games plus a whole lot of silk-laden moves.

Years Played: 1974-1985

Accolades

NBA -
4x Champion (1975, 1980, 1982, 1985)
Rookie of the Year (1975)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1976-’77)
3x All-Star (1976, 1981, 1983)
All-Rookie Team (1975)

Statistics

NBA - 828 Games
17.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 49.9% FG, 75.9% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1974-75 through 1984-85 season)
11th Points, 34th PPG
4th FGs Made, 33rd FTs Made
10th Steals, 26th SPG
25th Rebounds, 38th Assists
4th Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Nate Thurmond

Nate Thurmond
Nate Thurmond

One of the all-time great centers, Nate Thurmond never made an All-NBA Team. That tends to happen when you play in the same era as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Walt Bellamy, and then in the same era as Willis Reed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and  Elvin Hayes. Thurmond was always great but just a smidgen below the best centers of the era.

But that All-NBA designation was only given to two centers every year during Thurmond’s career. Not being one of the two best centers is nothing to sneeze given the talent mentioned above. Nonetheless, the man made seven All-Star Teams in his career and when All-Defensive Teams were debuted in 1969, Thurmond found himself a regular fixture. From that point until he retired in 1977, Thurmond was a five-time selection to those squads.

Defense, rebounding, and shot-blocking were the best attributes Thurmond brought to the table for the San Francisco (and then Golden State) Warriors throughout his career. During his 10 years as a starter with the club, Thurmond averaged a robust 18.5 points and a gaudy 17.5 rebounds. Blocks were first kept in his final season with the Warriors (1974) and at age 32 Thurmond was swatting three a game.

Like Chamberlain and Russell, one can only imagine just how many blocks Thurmond was getting a decade earlier as a spring chicken.

The spring was so good in Thurmond that midway through the 1964-65 season, the Warriors weren’t that heart-broken to trade Wilt Chamberlain to the Philadelphia 76ers. Thurmond and Wilt got along very well, personally, but the Warriors ball club was looking to move the expensive established star for the more inexpensive up-and-comer Thurmond.

(Thurmond would find himself in Wilt’s role a decade later.)

The Warriors, after drafting Rick Barry in the 1965 draft, recovered quickly and made the Finals in 1967 against the 76ers. Thurmond (relatively speaking) successfully guarded Chamberlain and the Warriors put up a good fight, but that Philly team was of legendary stock and won the series in six tough games.

Thurmond continued playing his heart out on defense, but the Warriors suffered from Barry’s jump to the ABA and the prime of Thurmond’s career was spent with Jeff Mullins barely lugging the Warriors into the playoffs. By the time Barry returned in the mid-1970s, Thurmond was aging and the Warriors were looking to revamp their squad.

After the 1974 season, Thurmond was traded to the Chicago Bulls, a veteran club that had for years been on the brink of making the Finals. Thurmond’s first game with the Bulls turned out to be an historic one…

Bulls THurmondOn October 18, 1974, Thurmond recorded 22 points and 14 rebounds. Not surprising for Thurmond. He also swatted 12 shots, also not that unusual for Thurmond, if only we had the 1960s game logs to back it up. And he also had 13 assists. Thurmond was always a decent post passer.

Put it all together and Thurmond had accomplished the NBA’s first recorded quadruple-double.

But in the postseason, Thurmond suffered a cruel irony. In the Western Conference Finals, his new team, the Chicago Bulls, lost to his old squad, the Golden State Warriors, in a seven-game brawl of a series. The Warriors would then go on to win the NBA title. That proved to be Thurmond’s and the 70s Bulls final great year. Thurmond lasted two more seasons in the NBA between the Bulls and his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.

Despite his sometimes mediocre offense (he was a career 42% shooter), Thurmond was a legendary and monster defender of tremendous strength. His career didn’t quite unfold as you’d like it, always in the shadows or just missing out on a title. But Thurmond’s career still remains one of the best you could hope for.

Ditto for his fantastic beard.

Years Played: 1963 – 1977

San Francisco Warriors
San Francisco Warriors

 

Accolades

NBA -
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1969, 1971)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1972-’74)
7x All-Star (1965-’68, 1970, 1973-’74)

Statistics

NBA - 964 Games
15.0 PPG, 15.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.1 BPG, 42.1 FG%, 66.7 FT%

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1976-77 through 1989-90 season)
2nd Rebounds, 6th RPG
18th Points, 17th FGs Made
12th FTs Made
7th Blocks, 6th BPG
5th Games Played, 2nd Minutes Played

Rick Barry

Rick barry

Few of basketball’s all-time legends come as under-appreciated as Rick Barry. The small forward’s demeanor certainly never helped folks fondly remember him on all occasions. Mike Dunleavy, Sr., declared, “You could send [Barry] to the U.N., and he’d start World War III.” So, needless to say he was never that diplomatic. He spoke his mind without a hint of tact.

That abrasive countenance was of great help on the basketball court. Barry brutally saw a situation for what it was and keenly saw how to fix it. And he had nearly all the tools for the job.

He was 6’7″ tall and had impressively long arms and a sleek physique. He could slide in between opponents on both ends of the court. On offense this meant he could prowl to the rim, make sneaky passes, and move off the ball with deft ease. On defense this meant he could attack passing lanes or strip an unsuspecting offensive player of the ball.

A great jump shooter with endless range, Barry was an even better free throw shooter. Perhaps the best in the history of basketball. Famously, he achieved his 90% free throw accuracy with the archaic underhand shot. To sum up all of this abilities I think it’s just good to throw out Barry’s stat line from 1966 to 1978: 27 PPG, 7 RPG, 5 APG, 2.5 SPG, 46% FG, 89% FT. Just because Barry had a surly attitude doesn’t automatically mean that that kind of production would be easily forgotten.

The following photo, though, helps to fully explain the riddle of the forgotten Barry…

Nets Barry

Yep, look at that funny colored ball. Rick Barry spent four seasons in the ABA.

Add in a fifth season where had to sit out from pro basketball entirely because the justice system ruled he couldn’t play for the ABA thanks to the NBA’s reserve clause, and one-third of Barry’s career was spent with a league that has historically been disrespected. Furthermore, Barry was injured for significant portions of his ABA tenure, playing 35, 52, and 59 games in 1969, 1970, and 1971.

So, we had a player who in 1966 took the NBA by storm winning the Rookie of the Year and All-Star MVP awards. In 1967 he led the San Francisco Warriors to the NBA Finals and led the league in scoring with 35 PPG.

And then from 1968 to 1971, he faded into semi-obscurity during the midst of his prime. In the 1971-72 ABA season, however, Barry finally got healthy and carried the New York Nets to the Finals against the Indiana Pacers. To get out of the Eastern Division, though, Barry’s Nets had to slay the 68-win Kentucky Colonels. And they did so in six games with Barry setting the tone with 50 points in Game 1. In the next round the faced the Virginia Squires whose own Julius Erving was in the midst of a 30-point, 20-rebound average in the postseason. Again, the Nets prevailed, thanks to a Barry three-pointer in the final minute of Game 7.

In the ABA Finals, the Nets went into a see-saw battle with the Pacers, but the Indiana squad finished the Nets off in six games. It was a close and stinging loss as the Nets were defeated by just four combined points in the last two losses.

Barry’s contract was up after that 1972 season and the justice system again intervened and decreed that if Rick wanted to continue playing in the ABA he’d have to sit out yet another season. Instead of sitting on the sidelines again for a year, he returned to the Warriors.

Upon his return to the NBA in the 1972-73 season, Barry galvanized the Golden State squad to 47 wins and an upset of the 60-win Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semi-finals. After taking a step back in 1974 with 44-wins and missing the playoffs, Barry in 1975 led the Warriors with one of the great individual seasons in NBA history.

The small forward led Golden State with 30 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals a game. In the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors outlasted the Chicago Bulls in a feisty 7-game series. In the seventh game, the Warriors faced a 14-point deficit, but Jamaal Wilkes gave 21 points in the 2nd and 3rd quarter to narrow the gap, and Barry closed out proceedings with 14 in the 4th quarter to win the game 83-79.

In the Finals against the 60-win and heavily favored Washington Bullets, the Warriors wound up sweeping the opponent. There have been other upsets in Finals history, but this one may just be the biggest. No one else on the Warriors besides Rick averaged over 12 points or played over 30 minutes a game. It was truly Barry at his magnificent peak orchestrating a whirling dervish of victory.

In 1975-76, the Warriors were even better. At least during the regular season. They poured out 59 wins and a greater ensemble arose with Phil Smith, Jamaal Wilkes, and Gus Williams taking on bigger offensive roles to alleviate Barry. In the playoffs, though the Warriors held a 3-2 lead in the conference finals, but lost Game 6 by one point and then lost the seventh game on their home court. In 1977 another devastating seventh game loss ended the Warriors’ postseason.

Barry would end up playing one more season with the Warriors and spent the last two years of his career with the Houston Rockets.

So, when it’s all said and done Rick Barry was a man who was a 12-time All-Star, a nine-time 1st Teamer, played in three championship series, was a Finals MVP, and couldn’t miss a free throw if his life depended on it. And even if World War III is raging because of his foul mouth, don’t forget Rick Barry when conjuring your list of basketball titans.

Years Played: 1965 – 1980

San Francisco Warriors

Accolades

ABA -
4x All-ABA 1st Team (1969-’72)
4x All-Star (1969-’72)
NBA -
Champion (1975)
Finals MVP (1975)
Rookie of the Year (1966)

5x All-NBA 1st Team (1966-’67, 1974-’76)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1973)
8x All-Star (1966-’67, 1973-’78)
All-Star Game MVP (1967)
All-Rookie Team (1966)

Statistics

League Games PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
NBA 794 23.2 6.5 5.1 1.99 0.49 0.449 0.9
ABA 226 30.5 7.5 4.1 N/A N/A 0.477 0.88
Total 1020 24.8 6.7 4.9 1.99 0.49 0.456 0.893

 

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Chris Mullin

Chris Mullin Action Portrait

Two games serve well to frame Chris Mullin’s career, even though they came within two years of one another. One shows hope of expansion and potential, the other the limits of what could be accomplished.

The first game was on April 27, 1989. It pitted Mullin’s Golden State Warriors against the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round playoffs. Mullin ignited for 41 scintillating points on 16-for-30 shooting. The Jazz were helpless as Mullin’s running mate Mitch Richmond doused Utah with 30 of his own points that same night. Golden State won that series in a sweep. And although the Warriors were defeated in the next round by the Phoenix Suns, it was not a bad showing at all for the young club.

Richmond was named Rookie of the Year and Mullin was burgeoning into a bona fide star which was a far cry from where things stood just a few years earlier:

“I’d heard [Chris Mullin] was so good,” says Don Nelson, then the Warriors’ general manager and now also their coach. “But he wasn’t. He was an alcoholic and overweight, and I wasn’t pleased with him on defense.”

Overcoming alcohol abuse and being overweight, Mullin proved that despite his pedestrian speed, he could be an NBA superstar. Yes, his feet were slow, but his hands were magical and quick. He had the timing to poke away the ball for a steal. His jump shot was smooth like butter. His passes were crafty and found imperceptible pathways. His layups, from every conceivable angle, were reckless adventures in absurdity that somehow ended well for the Warriors small forward.

On May 8, 1991, the Warriors after stumbling in 1990, have returned to the playoffs and are again in the second round. Again, Mullin tosses in 41 points. Somehow, these 41 points are more impressive than the first set against Utah. Mullin connected on 16 of his 21 fields including a perfect 4-for-4 from three-point range. Richmond again gives backup support with 22 points. And now the waterbug Tim Hardaway is in on the action and gives 28 points, 14 assists, and 8 steals to the cause. The Run-TMC Warriors pulled out the 125-124 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Although they’d lose the next three games, and thus the series, the Warriors put up a determined fight in each one and seemed to be a Western power for years to come, but as it turned out, May 8, 1991 was the highwater mark of the Mullin Warriors.

Richmond was traded that offseason, Hardaway and Mullin battled injuries. A brief resumption of glory seemed possible when Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber spearheaded the Warriors to the playoffs in 1994, but that was their operation. Mullin was a contributor but no longer the driving force for success. And that possible glory quickly vaporized.

Sadly, Mullin’s peak years were largely wasted. From 1988 to 1993, the small forward averaged 25 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 52% shooting, 35% 3PT, and 87% FT. But the Warriors rode a mercurial rollercoaster that kept everything and everyone in flux, except Mullin. He was never given, for long, the proper teammates to gel with and work toward contention.

Still, those two playoff games of 41 points show what could have been of the Warriors. Just as important, it shows what Mullin was capable of. Words, however, only tell part of the story. All these years later, the sweet-shooting, hard-charging forward in action is still a sight for sore eyes.

Years Played: 1985 – 2001

Golden State Warriors
Golden State Warriors

Accolades

NBA -
All-NBA 1st Team (1992)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1989, 1991)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1990)
5x All-Star (1989-’93)

Statistics

NBA - 986 Games
18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.6 SPG, 50.9% FG, 38.4% 3PT, 86.5% FT
FT% Leader (1998)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1985-86 season through 2000-01 season)
11th Points, 26th PPG
13th FGs Made, 22nd FG%
22nd 3PTs Made, 12th 3PT%
17th FTs Made, 9th FT%
31st Assists, 40th APG
17th Steals, 26th SPG
26th Games Played, 25th Minutes Played

The Lowdown: Jeff Mullins

Years Active: 1965 – 1976
Career Stats: 804 games, 30.6 MPG
16.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 46.3% FG, 81.4% FT
Playoff Stats: 83 games, 27.2 MPG
13.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.1 APG, 44.9% FG, 75.1% FT
Accolades: 3x All-Star (1969 – ’71), NBA Champion (1975)

(Photo by Wen Roberts/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Wen Roberts/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jeff Mullins reminds me of a cat. His moves on the basketball floor, if transferred to written words, would be classified as poetry. He is never bad. Only good and better.

- Blues Devils Forever Jeff Mullins

One of the finest college players in the country while at Duke and a member of the 1964 Olympic team, the 6’4″ Jeff Mullins was perhaps the most coveted guard entering the ’64 draft. The St. Louis Hawks pounced on him with the 5th pick, ahead of such luminaries as Willis Reed, Wali Jones, Jerry Sloan, and Mel Counts.

However, that lofty draft position belied the Hawks’ ultimate utilization of Mullins. The team was bursting with veterans and player-coach Richie Guerin elected to let Jeff ride the pine. He played a grand total of 88 games during two seasons with Saint Louis while scoring just 5.3 points in 12 minutes per game. Frustrated with his lack of playing time, Mullins informed owner Ben Kerner of his intention to quit if not allowed to play more.

Fortunately, it never came to that. With the expansion Chicago Bulls joining the league for the 1966-67 season, Mullins was left unprotected in the expansion draft by the Hawks. Chicago plucked the swingman, but then sent him packing west to the San Francisco Warriors in a trade for outstanding point guard Guy Rodgers. The Hawks would come to rue their handling of Mullins.

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