Born: September 16, 1934 Position: Small Forward Professional Career:
Minneapolis Lakers (NBA): 1958 – 1960
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1960 – 1971
The Lowdown: An exciting, acrobatic small forward, Elgin Baylor scored in ways few people had ever seen before. His array of gliding, hanging one-handers and contorting layups captivated opponents and fans for 13 NBA seasons. His prolific scoring average of 27.4 points per game – the fourth-highest career average in NBA history – speaks to his excellent offensive production. A fine passer and rebounder for his position as well, Baylor was selected to 10 All-NBA 1st Teams in a span of 11 years.
Despite his supreme gifts and determination, Baylor never played for an NBA champion. His Laker teams lost eight times in the NBA Finals – including four Game 7 heartbreaks. Nonetheless, his abilities cannot be denied or underestimated for the serious student and appreciator of basketball. Off the court, Baylor was a gregarious personality who also ushered in desegregation of player accommodations and stood up for players’ labor rights. Continue reading →
With the retirement of George Mikan from pro-basketball, Clyde Lovelette has a big pair of shoes to try and fill. The 6ft. 9in., 245lb. Indianian will get some help from the five rookies who joined the team this season.
Replacing a legend is never easy, let alone a generational, epochal player like George Mikan. And yet, Clyde Lovellette was charged with that momentous duty. Sky-high expectations from onlookers were complicated by the fact that Lovellette’s rookie season didn’t come after Mikan retired, it came during Mikan’s, supposedly, final season.
Big George wasn’t exactly thrilled with a talented young center chomping for playing time, but Lovellette proved instrumental in Minneapolis capturing it’s sixth and final title. His regular season average of 8 points and 5.5 rebounds bumped up to 10 points and 10 rebounds a night in the playoffs. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Clyde scored a team-high 16 points off the bench after Mikan got into foul trouble. The Lakers prevailed 79-68 over the Syracuse Nationals. The series dragged on for six more games with the Lakers finally ousting the Nats in Game 7.
Mikan retired and Lovellette became the offensive focus of the Lakers. He scored 19 points and hauled in 11.5 rebounds for the 1954-55 season. However, Mikan made an ill-fated return during the 1955-56 season and relegated Lovellette to the bench once again for half of that season. Clyde would nonetheless give the Lakers the lion’s share of minutes at center, despite not starting, and delivered his best year yet with 21.5 points and a career-high 14 rebounds a game. The strain of playing in Minnesota continued though. The unfair comparisons to Mikan, the embarrassing and awkward Mikan comeback, and the Lakers aging roster conspired to land Lovellette in Cincinnati for the 1957-58 season.
Lovellette’s tenure with the Royals could have been a great redemption story. He formed a powerful frontcourt trio with Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman that could, hopefully, one day rival the glory of the Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, and Jim Pollard trio that propelled Minneapolis to title after title. It was not to be, though. In the playoffs Stokes suffered his debilitating paralysis and new ownership took over the Royals blowing up the roster that offseason. After just one year, Lovellette was on the move yet again.
Landing with the St. Louis Hawks for the 1958-59 season, Lovellette was again put to the bench. Older and wiser, Lovellette found the Hawks to his liking despite the benching. Old Lakers teammate Slater Martin was running point guard for the Hawks and their starting frontcourt of Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, and Chuck Share was working just fine. Clyde, who was never a good or even average defender, would be brought in off the bench to produce a burst of points to knock out the opponent.
After acclimating himself to the Hawks for a season, Lovellette exploded from 1960 to 1962 in a fit of offensive fury. He would average 21 points a night in just 30 minutes of action. His hook shot was devastating and he’d produce some bone-shaking picks to free up Hagan and Pettit. On the boards he grabbed 10 rebounds nightly and his elbows warded off opponents left and right. The Hawks during these years made the NBA Finals twice but would lose to the Boston Celtics each time.
In an odd twist, Lovellette wound up finishing his career with those Celtics in 1963 and 1964. His offensive acumen had given way to age and an ever-expanding waistline. Lovellette had been generously listed at 235 pounds, but one look at his jersey told a different story. In any event, the old and cagey Clyde delivered enough elbows and boards to pitch in to Boston’s two titles during those two seasons.
The four-time all-star retired after the 1964 season.
During his career he endured undue comparisons and faced scrapheap treatment, but persevered. He was the first man to average over 20 points in less than 30 minutes a game for a whole season. Along with Ricky Pierce, he’s the only man to do that twice in a career.
So in the end, he never quite filled the shoes of George Mikan in Minneapolis, but very few centers who’ve since followed have ever filled the shoes of Clyde Lovellette.
Seasons Played: 1954 – 1964
3x Champion (1954, 1963-’64)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1956)
4x All-Star (1956-’57, 1960-’61)
NBA - 704 Games
17.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 44.3% FG, 75.7% FT
A no-nonsense, all business point guard, Slater Martin doesn’t leave us much to appreciate in terms of numbers. Only five times in his 11-year career did he average over 10 points a game, and his highest single-season scoring average was 13.6 in 1955. Even as a point guard, he averaged over five assists per game just three times, peaking with 6.2 in 1956. He shot 36% from the field for his career, which was pretty bad even for the era.
But what makes Slater a Hall of Famer is something that can’t quite be found in the standard quantitative measure. His greatest attributes on the court were stern determination, unflappable ball-handling, and tenacious pit bull defense.
With the Minneapolis Lakers, the diminutive Martin was always overshadowed by the powerful frontcourt trio of George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, and Jim Pollard (and later on Clyde Lovellette). Those players had a way of filling up the bucket and Martin had a way of making sure everything was in place on offense when it came time to set them up. His backcourt play was essential for the Lakers capturing four titles in the 1950s as he helped frustrate the Rochester Royals who were bloated with talented guards.
By 1956, Martin was a four-time All-Star and a two-time member of the All-NBA team, however, the Lakers low-balled the point guard in contract negotiations. Martin threatened to retire and return to his hometown Houston. Martin didn’t return to Texas just yet, though, thanks to some backroom wheeling and dealing.
The St. Louis Hawks had some mighty fine frontcourt talent, but were lacking an unflappable point guard who could handle and dispense defensive pressure. Owner Ben Kerner convinced New York Knicks owner Ned Irish to trade for Martin, and then flip Martin to the Hawks, since the Lakers would never trade Martin to a divisional rival.
Sure enough after the roundabout transaction, Martin helped lead the Hawks to two NBA Finals appearances. Although they lost the 1957 Finals, Martin played a key role in holding Celtics stars Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman to a woeful 5-40 shooting performance in the deciding Game 7. The next season in 1958, the Hawks defeated Boston in a Finals rematch, giving Martin his fifth title.
Perhaps a sixth would have followed in 1959 or 1960. In 1959, however, Martin had succumbed during the 1st postseason games due to a broken fibula he suffered against his old team, the Minneapolis Lakers. In 1960, he mustered only three postseason games as Father Time bore down heavily on Martin.
But really, what else would a sixth title have added to Martin’s career that five hadn’t already done? He was already recognized by peers, especially Cousy, as the best defensive guard of the era. We’d do well to keep up that assessment of Slater Martin.
Seasons Played: 1950 – 1960
5x Champion (1950, 1952-’54, 1958)
5x All-NBA 2nd Team (1955-’59)
7x All-Star (1953-’59)
NBA - 745 Games
9.8 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.4 RPG, 36.4% FG, 76.2% FT
Years Active: 1960 – 1969 Regular Season Stats: 736 games, 33.3 MPG
15.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 43.1% FG, 76.7% FT Postseason Stats: 93 games, 34.3 MPG
14.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 40.5% FG, 75.1% FT Accolades: All-Defensive 2nd Team (1969), 4x All-Star (1963, ’66, ’68-’69)
At first glance, Rudy LaRusso hardly seems the athlete best equipped to intellectualize on any sport, including his own, basketball. There is something about his prognathous jaw and the occasional scowl on his big, shaggy face that tells you not to annoy him. Players claim that meeting him head to head on a basketball court is a little like playing a game of tag on the freeway during rush hour.
Rudy LaRusso was certainly an intellectual having graduated from Ivy League Dartmouth College in 1959. But he was also certainly worthy of that freeway description. LaRusso was one of the roughest, toughest players of the 1960s NBA. It was a turbulent decade that practically framed his career. His first professional game was October 18, 1959 as a member of the Minneapolis Lakers and his last game was April 5, 1969 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
In between these two games, LaRusso staked his claim as an instrumental piece in the story of the NBA during that decade. However, his instrumental role was always a supporting one. Needless to say, support staff aren’t always recognized for the pivotal roles they play. LaRusso is no exception to that. Appreciated by the few, overlooked and unknown to the masses, this is the wild ride of the rowdy career Rudy LaRusso.
Years Active: 1951 – 1962 Regular Season Stats: 817 games, 29.2 MPG
13.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 40.5% FG, 74.1% FT Postseason Stats: 73 games, 27.4 mpg
12.4 PPG 9.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 39.4% FG, 78.1% FT Accolades: 8x All-Star (1951-56, 1958-59), All-NBA 1st Team (1955), All-NBA 2nd Team (1952)
Larry Foust, rugged Piston center, poured in 37 points as Fort Wayne made it four straight over the Royals. Foust scored six of his team’s seven points in the overtime after the regular game ended, 94-94.
Larry Foust is one of the many victims of failed basketball memory. The depths and passage of time naturally erode the ability to recall the greatness of things achieved by those in the past. Compounding this natural tendency is the fact that none of Foust’s clubs exist as he knew them.
The Fort Wayne Pistons have since moved on to Detroit. The Minneapols Lakers headed west to Los Angeles. The St. Louis Hawks went down south to Atlanta. Nevertheless, Foust is a player worth not only recalling, but one worthy of Hall of Fame induction. During the 1950s he was one of the premier NBA centers and yet is unrecognized as such.
During his heydey (1951-58), Foust recorded the 4th most win shares for a center. Of the top 6 players on this list, Foust is the only one not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. George Mikan, Neil Johnston, Ed Macauley, Arnie Risen and Clyde Lovellette are all deservedly in.
Looking at Foust’s production, this is an unfortunately recurring theme. He is routinely in the lofty company of various Hall of Fame players and yet he is the one outside looking in. During the entirety of the 1950s, Foust scored the 3rd most points and grabbed the most rebounds of any center in the NBA. Amongst all players he was 8th in points scored and 2nd in rebounds. Finally, his player efficiency rating (PER) of 21.0 was 5th amongst centers and 9th overall.
Sadly, Slater Martin passed away tonight. I was hoping at some point to write about his career and I’m a bit disappointed his passing served as the catalyst for this look back. Truthfully Martin deserves to be remembered by any basketball fan at any given moment for he was one of the premier play makers of the 1950s. However, he’s one of the least known Hall of Famers and 5x NBA champions you’ll ever come across. So, in his death, I suppose it’s time to rectify that.
Born on Galveston Island, Martin would grow up in Houston and learn how to shoot basketball thanks to a makeshift wooden backboard his grandfather made for him. His grandfather also bequeathed him the nickname “Dugie”. While at Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, Martin secured two state championships before moving on to the University of Texas. His tenure as a Longhorn began in 1943 but wouldn’t end until 1949 thanks to military service in the Pacific during World War II and a brief stint playing amateur basketball. Returning to UT after these interruptions, Martin led the Longhorns to the NCAA semi-finals in 1947. This would be the program’s greatest advance into the tournament until 2003.