Born: June 26, 1936 Position: Shooting Guard and Point Guard Professional Career:
Syracuse Nationals (NBA): 1958-’63
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 1963-’73
Consistently consistent. Unassumedly unassumed.
Hal Greer just trucked along in the background of the 1960s NBA.
He never led the league in scoring, never came close in fact, but he was one of the league’s best scorers. He never came close to sniffing an assist title, but he was a crafty passer. He never made the All-NBA 1st Team, but he did tally seven consecutive All-NBA 2nd Team appearances and ten straight All-Star games.
From 1961 to 1971, Greer never averaged below 18.6 points and never above 24.1. His teams made the playoffs every year from 1959 to 1971. During the same period, he played 1003 of a possible 1037 games. Players in the league recognized Greer as one of the exemplars of excellent guard play.
And yet he just trucks along in the background, even though he had one of the silkiest jump shots to grace the hardwood. He rarely gets put down as one of the great shooting guards in NBA history when popular Top 10 lists come out. Surprising, given that when he retired in 1973, Greer had scored more points than any player to that point, except Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and Elgin Baylor. He had also played more games than any player ever. Only Oscar, Wilt, and Bill Russell had played more minutes.
But Greer is in the background because he started his career in 1959 with the Syracuse Nationals, the smallest of the NBA’s markets at the time. At the beginning of his career in Syracuse, perennial All-Star Dolph Schayes commanded what attention Syracuse received. Greer didn’t become a starter until 1961. From 1962 to 1964, Greer was the Nats/76ers best player (Syracuse having moved to Philly in 1963). However, it was the lowest ebb in talent for the club as its initial core of Schayes, Red Kerr, and Larry Costello aged, and younger players like Chet Walker were still maturing into full-fledged stardom.
Then in 1965 along came the outsized personality, ego, and talent of Wilt Chamberlain. Greer was a bit piqued at the Dipper’s arrival. Hal may have been in the background for the popular basketball conscience, but by this point he was the 76ers’s #1 player and scoring option. Chamberlain certainly changed that equation and thus Greer had to adapt and relegate himself to second banana status once again. Even with Wilt’s departure in 1968, a new star in Billy Cunningham assumed the mantle as Philly’s best player. Even on his own team, Greer had trouble standing out.
But just because someone fails to standout doesn’t mean they aren’t noteworthy. To this day, Greer remains unsurpassed in Nats/76ers history in total points scored.
In 1967, the 76ers stormed to a then-record 68 wins and the championship. Wilt was rightly NBA MVP, but Greer – along with Chet Walker – was charged with breaking down defenses if the offense got a little stale. And on the flip side, Greer was always game to harass and dig into the opponent’s best guard. In the 1967 playoffs, Greer came through with a nightly average of 28 points. And in the NBA Finals, Greer was tireless in averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists per game.
Lastly, Greer’s longevity – hinted at above with his games and minutes played – also merits bringing him out from the historical shadows. When he retired in 1973, he and Elgin Baylor were the only NBA players to have scored over 10,000 points after turning 30 years old. And at age 34 he was still scoring 18.6 PPG. That may seem trivial, but it’s more noteworthy than you think.
Then again that’s Hal Greer, more noteworthy than you think.
After all, he did shoot jump shots for free throws.
7x All-NBA 2nd Team (1963-’69)
10x All-Star (1961-’70)
All-Star Game MVP (1968)
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
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.
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
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.”
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)
All-NBA 1st Team (1976)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1977)
3x All-Star (1976-’77, 1979)
Maurice Cheeks in so many ways was the 1980s version of Slater Martin.
Martin was the venerable point guard for the Minneapolis Lakers and St. Louis Hawks.Through his stellar defense and command of the offense, he helped lead his teams to five NBA titles. However, Martin was not a great scorer. He just seemed to do everything else magnificent, though. But since he didn’t score a lot, he often went unappreciated.
The same is true of Maurice Cheeks, who was more refined offensively than Martin, but still didn’t garner much limelight. Mo didn’t take many shots but the ones he did take were likely to go in. For his career, Cheeks shot a remarkable 52.3% from the field as a point guard. But his greatest contribution was in defending opposing guards and in orchestrating an offense filled with bigger stars.
A lesser point guard may have been overwhelmed by trying to satisfy the offensive needs of players like Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, Charles Barkley, and Julius Erving, but Maurice was always in command and helped keep the Philadelphia 76ers in offensive equilibrium. During his career with Philly, he averaged 7.3 assists in his quest to feed all these hungry mouths. Those dimes came in yeoman-like fashion from Cheeks, but was often finished in dazzling fashion by Malone, Erving, Darryl Dawkins, and Bobby Jones.
Despite a gentlemanly and equitable offensive disposition, Cheeks was nasty on defense. He hounded, harassed, and harangued his opponents. When he retired in 1993, no player in NBA history had grabbed more steals than Maurice’s 2310. His steals total is now 5th all-time and his average of 2.1 steals per game still remains in the all-time top 10. From 1983 to 1986, Cheeks was selected to the All-Defensive 1st Team each and every season.
But since he had such a quiet demeanor and played alongside such personalities as Dr. J, the Round Mound of Rebound, and Chocolate Thunder, Cheeks never quite garnered the attention deserved of such a great point guard. It’s no coincidence that during his 13 years playing starters minutes, Cheeks missed the postseason just once.
He played point guard flawlessly. When called on he could knock down a jumper. When needed he could rise up for a dunk of his own. When necessary he’d jump a passing lane and stop an opposing fast break in its tracks. Just watching Mo Cheeks play the game is a pleasure of simple greatness.
Seasons Played: 1978 – 1993
4x All-Defensive 1st Team (1983-’86)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1987)
4x All-Star (1983, 1986-’88)
NBA – 1101 Games
11.1 PPG, 6.7 APG, 2.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 52.3% FG, 79.3% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1978-79 through 1992-93 season)
4th Assists, 8th APG
1st Steals, 5th SPG
3rd Games Played, 4th Minutes Played
The individual success of Wilt Chamberlain is undeniable and legendary. The first man to average over 30 and 40 and 50 points per game. The first to shoot over 50% and 60% and 70% from the field for a season. The first to score 30,000 points. The only man to average over 48 minutes per game for a season, even though there’s only 48 minutes in a regulation game.
What’s less known, or acknowledged, is Wilt’s team success. The Big Dipper’s teams had a long stream of close calls in dethroning the Boston Celtics with losses in Game 7 to Boston in 1962, 1965, 1968 and 1969 all by a combined 9 points.
When his teams did win the championship they did so in typical Wiltonian fashion, which means they did it in record-breaking ease. The 1967 Philadelphia 76ers won a record 68 games en route to demolishing the NBA. In 1972 the Los Angeles Lakers set a new record with 69 wins and strung together 33 straight victories in the process.
Of course, such success was expected of Chamberlain. He was after all listed at 7’1″ but closer to 7’3″ and by the end of his career was pushing 300 pounds. His dominance is mistakenly chalked up to the competition which was stiff, short, and white… the last of those unfortunately used as a pejorative on the basketball court.
Yeah, Wilt was bigger than everyone else, but not everyone was a Liliputian. He went up against Bill Russell, Wayne Embry, Clyde Lovellette, Johnny Kerr, Willis Reed, Walt Bellamy, Zelmo Beaty, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Nate Thurmond. These guys were strong and athletic, but weren’t capable of going one-on-one with Wilt Chamberlain in his heyday. The refs, feeling sorry for the opposition, allowed egregious beatings of Chamberlain to take place down low to even out the score.
But Wilt wasn’t just bigger. He was stronger, he was faster, and he was more agile. These are things God gives but that man refines. Wilt trained to improve all of those attributes and more. He was a skilled passer, in his younger days had exquisite footwork, could nail a fall away jumper flawlessly, was a defensive terror blocking shots that were 12-feet above the floor, and as you can see above could rise up high and throw down heinous dunks.
But for all of that, Wilt’s greatest basketball flaw was that he didn’t believe basketball was the end-all, be-all of life. He trained religiously (albeit on his terms), wanted to win, would feel bad after losses, but didn’t feel as though winning a game excused or absolved everything, or that losing meant all of your effort was for naught.
And his career, despite all of the winning, still doesn’t get lovingly absolved of its failures. His play was so impressive that it seemed to flow naturally and therefore deserved no human praise. In the end, Wilt Chamberlain is a fascinating, often perplexing man, and an always-mesmerizing basketball player. In ways only he could, the Big Dipper has always forced us to examine, and re-examine, what we think we know about the game of basketball.
Years Played: 1958 – 1973
2x Champion (1967, 1972)
Finals MVP (1972)
4x MVP (1960, 1966-’68)
Rookie of the Year (1960)
7x All-NBA 1st Team (1960-’62, 1964, 1966-’68)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1963, 1965, 1972)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1972-’73)
13x All-Star (1960-’69, 1971-’73)
All-Star Game MVP (1960)
Fabled and legendary for his dunks, Doctor J was deserving of all the mythical praise. Sure other players before him had dunked with power (Wilt Chamberlain), dunked with boom shakalaka oomph (Gus Johnson), and dunked with splendid grace (Connie Hawkins), but Dr. J combined all of these traits. Furthermore he injected it all with a measure of artistry never quite seen.
He’d fly to the basket with his afro blowing in the wind. The red, white, and blue ABA ball would fetch your wandering eye. His stylistic finishes would ensnare your wondering mind. And if the Doctor found himself in a predicament where dunks wouldn’t be possible, he conveniently doubled as one of the game’s best layup artists. Like Hawkins, he had gargantuan hands that allowed him to swing the ball however he pleased to create an angle for scoring. Famously, those angles sometimes included going behind the backboard and emerging on the other side.
All of this is just a part of the story, though. Dr. J was more than a dunker. Julius Erving was an all-around great basketball player.
As a rookie with the ABA’s Virginia Squires, Erving grabbed a ridiculous 17 rebounds per game thanks to his off the chart athleticism. In that 1972 postseason, Erving averaged 33 points, 20 rebounds, and 6.5 assists in 11 games. After being traded to the New York Nets, Erving continued his all-encompassing assault on ABA opponents.
In 1974, 1975, and 1976, Erving was named the ABA’s MVP. He led the Nets to the title twice in this period, and was named Playoff MVP both times. He led the league in scoring three times. He was good for two blocks and 2.5 steals every night. He found teammates for assists six times nightly.
The man was everywhere and the standard bearer for the ABA. But as that league finally succumbed to the NBA, Erving would be sold by the Nets, who were in dire financial straits, to the 76ers in the summer of 1976.
Over the next seven seasons, Erving would lead Philadelphia to four NBA Finals appearances and with the supreme aid of Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, and Maurice Cheeks, captured the 1983 title. Erving was still a marvel through these years. He continued to make the All-Star Game annually, was the NBA’s MVP in 1981, and his suave, cool demeanor off the court was a needed dose of positivity for an NBA struggling with an image of being overrun with drugs and pouting millionaires.
As Erving took his farewell tour in the 1986-87 season, he was feted across the league with celebrations.
Fans gushed over the mark he had left on professional basketball: scoring over 30,000 points, grabbing over 10,000 rebounds, dishing out over 5000 assists, capturing over 2000 steals, and blocking almost 2000 shots. In every year of his career he was a member of the All-Star team, whether NBA or ABA. The sheer weight of Julius Erving’s numbers demonstrate just how impressive a player he was.
Most important of all, though, is thatas Dr. J he inspired the imaginations of millions to push the boundaries of what basketball could be.
Seasons Played: 1971 – 1987
2x Champion (1974, 1976)
3x MVP (1974-’76)
2x Playoff MVP (1974, 1976)
4x All-ABA 1st Team (1973-’76)
All-ABA 2nd Team (1972)
5x All-Star (1972-’76)
All-Rookie Team (1972)
5x All-NBA 1st Team (1978, 1980-’83)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1977, 1984)
11x All-Star (1977-’87)
2x All-Star Game MVP (1977, 1983)
ABA – 407 Games
28.7 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.4 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 50.4% FG, 77.8% FT
3x PPG Leader (1973-’74, 1976)
NBA – 836 Games
22.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 50.7% FG, 77.7% FT
Contemporary NBA/ABA Ranks (1971-72 season through 1986-87 season)
2nd Points, 6th PPG
2nd FGs Made, 29th FG%
2nd FTs Made
5th Rebounds, 28th RPG
5th Assists, 25th APG
1st Steals, 8th SPG
5th Blocks, 9th BPG
2nd Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played
A usually gregarious and affable man, Dikembe Mutombo was as rude a host imaginable in the NBA. He was thoroughly unwelcoming to anyone who would attempt to come into his house. Penetrating guards, sky-walking forwards, and hulking centers were equally dismissed from his abode with disdain. After rejecting these unwelcomed overtures, Mutombo would surely wave a stern finger to make sure such foolishness wasn’t tried again.
Opponents never quite got the message though.
3,289 times Mutombo would officially reject wayward shots that dared enter his domain. Thousands more he intimidated. Four times he’d be recognized as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year for his stingy block parties. An irascible few succeeded in storming Dikembe’s paint and, as they claimed, climbed Mount Mutombo. These successful few led the brash many to failure.
Mutombo left this trail of devastation across a path that went from Denver to Atlanta to Philly. From New Jersey to New York to Houston. It spanned 18 years and 1196 games.
The most endearing moment in Mutombo’s career came early on, though. It was during his third season, the 1993-94 season in Denver. His 8th-seed Nuggets upended the Seattle SuperSonics in a first-round upset. Mutombo averaged a gaudy 12.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 6.2 blocks a game. As the Nuggets toppled Seattle, Mount Mutombo crumbled to the floor in ecstasy.
He’d later help Atlanta to become a perennial playoff team. He pushed the Sixers into the realm of title contenders in 2001. He proved a surprisingly effective stopgap for the Rockets late in his career when starter Yao Ming went down to injury. Sadly, Mutombo’s own career ended due to an in-game injury in the 2009 playoffs.
The moment was hard to watch because a man of such intense dignity and impassioned skill was hobbled by a bad knee he could no longer control. Still, no one moment, whether ecstasy in victory or agony of injury, can encapsulate and define a person. It’s the sheer body of work, the routine, that defines a person. Mutombo’s body of work, the routine, proved that his being was pure hall of famer.
Seasons Played: 1992 – 2009
4x Defensive Player of the Year (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001)
3x All-Defensive 1st Team (1997-’98, 2001)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1995, 1999, 2002)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2001), 2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1998, 2002)
8x All-Star (1992, 1995-’98, 2000-’02)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1992)
NBA – 1196 Games
9.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 51.8% FG, 68.4% FT
3x BPG Leader (1994-’96), 2x RPG Leader (2000-’01)
2nd All-Time in Blocks, 7th All-Time in BPG
19th All-Time in Rebounds
Few defenders have ever come as tough and agile as Bobby Jones. He played a physical, cerebral defensive style predicated on fundamentals and not grabbing, clutching, or cheap-shotting opponents. His results would be nasty for opponents, but at least they had the honor of being shut down by a gentleman like Bobby Jones.
Jones’ regal defense began in the ABA, a league more known for its offensive fireworks than defensive showstoppers. As a member of the Denver Nuggets, Jones was instantly named a member of the All-Defensive 1st Team in his rookie season. In his second season he repeated that accomplishment and with Dan Issel and David Thompson propelled the Nuggets to the ABA’s best record. They also got a Finals showdown with the New York Nets and Julius Erving.
Dr. J was the ABA’s premier player and even the best defenders sometimes become helpless. Erving lit up Jones for the series averaging 37.7 points and the Nets won the title. As fate would have it, the two small forwards would soon team up and form the nucleus of an NBA titan.
With the ABA folding after the 1976 season, Jones tranferred to the NBA with the Nuggets, but was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1978. The Sixers had already pilfered Erving from the Nets and thus made the fateful decision to make Jones their sixth man backing up the Doctor.
With no complaints, Jones packed in all of his defensive (and offensive) punch into the truncated time and proved the difference maker numerous times for the Sixers. For you see, just because Jones didn’t start the game didn’t mean he wasn’t on the court in crunch time. Over and over again he’d deliver timely blocks, steals, rebounds, and hustle plays to thwart opponents and save the Sixers.
The NBA recognized Jones for the amazing defender he was with eight straight All-Defensive 1st Team appearances, bringing his career total to 10. All the while his offense was an understated asset. He was never prone to racking up huge scoring games, but what shots he did take he hit. (He also had some hops and could throw down unexpected jams). Three times he led the NBA and ABA in FG% and never shot less than 52% for a season. When it comes to forwards all-time (with a minimum 200 games), Jones is 6th in FG%. And the five guys ahead of him combined have scored just 790 more points than Jones did.
A savvy offensive player. A 10x All-Defensive 1st Team member. The first ever Sixth Man of the Year back in 1983. An NBA champion that same year. Bobby Jones has a lot going for himself and proved that hustle isn’t a substitute for talent, it is indeed a talent all unto itself.
Seasons Played: 1975 – 1986
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1975-’76)
All-ABA 2nd Team (1976)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1975) NBA –
Sixth Man of the Year (1983)
8x All-Defensive 1st Team (1977-’84)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1985)
4x All-Star (1977-’78, 1981-’82)