ProHoopsHistory HOF: Bill Walton

Bill Walton

When speaking, writing, or thinking about Bill Walton, in a pure basketball sense, the first thing that comes to mind is injury. Seemingly unrelenting injury. The pain he suffered and the games he missed are staggering.

During a career that lasted from the 1974-75 season until the 1986-87 season, Walton conceivably could have played 1066 games. In actuality he played in just 468. He missed the entirety of three seasons, played less than 41 games in four more, and from March 1978 through March 1983, he played in a grand total of 47 games. By Walton’s own estimation, he has endured 36 orthopedic surgeries throughout his life.

So bearing all that in mind, Bill Walton’s triumphs are still something that few players can claim to have conjured in their imaginations, let alone actually achieved.

He’s been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, a Finals MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, a member of the All-NBA and All-Defensive 1st Teams, won two NBA titles, and including his college awards would just make this lengthy list too long to continue.

Celtics Walton

Walton was perhaps the greatest team player in basketball history aside from Bill Russell. The 6’11” center was always contemplating how he could lift his team to new heights. Big scoring nights were possible with Walton, but he was more interested  in any kind of big night that would deliver the win. If it meant block parties at the rim, then so be it. Bushels of assists to set up teammates for easy baskets? Get on board with that, too. Control the glass and limit the opposition to one shot opportunity, and a bad one at that? You bet your bottom dollar Walton would enjoy that, as well.

Bill Walton would also be the first man to admit that he played on great teams and had great teammates. Maurice Lucas, Dave Twardzik, Lionel Hollins in Portland… Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale in Boston. It’s no accident he played on two of the greatest passing teams ever seen. Teams that despite (actually because of) all that passing never had a single man average over 7 assists per game. Walton relished being on a winner, whether it was as the gracious headliner in Portland or as the grateful backup brought back from the dead in Boston.

For all that success, though, Walton’s career still produced an inordinate amount of pain. The foot injuries, the acrimonious split with the Blazers, the wasted time with the San Diego Clippers, the all too brief resurgence with the Celtics… Bill Walton’s NBA life is one that astounds, perplexes, and most of all reminds that great talent can scuttled by a myriad of unfair, undeserved reasons.  But Walton’s seven-year journey from the scrapheap to the 1986 NBA title inserts within us the notion that even the most dire of circumstances, when met with determination and resolve, can still have the most majestic of moments.

Years Played: 1974 – 1986

Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers

Accolades

NBA -
2x Champion (1977, 1986)
MVP (1978)
Finals MVP (1977)
Sixth Man of the Year (1986)
All-NBA 1st Team (1978), All-NBA 2nd Team (1977)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1977-’78)

Statistics

NBA - 468 Games
13.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 52.1% FG, 66.0% FT
RPG Leader (1977), BPG Leader (1977)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1974-75 through 1985-86)
87th Points, 25th FG%
11th Blocks, 3rd BPG
31st Rebounds, 10th RPG
67th Assists, 40th APG
87th Games Played, 93 Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Buck Williams

Buck Williams

From 1977 to 2002, the New Jersey Nets won exactly one postseason series. Clearly the days between Julius Erving and Jason Kidd was a vast wasteland of misery except one genuine oasis of success. The wellspring of these teams was a no-nonsense power forward whose hard-nosed determination was no mirage.

Charles “Buck” Williams was the real deal.

Debuting in the 1981-82 season, Williams was the main acquisition (along with Otis Birdsong) that catapulted the Nets to a 44-38 record. That represented a 20-win improvement over the previous season. Williams was named an All-Star behind the strength of his 15.5 points and 12 rebounds a game. He also was declared the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

A 49-win season in 1983 followed and in 1984 the Nets slipped to 45 wins. But that ’84 squad is the one that delivered New Jersey’s lone playoff series victory in the lean years. Williams was superb averaging 18.5 points, 15 rebounds and 60% shooting as the Nets upset the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers. However, that series proved to be Williams’ high-water mark with the Nets. They’d lose in the next round to the Milwaukee Bucks and the franchise slowly crumbled.

By 1989, Williams was a 3x All-Star and in New Jersey’s last two failed playoff runs in 1985 and 1986, he’d averaged 23 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 68% shooting. His ferocious offensive rebounding, his thunderous dunks, his dogged defense were all being thrown away at this point on a mediocre Nets squad.

Fortunately, though, Williams was delivered from misery.

Traded to the Portland Trail Blazers prior to the 1989-90 season, Williams enjoyed a renaissance. His numbers actually declined, but his importance to the Blazers can’t be overstated. He gave the team a frontcourt player who’d take no silliness or shenanigans from the opponent.

In an eerie coincidence, Buck Williams’ arrival in Portland improved the team’s record by 20 wins, just like he had done in New Jersey. Portland won 59 games in 1990, instead of the underwhelming 39 victories they had in 1989. The regular season improvement continued in the playoffs as the Blazers made the NBA Finals that season and again in 1992. Although they’d lose both times, a team that makes the Finals twice in three years is a true success in any era.

A few more seasons for Williams followed until he retired in 1998, and by that point you could certainly say his career was a true success, too. An all-star and a regular on the NBA’s All-Defensive Team, Williams exemplified the best that a rugged, burly power forward could bring to the NBA.

Seasons Played: 1982 – 1998

Accolades

NBA -
Rookie of the Year (1982)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1983)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1990-’91)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988, 1992)
3x All-Star (1982-’83, 1986)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1982)

Statistics

NBA - 1307 Games
12.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 54.9% FG, 66.4% FT
2x FG% Leader (1991-’92)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1982 – 1998)
1st Rebounds, 12th RPG
23rd FGs Made, 6th FG%
23rd Points, 16th FTs Made
13th Blocks
1st Games Played, 1st Minutes Played

Pro Hoops History HOF: Clyde Drexler

Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)
Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)

To pull out an old, cliched writing trick… Webster’s Dictionary defines “glide” as the following:

: to move smoothly, continuously, and effortlessly

: to go or pass imperceptibly

It’s a term that connotes ease, that signifies freedom from agitation. Clyde Drexler as a basketball player encapsulated these attitudes and mores. Despite being one of the more exciting players in the NBA during the 1980s and 1990s, it was quite often an understated excitement, if possible.

His dunks came about in such a gliding ease. He rose majestically and flowed seamlessly through the atmospheric fluid flushing home the jam. Seemingly lacking even less effort was the way Drexler could extend  and wind his way into gorgeous finger rolls and scooping layups that no man should ever have any business of taking, let alone making.

Well, after viewing Drexler’s highlight package, it’s kind of clear that not all of his dunks were done devoid of invigorating passion. The man could throw down a hammer on opponents.

There was so much more to Drexler’s game than the dunks and flashy layups though. He was an extraordinary passer from the big guard spot, was great on cleaning up the defensive glass and was magnificent at anticipating woeful passes to steal. Combining all of those traits with his flair for dunking and Drexler became perhaps the most feared player on the fastbreak during his era.

He possessed great handles for a man 6’7″ tall, even if he dribbled with his head down. The tunnel vision drive, though, just made the ultimate outcome of his forays even less in doubt. He was going to glide in stride and leave you embarrassed at the end of the occasion.

His assortment of abilities led him to play in the NBA Finals three different times (twice in Portland, once in Houston) and delivered a membership on the Dream Team in 1992. However, when it comes to naming great shooting guards in the NBA’s history, Drexler’s name can often glide by without notice.

Well, let this serve as a reminder to always remember the magnificent ride of Clyde the Glide.

Years Played: 1983 – 1998

Accolades

NBA -
Champion (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1992)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988, 1991)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1990, 1995)
10x All-Star (1986, 1988-’94, 1996-’97)

Statistics

NBA – 1086 Games
20.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 47.2% FG, 78.8% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1983-84 through 1997-98 season)
6th Points, 15th PPG
6th FGs Made, 8th FTs Made
15th 3PTs Made
3rd Steals, 9th SPG
9th Assists, 20th APG
20th Rebounds
26th Blocks, 30th BPG
8th Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Maurice Lucas

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 Philadelphia 76ers to the Portland Trail Blazers.

35-year old Maurice Lucas scuffles with a young Hakeem Olajuwon in 1987 (Seattle Times)
35-year old Maurice Lucas scuffles with a young Hakeem Olajuwon in 1987 (Seattle Times)

As that SI article noted, however, Lucas was one of the most complete power forwards in basketball, not just some goon to physically intimidate opponents. As a scorer, Lucas was never likely to overwhelm but you certainly had to respect what he was capable of lest he did overwhelm you. As a rebounder he was second-to-none. The same goes for his defense. Never mind the blocks or steals totals, the man would get up in the opponent’s face, muscle him up, and force bad shots.

His dogged, determined play on both ends of the court endeared Maurice to teammates, even if that blustery attitude sometimes caused headaches for management. But Luke was never one to kowtow to authority. He was a rabble-rouser and committed to his class compatriots, his other four mates on the hardwood.

He was the man you despised playing against, and genuinely loved having on your side.

Years Played: 1974 – 1988

Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers

Accolades

ABA – 
All-Star (1976)

NBA -
Champion (1977)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1978)
All-Defensive 1st Team (1978)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1979)
4x All-Star (1977-’79, 1983)

Statistics

ABA - 166 Games
15.2 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 46.3% FG, 77.5% FT

NBA - 711 Games
14.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 47.3% FG, 76.3% FT

Contemporary NBA/ABA Ranks (1974-75 season through 1987-88 season)
5th Rebounds, 19th RPG
17th Points
17th FGs Made, 22nd FTs Made
31st Blocks, 35th Assists
4th Games Played, 10th Minutes Played

Pro Hoops History HOF: Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen (NBA)
Scottie Pippen (NBA)

Sometimes glowingly, sometimes derisively, Scottie Pippen has often been called the Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman. He was the dutiful sidekick that allowed the main star to shine and reach his true potential. The truth is that Scottie Pippen was a star in his own right and one of the finest all-around players to find his way to the NBA.

If creating a prototypical small forward in a laboratory, Pippen’s frame, physique, and skills are likely the result. His frame was 6’8″, which is big enough and small enough to defend most forwards and guards. His physique was wiry yet strong. His hands large and quick. He could muscle smaller opponents while being fast enough to beguile larger ones.

Scottie’s mental skills and dedicated work fully brought out the physical talents he possessed. He could make the right pass at the right moment in the flash of an eye. His jump shot grew to respectable accuracy. His drives to the basket or dunks on the break became fearsome. His long arms allowed him to block many shots and poke away even more steals.

His career averages speak to this excellent versatility: 16 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block.

Alongside Michael Jordan he likely formed the most devastating perimeter defensive duo in basketball history. The pair delivered six titles to Chicago and strung together the largest single season win total in NBA history. Without Jordan, Pippen proved he was a dynamo in his own right. He took the Chicago Bulls to a 55-win season in 1994 where they fell in a controversial 7-game series with the New York Knicks. In 2000, he was the veteran linchpin to catapult Portland to within minutes of an NBA Finals.

However, championship success for Pippen ultimately proved elusive without Michael Jordan.

Just keep in mind Michael Jordan had the same elusive problem without Scottie by his side.

Years Played: 1987 – 2004

Accolades

NBA -
6x Champion (1991-’93, 1996-’98)
8x All-Defensive 1st Team (1992-’99)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1991, 2000)
3x All-NBA 1st Team (1994-’96)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1992, ’97)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1993, ’98)
7x All-Star (1990, 1992-’97)
All-Star Game MVP (1994)

Statistics

NBA Career  (1987-88 through 2003-04)
Peak Career Production (1989-90 through 1997-98)

Average and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 1178 208 681 22nd
PPG 16.1 17.5 19.6 21st
RPG 6.4 7.6 7.2 47th
APG 5.2 5 5.9 23rd
SPG 1.96 1.90 2.26 5th
BPG 0.8 0.89 0.96 54th
TS% 0.536 0.524 0.544 118th
2PT% 0.507 0.483 0.516 53rd
3PT% 0.326 0.303 0.332 121st
FT% 0.704 0.724 0.702 253rd
PER 18.6 18.4 20.6 16th
WS/48 0.146 0.14 0.173 15th
Ortg 108 108 111
Drtg 102 102 101

 

Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 1178 208 681 22nd
Minutes 41069 8105 25794 4th
Points 18940 3642 13314 10th
Rebounds 7494 1583 4915 23rd
Assists 6135 1048 4019 12th
Steals 2307 395 1541 3rd
Blocks 947 185 652 28th
2PTs 6442 1135 4638 7th
3PTs 978 200 626 26th
FTs 3122 772 2160 28th
WS 125.1 23.6 93.2 8th

 

The Lowdown: Buck Williams

Years Active: 1982 – 1998
Regular Season Stats: 1307 games, 32.5 mpg
12.8 ppg, 10 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.8 bpg, 0.8 spg, 54.9% FG, 66.4% FT
Postseason Stats: 108 games, 34.4 mpg
11.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.6 bpg, 0.8 spg, 52% FG, 67.2% FT
Accolades: Rookie of the Year (1982), All-Rookie 1st Team (1982), All-NBA 2nd Team (1982), 2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1990-91), 2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988, ’92), 3x All-Star (1982-83, ’86)

“Desire is the key to rebounding; you have to want that ball,” says Williams. “Good anticipation – knowing where the ball will go- also is important.” Williams relishes the hard-nosed aspect of the pro game. “The physical play in the pros gives you a chance to play without the nitpicking fouls you see in college.,” he says. “It lets you see who’s a man out there.”

- via “Buck Williams: Nets’ rising star”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

At 6-feet-8-inches tall and 215 pounds, Charles Linwood Williams was certainly not the most imposing figure on a basketball court at first glance. However, don’t let the slender frame fool you. When “Buck” stepped on the court, suddenly his agility would present itself. His determination and rough style would throw you off. And he may have been just 215 lbs at the power forward spot, but fight with him for position in the post or for a rebound and you’d quickly determine that all of that weight was composed of muscle.

For 17 years Williams played in the NBA and for 14 of them (1982 to 1995) he was as solid and dependable a PF you could ask for. He appeared in all but 26 games in this span. For the 1st half of this reign of dependable front court terror, he was the star anchor of the New Jersey Nets. The sometimes woeful, the sometimes surprisingly good New Jersey Nets. For the last half of it, he was the final piece of the Trail Blazer puzzle that propelled Portland from team-of-the-future to legitimate championship contender.
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The Lowdown: Kermit Washington

Years Active: 1974 – 1982; 1988
Career Stats: 507 games, 25.3 mpg
9.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 0.8 spg, 52.6% FG, 65.6% FT
Postseason Stats: 9 games, 29.2 mpg
8.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 1.1 spg, 50% FG, 70.6% FT
Accolades: All-Star (1980), 2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1980-81)

via Los Angeles Times

“Is that Kermit Washington? Oh my God, it’s Kermit Washington!”

Via Nathan Dolezal, wide-eyed basketball fan, former co-host of Ain’t it Funky Now!

So, there I was exiting American University’s radio station after another funky good time on Ain’t it Funky Now! with my good friend and c0-host Nathan Dolezal. As we’re strolling down the hallway, a gargantuan man with a friend of his own is walking a little aimlessly, clearly a bit lost. Instantly, we recognize this as legendary American University Eagle, Kermit Washington. He spots us and very politely asks where the student television station is. We point him in the right direction and he leave us with a simple, soft-spoken “thanks fellas.”

Now, if you know anything about Kermit Washington it’s most likely the punch he threw in December 1977. So let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. It was a terrible act that nearly killed Rudy Tomjanovich and turned Kermit into a villainous figure. Context, however, is golden. Admittedly, contextualizing a brutal act of violence is difficult, but then again the 70s NBA was a brutal place. If you think Charles Oakley was tough, and he was, then you would soil your Depends with the likes of Maurice Lucas and Bob Lanier prowling the court.

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