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

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain

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.

The Big Dipper

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

Accolades

NBA -
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)

Statistics

NBA - 1045 Games
30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, 54.0% FG, 51.1% FT
7x PPG Leader (1960-’66), 9x FG% Leader (1961, 1963, 1965-’69, 1972-’73)
11x RPG Leader (1960-’63, 1966-’69, 1971-’73)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1959-60 through 1972-73 Season)
1st Points, 2nd PPG
1st FGs Made, 2nd FG%
3rd FTs Made
1st Rebounds, 1st RPG
5th Assists, 16th APG
3rd Games Played, 1st 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

 

The Lowdown: Rudy LaRusso

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)

NBA Photo Library/Getty Images
NBA Photo Library/Getty Images

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.

- Via Brave Words From A Hawk And A Warrior

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.

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Classic Rivalries: Wilt Chamberlain vs. Elgin Baylor

via siphotos.tumblr.com/
via siphotos.tumblr.com/

Teammates from 1968 through 1971 on the Los Angeles Lakers, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain weren’t exactly the best of friends. The two men possessed huge similarly styled egos. Each always thought he was right all the time and never hesitated to express their unvarnished opinions. One locker room argument exemplifies their disdain and incompatibility…

“[The Boston Celtics] run like a bunch of turtles with arthritis,” [Baylor] joked to the delight of his fellow Lakers.
“Are you joking about people again?” Chamberlain inquired seriously.
“I’m not talking about people,” Baylor answered.
“You always talking about people,” Chamberlain replied.
“What do you mean?” Baylor asked.
“How do you think people feel when, you know, you call them turtles with arthritis?” Chamberlain said.
“I didn’t say they were turtles with arthritis. I said they run like turtles with arthritis,” Baylor responded.

… what had begun as jovial locker room interplay between teammates quickly descended into an unpleasant clash of egos…

- Via Thomas Whalen’s Dynasty’s End

Forget the arthritis, the Lakers locker room was one big awkward turtle. Chamberlain thought Baylor was beyond his prime and ought to relegate himself to secondary status behind the Big Dipper and Mr. Clutch. There was some truth to Chamberlain’s thoughts. Baylor after suffering from a serious knee injury in 1965 was robbed of his explosive first step. Prior to the injury Baylor had averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds  a game. Afterwards it was a “mere” 23 points and 11 rebounds.

In truth, though, Chamberlain wasn’t quite the overpowering force he had been in younger years either. Gone were his routine spectacles of 50 points and 30 rebounds in a game. He was still good for 20 points and 20 rebounds a night, but both of these men were past their most physically spectacular, statistically outlandish years. As it so happens, they often performed their statistical feats opposite one another.

Using the wonderful databases at basketball-reference.com, I’ve been able to find three instances where Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor scored at least 50 points against one another in the same game. And as it so happens they all took place in December 1961 and December 1962.

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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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