The 6’2″-and-Under Champions Club

Napoleon

Life should be grand for Chris Paul. He delivered 22.5 points, 12 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 51% FG, 75% FT, and 45.5% 3PT in the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His regular season saw some injury woes but he’s still likely to make another All-NBA 1st Team, which would be the 4th such selection of his career. Of course the Clippers losing their series against Oklahoma City is dispiriting, but basketball fans can bask in Paul’s great efforts.

Well, some can. Not all.

Roll that beautiful Chris Paul critique footage!

The criticism will start anew after the Clippers playmaker delivered more heartache during his team’s season-ending 104-98 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday night at Staples Center.

Paul finished with 25 points and 11 assists but will be recalled mostly for the offensive foul with 3 minutes 35 seconds left that probably sealed the Clippers’ fate.

Paul was dejected after the loss and his continued failure to reach the Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals:

“It’s not just to get out of the second round. It’s to win a championship. I don’t know anybody in our league that plays for the Western Conference finals. That’s not enough.”

Well, given the circumstances of the NBA, having a 6’0″ tall player as your leading man rarely means winning a championship. Extending the height to 6’2″, only five NBA franchises have garnered a title with a player that tall reasonably, not unequivocally, considered their best player.

The Rochester Royals 1950-51

The first franchise was the Rochester Royals back in the 1950-51 season. Their best player was Bob Davies, a 6’1″ guard/forward who was one of the first players in the major pro leagues to dribble behind his back. The Royals, however, were a well-balanced machine with Bob Wanzer and especially Arnie Risen contesting best player honors. Indeed during the postseason, the 31-year old Davies had a miserable time averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists on 34% shooting over 14 games. However, Risen and Wanzer rose to the ocassion. Wanzer notched 12.5 PPG, 5 RPG, and 4 APG while shooting 47% FG and 91% FT. Risen was a beast in the post with 19.5 PPG and 14 RPG including a dominating NBA Finals against the Knicks which would have secured a Finals MVP for Risen had it existed then. There was also defensive ace Jack Coleman who threw in 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in the postseason.

Davies may have been the best player, but it was truly a full team effort.

The Boston Celtics 1956-57

The Celtics were the next NBA champ to exhibit a wondrous 6’1″ dribbler as their best player. Bob Cousy was the regular season MVP for the NBA and had appeared in the All-Star Game all seven seasons of  his pro career. The Celtics had also made the postseason every year of his career, but had never made the Finals. Finally, in 1957 Boston won the Finals as Cousy averaged 20 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds in the playoffs.

Don’t be too quick to give Cooz all the credit, though. His longtime running mate Bill Sharman averaged 21 PPG. Rookie forward Tommy Heinsohn dropped 23 PPG and 12 RPG. Oh yeah, another rookie – Bill Russell – contributed 14 points and 24 rebounds nightly. Russell would wind up winning MVP the very next season in 1958 quickly supplanting Cousy as the Celtics’ best player.

But in 1957 was Cousy or Russell the better Celtic? It’s debatable. Nonetheless, the point is still standing: a short star needs a some equitable talent.

The Los Angeles Lakers 1971-72

No one can still figure out who was better for the Lakers in 1972: Wilt Chamberlain or Jerry West. The team won 33 straight games on their way to 69 wins in the regular season. They trounced opponents in the playoffs breezing to the title with 12 wins and 3 losses. West and Wilt played vastly different but complementary roles. Wilt cleaned the glass, defended the paint like crazy, and produced highlight dunks here and there. West pestered the perimeter, ran the offense as the point guard, and drained long-range bombs.

Their regular season stats reveal their productive schism.
Wilt – 15 PPG, 19 RPG, 4 APG
West – 26 PPG, 4 RPG, 10 APG

Jerry West, however, played the worst postseason of his career that year. Prior to 1972, he had averaged 31 PPG, 6 APG, and 6 RPG on 48% FG and 81% FT shooting. In 1972 he bottomed out at 23/9/5 – still great for a 33-year old guard – but shot a miserable 37.5% from the field. It was even worse in the Finals where Mr. Clutch put up 20/9/4 on 32.5% shooting. The Big Dipper meanwhile feasted on the Knicks to the tune of 19.5 points and 23 rebounds a game on 60% shooting.

In the end, it’s likely a wash as to who was more instrumental for those Lakers.

The Seattle SuperSonics 1978-79

The champion oft-forgot, the 1979 Sonics were one of the most egalitarian teams to take the title. The youthful trio of Jack Sikma (23 years old), Dennis Johnson (24) and Gus Williams (25) did the heaviest lifting while veterans like Paul Silas, Freddie Brown, and John Johnson capably helped out the young bucks.

The splits of three contenders for Sonics’ best player don’t concretely solve the question, but it gives a tentative answer…

Regular Season

  PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% FT%
Gus Williams 19.2 3.2 4.0 0.4 2.0 49.5% 77.5%
Jack Sikma 15.6 12.4 3.2 0.8 1.0 46.0% 81.4%
Dennis Johnson 15.9 4.7 3.5 1.2 1.3 43.4% 76.0%

Playoffs

PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% FT%
Gus Williams 26.7 4.1 3.7 0.6 2.0 47.6% 70.9%
Jack Sikma 14.8 11.7 2.5 1.4 0.9 45.5% 78.7%
Dennis Johnson 20.9 6.1 4.1 1.5 1.6 45.0% 77.1%

On balance, Gus Williams emerges as the premier, but not definitive, candidate for best player on the 1979 Sonics. The 6’2″ guard would lose out on Finals MVP to the 6’4″ Dennis Johnson. Guess that didn’t help settle matters.

The Detroit Pistons 1988-89 and 1989-90

The only time a multiple championship teams were led by a diminutive player. Still in his prime, but maybe a hair past his peak, Isiah Thomas was the linchpin of the Bad Boys Pistons. If ever a team won a title based on gang tactics, it was these Pistons squads. Bill Laimbeer, James Edwards, Dennis Rodman, and John Salley delivered body blows to frustrate opponents. But the real threat to Thomas’s claim to best player on these teams came from his young, stoic backcourt mate: Joe Dumars.

Dumars proved so valuable he snared the 1989 Finals MVP in a sweep over the LA Lakers. Put winning Finals MVP doesn’t automatically catapult you to best player on the team. When it’s all said and done, Isiah was the orchestrator of the Pistons’s assault even if the disparity between himself and his teammates wasn’t the chasm we like to imagine exists between a team’s best player and the secondary pieces.

So what does any of this mean for Chris Paul? Or for any future pipsqueak star?

It means that they can be the best player on a team that wins an NBA title, but the team has to be extremely well-balanced. And even if that short star plays the role of best player, it’ll be hard for contemporaries and future generations to easily discern that.

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Shawn Kemp

Shawn Kemp
Shawn Kemp

Few players have driven fans to a frenzy in the way Shawn Kemp was able to.

His soaring dunks were the stuff of legend… if we still told legends. But imagine if we did. Imagine telling some 12-year old today about a slender 6’10” power forward fresh from a junior college. This 19-year old scrawny forward galloped around the floor and didn’t quite seem in his element. Well, until he got his hands on the ball and began rising for slam dunks.

As time went on the the somewhat un-coordinated player got his legs beneath him in more facets of the game. He became a better defender, a better rebounder, a better shooter, but all the while maintained his salacious slamming ability. But, he had indeed become a better player, a player worthy of legend.

For as mythical as Shawn Kemp’s dunks were, that alone isn’t worthy of being a Hall of Famer. Otherwise, Terrence Stansbury would be in these vaunted digital halls.

For a solid decade (1991 – 2000), Kemp averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 50% field goal shooting. He was thrice named to the All-NBA 2nd Team and was selected for six All-Star Games. Teaming with Gary Payton, Kemp made the Seattle SuperSonics a perennial powerhouse in the Western Conference. Particularly, in the 1994, ’95, ’96, and ’97 seasons Kemp was at his absolute peak.

His overall averages were about the same, except his FG% which jumped into the mid .500s. His oncourt intensity and impact was just somehow more striking these seasons. The Sonics famously flamed out in the 1994 and 1995 first rounds. Kemp played miserably in the ’94 playoffs, but in 1995 he was a whirlwind force averaging 25 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 58% FG.

In 1996, he was never better in helping take the Sonics to the NBA Finals. In Game 4 of the Western Semis against the Houston Rockets, Kemp decimated Clutch City with 32 points and 15 rebounds. He shot 13-19 from the field and 6-7 from the free throw line. The Sonics win completed the sweep of the two-time defending NBA champs. In Game 7 of the Western Finals against the Utah Jazz, Kemp obliterated the opposition with 26 points and 14 rebounds. He shot 8-12 from the field and 10-11 from the line. The victory catapulted Seattle to the Finals.

Against the 72-win Bulls, Kemp averaged 23 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 55% FG and 86% FT as Chicago had no answer for the Reign Man. But the Bulls were the better team and Seattle lost in six games.

Thereafter Kemp famously dealt with the embarrassment of having backup center Jim McIlvaine make more money than him, weight problems, and drug addiction. By 2001, he was grossly overweight and it was impossible to believe that just 5 years earlier he was the same man who could slice his way through defenses for overwhelming tomahawk slams.

But, it was the same man. It was Shawn Kemp who rained down, perhaps, more highlight dunks per capita than any other man in basketball history. And he was a damn good player while he did it.

Years Played: 1989 – 2003

Seattle SuperSonics
Seattle SuperSonics

Accolades

NBA -
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1994-’96)
6x All-Star (1993-’98)

Statistics

NBA - 1051 Games
14.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 48.8% FG, 74.1% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1989-90 through 2002-03 season)
15th Points, 5th FTs Made
15th FGs Made, 32nd FG%
9th Rebounds, 20th RPG
9th Blocks, 15th BPG
23rd Steals
6th Games Played, 23rd Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Dennis Johnson

Dennis Johnson
Dennis Johnson

Was Dennis Johnson a point guard or a shooting guard?

It’s a question with no easy answer. While with the SuperSonics, Johnson played alongside Gus Williams and Freddie Brown in the backcourt. All three men were under 6’4″ in height and all had assists tallies around 3 or 4 per game. While with the Phoenix Suns a somewhat clearer picture emerged with Johnson being the point guard, but the Suns distributed the burden of orchestrating offense widely, even to center Alvan Adams. Things got murkier yet in Boston. Danny Ainge, Gerald Henderson, and Larry Bird could all assume ball-handling and/or orchestration duties. Adding Bill Walton to the mix in 1986 didn’t do much to resolve the impasse.

Not until the late 1980s when Dennis Johnson was on the back nine of his career could you say the man was truly a classical definition of point guard. All this long while, though, Johnson was tremendous guard, whether shooting, point, or any other arbitrary signifier.

He was a highly effective offensive player who could drive into a defense and finish strong by bodying up for layups. When he was on defense, he was even better. He had tremendous anticipation and a wit about him. He knew the right moment to pounce on a lazy pass or to sneak behind an unsuspecting post player to swipe the ball. That anticipation made him a selection to the All-Defensive Team nine straight times from 1979 to 1987.

The greatness of Johnson was revealed fairly early in his NBA career. In 1978 he helped lead the club to the NBA Finals where they lost in seven games to the Washington Bullets. In a rematch the next season, the Sonics won four-games-to-one and Johnson was named Finals MVP with averages of 22.5 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals a game. The success went to Johnson’s head, though, and the Sonics locker room imploded the next year.

In the aftermath, Johnson was traded to Phoenix where he played fine basketball for the Suns. Questions lingered on whether DJ was merely a great individual talent with no way to integrate into a team. After three years in Arizona, Johnson was dealt to Boston in 1983 for backup center Rick Robey, which is an embarrassing sentence to write about a Hall of Fame guard. With the Celtics, though, Johnson redeemed his reputation and helped Boston capture its last two titles of the 1980s. He summoned all the best of his Sonics days without the worst of it. Like most people, he became wiser and better as time passed by.

So, whether Johnson was a true point guard, combo guard, or a shooting guard who could command the offense doesn’t really matter. He was a fantastic player who filled the role his team needed. Sometimes that meant more scoring, sometimes that meant more passing. And with DJ it always meant some hard-nosed, unrelenting D.

Years Played: 1976-1990

Accolades

NBA -
3x Champion (1979, 1984, 1986)
Finals MVP (1979)
All-NBA 1st Team (1981)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1980)
6x All-Defensive 1st Team (1979-’83, 1987)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1984-’86)
5x All-Star (1979-’82, 1985)

Statistics

NBA - 1100 Games
14.1 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 44.5 FG%, 79.7 FT%

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1976-77 through 1989-90 season)
18th Points, 18th FGs Made
14th FTs Made, 35th FT%
7th Assists, 22nd APG
6th Steals, 27th SPG
28th Blocks
2nd Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

Pro Hoops History HOF: Ricky Pierce

Ricky Pierce

A quick look at Ricky Pierce’s career ledger reveals some underwhelming statistics.

Out of 969 career games, Pierce started just 269 of them. In only two seasons of his 16-year career did he start a majority of games for his teams. Only twice did he play over 30 minutes per game for an entire season. Seems like teams were afraid to use Ricky, right?

Wrong.

Ricky Pierce is one of those great players who backs up arguments for substance over volume and quality over quantity. The swingman was hardly ever a starter, but was always instrumental in the success of his teams. He didn’t play a heavy load of minutes, but produced an instantaneous deluge of points.

The most striking thing about Pierce’s attack was just how much of it came on exquisite jump shots. He could come in off the bench cold and be instantly hot. Vinnie Johnson may have got the nickname, but Pierce was even more of a microwave. Johnson averaged 17.5 points per 36 minutes in his career, Pierce averaged 22.0. Indeed, from 1984 to 1997, Pierce possessed the 14th highest points per 36 minutes average. All of the players ahead of him were full-time starters.

Ricky just came in and knocked down the jumpers flawlessly and he was able to break down defenses off the dribble. Shooting just a shade under 50% for his career from the field, Pierce was also unstoppable at the line. From the charity stripe he nailed 88% of his shots.

His best years came with the Milwaukee Bucks and Seattle SuperSonics. In 1990 with the Bucks, he averaged 23 points per game in just 29 minutes. The next year, split between Milwaukee and Seattle, Pierce averaged 20.5 points in 28 minutes. This made him the first and only player ever to log 20+ points in less than 30 minutes a game in back-to-back seasons. In fact, just Clyde Lovellette has done that during any two seasons. In further fact, just five other players have done that in a single season. And none have done it since Pierce in 1991.

In 1987 and 1990 he was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. In 1991, he was an all-star.  In 1989, he enjoyed his finest playoff moments against the Atlanta Hawks and the Detroit Pistons. The whole postseason was remarkable, however, one game against Atlanta steals the show. It was Game 3 of the 1st Round and Pierce ignited for 35 points in 32 minutes. He was nearly perfect going 13-for-17 from the field, including 2 of 2 from downtown, and 7-for-7 from the free throw line.

One of the best performances from one of the best scorers to ever play basketball. As usual, though, words can only do so much. Just watch the smooth shooting Pierce score a silky 38 points to truly appreciate his game…

Years Played: 1982 – 1998

Accolades

NBA -
2x Sixth Man of the Year (1987, 1990)
All-Star (1991)

Statistics

NBA Career: 1982-83 through 1997-98
Peak Career Production:
1986-87 through 1992-93

Average and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 969 97 483 80th
PPG 14.9 14.9 19.7 20th
RPG 2.4 2.4 2.8 222nd
APG 1.9 1.9 2.3 126th
SPG 0.79 0.72 0.95 91st
BPG 0.15 0.21 0.2 195th
TS% 0.573 0.548 0.58 29th
2PT% 0.509 0.476 0.517 51st
3PT% 0.322 0.355 0.321 72nd
FT% 0.875 0.866 0.885 6th
PER 17.7 15.2 19.2 21st
WS/48 0.146 0.085 0.159 21st
Ortg 116 112 117
Drtg 110 116 111

Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 969 97 483 80th
Minutes 23665 2656 14300 68th
Points 14467 1447 9513 21st
Rebounds 2296 229 1329 169th
Assists 1826 187 1135 96th
Steals 768 70 458 82nd
Blocks 147 20 97 184th
2PTs 5095 499 3377 27th
3PTs 296 33 181 62nd
FTs 3389 350 2216 17th
WS 72.2 4.7 47.5 38th

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Spencer Haywood


SpenceIf Spencer Haywood had never scored single point, grabbed a rebound, or done anything of significance on the basketball court, he’d still have a righteous spot in the Hall of Fame. His fight, his legal battle was the one that opened up the NBA to college underclassmen and gave a way for impoverished players to instantly make good on their skills instead of being stuck as indentured athletes in the NCAA.

Of course, someone was bound to challenge the prevailing order in 1970, but that someone would have needed the same capacity for struggle and the same basketball talent as Haywood. Unfortunate as it may be to admit it, but the Seattle SuperSonics were trying to sign Spencer Haywood because his family was impoverished. They wanted the man who could be the best power forward in all of basketball.

Before his NBA legal battle began, Haywood left college early to join the ABA. That upstart league had no qualms of signing college underclassmen and the Denver Rockets gave Haywood a handsome $1.9 million contract. His rookie season in 1969-70 was equally handsome.

Haywood was named Rookie of the Year, an All-Star, All-Star Game MVP, a member of the All-ABA 1st Team and the league’s Most Valuable Player. He also led the ABA in scoring with 30 points per game and rebounding with 20 per game… just for good measure. In the playoffs, Haywood didn’t abate as he averaged 37 points and 20 rebounds in 12 games.

However, bigger dollars loomed in the NBA, and Haywood charged that Denver wasn’t fulfilling all of their salary obligations. As the ABA and Rockets fought to keep Haywood, the Sonics signed Spencer and joined his case against the NBA to let him in that league. Haywood won his case in March of 1971 and was free to be a Sonic.

Spencer Haywood

The agile power forward was a smash success for Seattle. His whirling spin moves, soft touch, and thunderous dunks propelled Haywood to the All-Star Game and to the All-NBA Team from 1972 to 1975. During these years, the super forward averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Team success, however, was hard to find during these years. And they always would be for Haywood. The Sonics made the playoffs just once in Haywood’s tenure. A trade to the New York Knicks did nothing to alleviate the situation. Unfair expectations and chaos reigned in the Big Apple and Haywood became caught up in a cocaine addiction.

The drugs began to erode his skills and he was passed from the Knicks to the Jazz to the Lakers to the Bullets. The end came in February 1983 with Washington as he scored 0 points against the Denver Nuggets, the franchise that 14 years earlier as the Rockets had given Haywood his break into pro ball.

Despite never reaching its full potential, Haywood’s career is still one of the most important in the history of basketball. Every player since his landmark Supreme Court case owes him a debt of gratitude. Every point they score, every dollar they make prior to the age of 22 is basically thanks to the efforts of Spencer. That he was such a good ball player isn’t the essence of the story, it just adds another measure of greatness to it all.

Years Played: 1969 – 1983

Accolades

ABA -
MVP (1970)
Rookie of the Year (1970)
All-ABA 1st Team (1970)
All-Star (1970), ASG MVP (1970)
All-Rookie Team (1970)
NBA -
Champion (1980)
2x All-NBA 1st Team (1972-’73)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1974-’75)
4x All-Star (1972-’75)

Statistics

ABA - 84 Games
30.0 PPG, 19.5 PPG, 2.3 APG, 49.3% FG, 77.6% FT
PPG Leader (1970), RPG Leader (1970)
NBA - 760 Games
19.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 46.5% FG, 80.0% FT

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Jack Sikma

(KRUI)
(KRUI)

The Seattle SuperSonics made the NBA Finals in back-to-back seasons in 1978 and 1979. The Washington Bullets barely subdued the northwest squad in ’78 with a nail-biting Game 7 victory. However, in 1979, the sonic boom couldn’t be silenced and Seattle washed over the Bullets in a 4-1 series victory. The maturation of guards Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson helped push Seattle over the top against an aging Bullets team. So, too, did the development of Jack Sikma who replaced Marvin Webster as Seattle’s center.

In the 1978 Finals, Sikma was just a rookie and only received 32 minutes a night compared to Webster’s 42. In 1979, Sikma garnered 44 minutes of playing time a game. Predictably, his numbers rose from 14 points, 8 rebounds, and one block a game to 16 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks a game.

Over the next decade, Sikma wouldn’t relinquish that level of play. Through 1988, Sikma would average 17 points and 11 rebounds a game and would appear on seven all-star teams. The Sonics, and later on the Milwaukee Bucks, would make him a cornerstone of their teams.

The Sonics and Bucks made a wise choice considering just how versatile Sikma was. Easily discerned from his rebounding average, Sikma was a powerful force on the boards, particularly on the defensive end. His defensive rebound percentage is the 12th highest in NBA history at 24.8%. That means for every four defensive rebounds available Sikma was gonna grab one of them. That’s insanely high and it meant that opponents often only got one good shot against the Sonics and Bucks when Jack was on the court, since he’d prevent second-chance points off of offensive rebounds.

On the offensive end, Sikma was one of the great centers to put a lofty soft touch on his jumper. Using an unusual overhead shot, Sikma was able to time and again fool defenders with a deceptive pump fake. In the post, that pump fake was coupled with exquisite footwork that would allow Jack to twirl and spin toward to the hoop unimpeded, since his defender was completely out of position.

As his career wound down to an end, Sikma would extend his jumper’s range to the three-point line and beyond. Over the last three seasons of his career, Sikma would connect on 35.6% of this three-point attempts. And over all these years, Jack was hitting the nail on the head when it came to free throws. After starting off with a career-worst 77.7% in his rookie season, he worked his way up to a 92.2% average in 1988 which was good enough to lead the entire NBA.

(Also, don’t discount Sikma’s super passing. He’s 10th all-time amongst centers in assists per game average. The man was an all-around basketball stud.)

Sikma was a huge success during his own playing days, but one suspects that if he happened to come along in the current era of basketball, his talents would have been better utilized. The thing is though, the current era wouldn’t exist in the first place without a pioneer like Jack Sikma. He showed us that a big man can control the glass with authority while also putting on an offensive show with gossamer shooting.

Seasons Played: 1978 – 1991

Accolades

NBA -
Champion (1979)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1982)
7x All-Star (1979-’85)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1978)

Statistics

NBA - 1107 Games
15.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 46.4% FG, 32.8% 3PT, 84.9% FT
FT% Leader (1988)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1978 – 1991)
12th Points, 14th FGs Made
5th FTs Made, 10th FT%,
19th 3PTs Made, 14th 3PT%
3rd Rebounds, 11th RPG
15th Blocks, 26th BPG
19th Steals, 23rd Assists
2nd Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

Pro Hoops History HOF: Tom Chambers

Tom Chambers

From the perspective of the Clippers’ franchise, Tom Chambers is The One that got away… well, he would be if there weren’t so many subsequent The Ones they let get away. But Chambers was the first and his own subsequent success would sting the California franchise… well if only they cared enough to feel the sting.

Anyways, Chambers was something special when he debuted with San Diego Clippers in 1981. He was eight overall pick in the previous draft and averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds his rookie season to more than justify the selection. His second pro season was nearly a mirror image, but the Clippers sent Tom off to Seattle after the year concluded in exchange for James Donaldson (who lasted one year with the Clips) and a bevvy of picks.

As the Clippers entered their state of “forever rebuilding”, Chambers became the first building block for the Sonics to earnestly reconstruct themselves.

Tom Chambers was clearly a great starting point. He could score the ball in a variety of flummoxing ways for opponents. Although 6’10”, he was never afraid to let loose with long range jumpers that sailed high into rainbow arcs and dropped softly into the net. By 1987, he’d push the range all the way out to the 3-point line and connected on 37% of those downtown shots. Just as annoying for opponents was Chambers’ ability to get to the basket.

In the halfcourt, Chambers had enough handles to work his way around larger opponents to strike at the basket from close range. On the break, he was a veritable freight train that loved to rise… and rise… and rise up for two-handed slams. On all of these drives, he had a penchant for leading with a highly raised right knee that’d create a buffer between himself and the defender. If you decided to  take a charge or block the shot, you’d pay the price.

After bottoming out in 1986 with 31 wins, the Sonics returned to the playoffs in 1987 behind Chambers, Dale Ellis, and Xavier McDaniel. Every member of the trio averaged over 20 points a game that season, and the next one. They blazed their way to the Western Conference Finals after upsetting Dallas and Houston. The Sonics, though, were a bit over their heads and the Los Angeles Lakers swept the upstart club in four games.

Earlier that 1987 season, Chambers achieved his lasting piece of immortality by winning the All-Star Game MVP in front of a home crowd in Seattle in what many consider the greatest All-Star Game ever played. The appearance wouldn’t Chambers’ last as an All-Star, but it’d be his only one as a Sonic. As a free agent following the 1987-88 season, Tom signed with the Phoenix Suns.

With high-octane offense concocted by Cotton Fitzsimmons, Chambers reached his apex as a player with 25.7 PPG in 1989 and 27.2 PPG in 1990. The Suns reached the Western Conference Finals twice behind the dynamic trio of Chambers, Kevin Johnson, and Jeff Hornacek. However, these two appearances resulted in defeat, and in the 1991 season the 31-year old Chambers began to show signs of wearing down.

Chambers’ average fell to 19.9 and then 16.3 PPG in 1991 and 1992, respectively. The Suns continued to have on-court success, but it was less pronounced. So, prior to the 1992-93 season, Charles Barkley was traded for. Sir Charles’ MVP season pushed Chambers to the bench. Chambers rode out that year and the next one, in Utah, as a sixth man and effectively left the NBA after the 1995 season.

The Los Angeles Clippers finished the 1994-95 season with a 17-65 record. Appropriate since that’s the exact same record the San Diego Clippers achieved way back in 1981-82 with Chambers as a rookie. The Clippers had continued their usual ways, but Chambers had risen to stardom, played in five conference finals, the NBA finals, and won an All-Star MVP.

I somehow imagine he has no regrets on the way his career went.

Years Played: 1982 – 1997

Accolades

NBA -
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1989-’90)
4x All-Star (1987, 1989-’91)
All-Star Game MVP (1987)

Statistics

NBA - 1107 Games
18.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 46.8% FG, 80.7% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1982 – 1995)
4th Points, 28th PPG
6th FTs Made, 6th FGs Made,
22nd Rebounds, 29th Blocks
3rd Games Played, 5th Minutes Played