St. Louis Hawks Franchise History: 1956-57 through 1965-66

St. Louis Hawks 1960s

Championships: 1
Conference Titles: 4
Division Titles: 5

Regular Season Record: 425-355
Regular Season Win Percentage: 59.9%
Playoff Appearances: 9
Playoff Series Wins: 8
Playoff Record: 47-43

Welcome to the Glory Days of the Hawks franchise.

Behind 1959 NBA MVP Bob Pettit, the Hawks made the playoffs every year in this period except in 1962. They made the NBA Finals four times squaring off with the Boston Celtics on each occasion. In 1957 and 1961, the Hawks barely lost in dynamic 7-game slug fests. In 1958, Pettit scored 50 points (including 19 of  St. Louis’s last 21) in the decisive Game 6 to give the Hawks their only championship.

There was more to this club than the superb Pettit, however. Cliff Hagan roamed as his sidekick at forward flinging in his hook shot at will. In 1960, Pettit (26/17), Hagan (25/11) and Clyde Lovellette (21/11) became the only trio of teammates in NBA history to all average over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. At the end of this era, the buff and imposing Zelmo Beaty took over for Lovellette as the Hawks’ center. Reliable back ups in Chuck Share, Bill Bridges, and Ed Macauley provided these heavyweights with some in-game respite.

In the backcourt, Slater Martin was a defensive pest rarely seen. His reign of terror ended in 1960, but Lenny Wilkens picked up the slack as a floor general who unflappably delivered the ball to his high-scoring frontcourt.

The only thing that prevented the Hawks from enjoying even greater success in this period was owner Ben Kerner’s obsession with hiring and firing coaches. During this 10-year period, 10 different men served as head coach of the Hawks. Despite the revolving door of coaches, the St. Louis Hawks put together one of the best 10-year stretches in NBA history.


C – Zelmo Beaty (1962-’66) – 299 Games
15.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 46.4% FG, 73.5% FT

F – Bob Pettit (1956-’65) – 648 Games
27.1 PPG, 16.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 43.9% FG, 76.5% FT

F – Cliff Hagan (1956-’66) – 745 Games
18.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45.0% FG, 79.8% FT

G – Lenny Wilkens (1960-’66) – 395 Games
14.2 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.8 RPG, 41.4% FG, 74.5% FT

G – Slater Martin (1956-’60) – 248 Games
9.7 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.7 RPG, 34.3% FG, 76.1% FT


C – Clyde Lovellette (1958-’62) – 245 Games
19.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 46.1% FG, 82.5% FT

G – Richie Guerin (1963-’66) – 215 Games
14.1 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.3 RPG, 42.1% FG, 80.3% FT

C – Chuck Share (1956-’59) – 216 Games
8.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 40.9% FG, 68.7% FT

St. Louis/Milwaukee/Tri-Cities (Black)Hawks Franchise History: 1946-47 through 1955-56

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 0

Regular Season Record: 263-390
Regular Season Win Percentage: 40.3%
Playoff Appearances: 4
Playoff Series Wins: 3
Playoff Record: 11-12

Founded as the Buffalo Bison in 1946 in the National Basketball League, what is now the Atlanta Hawks performed quite the vagabond act during their first decade. Early in the 1946-47 NBL season, Ben Kerner moved his Bison franchise to the Tri-Cities of Illinois and Iowa, rechristening the team the Blackhawks. The club was a modest success in the NBL sporting an 85-83 record over three seasons and racking up two playoff appearances.

During the 1946-47 season, the Tri-Cities rostered William “Pop” Gates, an African-American player famous for his time with the New York Rens. Also on board was former New York Celtic and Fort Wayne Piston, Bobby McDermott. McDermott was hailed as the best long-distance shooter of pre-NBA basketball. The dominant force for the Blackhawks in these years, however, was 6’10” Don Otten who won the NBL’s MVP award in 1949.

Joining the NBA for the 1949-50 season, the Blackhawks spent two more mildly successful seasons in the Tri-Cities before moving to Milwaukee where the franchise became simply the Hawks.

They also simply stunk.

During their four seasons in Milwaukee, the Hawks never made the playoffs and “boasted” a win percentage of .324. During these years center Chuck Share and Mel Hutchins (one of the great defensive forwards of the era) were about the lone bright spots. Nonetheless, the situation was grim and dire as the franchise threatened to shut down. Fortunately, in the 1954 draft, a savior arrived in the nick of time.

Bob Pettit stormed the NBA winning Rookie of the Year for the 1954-55 season. The very next season he was named the league’s first MVP. Kerner – sensing Milwaukee was a lost cause – had packed up the Hawks and moved to St. Louis for Pettit’s MVP campaign. The Hawks’ fortunes seemed to immediately respond tot he change in scenario and Pettit’s greatness. Their 33-39 record in 1955-56 was their best since a 30-30 season in 1948. Although below .500, the Hawks sneaked into the playoffs, beat the Minneapolis Lakers, and barely lost to the Fort Wayne Pistons in the Western Division Finals.

With Pettit as the mainstay and savvy veterans like Chuck Share, Jack Coleman, Jack McMahon, and Alex Hannum,  the Hawks were on the cusp of being perennial contenders. Armed with the #3 pick in the 1956 draft, the Hawks decided to swap the draft choice with the Boston Celtics.

Thanks to the exchange, the Hawks received Cliff Hagan and Ed Macauley and would catapult to 4 NBA Finals and a championship in the next five seasons. The Celtics for their part got some rookie center named Bill Russell.


C – Don Otten (1946-’50, 1951-’53) – 295 Games
12.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 36.0 % FG, 72.1% FT

F – Bob Pettit (1954-’56) – 144 Games
23.0 PPG, 15.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 41.9% FG, 74.2% FT

F – Mel Hutchins (1951-’53) – 137 Games
10.5 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 37.3% FG, 65.0% FT

G – Frankie Brian (1950-’51) – 68 Games
16.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.6 RPG, 32.2% FG, 82.3% FT

G – Bobby McDermott (1947-’49) – 82 Games
10.6 PPG, 73.3% FT


G – William “Pop” Gates (1946-’47) – 41 Games
7.6 PPG, 52.2% FT

G – Dike Eddleman (1949-’52) – 182 Games
13.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 35.1% FG, 65.5% FT

C – Chuck Share (1953-’56) – 188 Games
12.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 41.2% FG, 70.2% FT

St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks Franchise History: 1966-67 through 1975-76

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 2

Regular Season Record: 404-415
Regular Season Win Percentage: 49.3%
Playoff Appearances: 7
Playoff Series Wins: 3
Playoff Record: 21-31

The Hawks bid farewell to St. Louis with one of their strongest seasons in years in 1967-68 by setting franchise records of 56 wins and a .683 win percentage. Unfortunately, in the playoffs, the Hawks were upset 4-games-to-2 by the San Francisco Warriors and exited their St. Louis era on a sour note. Under coach (and sometimes player) Richie Guerin, the Hawks kept chugging in Atlanta for the next two seasons with back-to-back 48-win seasons and appearances in the Western Division Finals.

The roster was in flux, however, throughout this period. Upon moving to Atlanta, the Hawks traded longtime point guard Lenny Wilkens to Seattle. Big and skilled center Zelmo “Big Z” Beaty left for the ABA. As did forward “Pogo” Joe Caldwell. The Hawks managed to keep a hold of “Sweet” Lou Hudson and added “Pistol” Pete Maravich in 1970. Still hanging on as well was a defensive mad man and tough as nails rebounder, Bill Bridges. In early 1970, making, up for the loss of Big Z, the Hawks traded for Walt “Bells” Bellamy.

The roster may have been in chaos, but at least all the players had splendid nicknames.

Added together, though, the moves were never truly enough to keep Atlanta a stalwart and they slid from the realm of contender. After 1970, the Hawks posted just one winning season (46 wins in 1973) in this period, although they made the playoffs seven times. The string of playoff appearances was more a testament to the imbalanced conferences than Atlanta’s own power. Their next winning campaign wouldn’t be until the 1977-78 season.

The Hawks waning fortunes at the end of this period leads to one of the great what-ifs in basketball history… What if Julius “Dr. J” Erving had played for the Hawks instead of the Virginia Squires of the ABA? Atlanta signed Erving to a contract in 1972, but ultimately the contract was ruled invalid. Erving’s brief stint in some exhibition games for Atlanta leave the tantalizing prospect of Pistol Pete, Sweet Lou, and the Doctor as true teammates only a fantasy for basketball and Hawks fans.

Ultimately, this period was one of transition and missed connections and chances. Through it all, Lou Hudson was the linchpin in this swirl of changes. He played every season of this era with the Hawks and cemented his status as a franchise legend.


C – Walt Bellamy (1970-’74) – 338 Games
15.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 50.8% FG, 58.4% FT

F – Bill Bridges (1966-’72) – 419 Games
14.1 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 45.8% FG, 69.8% FT

F – Joe Caldwell (1966-’70) – 323 Games
16.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 47.7% FG, 62.5% FT

G/F – Lou Hudson (1966-’76) – 672 Games
22.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.9 SPG, 48.9% FG, 79.3% FT

G – Pete Maravich (1970-’74) – 322 Games
24.3 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 44.8% FG, 80.9% FT


G – Herm Gilliam (1971-’75) – 280 Games
12.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 45.0% FG, 82.1% FT

G – Mahdi Abdul-Rahman (1968-’71) – 244 Games
14.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.7 RPG, 44.4% FG, 76.0% FT

C – Zelmo Beaty (1966-’69) – 202 Games
20.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 47.8% FG, 76.3% FT

Pro Hoops History HOF: Cliff Hagan

Cliff Hagan ABA

Cliff Hagan possessed one of the greatest hook shots in basketball history. It wasn’t a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook that dropped in from the heavens. It wasn’t a George Mikan right-handed hook that was launched after his left arm pulverized you. Hagan’s hook was a spring-loaded catapult. He would gallop into the lane and jump as high as he could off of his left leg. His body stiffened into a straight rod and his right arm slung the hook at his apex.

That sweet shot allowed Hagan to play center in college Kentucky with enormous success. But when he got to the pros in 1956 after a two-year stint with the Army, the 6’4″ Hagan was declared too short to play forward, let alone center, in the NBA. St. Louis Hawks’ coach Red Holzman tried Hagan at shooting guard with disastrous results. A mid-season coaching change made Alex Hannum the Hawks coach. Hannum, instead of resisting the obvious, gave Hannum a shot at playing forward.

The results were tremendous when the postseason rolled around. After averaging just 5.5 points in the regular season, Hagan hooked his way to 17 points and 11 rebounds a night in the playoffs. His play helped lead the Hawks to the NBA Finals. Pitted against the Boston Celtics (the team that initially drafted Hagan but traded him for Bill Russell), Hagan had a magnificent, game-winning tip-in during Game 6 of the series. Nonetheless, the Hawks lost in Game 7 to the Celtics.

But Cliff Hagan had arrived.

In 1958, he along with Bob Pettit scorched the Boston Celtics for a six-game Finals victory avenging their defeat the previous year. Pettit had the ultimate climax with 50 points in the decisive Game 6, but Hagan proved equally indispensable as he led all playoff performers that year in points per game (27.7) and field goal percentage (50.2%) to go along with 10.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

For five straight years he was an NBA All-Star. He would also be named to the All-NBA 2nd Team twice. In 1960, the superb Hagan reached his apex as a star. That regular season he finished 10th in APG and RPG among all NBA players. He was also 9th in FT% and 5th in FG%.  Naturally, he was also 5th in PPG.

In the 1963 season, however, the 31-year old Hagan transitioned from heavy work horse to instant offense machine. For the rest of his NBA career – lasting through 1966 – Hagan averaged 15 points in 25 minutes a game. His retirement from the Hawks following the 1966 campaign was short-lived.

The new ABA lured Hagan to their league with the opportunity to coach the Dallas Chaparrals. Hagan also suited up as a player for the Chaps and was named an ABA All-Star in 1968. The 36-year old legend averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5assists proving his skills had aged but not eroded.

The same could be said of his competitive spirit. A soft-spoken, gentleman off the court Hagan was a hellion on the hardwood. He got into so many altercations, that Dallas management forced him to sit out games, but that lasted only so long. Cliff would put himself into a game if he thought it’d give the club the last push needed for success. So, what better way to conclude Hagan’s pro playing career than with a little story straight from Loose Balls told by Max Williams, general manager of the Chaps:

With 40 seconds left [in the game] I saw Cliff rip off his warm-ups and put himself into the game. Cliff cut across the lane, caught a pass and made that great hook shot of his. Then one of the Anaheim players jumped on his back and rode Cliff right to the floor. Cliff stood up, looked at the guy and cold-cocked him.

I thought, “He’s only been in the game for five seconds and he already punched somebody.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Cliff Hagan.

Years Played: 1956 – 1969

St. Louis Hawks
St. Louis Hawks


Champion (1958)
2x All ABA 2nd Team (1958-’59)
5x All-Star (1958-’62)

All-Star (1968)


NBA – 745 Games
18.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 45.0% FG, 79.8% FT

94 Games
15.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 49.6% FG, 80.7% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1956-57 through 1965-66 season)
6th Points, 18th PPG
5th FGs, 17th FG%
11th FTs, 19th FT%
13th Assists, 26th APG
15th Rebounds, 40th RPG
3rd Games Played, 8th Minutes Played

Atlanta Hawks – Honored and Retired Jerseys

Buffalo Bison (1946) ● Tri-Cities Blackhawks (1946-1951)
Milwaukee Hawks (1951 – 1955) ● St. Louis Hawks (1955-1968)

Retired Numbers
#9 Bob Pettit (1954 – 1965)

Bob Pettit
Bob Pettit

Finals winner; 3x Finalist; 4x Conference Finalist
2x MVP, 10x All-NBA 1st Team, All-NBA 2nd Team, 11x All-Star
Rookie of the Year, 4x ASG MVP, 2x MVP Runner-Up
26.4 PPG, 16.2 RPG, 3.0 APG
43.6% FG, 76.1% FT, 25.3 PER, 136 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#21 Dominique Wilkins (1982 – 1994)

Nique Dunk All-NBA 1st Team, 4x All-NBA 2nd Team, 2x All-NBA 3rd Team
9x All-Star,  All-Rookie Team, MVP Runner-Up
26.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.7 BPG
46.7% FG, 81.3% FT, 22.1 PER, 107.4 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#23 Lou Hudson (1966 – 1977)

Lou Hudson
Lou Hudson

3x Conference Finalist
All-NBA 2nd Team, 6x All-Star, All-Rookie Team
22.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.7 SPG
48.7% FG, 79.5% FT, 18.0 PER, 73.5 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#16 Cliff Hagan (1956 – 1966)

Cliff HaganFinals Winner; 3x Finalist; 4x Conference Finalist
2x All-NBA 2nd Team, 5x All-Star
18.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG
45.0% FG, 79.8% FT, 19.5 PER, 75.1 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

#14 Lenny Wilkens (1960 – 1968)


Finalist; 4x Conference Finalist
5x All-Star, MVP Runner-Up
15.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.9 RPG
42.1% FG, 75.7% FT, 14.9 PER, 47.6 Win Shares
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame

Honored Numbers
#3 Eddie Johnson (1977 – 1986)
#4 Spud Webb (1985 – 1991; 1995-’96)
#5 Chuck Share (1953 – 1959)
#8 Walt Bellamy (1970 – 1974)
#8 Steve Smith (1994 – 1999)
#10 Mookie Blaylock (1992 – 1999)
#15 Don Otten (1946 – 1950, 1952-’53)
#15 Richie Guerin (1963 – 1967; 1969-’70)
#20 Ed Macauley (1956 – 1959)
#22 John Drew (1974 – 1982)
#25 Doc Rivers (1983 – 1991)
#27 Joe Caldwell (1966 – 1970)
#30 Tree Rollins (1977 – 1988)
#31 Zelmo Beaty (1962 – 1969)
#32 Bill Bridges (1962 – 1971)
#32 Dan Roundfield (1978 – 1984)
#34 Clyde Lovellette (1959 – 1962)
#42 Kevin Willis (1984 – 1994; 2004-’05)
#44 Pete Maravich (1970 – 1974)
#55 Dikembe Mutombo (1996 – 2001)

Pro Hoops Podcast: Hall of Famer Richie Guerin

(Image via
(Image via

This past weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Saturday afternoon, I was able to have a wonderful 10-minute interview with Knicks and Hawks legend Richie Guerin. He set Knicks records for points (57) and assists (21) in a game and remains the winningest coach in St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks history.

Guerin is a favorite here at Pro Hoops History and has had two features on his playing career. So definitely checks those out after listening to the man speak about his playing career, family, time as a Marine, and his years coaching the Hawks.

The Lowdown: Richie Guerin
Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame: Richie Guerin

Remembering Zelmo Beaty

One of the great players in basketball history departed Saturday as Zelmo Beaty passed away at age 73.

The 6’9″ center played from 1962 to 1975 in the NBA and ABA with the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks, the Utah Stars, and the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ve written many words on Zelmo’s fantastic career and I encourage you to read them:

 – The Original Big Z
– Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame: Zelmo Beaty

However in remembering Zelmo’s career today, I’ve simply decided to select a newspaper headline from every year of his career to demonstrate his greatness and tell a part of his story…

Continue reading

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Zelmo Beaty

Zelmo Beaty
Zelmo Beaty

Following Game 6 of the 1970 ABA Finals, the Los Angeles Stars were a forlorn dejected bunch. The California squad had just lost the series, 4-games-to-2, to the Indiana Pacers. Coach Bill Sharman rallied his men  by telling them that if put in the same spot again, they’d win. Sharman could speak such confident words because he knew the Stars the very next season would be getting Zelmo Beaty.

Beaty by 1970 was a veteran of seven NBA seasons all spent with the Hawks franchise (6 years in St. Louis, 1 in Atlanta). He was drafted in 1962 as the replacement for center Clyde Lovellette immediately and for power forward Bob Pettit in the long term. The hopes of Zelmo becoming a dominating inside presence were realized in the 1964-65 season after two years of tutelage. Beaty averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds from 1965 through 1969 as the Hawks’ muscle man down low.

The points were good and dependable from Beaty, but his best quality was defense. He was a rough and physical man who’d absorbed all the lessons Pettit and other Hawks veterans had passed on. Twice he was an NBA All-Star and three times the Hawks reached the Western Division Finals with Zelmo.

But the times were a-changin’ in 1969. It was the Hawks’ first year in Atlanta and the last of Beaty’s contract with them. Following that season he signed a lucrative deal with the Los Angeles Stars, but the dreaded reserve clause forced Beaty to sit out one full year before he could jump to the ABA.

With Beaty’s track record, no wonder Sharman was so confident after his Finals loss that the Stars with Beaty could, and would, win the title in 1971. And it was indeed the case.

With a year to rest an aging and banged up body, the court-ordered sabbatical probably wound up lengthening Beaty’s career. Now 31 years old, Beaty had the best season of his long career during his inaugural campaign with the Stars who had moved to Utah from LA. Big Z averaged 22.9 points, 15.7 rebounds, and 55.5% shooting from the field that year.

With Willie Wise and Ron Boone, Beaty and the Stars won 57 regular season games. In the playoffs they exacted revenge on the Pacers, who switched to the Stars’ division, in a hard-fought seven-game series. In the Finals, the Stars tangled with the Kentucky Colonels. This series also went to the full seven games.

In Game 2, Beaty bludgeoned the Colonels for 40 points and 15 rebounds in a victory. For the final contest, the Stars were placed in the position they had gotten Beaty for. The title was on the line in Game 7 and Coach Sharman looked to Big Z for a big game. Beaty delivered with 36 points and Utah took home the title.

Beaty would continue to have fine seasons for the Stars. He’d continue clutching, bumping, and thumping opponents on the block with heavy-handed defense and sweet hook shots. Utah would battle the Indiana Pacers in three more epic playoff series and would make it back to the ABA Finals in 1974 losing to the New York Nets.

But by that point the Stars were fading in no small part to Beaty’s age. The All-Star center was now nearing 35 years of age and was released by Utah following the ’74 season. He’d play a final year with Los Angeles Lakers in 1975 back in the NBA, but then it was retirement for Beaty.

Big Z receives little due for the impact he had on basketball, despite the fact that in a 13-year career he ended half of those seasons at least in a divisional finals. Nate Thurmond, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Mel Daniels, and Artis Gilmore are centers of his era that have garnered more praise and Naismith Hall of Fame status. Rest assured that Beaty is indeed deserving of inclusion in their company.

Besides, if he was good enough for Bill Sharman, he’s good enough for anybody.

Years Played: 1962 – 1975


2x All-Star (1966, 1968)
Champion (1971)
Playoff MVP (1971)
2x All-ABA 2nd Team (1971-’72)
3x All-Star (1971-’73)


NBA - 570 Games
16.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 46.9% FG, 75.0% FT

ABA - 319 Games
19.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 53.6% FG, 80.7% FT
FG% Leader (1971)

Contemporary NBA/ABA Ranks (1962-63 through 1974-75 season)
12th Points, 11th FTs Made
14th FGs Made, 16th FG%
7th Rebounds, 24th RPG
9th Games Played, 13th Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Richie Guerin

Richie Guerin, Connie DierkingIn the long annals of pro basketball’s history, I’m not quite sure any player has ended a career in the fashion that Richie Guerin did.

His final game was on April 19, 1970. It was the fourth game of Atlanta’s playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers. With the Lakers up 3-games-to-0, the Hawks were in dire straits. It was with this urgency that Guerin suited up for the last time for the Atlanta Hawks.

The game turned out to be a turn-back-the-clock performance for Guerin. The 37-year old guard scored an admirable 31 points, but the Lakers throttled the Hawks in the fourth quarter to pull out a 133-114 victory. What’s more amazing about Guerin’s performance is that it was just his second game of that postseason and just his tenth all season.

Richie Guerin’s official duties for the Hawks was as their coach, but the semi-retired guard wasn’t about to watch his time go down without a fight. Such an attitude was typical of Guerin during his lengthy playing career.

Drafted by the New York Knicks back in 1954, Guerin didn’t arrive in the NBA until 1956 thanks to a two-year stint with the Marines. The USMC suited Guerin well since the 6’4″ point guard was a fiery ball of hell on the court.

If only the same could be said of the Knicks, at least in positive terms, during this period. The team was once an NBA powerhouse, but by the time Guerin arrived, they were certifiably the NBA’s worst team aside from the comically bad Chicago Packers. From the 1957-58 season through the 1962-63 season, Guerin averaged 21.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game, but the Knicks averaged 32 wins.

Guerin during this period was basically a diamond in the rough. He was an All-Star for six straight seasons. He was selected to the All-NBA 2nd Team three times. He set Knicks records for points (57) and assists (21) in a game. But there’s only so much one man can do. Besides, Kenny Sears and Willie Naulls, the Knicks were stacked with mediocre players. Especially since the every single Knicks draft pick in this period was practically thrown down the drain.

(Johnny Green in 1959 was the exception)

Finally conceding defeat, the Knicks were ready to throw in the towel and start anew. The 31-year old Guerin was traded to the St. Louis Hawks two games into the 1962-63 season.

Richie brought his helter skelter style of play to a Hawks team that was the opposite of the Knicks. Perennially a great squad, Guerin became just another great player in their midst. No longer would he need to constantly drive, drive, drive to the basket for buckets and fouls to give his team the least bit of hope for success.

In fact, Guerin was near his end as a player. He was anointed coaching duties for the Hawks in the 1964-65 season. He would be a full-time player-coach that year and in the 1966 and 1967 seasons. Leaving the majority of the point guard duties to Lenny Wilkens, Guerin averaged 14 points and 4.5 assists during this time as player-coach. He finally set aside his playing role in 1967.

Yet, he had a hard time staying away from the court. After winning Coach of the Year in 1968, Guerin returned for 27 games in the 1969 campaign and for his brief cameo appearances of 1970 after guard Walt Hazzard fractured his wrist.

As I’ve written about before, Guerin’s career was a case-study in how playing for horrifically bad teams can produce some astronomically astounding seasons for gifted players. Guerin’s 29 points per game in 1962 for the 29-win Knicks exemplifies that. He also shows that a gifted player can coolly assess a situation and dial back his approach for team benefit, which is such an odd trait for a man so hot-headed.

Years Played: 1956 – 1970


NBA – 
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1959-’60, 1962)
6x All-Star (1958-’63)


NBA – 848 Games
17.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 5.0 RPG, 41.6% FG, 78.0% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1956-57 through 1966-67 season)
6th Points, 21st PPG
12th FGs Made
5th FTs Made, 30th FT%
3rd Assists, 6th APG
24th Rebounds
1st Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Clyde Lovellette

(Corbis Images)
(Corbis Images)

With the retirement of George Mikan from pro-basketball, Clyde Lovelette has a big pair of shoes to try and fill. The 6ft. 9in., 245lb. Indianian will get some help from the five rookies who joined the team this season.

Replacing a legend is never easy, let alone a generational, epochal player like George Mikan. And yet, Clyde Lovellette was charged with that momentous duty. Sky-high expectations from onlookers were complicated by the fact that Lovellette’s rookie season didn’t come after Mikan retired, it came during Mikan’s, supposedly, final season.

Big George wasn’t exactly thrilled with a talented young center chomping for playing time, but Lovellette proved instrumental in Minneapolis capturing it’s sixth and final title. His regular season average of 8 points and 5.5 rebounds bumped up to 10 points and 10 rebounds a night in the playoffs. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Clyde scored a team-high 16 points off the bench after Mikan got into foul trouble. The Lakers prevailed 79-68 over the Syracuse Nationals. The series dragged on for six more games with the Lakers finally ousting the Nats in Game 7.

Mikan retired and Lovellette became the offensive focus of the Lakers. He scored 19 points and hauled in 11.5 rebounds for the 1954-55 season. However, Mikan made an ill-fated return during the 1955-56 season and relegated Lovellette to the bench once again for half of that season. Clyde would nonetheless give the Lakers the lion’s share of minutes at center, despite not starting, and delivered his best year yet with 21.5 points and a career-high 14 rebounds a game. The strain of playing in Minnesota continued though. The unfair comparisons to Mikan, the embarrassing and awkward Mikan comeback, and the Lakers aging roster conspired to land Lovellette in Cincinnati for the 1957-58 season.

Lovellette’s tenure with the Royals could have been a great redemption story. He formed a powerful frontcourt trio with Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman that could, hopefully, one day rival the glory of the Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, and Jim Pollard trio that propelled Minneapolis to title after title. It was not to be, though. In the playoffs Stokes suffered his debilitating paralysis and new ownership took over the Royals blowing up the roster that offseason. After just one year, Lovellette was on the move yet again.

Landing with the St. Louis Hawks for the 1958-59 season, Lovellette was again put to the bench. Older and wiser, Lovellette found the Hawks to his liking despite the benching. Old Lakers teammate Slater Martin was running point guard for the Hawks and their starting frontcourt of Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, and Chuck Share was working just fine. Clyde, who was never a good or even average defender, would be brought in off the bench to produce a burst of points to knock out the opponent.

After acclimating himself to the Hawks for a season, Lovellette exploded from 1960 to 1962 in a fit of offensive fury. He would average 21 points a night in just 30 minutes of action. His hook shot was devastating and he’d produce some bone-shaking picks to free up Hagan and Pettit. On the boards he grabbed 10 rebounds nightly and his elbows warded off opponents left and right. The Hawks during these years made the NBA Finals twice but would lose to the Boston Celtics each time.

In an odd twist, Lovellette wound up finishing his career with those Celtics in 1963 and 1964. His offensive acumen had given way to age and an ever-expanding waistline. Lovellette had been generously listed at 235 pounds, but one look at his jersey told a different story. In any event, the old and cagey Clyde delivered enough elbows and boards to pitch in to Boston’s two titles during those two seasons.

The four-time all-star retired after the 1964 season.

During his career he endured undue comparisons and faced scrapheap treatment, but persevered. He was the first man to average over 20 points in less than 30 minutes a game for a whole season. Along with Ricky Pierce, he’s the only man to do that twice in a career.

So in the end, he never quite filled the shoes of George Mikan in Minneapolis, but very few centers who’ve since followed have ever filled the shoes of Clyde Lovellette.

Seasons Played: 1954 – 1964


3x Champion (1954, 1963-’64)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1956)
4x All-Star (1956-’57, 1960-’61)


NBA - 704 Games
17.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 44.3% FG, 75.7% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1954 – 1964)
8th Points, 20th PPG
5th FGs Made, 17th FG%
19th FTs Made
6th Rebounds, 20th RPG
5th Games Played, 11th Minutes Played