The Lowdown Hall of Fame Snubs: Larry Foust

Years Active: 1951 – 1962

Regular Season Stats: 13.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 40.5% FG, 74.1% FT, 20.1 PER

Postseason Stats: 12.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, 39.4% FG, 78.1% FT, 19.1 PER

Accolades: 8x All-Star (1951-56, 1958-59), All-NBA 1st Team (1955), All-NBA 2nd Team (1952)

Larry Foust, rugged Piston center, poured in 37 points as Fort Wayne made it four straight over the Royals. Foust scored six of his team’s seven points in the overtime after the regular game ended, 94-94.

– Via The Milwaukee Journal, Decemeber 2, 1954

Larry Foust is one of the many victims of failed basketball memory. The depths and passage of time naturally erode the ability to recall the greatness of things achieved by those in the past. Compounding this natural tendency is the fact that none of Foust’s clubs exist as he knew them.

The Fort Wayne Pistons have since moved on to Detroit. The Minneapols Lakers headed west to Los Angeles. The St. Louis Hawks went down south to Atlanta. Nevertheless, Foust is a player worth not only recalling, but one worthy of Hall of Fame induction. During the 1950s he was one of the premier NBA centers and yet is unrecognized as such.

During his heydey (1951-58), Foust recorded the 4th most win shares for a center. Of the top 6 players on this list, Foust is the only one not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. George Mikan, Neil Johnston, Ed Macauley, Arnie Risen and Clyde Lovellette are all deservedly in.

Looking at Foust’s production, this is an unfortunately recurring theme. He is routinely in the lofty company of various Hall of Fame players and yet he is the one outside looking in. During the entirety of the 1950s, Foust scored the 3rd most points and grabbed the most rebounds of any center in the NBA. Amongst all players he was 8th in points scored and 2nd in rebounds. Finally, his player efficiency rating (PER) of 21.o was 5th amongst centers and 9th overall.

But Foust’s greatness goes beyond the consistent stream of points and rebounds  he accrued over his entire career. He set a then-record for single-season FG% in 1955 with a startling .487. Only 5 players in NBA history to that point had even shot above .450 for a season.

A spectacular rookie, he was an all-star in his very 1st NBA season with the Fort Wayne Pistons and would enjoy 7 more selections to the contest in his 12 year career.

Despite his personal achievements, the ultimate team goal eluded Foust. From 1951 to 1954, Foust was the undisputed cornerstone of the Pistons franchise. His one-man show culminated in 1953 when the Pistons dragged the star-studded Minneapolis Lakers to a 5th do-or-die game in the Western Division Finals.

The addition of forward George Yardley and guard Andy Phillip transformed the Pistons into a more complete team and they appeared in back-to-back NBA Finals in 1955 and 1956. Despite reduced minutes, Foust continued to perform as Fort Wayne’s best player, leading the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) in each of those seasons.

(Curiously, Foust is one of only two Hall of Fame eligible players to lead the league in WS/48 and yet not be inducted. The other is Kenny Sears)

In the 7th and deciding game of the 1955 Finals with the Syracuse Nationals, Foust delivered 24 points to lead both sides, but the Pistons fell short by a single point, 92 to 91 after losing a 17-point lead in the contest. The next season the Pistons were handled by the Philadelphia Warriors in 5 games. Despite the brevity of the series, the Pistons wasted several opportunities ultimately losing 3 of their 4 games by a combined 11 points.

Foust’s final game as a Piston came the next season in the Western Semis. Losing the mini-series 2-0 to the Lakers, Foust did his damnedest to keep Fort Wayne alive with 30 points in the final game which they lost by 2 points. That offseason, Foust was traded to Minneapolis and the Fort Wayne franchise moved on to Detroit.

After seeing reduced minutes, despite not having reduced ability, in his final Fort Wayne season, Foust found rejuvenation in Minnesota. Averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds he was an easy selection to the All-Star Game after missing out the previous season. The Lakers however were continuing their post-Mikan slide and finished with an abysmal 19 wins.

The terrible season immediately paid off, though. The Lakers secured the #1 overall pick in the 1957 draft and took Elgin Baylor #1. Baylor, Vern Mikkelsen and Foust powered the Lakers to a respectable 33-39 record in the regular season and then pulled off an upset of the St. Louis Hawks in the divisional finals. Foust’s quest for a title fell short again as the Boston Celtics swept the upstart Lakers.

For Foust the series was his final hurrah as a big-time contributor, particularly in Game 3 where he scored 26 points opposite the defensive wizard, Bill Russell.

Foust finished his career with 2.5 seasons in St. Louis as a reserve big man. Like all of his basketball stops, he again appeared in the NBA Finals only to have his championship aspirations dashed. In 1960, the Celtics outlasted the Hawks in 7 games while in 1961 the C’s trounced St. Louis in 5 games.

Despite his long list of accomplishments, Foust’s career, if it’s remembered at all, is usually reduced to a simple trivial matter: he hit the game-winning shot in the infamous Lakers-Pistons game that ended 19-18, the lowest scoring game in NBA history.

Admittedly, Foust was not a ground-breaking, earth-shattering player who revolutionized the game. However, there is a place in the Hall of Fame for players like Foust. The steady, persistent and unheralded purveyor of excellent play. Alex English and Joe Dumars are probably the best modern examples of this and Larry Foust is the 1950s standard bearer for this type of player.

50 years after his retirement and 28 years after his death, the chances of Foust being inducted are slim, but it’s well worth keeping alive the fact his career, his achievements are Hall of Fame worthy.

Seth Carstens