Tag Archives: The Lowdown

The Lowdown “Expansion All-Stars”: Jerry Sloan

(Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images)

Pre- “Expansion All-Star” Seasons (1966): 5.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, .415 FG%, .705% FT, 16.1 MPG

“Expansion All-Star” Season (1967): 17.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, .432 FG%, .796 FT%, 36.8 MPG

Post- “Expansion All-Star” Seasons (1968 – 1976): 14.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, .426 FG%, .711 FT%, 35.5 MPG

Last week’s Expansion All-Star was Bob “Slick” Leonard of the Chicago Packers. Well, in an unsurprising development, the next Expansion All-Star also suits up for an expansion teams based in Chicago. The Windy City was a graveyard for major league professional basketball. The Chicago Gears of the NBL, the Chicago Stags of the BAA and the Chicago Packers of the NBA had all failed to survive in the city over the previous twenty years when the Chicago Bulls became the next best hope for pro basketball. Given the history, the Bulls surprisingly succeeded and it’s in no small part thanks to Jerry Sloan.

Sloan’s NBA career began, ironically, with the Baltimore Bullets. This is ironic because the Chicago Packers had packed up their bags and left Chicago in 1964 to become the Baltimore Bullets. The Maryland franchise acquired Sloan in the 1965 NBA Draft with the fourth overall pick ahead of such luminaries as the Van Arsdale twins, Billy Cunningham, Flynn Robinson and future Bulls teammates Bob Weiss and Bob Love.

That Sloan spent only one season as a Bullet and was available in the expansion draft the very next year was revealing of the terrible management involved with Baltimore at the time. Yes, Sloan had not put up amazing stats in his rookie year, but the promise of greatness was certainly there:

“…the Baltimore Bullets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 119-113, in other Wednesday night action…

Rookie Jerry Sloan’s 15-foot jump shot with 15 seconds left was the big play for the Bullets, who trailed by a point with 48 seconds to go. Gus Johnson’s 28 points led the Bullets and Jerry West’s 33 paced the Lakers.”

Nonetheless, the 4th overall pick was put on the expansion draft chopping block and the Chicago Bulls snapped up Sloan. The key to this was that one of Sloan’s Baltimore teammates had retired and taken over as coach of the Bulls. Johnny “Red” Kerr, a venerable presence in the NBA for over a decade, was the man at the helm of the Bulls and Sloan years later acknowledged Kerr’s help in giving him a chance to shine:

“Red was really the reason for me being in Chicago because of the expansion draft. Johnny helped me get an opportunity to play.”

Sloan’s playing time rose from a scant 16 minutes to 37 minutes a game that expansion season and his other stats predictably rose: the scoring reaching 17.5 points a game and the boards topping off at a career-high 9 a game. The averages were nice but so were individual moments throughout that season. In early March of 1967, Sloan and center Erwin Mueller spearheaded the defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers:

“Mueller scored 20 points and held Wilt Chamberlain to 20 as the Bulls pulled away to a 95-84 third-period margin and never were threatened thereafter. Jerry Sloan had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Bulls.”

Any victory is nice but the expansion Bulls had just handed the 76ers one of their only 13 losses that season. Just a couple of weeks later, Sloan struck again to keep alive Chicago’s playoff hopes against the Detroit Pistons, the very team they were competing with for the final playoff spot:

“The Bulls whipped the Detroit Pistons on the road Wednesday night 98-91 and moved into fourth place in the Western Division a half-game ahead of the now last-place Pistons. The Bulls have two games left to play in the regular season ending Sunday, the Pistons three.

Jerry Sloan threw in 32 points to lead a second half Chicago rally that erased a 69-62 Detroit lead.”

The Bulls would indeed sew up that final playoff spot thanks to the young Sloan and veterans Bob Boozer and Guy Rodgers. The always superb St. Louis Hawks, however, would thrash Chicago in the postseason in a three-game opening round sweep. Not the sweetest of endings, but for an expansion team, that was quite successful to be bounced in the playoffs no matter what the fashion.

For Sloan this would just be the beginning of a long and lengthy career as “Mr. Bull”. In his 1st year as a Bull, Sloan was selected as an All-Star and would garner one more selection to that event in 1969. Even more importantly, though, Sloan’s reputation as a hellish defender would become well justified and cemented over the ensuing years. Making 6 All-Defensive teams, Sloan was the nightmare of any wing player who came his way, especially when he teamed with the demonic Norm Van Lier in the 1970s. Sloan’s 6’5″ strongly wiry and lanky frame made him perfect to harass the perimeter. Sadly, words are the only thing to really do Sloan’s defense  justice since steals weren’t logged until 1974, at which point a 31-year old Sloan still captured 2.1 per game.

But the words, nonetheless, do Sloan’s defense adequate justice. Just search the Google news archives for “Jerry Sloan defense” and you’ll get a treasure trove of articles glowingly speaking of Sloan’s inspired, cagey and tireless defense. Although that defense never brought Chicago a title, it did lead the Bulls to a Golden Era of success in the early and mid 1970s with Van Lier, Bob Love, Bob Weiss, Chet Walker and Tom Boerwinkle. The Bulls would secure four straight 50-win seasons and two trips to the Western Conference Finals.

As for Sloan, he’d retire in the mid-1970s ranking 3rd in assists and 2nd in points for the Bulls franchise. Meanwhile he led the Bulls in categories typical for him: games played, minutes played, and, of course, personal fouls. Since then, only Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen have passed Sloan in those categories. On top of all this, he was the 1st Bull to have his number retired. All of the success, all of the defense, all of the tirades began with Sloan’s expansion outburst in 1966.

You really did need to hold Sloan back, the man was a loose cannon.

(as always, statistical information retrieved from basketball-reference.com)

The Lowdown “Expansion All-Stars”: Slick Leonard

via Fanbase.com

Pre-“Expansion All-Star” Seasons (1957 – 1961): 8.8 PPG, 2.8 APG, 2.8 RPG, .340 FG%, .746% FT, 25.6 MPG

“Expansion All-Star” Season (1962): 16.1 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.8 RPG, .375 FG%, .752 FT%, 35.2 MPG

Post-“Expansion All-Star” Seasons (1963): 7.1 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.1 RPG .343 FG%, .694 FT%, 27.5 MPG

William Robert Leonard is a man of a million aliases. Some call him “Robert”. Others “Bob”. But the coolest of us call him “Slick”. As a legendary ABA coach, Slick proved to be tough, if not slippery, for opponents to handle. He took the Pacers to three titles in the upstart, renegade league. However, his time as a professional basketball player isn’t all that memorable.

Except when he tagged along with the expansion Chicago Packers in the 1961-62 season. For his sudden, unexpected and never-repeated performance that year, Slick Leonard is the 1st Expansion All-Star to be featured here in The Lowdown, which is appropriate since the Chicago Packers in 1961 were the 1st NBA expansion team in a decade. And my goodness did they show it on the court. Aside from Slick Leonard and rookie Walt Bellamy this team was absolutely atrocious. Beyond them, 8 other players appeared in 41+ games with the Packers that season. All but 3 would be out of the league the very next season. And only two survived the following year.

So with those facts in mind, it’s little wonder Leonard enjoyed a career season with the expansion Packers. Up to this point, Leonard had been a serviceable guard with the Lakers franchise. His claim to fame there had been a surprisingly great 1957 postseason where he averaged 21 points, 7.5 assists and 6 rebounds in 5 games. His other stake to stardom had been a coach-like  harping of his team’s shortcomings, in particular this rant to the Los Angeles Times:

“We’re so much better than that club (Cincinnati),” he said. “But we just don’t have the fire. We are a second place club, material wise, and we keep saying we’ll make up the games we’ve lost but there are only 31 games left.”

Not content with these salvos Leonard then bit into coach Fred Schaus for trying to make teammate “Hot Rod” Hundley, who he deemed a lackluster play maker, into a point guard:

“You can’t make a leader,” he said emphatically.

These quotes from January 1961 by an aging reserve may have played some role in Leonard’s subsequent availability in that summer’s expansion draft. Just a hunch on my part.

Now a member of the Chicago Packers, Leonard was free to not only shoot barbs but as many shots as he wanted on the court. Early in the season the Chicago Daily Tribune noted his playmaking ability and its impact, particularly on rookie sensation Walt Bellamy:

The Chicago Packers came up with a new star last night. His name is Bob Leonard, once an All-American playmaker at Indiana University.

The 29 year old backcourt man [cast aside in the player draft by the Los Angeles Lakers as being injury prone] dominated a second half rally that brought the Packers their second victory of the season. They have lost three.

Thanks to Leonard’s ball handling, Walt Bellamy… was able to score 35 points. Eleven of Bellamy’s field goals came in the second half and eight were the direct result of passes from Leonard.

Leonard himself had 27 points that game against the Knicks. Chicago stood at that point had 2 wins and 3 losses, a very respectable record for an expansion club. But the hard times hit hard and fast. Just three weeks later, Leonard again scored 27 points but Chicago lost to the Detroit Pistons. It was their seventh straight loss and put them at 2 wins and 11 losses.

In a mid-December contest that saw Bellamy (45 points) and Wilt Chamberlain (50 points) square off within the confines of the game, Leonard and Philadelphia Warriors point guard Guy Rodgers actually squared off following the (you guessed it) Packers loss:

[Leonard and Rodgers] traded punches in center court last night at the conclusion of Philadelphia’s 112 to 110 victory…

The Packers led, 110 to 108, with less than two minutes remaining, but baskets by Tom Gola and Rodgers gave Philadelphia the victory before 3,360.

The losing nights piled up in normal venues (Boston, New York, Philadelphia) and in neutral-site, zany locales like Louisville, Green Bay, East Chicago, Moline and Evansville. At least in February, Leonard secured some measure of revenge against his erstwhile club, the Lakers. Playing with an injured shoulder ol’ Slick scored 18 second half points, including five straight down the stretch, to give the Packers a rare win. However, it’d be important to note  Los Angeles was without Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

Even the redemption was somewhat in vain this season. In fact, everything was somewhat in vain for Leonard this season. He finally was able to demonstrate his full abilities at age 29 after 5 seasons in the NBA. He averaged a career-high 16 points, 5.5 assists and 37.5% FG while connecting on 75% of his free throws. But his demonstrations came on what is truly one of the worst teams in league history. These Packers went 18-62 and surely would have been worse had it not been for Leonard and, even more so, Walt Bellamy’s incredible campaign.

The next season Leonard would only suit up for 32 games of playing action. The Chicago Zephyrs (yes, they changed their name after one season) were just about as awful as they were the previous season finishing 25-55.

However, the silver lining of this season (and the next) would be that Leonard was given his 1st coaching opportunity. Although, these formative coaching years were unimpressive, they were still instructive. Dismissed by the Baltimore Bullets (yes, the Chicago Zephyrs/Packers had already relocated) after the 1964 season, Leonard’s next coaching job would be with the Indiana Pacers of the ABA and he’d truly make his mark on professional basketball. A mark that should be recognized with some Hall of Fame hullabaloo. But for now we’ll settle with remembering Bob “Slick” Leonard as the 1st Expansion All-Star of the NBA.


The Lowdown: Buck Williams

“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

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: 1982 Rookie of the Year, 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)

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.

Buck’s NBA journey began in the 1981 draft. The top two picks were Mark Aguirre  by Dallas and Isiah Thomas by Detroit.  Next the New Jersey Nets chose Buck with the 3rd overall pick. Other notable players in that excellent draft class included Rolando Blackman, Tom Chambers, Larry Nance and Danny Ainge. Williams outplayed them all for the Rookie of the Year award. His 15.5 points and 12 rebounds a game helped propel the Nets from 24 wins in the 1980-81 season to 44 his rookie campaign. Williams was selected as an all-star that season and although the Nets succumbed to the Bullets in a 1st-round sweep, it had nonetheless been the 1st winning-season for the franchise since they moved from the ABA to the NBA in 1976.

This immediate, but qualified, success was the routine for the early Nets years of Williams’s career as New Jersey made the playoffs five straight seasons. This is something the franchise wouldn’t repeat until two decades later when Jason Kidd moseyed into the Garden State. It was the dynamic play of Micheal Ray Richardson, Otis Birdsong, Mike Gminski and Williams that turned the also-ran New Jersey nets into a perennial playoff club.

But, again, the success was qualified. The true heights of the club were never truly realized thanks to two events. First was Larry Brown’s sudden and abrupt departure right before the 1983 postseason which left the 49-win Nets in chaos. As we all now know, this would not be the last  spur of the moment departure for Brown. Secondly was Richardson’s battles with drugs that robbed Williams of a true co-star.

Still, these Nets provided the memorable dethronement and ouster of the defending-champion Philadelphia 76ers 3-games-to-2 in the opening round of the 1984 playoffs. In the decisive game 5, New Jersey won by 3 points with Williams contributing his typical, workman-like stat line of 17 points and 16 rebounds. The upstart Nets met their end in the next round against the Milwaukee Bucks and there began the inexorable decline.

Two more postseasons followed, but both were sweeps. Williams valiantly averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds and 68% (!!!) shooting from the field in these demoralizing defeats. Then the Nets’ ship officially capsized in 1987 as they finished with 24 wins. In 1988 it was 19 wins. Things “improved” in 1989 with 26 wins. Williams was now turning 30 and with his most prodigious years behind him, he received welcomed news of a trade to a contender. He’d go from coast-to-coast and to the cusp of being a champion.

oregonianphoto (flickr)

Buck Williams would spend 7 seasons as a Portland Trail Blazer and in a strange parallel with his arrival in New Jersey, Buck’s arrival in Portland catapulted the Blazers to a 20-win improvement in the 1989-90 season. The Blazers were a 59-win juggernaut that season, a 63-win behemoth the next year and 57-win leviathan in 1992. Although they fell short both times, twice the Blazers reached the NBA Finals in this span while the other year they merely made it to the Western Conference Finals. Watching Williams tangle with Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant is just a whole lot of nasty  both ways.

In my opinion, this squad of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth, Clifford Robinson and Williams goes down as the one of the great teams to never win a title. This three-year stretch would be the pinnacle of Buck’s membership with superb teams, but the Blazers did win at least 44 games and make the playoffs every season he was in Oregon . No more all-star games were in the cards for Williams but he did secure 3 All-Defensive Team selections in the early 1990s.

Off the court, Buck was also proving to be one of the more nuanced and thoughtful individuals about topics beyond what went occurred on the court. In an interview in 1991 with Sports Illustrated, Williams expressed his gratitude for men like Willis Reed, Clyde Frazier and Hank Aaron as examples of African-Americans who were steadily moving up the hierarchy of professional sports and paved the way for him. Additionally, he believed he was charged with the same duty of paving the way for future generations.

Later in the interview Williams highlights a particularly surprising, initially, choice for an idol in boxer Jack Johnson:

A lot of black athletes feel that if they speak out, their shoulders had better be strong enough to carry the burden. I idolize Jack Johnson. I talk about him all the time, because he was the first black heavyweight champ. And what I like most about him is the fact that he was his own man. He was not going to let anyone tell him what his place was in society. Anyone who speaks up today is labeled. People say you have an “attitude.” Players today are afraid to get that label. A lot of them say things in the locker room that they would never, ever say publicly.


True to this spirit, Williams served as the president of the NBA Players Association in the mid-1990s and after his playing career finished up with two seasons as a Knick, he has gone into the construction business while raising money for various charities. One of the more selfless but demanding teammates in the NBA’s history Williams is certainly continuing that attitude off the court.

But don’t forget how dominating he was on the court. Williams is surpassed only by Julius Erving and Jason Kidd in terms of true on-court stature in Nets history. He is currently that franchise’s all-time leader in games played, minutes played, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, points, and win shares. His mark on the Trail Blazers isn’t as markedly, immediately pronounced, but it is certainly there. He ranks in the top 5 in defensive, offensive and total rebounds, field goal percentage, and win shares while sitting in the top 10 in games and minutes played.

And if all this still leaves you unimpressed. Well, how about this: Williams is one of only 13 players in NBA history to rack up over 13,000 points and 13,000 rebounds.

Still not impressed? Then just dig the goggles, baby…


The Lowdown: Bailey Howell


We knew Howell was a good player. He had an average of better than 20 points for seven seasons in the NBA. And he played in most of the All-Star games since he’s been in the league. Yet, sometimes you don’t realize a player’s true value until he’s on your side for a while… He’s got the good offensive drive. He’s a real holler-guy on the bench, too. Bailey likes team basketball. Joining the Celtics made him a happy player. He doesn’t care how much he scores. He just wants to win.

– Bill Russell on Bailey Howell, via Dynasty’s End (an excellent book that you should buy now!)

Years Active: 1960 – 1971

Regular Season Stats: 951 games, 32.2 mpg, 18.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 48% FG, 76.2% FT

Postseason Stats: 86 games, 31.7 mpg, 16.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 46.5% FG, 73.2% FT

Accolades: Hall of Fame (1997), 2 NBA Titles (1968, ’69), 2nd Team All-NBA (1963), 6x All-Star (1961-’64, 1966-’67)

For 7 seasons, Bailey Howell plied his way as one of the NBA’s best forwards. He was a man possessed on the boards, particularly the offensive glass. He had an incessant, fearless zeal to attack the basket and rack up points. Five times he was selected an all-star as reward for his routine output of 20 points and 11 rebounds. Along with this individual success usually came team disappointment or outright failure.

Howell’s first 7 years were spent with the Detroit Pistons (5 seasons) and Baltimore Bullets (2). None of these teams ever finished with a record above .500. The best years for Howell’s clubs in this era were in 1962 and 1965. In ’62 the Detroit Pistons (winners of just 37 regular season games), fell into the playoffs and dislodged Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals in the semi-finals in a 3-1 series win. The Lakers of Baylor and West thereafter bounced Detroit in 6 games in the divisional finals. The ’65 “success” story with the Baltimore Bullets largely repeated this sequence of events: 37-win regular season, dislodge semi-final opponent 3-games-to-1, then lose to the Lakers in 6 games in the divisional finals.

For a man of meticulous detail (John Havlicek recalls him drinking his tea with pinky finger extended), preparation and desire to win, these years were frustrating. Despite being Detroit’s best player, Howell was shipped out in 1964 to Baltimore as an effort to clean house. The Bullets didn’t treat the forward with any particular benevolence either, which was not helped by the logjam at forward and center on the club and coach Paul Seymour’s indifference (even hostility) toward Howell.

So what we have here is the story of a player wasting away in his professional career. Something possible, but not truly foreseen when Howell was drafted #2 overall out of Mississippi State in 1959 by the Pistons. As a Bulldog, Howell had averaged 27 points and 17 rebounds and led the university to a spectacular 1959 campaign where they lost just one game. Capturing the SEC title that year, Howell’s Bulldogs were denied any chance at a national title due to the racist university administration objecting to the presence of black players in the NCAA tournament.

Howell himself harbored no such ill-will. The native Tennessean spoke with the thickest of Southern drawls and had a religious devotion rarely seen. However, he used his religion as a buttress against such racist thought:

I had always been taught we’re all the same, and if I believe what the Bible says, then it’s true.

For the religious Howell, being traded from Baltimore to the Boston Celtics in September of 1966 must have been pure deliverance. Red Auerbach (now acting just as Celtics GM) was ecstatic to add the forward who seamlessly fit in with new coach, and still-starting-center, Bill Russell’s game plans. Howell submitted his final all-star season that year but the real thrill must have been being on a Celtics squad that won 60 games that season.

In true Howell fashion though, the Celtics were dismissed from the playoffs for the 1st time in 8 seasons. The frustration would be short-lived, however. The next season, Boston won a “mere” 54 games, but stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Sixers in the Eastern Division Finals and then defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in 6 games to recapture their crown and Howell finally tasted the sweet wine of title glory.

Bailey wasn’t just along for the ride on this title trip, his scoring and rebounding were instrumental in the Celtic success that postseason. In an average of 31 minutes a night, Howell streamed 18 points and 8 rebounds and also jumped at the chance of taking on tough defensive assignments, particularly Elgin Baylor in the Finals. His general contribution during the postseason was capped off by his and John Havlicek’s magnificent Game 6 in the Finals that closed out the Lakers. While Havlicek devastated Los Angeles with 40 points, Howell wasn’t far off with 30 points and 11 rebounds.

A second title would follow in 1969 as the “too old” Celtics surprised most observers by knocking off the rising Knicks and then the star-studded Lakers in the finals. It was the end of the Celtics dynasty which Howell had helped to prolong. His own career would come to end in 1971 as a reserve with the Philadelphia 76ers. Howell certainly enjoyed his playing days. The love for his teammates and the camaraderie they shared is evident:

 We were a group of guys from different backgrounds, different races or whatever played together, worked together and developed a love and respect for each other. Like I say, its’ the epitome of what humans can accomplish when you get rid of all those petty things, the vices that you have, the prejudices that you have…. Everybody pulled together . It was a great situation to be in.

As a player, he was cursed by opponents, not so much for dirty play, but for rough and tumble play. A wild force on the court he was always proclaimed to be docile and serene off of it. At the end of road trips he would catch the first flight (team or otherwise) back home to be with his family. The proof of  his humility, sincerity and also humor is his Hall of Fame induction ceremony 15 years ago. I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s a revelatory and wonderful experience to see a man who knew he was a fine player but also knew he was fortunate to achieve what success he did courtesy of his teammates. As he says in the speech, “when times got critical… Hey! give them the ball.”

The Lowdown: Lee Shaffer

Years Active: 1962 – 1964

Regular Season Stats: 196 games, 28.1 mpg, 16.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 apg, 42% FG, 77.6% FT, 14.5 PER

Postseason Stats: 13 games, 29.8 mpg, 19.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 apg, 41.6% FG, 77.8% FT, 16.3 PER

Accolades: All-Star (1963)

Few things are as peculiar as someone with an immense talent or acumen voluntarily, willingly setting aside that skill for other endeavors. It’s what made Michael Jordan’s first retirement such a shocking development. Now, Lee Shaffer should not be considered on the same basketball plane as titans like Michael Jordan, but he definitely was an incredibly skilled player who after a mere three years decided to forego the NBA. Even Michael Jordan at least put in 9 seasons of work before quitting… but even he returned… and retired again… and returned again. When Shaffer quit, he was gone for good.

Lee Shaffer was a bit of a basketball prodigy and early bloomer. As a 15-year old high school senior Shaffer, led his Pittsburgh-area team in scoring with 25 points per game. Shaffer thereafter attended the University of North Carolina. His time as a Tar Heel was met with much acclaim. Typical for Shaffer were performances like this one in 1959 where he knocked down 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds against Notre Dame. Just two weeks later the forward emphatically dismissed rival North Carolina State:

  Nerveless Lee Shaffer dunked in a layup in the last 22 seconds of an overtime to give third-rated North Carolina a 72-68 victory over top-ranked North Carolina State in an [ACC] showdown here Wednesday night.

Shaffer, a 6-7 blond from Pittsburgh, took a perfect pass under the boards from sophomore [and future ABA all-star and NBA Coach of the Year] Doug Moe and laid in the winning basket.

The small forward played his way onto the All-America 2nd Team and was named ACC Player of the Year in 1960.

The NBA draft that year saw Oscar Robertson and Jerry West taken 1st and 2nd overall, respectively, and with the 5th pick Shaffer was snatched by the Syracuse Nationals. Shaffer wouldn’t make his NBA debut until the following season (1961-62). He spent the 1960-61 season playing in the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL).

(As of this writing, I haven’t found a solid reason, but it is likely due to Shaffer’s age, since he was only 21 at the start of the NBA’s season that year. Just speculation on my part. Honestly, I have no clue.)

Finally joining the Nationals in the fall of 1961, Shaffer was an instant hit. Despite playing just 28 minutes a game, he was the Nats’ 2nd leading scorer (17 ppg) behind only Hal Greer (23 ppg). Shaffer’s dynamic, whirling dervish style was needed for an aging Syracuse team. Its core of Dolph Schayes (33 years old), Red Kerr (29), Larry Costello (30) and Al Bianchi (29) had seen better days.

Indeed, iron man Schayes had his consecutive games played streak of 706 regular season games broken when his cheek bone was fractured. Playing for the 1st time without Schayes since February of 1952, the Nationals were felled by the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Elgin Baylor’s 48 points. At least Shaffer paced Syracuse with 23 points in the loss.

The Nats finished with just a 41-39 record, but still advanced to the playoffs where they faced the Philadelphia Warriors of Wilt Chamberlain and Paul Arizin. Losing the 1st two games of the series, in which Shaffer scored a total of 19 points, the Nationals were on the brink of elimination in this best-of-5 showdown. Then in Game 3, the rookie from UNC ignited like TNT.

Shaffer proved unstoppable for the Warriors’ defense in that game.  Wilt led all scorers with 40, but Shaffer’s 30 points finally gave Syracuse an offensive weapon to dislodge Philly’s grip on the series. But the grip was loosened only in the waning moments. Down by 6 points (100-94), Bianchi scored a hoop and foul shot, followed by a Shaffer one-hander that cut the lead to just one. With just over a minute left, Shaffer calmly clanked on two free throws, but redemption soon followed as he drilled a jumper from the corner off an ensuing in-bounds pass to hand Syracuse the 101-100 victory.

In Game 4, the Nationals handled the Warriors with relative ease (106 – 99) as Shaffer scored 15 points in the midst of 5 other Nats players hitting for double figures. Looking to complete the comeback in the decisive Game 5, Syracuse would find itself demolished by Wilt Chamberlain. The Big Dipper dropped 56 points to crush the Nationals 121 – 104. Shaffer again proved to be the only source of threatening offense for Syracuse as he scored 30 points. Although eliminated, the series had been a qualified success for the Nationals, considering they played all but 5 minutes of it without the services of the injured Hal Greer. Shaffer and the Nats could hope for better returns the next season…


And sure enough the returns were fairly good: a 48-win season. The Nats returned the gang from the previous season and added Chet Walker via the draft. Nationals coach Alex Hannum had the offense humming on all cylinders as ten, yes, 10,  players averaged between 8 ppg and 20 ppg. Greer again was the team leader in scoring with 19.5 ppg with Shaffer second with 18.6. The former Tar Heel was rewarded for his continually improving play with his first, and only, all-star appearance. He scored 12 points in his 19 minutes of action that game.

Finishing 2nd in the East, Syracuse was slated for a date with the Cincinnati Royals. The winner would face off against the mighty Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals. The Royals and Nationals gave each other all they could handle in a hotly contested series.

In Game 1, Greer led the Nats with 32 points and the home squad defeated Cincy 123 – 120. In Game 2 played in Ohio, the Royals struck back with a 133 – 115 win behind Oscar Robertson’s 41 points. In a repeat of the previous season, Shaffer was fairly quiet in the 1st two games:  just 25 total points scored. However, Shaffer would ignite in the final three games to keep Syracuse’s hopes alive, just like he had done the previous year.

Back in upstate New York, Shaffer (34 points) and Greer (30 points) salvaged a tough contest in favor of Syracuse, 121 – 117. For Game 4, Shaffer again led the Nationals in scoring with 32 points, but the Royals held firm and took the contest 125 to 118 setting up another deciding Game 5.  Lee Shaffer provided the greatest game of his career as he scored a spectacular 45 points. The outburst would ultimately be for naught as the Royals thwarted the Nats in overtime, 131 – 127.

That heart-breaking loss would be the final NBA game played by the Syracuse Nationals. That offseason they relocated to Philadelphia and became the 76ers. (The old Philadelphia Warriors had moved to San Francisco the previous offseason.)

Shaffer was no worse for the move starting out better than ever in that 1963-64 season, routinely scoring in the high teens and twenties. But not even 20 games into the season, Shaffer broke his leg and would end up missing half the season. His scoring average fell to just 13 points and his FG% an abysmal .370 as he struggled to regain his form. Philadelphia still managed a playoff appearance in his absence and rehab. Again facing the Royals that postseason, Shaffer would appear in just 3 of the 5 games and played 40 minutes total. His previous playoff heroics were nowhere to be found and the club lost again in a 5th and deciding game.

In a startling move, Shaffer thereafter left the NBA. He refused to report to the Sixers for the 1964-65 season.  Even after Shaffer was part of a blockbuster deal in January 1965 to San Francisco (the Sixers received Wilt Chamberlain from the Warriors), Shaffer still didn’t report. Warriors’ owner Franklin Mueli offered him $40,000 a season, but still, Shaffer refused.

In a 1986 interview, Shaffer insisted he “wasn’t close” to his peak as a player, still he was gone and never coming back to the NBA. At just 24-years old, he left the league for a better-paying job with a transportation company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Eventually, he’d work his way up to president and COO and sounded pleased with his decision despite depriving basketball junkies everywhere with more spectacular performances. But really, you can’t fault him in the end for doing what made himself happy.

The Lowdown: Alvan Adams

Years Active: 1976 – 1988

Regular Season Stats: 988 games, 27.5 mpg, 14.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.1 apg, 0.8 bpg, 1.3 spg, 49.8% FG, 78.8% FT, 18.3 PER

Postseason Stats:  78 games, 29.3 mpg, 13.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, 0.9 bpg, 1.1 spg, 47.3% FG, 76.6% FT,  17.3 PER

Accolades:  1976 Rookie of the Year, 1976 All-Rookie 1st Team, All-Star (1976)

“I remember looking around at the old guys in the locker room—guys like Pat Riley—and feeling sorry for them because they only had a year or two left. I thought I’d have lots of chances to win the championship, but in 12 years with Phoenix I never got back to the Finals.”

– Via Alvan Adams, Phoenix Suns Center

As it turned out, Adams would not only never return to the Finals, but he’d never match the dramatic output of is rookie season, which was the one of the better and surprising ones in league history. Despite winning the Big 8 player of the year award three times at the University of Oklahoma, pro scouts had their doubts about Adams’ ability to play in the NBA. Most concerning was his body: 6’9″, 210 lbs. That’s not the size of your prototypical NBA center and there was fear he was too slow to convert to forward.

One man who had no doubts about Adams was John MacLeod. MacLeod was the man who recruited Adams to Oklahoma, but the coach left the Sooners after one year of Adams’ college career to coach the Phoenix Suns. MacLeod now jumped at the chance to draft his former college recruit and utilized Adams as one of the main cogs in his free-flowing Suns offense. Alvan indeed was too frail to play in the lowpost all the time, but his best skill was passing not scoring. This led MacLeod to station Adams in the highpost where he proved to be a devastating force.

That rookie year (1976) he averaged 5.6 assists per game. Before him only Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell passed that mark. Since then, only Sam Lacey has.

Passing was his greatest skill, but Adams put together an overall great campain: 19 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.5 spg, and 1.5 bpg to go with the assists. The accolades piled up for Adams that season, too. He was a member of the All-Rookie 1st Team and the All-Star Team, and was named Rookie of the Year.

The Phoenix Suns finished with a 42-40 record that year, but upset the Seattle SuperSonics and then squared off with Golden State Warriors for the Western Conference crown. With Keith Erickson sending in 16 2nd half points, Adams sealed the deal for Phoenix with the game-winning shot in Game 6 to tie the series. In Game 7, Phoenix completed the upset of the defending champion Warriors.

In the Finals, the rookie Adams enjoyed the finest play of his pro career. Squaring off against the Boston Celtics, Adams was matched against another undersized center in Dave Cowens. The former regular season and finals MVP averaged 20.5 ppg, 16.3 rpg and 3.3 apg. The rookie more than held his own against the hustling machine with 23 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. His rebounding and scorer led the Suns while his assists were just 0.1 away from leading the squad, too, as Paul Westphal edged him out.

The Celtics, however, would edge out the Suns in the series. It was 6-game defeat for Phoenix featuring the memorable Game 5 which went to triple overtime and had heroics from John Havlicek, Gar Heard and Jo Jo White.

Following the Finals appearance, the Suns sank into a mediocre 33-win record the next season, rebounded to a 49-win year in 1978 but failed to get out of the 1st round. A blockbuster trade prior to the 1978 season gave Adams the perfect frontcourt mate in Truck Robinson. Although undersized like Adams, Truck, as the name suggests, was  a heavy load to bear in the block and was an absolute machine on the boards and he was excited for what the future held for the Suns:

“Me and Walter Davis?” he says. “A great high-post center like Adams? A shooter like Westphal? A quarterback like [Don] Buse? I could have gone to New York or Philadelphia for lots more money, but I could not find a team more perfect for me than Phoenix.”

A 50-win regular season was followed by postseason success, but Adams’ frailty concerns came to fruition. The Suns held a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference Finals against the Sonics. Missing Adams due to a badly sprained ankle, the Suns lost by 1 point, 106-105. In Game 7, Adams returned, but facing  Seattle on the road proved too daunting and the Suns lost 114-110.

That loss would represent the closest point the Suns would make to an NBA finals return during Adams’ career. Tremendously strong teams were fielded throughout the early 1980s, particularly a 1981 squad that won 57 games but was upset by the 40-win Kansas City Kings in the semi-finals. During this period, the Suns’ talent rotated and changed constantly: Paul Westphal was traded out, Walter Davis battling drug addiction, Dennis Johnson and Maurice Lucas brought in, but Adams remained the constant.

His playing time during the early 80s settled in at just under 30 minutes a night but from 1980 through 1983 Adams still produced 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals and a block a night while connecting on 50% of his shots and 79% of his free throws.

In 1984, Adams would see the worst season of his pro career thus far. His minutes were slashed to just 20 a night, but the Phoenix frontcourt was now stacked. In addition to the aforementioned Lucas, Larry Nance and James Edwards were now in the fold. The immense talent upfront only produced 41 wins that season, but the Suns caught fire in the playoffs advancing one final time to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Lakers in 6 games.

The Suns thereafter succumbed to mediocre basketball. 4 straight losing seasons took their toll on Alvan Adams as it became harder and harder for the veteran center to endure the rigors of the NBA:

“I don’t know if I can mentally prepare to go through another year,” said Adams, who will turn 34 July 19. “It was a big decision, but it was a simple one for me. I simply do not desire to play basketball anymore.”

And with that, the Oklahoma Kid retired. In his career Adams tallied more assists than any center not named “Wilt Chamberlain”, “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar” or “Bill Russell”. His plateau of 14 ppg, 7 rpg and 4 apg is something done by just 13 players ever in league history. It’s a damn impressive list.

To this day, Alvan Adams remains littered all over the record books for the Phoenix Suns. He’s 1st in games played, minutes played, offensive rebounds, total rebounds, steals and personal fouls. He takes the pole position in points defensive rebounds, field goals made, field goal attempts and turnovers. He’s 3rd place in assists and 4th in blocks.

You simply can’t discuss the Phoenix Suns (at least knowledgeably) without mentioning the pivot man from Oklahoma.

The Lowdown: Mike Mitchell

Cavs History (Flickr)

Years Active: 1979  – 1988

Regular Season Stats: 759 games, 32.3 mpg, 19.8 ppg,  5.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.5 bpg, 49.3% FG, 77.9% FT, 16.7 PER

Postseason Stats: 35 games, 33.2 mpg, 18.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.8 bpg, 50.2% FG, 76.2 % FT, 14.6 PER

Accolades: All-Star (1981)

“Someday I think I’m going to be right up there with Marques Johnson, Walter Davis and the Doctor,” Mike Mitchell was saying the other day. “I feel like I’m destined to be one of the greats of the NBA. Only right now nobody knows who I am.”

– via Mike Makes His Pitch

When the great scorers of the 1980s are mentioned, quick to roll off the tongue are Larry Bird or Alex English. Perhaps Mark Aguirre or Adrian Dantley spring to mind, too. Big men like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone also sneak their way after a moment’s thought.

But quietly sitting among the list of the 1980’s greatest scorers is Mike Mitchell. The small forward finished with the 10th most points scored for that decade behind only the aforementioned players, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Theus and his Spurs teammate George Gervin. Condensing matters to just his heyday of 1980 through 1986 and you’ll see he was the 7th leading scorer in the NBA behind only 6 Hall of Famers.

His scoring during this point was effortless and methodical. He averaged 22.3 ppg during this stretch while shooting 49.6% from the field and 77.7% from the line. His bread and butter was a ridiculously effective mid-range jumper that he could release with impunity over other small forwards given his 6’7″ frame which was brazenly powerful and fast. And in the age old fashion, he was also quick enough to take a larger defender off the dribble. But that magnificent jump shot was where it was at.

Born in Atlanta, Mitchell would attend Auburn University next door in Alabama for his college ball. By his senior season he was averaging 25 points and 9 rebounds a game and would leave as Auburn’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Today, he still retains the rebounding crown and is currently 2nd in scoring.

Taken 15th overall by the Cavaliers in the 1978 draft, Mitchell showed sterling promise in his limited rookie minutes: 11 ppg in only 20 minutes a night while shooting 51% FG.  The promise turned to excellent results the next season (1979-80) as coach Stan Albeck took over the Cavaliers and Mitchell seized the starting SF gig and unleash perhaps his finest regular season with 22 ppg (52% FG; 79% FT), 7 rpg, and 1 block, steal and assist a piece.

Mitchell’s efficiency slackened somewhat the next season, but he was nonetheless rewarded with his only all-star appearance during that 1980-81 campaign and delivered a jaw-dropping evisceration of the Washington Bullets early in the year:

An hour before their game with the Washington Bullets, the Cavaliers worked on a new play freeing Mitchell for his jump shot and it paid dividends.

Less than three hours later, with the game on the line, the Cavs called on the play five times in succession, and Mitchell scored each time to lead them to a 90-88 National Basketball Association victory over the Bullets.

Mitchell scored Cleveland’s final 14 points, including the game-winning basket with 26 seconds remaining, and finished with a game-high 30.

Surprisingly, this would be Mitchell’s last full season in Cleveland. In one of the many questionable and downright awful trades approved by terrible owner Ted Stepien, Cleveland’s only all-star player at the age of 26 was sent off to San Antonio shortly after the start of the 1981-82 season in exchange for Reggie Johnson and Ron Brewer. The Cavaliers would struggle for years to come while Mitchell injected the Spurs with new vigor.

Reunited with his old Cavaliers coach Stan Albeck in San Antonio, Mitchell continued to do his thing: score efficiently from the mid-range. But now there was the added threat of George Gervin (32 ppg that season) as both men made life easier for each other. Then, of course, there was also the stellar play of point guard Johnny Moore. The Spurs finished with 48 wins and took a 4-1 series win over Seattle in the Western Semis.

In the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs squared off with the Los Angeles Lakers. Although the Spurs were clearly overmatched and unceremoniously swept, Mitchell delivered one exciting performance after another with a series average of 25.8 points. The very next season, the two teams would meet again in the WCF. The Spurs during the offseason had added Hall of Fame center Artis Gilmore and proved a tougher challenge for the Lakers.

Mitchell again posted a stellar scoring average of 25.7 ppg. Bill Russell, calling Game 6 of the series for CBS, commented that Mitchell “thinks he’s Jerry Buss because he owns the Lakers this series.” Mitchell’s jumper may have proved unstoppable, but the Lakers (barely) had the Spurs outgunned and won that Game 6 101-100 to close the series out.

With injuries afflicting and age creeping up on Gilmore, Gervin and Moore, the Spurs slowly faded as the decade progressed.  Mitchell continued to chug along in his usual manner: hitting for just above 20 ppg on just under 50% shooting from the field. In 1985 he led the Spurs in scoring, which was the 1st time George Gervin hadn’t done so since 1974.

Mitchell’s own NBA demise came soon after, sadly, due to substance abuse which came on the heels of a knee injury and (no doubt related to the injury) showing up out of shape to training camp prior to the 1986-87 season. Mitchell’s NBA career ended after the 1987-88 season, but he managed to clean himself up and played on in Italy until 1999 giving him over two decades of professional basketball experience.

It’s been a little over a year since Mitchell passed away from lung cancer at the age of 55. Obviously, that’s gone too soon for anyone, but especially for someone of Mitchell’s character. His experience with drug abuse allowed him to serve as a councilor and mentor for troubled youth in San Antonio after he returned to the city from his decade of European basketball. Remembered for his deep baritone laugh and ever-present smile, Mithcell was a fine soul who also happened to possess a fine jump shot.

The Lowdown: Jack Twyman

Years Active: 1956 – 1966

Regular Season Stats: 823 games, 31.8 mpg, 19.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 45% FG, 77.8% FT, 17.8 PER

Postseason Stats:  34 games, 32.2 mpg, 18.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 44.1% FG, 82.4% FT, 16.0 PER

Accolades: 2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1960, ’62), 6x All-Star (1957-’60, ’62-’63), Hall of Fame (1983)

If you’ve heard of Jack Twyman, it’s likely because of his superhuman, graceful acts off the court. For over a decade he helped care for his teammate and friend Maurice Stokes (who has been chronicled before on The Lowdown). That story has rightfully been told several times and will continue to deservedly be told.

(SERIOUSLY, go here and watch the three-part video of the whole story. Powerful stuff)

But Twyman was a fine basketball player and that, too, deserves to be remembered.

A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Twyman starred at the University of Cincinnati averaging 24.6 points and 16.5 rebounds his senior season and is one of only three Bearcats to have their jersey retired. His spectacular offense intrigued the NBA’s Rochester Royals who made him the 8th pick in the 1955 Draft.

Also taken in that same draft and also from Pittsburgh was Maurice Stokes. Twyman and Stokes formed an incredible duo of forwards that looked to finally propel the Royals out of a dangerous mediocrity following their halcyon years with Bob Davies, Arnie Risen and Bob Wanzer. Of course, the superb tandem never really achieved their potential with the Rochester (and then Cincinnati) Royals. Stokes’ paralysis in 1958 curbed the team’s ascent and Twyman was the lone bright spot for the Royals for the rest of the decade.

In the immediate aftermath of Stokes’ loss, Twyman picked up some serious scoring slack. During his 1st three seasons, Twyman averaged 16 points a game. After assuming the role of lead Royal, his average during the next three seasons would surge above 25 points every season including 1960 when he and Wilt Chamberlain both became the 1st players to average over 30 points per game for an entire season.

But the Royals were just awful these seasons. In 1959 they stumbled to 19 wins and gave a repeat performance in 1960 with 19 wins. It appeared Twyman was going to toil in mediocrity, but another Bearcat arrived to salvage Cincy: Oscar Robertson.

With the Big O on board, the Royals improved to 33 wins. Twyman’s PPG fell from 32 to 26 but his shooting percentage increased to 49%after shooting only 42% the previous season. Indeed his pre-Oscar career numbers were 21 PPG but on 42% shooting. After Oscar’s arrival his career numbers became 18 PPG but on 47% shooting.  It apparently pays to have a great point guard at your side.

And Oscar was indeed great as Twyman fed off him to perfection. Twyman could move  off the ball well and work himself into good position for  a spot up jumper with a trigger quick release. If the spot up was unavailable he could drive it baseline with effectiveness as well. One thing Twyman “never” did, as Oscar joked in Twyman’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, was pass the ball. An exaggeration of course, but once Twyman got the ball, he was looking to score. It was, after all, his greatest asset. But he usually was  in a great position to fill it up once he got his hands on the rock, so really not much to quibble with.

These Royals of Twyman and Oscar reached their apex in the 1963 and 1964 seasons when they appeared in the Eastern Division Finals opposite the Boston Celtics. In the 1963 showdown, Cincinnati actually was able to pin Boston down 2-1 in the series, but the Celtics ultimately prevailed in 7 games. Twyman for his part averaged 17.6 PPG in the series and 21 points and 8 rebounds overall during these only two extended playoff runs of the 60s Royals. That Game 7 in 1963 was the closest Twyman and the Royals would get to reaching the Finals.

Although the Royals’ fortunes began to wane despite the talents of teammates like Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, Twyman hit an important individual milestone in January 1965 as he joined Bob Pettit, Dolph Schayes, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy and Paul Arizin as the only players in NBA history to that point to surpass 15,000 points for a career and he did it with a little style:

Twyman’s 15,000th came on a backhand layup with 4:45 left in the third period. Time was called, and Detroit player-coach Dave Debusschere presented the ball to the Royal star.

Twyman scored 17 points, finishing the game with 15,003.

Jack wouldn’t score too many more points after that. His career total capped at 15,840 and retired the next season in 1966. His impact on the court was made by being one of the finest scoring forwards the league has seen, but he also had an important role of it. And that’s not even including his constant care Maurice Stokes.

Twyman, along with Bob Pettit and Bob Cousy, Twyman attended a meeting with Larry Fleisher to strengthen the players union. These efforts culminated in 1964 when the players  threatened a boycott of the All-Star Game unless the owners recognized Fleisher as their representative and bargain in good faith to achieve such notable items as a pension plan. Twyman was no doubt inspired by the tragic plight of Stokes who had no financial aid forthcoming from the NBA for his medical problem caused by playing in an NBA game.

And that is the case with Jack Twyman. A man who always considered others and was the consummate teammate.. He willingly let his own scoring numbers dip to accommodate Oscar, Bob Boozer, Jerry Lucas and other Royals stars and he certainly proved that generosity a million times over off the court. Truly one of the great players and great men of the game.

PS – I’d like to thank Michael O’Daniel,  for his help with article and in general. He attended nearly every Royals home game at the time and gave me valuable insight.

The Lowdown: Bob Boozer

Bob Boozer (upper right) with Royals teammates Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson, Adrian Smith and Jay Arnette

Years Active: 1961 – 1971

Regular Season Stats: 14.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 46.2% FG, 76.1% FT,  16.1 PER

Postseason Stats:  11.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 46.7% FG, 73.9% FT, 14.6 PER

 The sure hands of Bob Boozer dealt the Boston Celtics their first defeat in eight [NBA] games this season. The 6-foot-8 former Kansas State star hit on a couple of jump shots sandwiched around a Celtic Sam Jones basket for a 116-115 victory… Boozer’s last basket was a short jump shot with five seconds left in the game.

“I knew they were going in  as soon as they left my hands,” Boozer said in the happy Royals’ dressing room after the game.

-Via  The Bulletin, November 9, 1963

That performance early in the 1963-64 season would be one of Bob Boozer’s final games as a member of the Cincinnati Royals, the only pro club he’d known to that point in the NBA. His trade to the New York Knicks mid-season would be start of a sojourn across several teams in the NBA.

His time with the Knicks was brief. A mere 129 games through the rest of 1964 and all of the 1965 season. From there he hooked up with the Los Angeles Lakers for a year in 1966. His stop in California provided Boozer with his first taste of the NBA Finals. The Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in 7 games, which was the style at the time.  Everyone lost to the Celtics in the Finals. Boozer hardly played a role though in the defeat, appearing in only half the games and barely getting any playing time when it occurred.

Boozer’s career found rejuvenation the next year courtesy of the Chicago Bulls. The new club made him one of their expansion draft picks and he enjoyed the best statistical seasons of his career over the next three seasons with 20 points and 9 rebounds a game. Boozer even found acclaim with his sole all-star selection in 1968. But team success, as with most expansion clubs, didn’t come immediately for the Bulls and at the end of Boozer’s third season with them, he was on the move again.

The 32-year old was now traded to Seattle. For one season in the northwest he averaged 15 points, but, naturally enough, was sent packing the very next offseason to his final destination: Milwaukee. With the Bucks, Boozer ended his career in 1971 in the best way for any professional. Behind the trio Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Dandridge and Oscar Robertson, the Bucks captured the title that year after a sparkling 66-win regular season.

Boozer left the NBA that season a champion, but he entered it an Olympian and as one of the best college players in the country.

As a standout at Kansas State, the Omaha, Nebraska, native was named an AP All-American twice and in February 1958 took down the powerful in-state rivals at Kansas who featured Wilt Chamberlain:

Wilt Chamberlain? Who is he? The big guy in major college basketball today is Bob Boozer, a 6-8 junior who did a virtual one-man wrecking job on Kansas and the Stilt in Kansas State’s big bid for a crack at the national title.

Boozer scored 32 points and carried the Wildcats in the clutch for a 79-75 double overtime victory at Kansas last night… He counted 14 of the Wildcats’ 29 field goals and after they had blown a 13-point half-time lead, scored the basket that tied it 60-all at the end of regulation play.

It was Boozer, again, whose field goal brought K-State from behind for a 65-65 deadlock at the end of the first overtime.

Then he hit two field goals before fouling out that gave the Wildcats the lead for keeps in the second five-minute session.

It was performances like that that compelled the Cincinnati Royals to draft Boozer #1 overall in the 1959 NBA Draft. But Cincy would have to wait one full season to retrieve their prized pick. Competing in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, the squad included Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, all future NBA teammates of his. They throttled the competition and are widely considered the best amateur basketball team ever assembled. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Boozer fully explained passing up the NBA for the Olympics:

“I always had this deep desire to represent this country on its Olympic basketball squad,” Boozer says, “and at that time, you only had one go-round at it. Everyone told me, ‘Your chances are remote,’ et cetera, et cetera. Each person that tried to get me to sign on the dotted line expressed that, but I said, ‘Hey, this is something I’ve got to go for.’

“I knew I only had once chance.”

The 6-foot-8 former forward made the most of it, taking his place on a team coached by Pete Newell that tore through its Olympic competition in Rome by an average of 42.4 points a game.

Finally joining the Royals for the 1960-61 season, along with Oscar Robertson, Boozer didn’t immediately set the world on fire with just 8 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes a night. However, over the next two seasons, Boozer would come into his own with averages of 14 points and 10.5 rebounds as one of Cincy’s starting forwards. Together with Jack Twyman and Wayne Embry, Boozer helped form a formidable Royals frontline. They achieved modest success by the 1962 postseason where Boozer averaged 18 points and 10.5 rebounds in a 4-game loss against the Detroit Pistons.

The culmination of their efforts, though, was the Eastern Division Finals in the 1962-63 season. Boozer averaged a robust 17 points against the 1st round opponent (Syracuse Nationals) before the showdown with Boston in the EDF. Boozer could never found his groove against the Celtics as his average fell to just 10 points. Nonetheless, the Royals, spearheaded by Oscar Robertson, pushed the Celtics to 7 games before finally losing.

Boozer’s NBA wanderings began the next season.

But for all his wandering in the NBA, his post-basketball life was remarkably stable, consistent and filled with purpose. He spent 27 years working for Ma Bell and also volunteered countless hours with Boys Town in his native Omaha. After his days as a telephone man, Boozer then served as a member of Nebraska’s parole board all the while continuing to mentor children. Like his Royals teammate Jack Twyman, Boozer was a better man off the court than he was on it and that’s saying something.

The Lowdown: Cliff Hagan

Years Active: 1957 – 1966 (NBA), 1968-1970 (ABA)

Regular Season Stats: 17.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.2 apg, 45.4% FG, 79.9% FT, 19.8 PER

Postseason Stats:  19.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 45.1% FG, 79.8% FT, 20.6 PER

Accolades:  2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1958-59), 5x NBA All-Star (1958 – ’62), ABA All-Star (1968), NBA Champion (1958)

Despite those accolades listed above, Cliff Hagan is likely best remembered as the final piece finagled by St. Louis Hawks owner Ben Kerner from the Boston Celtics in exchange for Bill Russell’s draft rights. The Hawks already had pried Hall of Famer Ed Macauley from Boston and now this Kentucky standout would be coming to Missouri. As it turned out, Macauley’s days were coming to end while Hagan emerged not only as a powerful force for the Hawks, he’d turn out to be a Hall of Famer in his own right.

That textbook hook shot of Hagan’s was his most devastating weapon, despite being a 6’4″ forward. He could release it with a staggering rapidity and was also a terror on the offensive boards. Along with Frank Ramsey, Hagan led the Kentucky Wildcats to incredible success capturing the 1951 NCAA title as  a sophomore. Although graduating in 1953 and being drafted by the Celtics, Hagan actually decided to play one more year at Kentucky as a graduate student. He led the team to a 25-0 record.

Finally leaving the confines of the Bluegrass State, Hagan didn’t immediately join the NBA. Instead he did two years of military service and upon completion of his duties with Uncle Sam, Hagan was then involved with that fateful Russell trade in the summer of 1956. At the age of 24 in the fall of 1956, Hagan was at last beginning his NBA career.

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