Emails in on Wilt, Gundy & Scott Hill
The new emails are in, and there’s talk about the NBA, recruiting and Mike Gundy.
Gary wrote about a passing reference to Wilt Chamberlain that I made on the radio: “I am old enough to remember the NBA when Wilt and Russell played each other. At that time, Russell was considered the better basketball player. How did the passage of time change that?”
Well, several things. First, I have no idea what people in 1962 thought. I was one year old. But I know what happened back then. Wilt always was considered sort of a villain. Bigger than everybody, so sort of a bully. A guy who left college early, which just wasn’t done in that time, to play for the Globetrotters. Then he didn’t win nearly as often as Russell did, though Russell played on epic teams. But Wilt’s numbers, in retrospect, are so outrageous, that it seems obvious that people at the time just didn’t know how to deal with them. So they were dismissed. Look at 1961-62. Russell’s Celtics went 60-20. Russell averaged 18.9 points, 23.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and no doubt blocked a ton of shots, though it wasn’t yet an official stat. Russell’s field-goal percentage was 45.7; he averaged 45.2 minutes per game, which is amazing. Tommy Heinsohn actually led Boston in scoring, 22.1. But that team also had Sam Jones at shooting guard and 33-year-old Bob Cousy at the point, where he still was an effective player. Frank Ramsey, 30 years old, averaged 15.3 points a game. K.C. Jones, 29 years old, was the backup point guard. Boston’s top six players, all but Cousy in their prime, made the Hall of Fame. Wilt’s Warriors went 49-31. Wilt averaged 50.4 points, 25.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists. He shot 50.6 percent from the field and averaged 48.5 minutes per game. On his team were two future Hall of Famers. Tom Gola, 29, and Paul Arizin, 33, who were both solid players at that time. Gola made the Hall of Fame primarily as a collegian. Arizin was a legit star, though nearing the end of his career. 1961-62 was his final season. Russell was voted MVP. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the home team won each of the first six games, setting up Game 7. The Warriors trailed 107-104 with 20 seconds left. Wilt made a 3-point play off Russell to tie it. With two seconds left, Sam Jones sank the game-winner to give Boston a 109-107 victory. That was Wilt’s burden to bear. He was the most dominant player the game ever has known. But he played against basketball’s Yankees, a team so full of talent (including the great Russell) that Hall of Famers came off the bench.
Leonard also wrote about the old days of the NBA: “Thinking about the old-time centers. Remember Zelmo Beaty? Long time ago, I talked with an ABA player by the melodious name of Lavern Tart at SMU’s Moody Coliseum. He played for the Nets from ’67-71. On the way out to the parking lot (no limos back then), I asked who was the toughest big man he played against. He told me he played with or against most of them either formally or informally. He said Nate Thurmond was the toughest. There were some great names and players who came through the ABA (and through Dallas fans) back then. Rick Barry, Lou Dampier, Dan Issel, Connie Hawkins, Dr. J, Iceman, Doug Moe, Larry Brown (saw him play as an older guy).”
Zelmo Beaty is a great history lesson for the younger crowd. He was a 6-foot-9 center out of Prairie View who joined the St. Louis Hawks in 1962-63 and played seven years before jumping to the ABA. In Beaty’s last two years with the Hawks, he averaged 21.1 and 22.9 points, and 11.7 and 11.1 rebounds. The NBA of 1969 was not the NBA of 1962; nobody was averaging 50 points a game. But Beaty is a great example of what Wilt went against during his prime. Almost every team had a quality center. Today, you see a quality center about once every five games. Teams are piecing it together with Nenad Krstic or Erick Dampier or Channing Frye. The NBA for the majority of the 1960s was a nine-team league. Which meant when Wilt played against Boston, he saw Bill Russell. When Wilt played St. Louis, it was Beaty. When Wilt played Cincinnati, it was Jerry Lucas, undersized but a ferocious rebounder. Lucas in 1966 averaged 21.5 points and 21.1 rebounds; Bobby Knight called his former Ohio State teammate the greatest player he ever saw. When Wilt played Baltimore, Walt Bellamy awaited. When Wilt played the Knickerbockers, there was Willis Reed. When Wilt played San Francisco (after his trade to the 76ers), there was Nate Thurmond. And in the late ’60s, Detroit had gotten Bellamy while Baltimore added the great Wes Unseld, a bull if ever basketball had one. Think about that. In 1966, the NBA had nine teams; six of the teams had centers who eventually made the Hall of Fame, and that’s not counting Zelmo Beaty. 77 percent of the league had quality centers, and that’s with a very high standard of quality. If Wilt Chamberlain came along today, it would take him 15 seconds to drop Dwight Howard to Jimmy Olson status.
John wrote about Dana Holgorsen: “Nice article on Gundy’s hiring of an offensive coordinator. I agree that this is the most important recruit for OSU this year. OSU is not going to pound the ball on the ground and be in a competitive game with OU or Texas or any of the big-time programs. Sure, if they had another Barry Sanders or OU or Texas was in a down year, then OSU could possibly control the line of scrimmage, but how often does that happen? Texas Tech has had much better success with OU, Texas and Texas A&M than OSU has had, so maybe by spreading the field OSU can be more competitive. It also wouldn’t hurt if their quarterback was not counted on to run so much, which lends itself to injuries. It was interesting that Bob Stoops said much the same thing yesterday in regard to preferring to keeping the OU quarterbacks from running so much.”
You know what is left unsaid, by me or anyone else? What Gundy really is saying is this: he’s changed his mind. He once thought this and now he thinks that. He once thought the best way to win was the no-huddle, spread, multiple offense of Larry Fedora. Now he thinks the best way to win is the no-huddle, spread, short passing game of Mike Leach. And there’s nothing wrong with that. All kinds of great coaches have made philosophical turns, because of trends or personnel or just realizing something might be better. Bob Stoops changed his offense in 2002, without really saying so. Bill McCartney changed his offense in the early ’90s with a dramatic decision to change it for the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl. Chuck Fairbanks changed his offense in 1970 during an off week.
Greg, a big OU fan, wrote about OSU, too: “Good article on Gundy’s best recruit. A great move to improve on a segment of the team which is not exactly broken to begin with. I truly want Gundy to be very successful. Certainly, if OU is not to win the conference championship and go to the BCS national title game, I want this plum for Mike and OSU. The best thing I see for OSU right now, they have not had in my lifetime a head football coach who sees OSU as the last stop/New York Yankees managing job.”
You know what would be interesting? If Gundy was put to the test. Let’s say OSU ran off some really outstanding years. Let’s say a four-year run of 11-2, 10-3, 12-1 with a Big 12 title, 10-3. Maybe another South Division championship in there somewhere. And let’s say Georgia or Alabama came calling. Offered him the job. Would he take it? I don’t know. Everyone at OSU would say no, and they might be right. But it’s easy to say this is your Yankees job when it’s pretty clear the Yankees aren’t going to offer you their job. By the way, I guess we can thank Joe Torre for the whole “Yankees job” term. Not too long ago, the last job in the world you wanted was the Yankees job. A Yankees job reference meant you had NO job security. From Ralph Houck’s 1973 retirement until Buck Showalter’s 1992 hiring, the Yankees made 18 managerial changes. That’s one a year. Billy Martin was hired FIVE times in that stretch. I am not making that up. Finally, Joe Torre arrived in 1996 and turned it into a Yankees job, staying a dozen years. The Dodgers aren’t as bad as the Yankees – who is? – but those franchises have sort of reversed. The Dodgers in Brooklyn had seven managerial changes from 1946 through 1954. Jackie Robinson must have wondered what he had gotten himself into. But in ’54, the Dodgers hired Walt Alston, and the revolving door stopped. Alston managed into 1976, an amazing 23-year run, and turned over the job to Tommy Lasorda, who held it 20 years. That two’s managers from 1954 until 1996. Since then, of course, LA has become just another franchise. Bill Russell, Glenn Hoffman, Davey Johnson, Jim Tracy and Grady Little all managed the Dodgers until 2008, when LA hired Joe Torre. Maybe Torre will do for the Dodgers what he did for the Yankees.
Don: “This is the FIRST TIME I have ever read a blog. The term itself is annoying. Can you tell I may be a senior citizen? I enjoy your stories and comments. I would prefer to read them in the paper. It is difficult holding this computer screen in my lap and reading it while I have my morning coffee.”
I have a suggestion. Use a table.
I had several emails about Scott Hill, after writing about the recruiting trip he took me on 25 years ago. Dan: “Thanks for the memory. I was an acquaintance of Scott during those times. Can you tell me what he is doing today?”
Scott is doing well. He’s in private business in OKC. Involved in some athletic endeavors, too. Same personable guy he always was.
Gary: “Nice yarn about Scotty. He was in my journalism classes at OU. I’m now a reporter here in Florida. Didn’t realize Scotty was that highly thought of, to be the next head coach. Like everyone, I was stunned about the recruiting violations (over nothing, or so it seemed at the time). But whatever happened to Scott? Is he OK today? I still remember our photography professor, Ned Hockman, who embarrassed Scott by introducing him to the class as the man who put the greatest hit ever delivered in an OU game. Scott turned so red, you could have lit a cigarette off his face. Remember when he went virtually parallel and nearly wiped out Tony Dorsett vs. Pitt in 1975? It was the smack heard ’round the football world. I think Dorsett was so shook up, he only gained about 20 yards in the game.”
Dorsett had either 17 yards on 12 carries, or 12 yards on 17 carries, I forget which. Hill told me that years later, someone set him up with a lunch meeting in Dallas with Dorsett. Dorsett said he never knew Hill’s name, but he never forgot his number.
Mike: “Interesting article. It would be nice to get a chance to do that in these times. Probably only get to see it when coaches write their memoirs years after we care.”
Here’s what I’d like. I’d like to follow Bob Stoops around for a week. I don’t really care about the recruiting. I’d just like to follow Bob around and see what he’s really like, because the side he shows the public is so different from the side he shows in private, from what friends say. Maybe they’re right. I’d like to find out.
Jim: “Loved the recruiting story. I recall Switzer was trying to recruit a kid in Illinois, and they talked into the evening, and when it was bedtime, Barry just kicked off his shoes and went to sleep on their couch. The guy could recruit.”
The halfback you’re talking about was Alvin Ross, from Aurora, Ill. Not a bad ballplayer.
Jeff wrote about the NFL: “I have heard a lot of talk about John Elway and Bradshaw and Manning and even some on Brady being the best QB of all time. I may be out in left field on this, but the No. 1 guy on my list is Joe Montana. Montana won four Super Bowls. Now, it did help he had the greatest receiver ever for three of those, but he was undefeated in Super Bowls. Elway was not. I think if Peyton Manning wins this one, he has to be included in the discussion. Manning and Montana both are just calm, cool and collected in the pocket. Montana could put the ball between three defenders and right in his receiver’s hands like no one else could. They both manage the game in similar fashion. Montana beat Elway. Elway had chances to win some more Super Bowls but could not get it done. I do think that once Montana went to the Chiefs that he was past his peak. Tell me if I am crazy. Here is my list of the top five all time, based on championships, touchdowns, yards, big games won, manager of the field. 1. Montana. 2. Manning. 3. Brady. 4. Bradshaw. 5. Elway. What do you think?
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