Part two-Playing the “What If” game in sports.
Nate Thurmond-the Father of Showtime
Nate Thurmond-The Father of the Showtime Lakers of Pat
1960s and 1970s were the greatest years for big men to
shine in the National Basketball Association.
The four greatest basketball players of all time played during that era
and three of them were big men (Guard Oscar Robertson is in that group of
four): Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain
and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (sorry Jordan and Lebron).
Also playing during those years were fellow big men, Walt
Bellamy-HOF, Zelmo Beaty, Mel Daniels-HOF, Bob Lanier-HOF, Clifford Ray, Artis
Gilmore-HOF, Swen Nater, Marvin Webster, Darryl Dawkins, Robert Parish-HOF,
Kent Benson, WayneTree Rollins, Dave Corzine, Clyde Lovellette-HOF, Willis
Reed-HOF, Wes Unseld-HOF, Dave Cowens-HOF, Dan Issel-HOF, Billy Paultz, Dave
Robisch, Bob McAdoo-HOF, Caldwell Jones, Bill Walton-HOF, Moses Malone-HOF,
Alvan Adams, Jack Sikma, James Edwards, Jerome Whitehead, Mychal Thompson. Some others who played as forward/centers
were Bob Petit-HOF, Tom Heinsohn-HOF, Jerry Lucas-HOF, Gus Johnson-HOF, Connie
Hawkins–HOF, Spencer Haywood.
Can you imagine how these grown men would have dominated the
one-and-done skinny big kids of today we see jumping to the N.B.A. after one
semester in college?
of the best big men not named Russell, Chamberlain or
Abdul-Jabbar was Nate Thurmond. On Nate
Thurmond’s NBA.com bio page it says some say he had a better offensive game
than Bill Russell, and a better defensive game than Wilt Chamberlain. Nate had those big muscular shoulders and
biceps similar in definition to those of San Antonio’s David Robinson. He was a tremendous rebounder and had a
terrific overall game.
Nate Thurmond should also be given credit for being the
father of the Showtime Lakers of Pat Riley.
Follow me please.
On January 16, 1970, in a 127 to 105 loss at the
Philadelphia 76ers, the San Francisco Warriors’ 6’11” center, Nate Thurmond,
tore the lateral cartilage in his right knee diving for a ball. The injury occurred in the first quarter on
a Friday night. The loss left San
Francisco with a 21-26 record The Warriors were in fourth place and in a
playoff spot in the seven team Western Division but only seven games behind the
division leading Atlanta Hawks. After Thurmond’s injury, the Warriors finished
the rest of their eighty-two game schedule with only nine more victories and
twenty-six defeats; eighteen games behind the division winning Atlanta Hawks. Seattle and Phoenix played much better
the last part of the season and passed San Francisco in the standings. Phoenix jumped all the way to third in the
division. San Francisco finished in sixth
place, only three games ahead of the San Diego Rockets.
On February 02, 1970, in an effort to keep their playoff
chances alive, the Warriors traded their first round pick in the 1970 N.B.A.
draft for Atlanta’s Zelmo Beaty. In the
summer of 1969, after seven very productive years with the St. Louis/Atlanta
Hawks, Zelmo signed a contract to play in the A.B.A. He had to sit out the 1969-70 N.B.A. season, due to the legal
confrontations between the N.B.A. and the newer A.B.A. Beaty never signed with the Warriors. Zelmo had five more
very good seasons with
the Utah Stars and the Los Angeles Lakers.
After Thurmond was hurt and the Warriors finished the season
with a poor record, the first round draft picked Atlanta received in the trade
turned out to be the third pick in the entire draft.
The great and exciting Pete Maravich was going to be in the
1970 N.B.A. draft. The Detroit Pistons
had the first pick in the draft.
Maravich did not want to play in Detroit. Who can blame him? The
winters are cold. The team was bad for
a long time. The city was/is still
recovering from the 1967 race riots. If
you want to understand why Detroit declared bankruptcy last year, take a drive
most anywhere in Detroit that is not considered downtown or the New Center
area. The shells of the burned
buildings and houses from the 1967 riots are still standing. Many areas of Detroit look like bombed out
Berlin, Germany at the end of World War II.
the big center from St. Bonaventure, Bob
Lanier. Bob had a terrific career, was
well respected in sports and business circles and was one of the leading voices
in the player’s union for many years.
The San Diego Rockets picked second. With the team changing its mind at the last
second, it took Rudy Tomjanovich, the versatile Polish forward from Hamtramck
and the University of Michigan. San
Diego management did not think it could afford Pete Maravich.
The Boston Celtics took Dave Cowens with the fourth pick.
Atlanta used San Francisco’s pick to take Pete
Maravich. The union of the Atlanta
Hawks and Pete Maravich was bad from
the very beginning. There are two
recent excellent biographies about Maravich that go into detail about the
basketball dynamics in 1970 Atlanta.
Pete Maravich: The Authorized Biography of Pistol Pete
[Wayne Federman, Marshall Terrill, Jackie Maravich]
Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich [Mark Kriegel]
If the San Francisco
Warriors kept that 1970 first round
draft choice and drafted Maravich with the third pick, can you imagine the
possibilities of that 1970-1971 team?
Thurmond would have recovered from his knee injury. Jerry Lucas and Jeff Mullins were on the
team. Rick Barry may even have
considered returning from his stint in the A.B.A. a year or two earlier. The battles against Jerry West, Wilt
Chamberlain and the Lakers for the best team in California would have been
After four years in Atlanta, Maravich was traded to the
newly formed New Orleans Jazz on May 20, 1974 to take advantage of his
popularity from his L.S.U. days.
After a couple of bad seasons in New Orleans and in order to
give Maravich some help, the owners of the Jazz signed guard Gail Goodrich of
the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent on July 19, 1976 According to the free agent rules at the
time, the team losing the free agent, had to be compensated in kind.
Part of the package New Orleans sent to the Lakers to make
them whole was the 1979 first round draft choice of the Jazz. That draft choice turned out to be Earvin
Johnson. Instead of joining Maravich,
Bernard King and Adrian Dantley in New Orleans with the potential to have a
most exciting team, Johnson hooked up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles
and won five N.B.A. titles in the 1980s.
All of this happened because muscular Nate Thurmond hurt his
knee on Friday night, January 16, 1970 in Philadelphia.
Ironically, Pete Maravich was waived by the Utah Jazz on
January 17, 1980.
connection Nate Thurmond has to the Los Angeles
Lakers is that on September 3, 1974, Joe Jellybean Bryant (Kobe’s dad) was
traded by the Chicago Bulls (as a future 1975 1st round draft pick) with
Clifford Ray to the Golden State Warriors for Nate Thurmond.
Instead of #42 being remembered as the number worn by the
Laker’s James Worthy, that jersey should hang in the Staples Center with Nate
Thurmond’s name on it.
“What Ifs” of sports and life continue to amaze.
Next up-Abdul-Jabbar, Maravich and Rick Mount were all born
in 1947. Abdul-Jabbar was in the 1969
draft, Maravich and Mount were in the 1970 draft. What if they were all in the same draft?