Stephen Dunn - Getty Images
The D.C. area had an impressive pedigree of basketball players, long before Len Bias stepped onto a basketball court. But who stands out above the rest in a group that features six All-Stars and three Hall of Famers?
Last week, I tried to come up with a list of the Top 10 players to come out of the D.C. area since Len Bias. Out of the ensuing discussion and a suggestion from Kyle Weidie (a truly distinguished Southern gentleman if I ever met one) this week, I'm tackling the ten best players to come out of the D.C. area before Len Bias.
After pouring the names who came through the D.C. area, I think it's easy to make a case that a squad of the best pre-Bias players is more distinguished than their post-Bias counterparts. Among the Top Ten, we have:
- Two No. 1 overall draft picks
- Two members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players
- Three Hall of Famers
- Three Rookies of the Year
- Six players who participated in All-Star Games, with five of them making multiple All-Star Game apperances.
It's hard to say how these squads would match up head-to-head, just because it's so difficult to compare teams and players from different eras, but clearly, they were among the best of the best when they took the floor. So who makes this distinguished list? Let's take a look.
No. 10 - Curtis Perry
Perry made his mark on the glass, good for 8.8 boards a game over his career, and averaged 11.9 in 1974-75. His biggest claim to fame is being part of arguably the greatest game in NBA history, Game 5 of the 1976 Finals. Perry had 23 points and 15 rebounds in the triple-overtime thriller.
No. 9 - Kenny Carr
Kenny Carr shot 51% over his NBA career. That might not seem like a big deal at first -- I mean, JaVale McGee shot 50.8% from the field last year -- but when you consider that only 107 players in NBA/ABA history have made more field goal attempts than they've missed over the span of their entire career, that becomes a little more relevant.
Was he one of the 100 best scorers to ever play in the NBA? Hardly, but he wasn't getting by strictly on put-backs and cheap dunks, either. Carr had a knack for finishing inside and knew how to grab loose balls, too. Though he's listed at only 6'7", he was good for over seven rebounds a game during his career and average over ten twice during his career.
No. 8 - Doug Moe
Moe only played in the pros for five seasons -- in the ABA nonetheless -- but his star shone bright during his brief career. He was named to the ABA All-Star Game in each of his first three seasons and teamed up with Rick Barry to lead the Oakland Oaks to an ABA Championship in 1969.
Part of the reason Moe shot out of the gates so quickly is because he became a rookie in the ABA at the age of 29. Moe was blackballed from the NBA after he admitted to point shaving while in college. Like Connie Hawkins, Doug Moe will forever be one of basketball's great unknowns. Had he been given a fair shot to play in the NBA coming out of college, perhaps we would remember him more for his exploits on the court, rather than his run-and-gun coaching style.
No. 7 - Thurl Bailey
Thurl squeezes in before the cut-off for this list, with a little extra room to spare, starting his NBA career in 1983. It might seem like he started later, since you might remember him moonlighting as Greg Ostertag's backup in the late 90s, but he spent all of the years in-between making an impact on the court. Whether he was scoring nearly 20 points per game in Utah or playing in Europe, Thurl made a living in basketball for over a decade and a half. His rebounding numbers weren't great, but it's hard to grab many caroms when you're teamed up with a human vacuum like Karl Malone.
No. 6 - Kermit Washington
Odds are, you remember Kermit Washington for one ill-fated punch in 1977:
Once you get past the punch, you find a very solid NBA career. He averaged a double-double four times during his career and managed to make an All-Star Game appearance in 1980. Additionally, he was named the NBA All-Defensive second team both in his All-Star season of 1980 and in 1981. If you were looking to add some grit and toughness to your team during the late 70s and early 80s, Kermit Washington was a good person to seek out.
Also, if you're looking for someone who stayed true to his hometown during his formative years, Washington fit the bill. After graduating from Coolidge High School, Kermit played his college ball at American University. And yes, Kermit is the only player in NBA history to hail from American, in case you were wondering.
No. 5 - Austin Carr
Carr is remembered more for his college days, where he obliterated scoring records at Notre Dame. Though he didn't quite perform as well in the NBA (in part, due to injuries and in part due to being stuck with some awful teammates in Cleveland) he still had some good years in the NBA, including 1974, when he was named an All-Star.
No. 4 - Jack George
If you looked solely at his numbers, George probably wouldn't have enough to crack the Top 10, but that doesn't take into account the era Jack George played in. Basketball in the fifties and sixties was completely dominated by centers and power forwards. Guards were primarily responsible for bringing the ball up the court, handing the ball off to a big man, and getting out of the way. Without a three-point line to spread the court, there was no reason to take shots that weren't as close to the rim as possible. It's hard for little guys to weave through to the rim and create effective scoring or passing opportunities when everyone is packing the lane because they don't have to defend perimeter shooting as much. Bob Cousy, arguably the greatest guard of that era, made the Hall of Fame despite never shooting over 40 percent from the field.
What you need to know about Jack George is that he was one of the league's best guards during his prime. He was named to two All-Star games and helped the Philadelphia Warriors win the NBA title in 1956. His play might not stand up in today's NBA, but he was one of the best at what he did while he played, and which is why he gets the high slotting.
No. 3 - Dave Bing
Bing entered the league in 1966, a full thirteen years after Jack George did. The three point line still hadn't been adopted by the NBA, but the game had opened up to the point where guards could have a bigger impact on the game. In his rookie season, Bing averaged 20 points per game as he took home Rookie of the Year honors. He was named to the All-Star Game the next season and six of the next seven after that.
He may not be as much of a household name as some of the other legends of the game, but his induction into the Hall of Fame, along with being named one of the 50 Greatest NBA players of All-Time back in 1996, should be enough to tell you that this guy deserves a few more accolades now and then.
Then again, I'm sure he gets plenty of kind words at his current job. That's what happens when you're mayor.
No. 2 - Adrian Dantley
Dantley, like Bing, goes largely underappreciated by the masses, since most fans only got a chance to see him play in the twilight of his career with the Bad Boy Pistons of the late eighties. He was still a prolific player in Detroit, but a considerably watered-down version of the player Utah fans enjoyed in the early eighties. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Dantley in his prime, because he put together some amazing runs.
- Named to six All-Star Games.
- He led the league in scoring twice.
- Averaged more than 30 points per game four times during his career. Only Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson scored more than 30 points per game in more than four seasons.
- Shot 54% for his career, the 22nd highest mark in NBA history and the highest for anyone under 6'6".
- Adrian Dantley once made 28 free throws in a game. The Wizards had six games all of last season where they made 28 or more free throws in a game as a team.
And it's not like Dantley was one-dimensional either. He was good for five rebounds and three assists per game over the span of his career, and hovering closer to six and four at his peak. He was a unique player who could change games in ways that few players could during his prime.
No. 1 - Elgin Baylor
Baylor did just about everything you could possibly squeeze into a basketball career.
- Take Seattle University to a National Championship game, despite not having another NBA-level player on his team? Check.
- Hall of Famer? Check.
- Named to the All-Star Game every season you were healthy? Check.
- Top overall pick in NBA Draft? Check.
- Named to the All-NBA team ten times? Check.
- Score 71 points in a game? Check.
- Drop 61 on the Celtics in the NBA Finals (basically the NBA equivalent of Don Larsen throwing a perfect game in the World Series)? Check.
- Named NBA Executive of the Year (with the Clippers!)? Check.
- Have a rap star named after you? Checkmate.
The only blemish, of course, is that he never won a championship. Knee injuries forced Baylor to call it quits during the 1971-72 season, the same year the Lakers ripped off 33 consecutive wins and won the NBA Championship.
Sometimes, life just throws some cruel, ironic twists your way. That seems to be the recurring theme with almost every player on this list. As great as these players were, almost all of them have what-ifs attached that leave you wondering if they couldn't have put together even stronger legacies. What if Elgin Baylor knee hadn't broken down right when the Lakers were primed to win a title? What if Dantley, Bing, Carr and Carr had better teammates during their prime? How would we view Doug Moe if he hadn't gotten involed in that point shaving scandal? Would we look at Curtis Perry differently if the Suns had held on to win Game 5 of the '76 Finals? And how would we view Kermit Washington if Rudy Tomjanovich hadn't happened to be in the right place at the absolute worst time?
Of course, all of these what-ifs pale in comparison to the ultimate what-if who divides Washington basketball into two separate eras. Though we will never know how Bias would have compared with the other legends to come out of the D.C. area, his legacy in this area is unmatched.