Monday, February 22, 2010


Before there was MJ, there was Cleo Hill. Many consider him one of the all-time greats whose misfortune was to be black and born 20 years too soon. He played college basketball at Winston-Salem Teachers College from 1957-1961 for legendary coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines before ACC schools like North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest began recruiting black players. Playing at the predominantly girls school, the 6 foot 1 inch Hill averaged 27 points per game as a senior. Savvy basketball scouts considered Hill the best player in the country when he graduated from college. The St. Louis Hawks of the NBA drafted Hill with the 8th pick in the first round--the first African-American from a Historically Black College to be drafted in the first round.

At Winston-Salem, his impact was such that he was recently voted the best player in school history, even ahead of Hall of Famer Earl "the Pearl" Monroe who followed him in the late sixties and went on to star for the New York Knicks.

A little background here: Long time sports commentator Billy Packer, who played guard for nearby Wake Forest became friends with Hill in 1961. The naive Packer, a Pennsylvania native, decided one evening to cross the tracks to the poor side of town to watch a game between Winston-Salem and Tennessee State. He soon found he was the only white guy in the packed gym. Coach Gaines recognized him from a newspaper article and invited him to sit with him on the bench. It didn't take long for Packer to realize that the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) schools played better quality basketball (more speed and athleticism) than the so-called big time schools of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Packer was later quoted as saying, "Cleo Hill was better than anybody in the ACC. There was nobody close to him. As a matter of fact, of the guys I've seen in this state, Cleo Hill was the forerunner of David Thompson and Michael Jordan. The whole league had guys like that. Out of that Cleo and I became buddies and we used to scrimmage against them." This came from a man who played on two consecutive ACC champions in 1961 and 1962. Packer organized numerous informal scrimmages between Wake Forest and Winston-Salem on Sunday mornings which were probably against the law at that time in the Jim Crow South. No coaches or referees were present at the unsupervised scrimmages, but they played top quality basketball and had fun doing so. The scrimmages were played at the Winston-Salem gym. At Wake, they would have caused an incident. For example, John McClendon, the Hall of Fame coach from nearby North Carolina Central sought to attend a game at Duke but was told he couldn't come into the arena unless he was dressed as a waiter!

Cleo Hill had all the shots--hook shots with either hand, a sweet jump shot, a two handed set shot, and spectacular athletic ability. His old playground buddy from Newark, NJ, Al Attles described Hill as the greatest high school player he had ever seen. Attles played college ball at North Carolina Central, another CIAA school and became a defensive star for the Philadelphia and Golden State Warriors. He later coached the Warriors to an NBA championship. Interestingly, the offensive high point in Attles' playing career came in a 1962 Warriors' 169-143 victory over the Knicks in which he sank 8 of 8 shots from the field and scored 19 points. Almost nothing was mentioned of Attles' performance in the next morning's news because he was overshadowed by teammate Wilt Chamberlain who scored 100 points in the same game.

In his first NBA game, Hill scored 26 points. But the NBA wasn't ready for a high-flying athlete like Hill with a 44 inch vertical leap, who could dunk from the free throw lane. His teammates on the Hawks, Bob Pettit, Clyde Lovelette and Cliff Hagan, Hall of Famers all, complained to the coach that Hill was shooting too much and wasn't passing the ball enough to them. They quickly caught on that if Hill scored a lot of points, they wouldn't score as many, and it would cost them money at contract time.

Coach Paul Seymour's mission was to win basketball games, and he wanted his best players on the floor. The previous season, the Hawks had made it to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Boston Celtics led by black superstar Bill Russell. If they were ever going to beat the Celtics, they needed more firepower.

There was more to it than that. The Hawks were scheduled to play an exhibition game against the Celtics in Lexington, Kentucky, and Russell was refused service in the hotel restaurant. He approached Hill and the other black players about boycotting the game. They did so. The Boston players were publicly supported by team owner, Walter Brown and had no problem with their fans. In St. Louis, a Southern city, it was a different story. the local press skewered Hill and the other two black players, Woody Sauldsberry and Si Green, demanding fines and suspensions. Hawks owner Ben Kerner said nothing, and shortly thereafter traded Sauldsberry and Green. He ordered Coach Seymour to bench Hill and instruct him to pass the ball more.

After Hill's first NBA game, the team's veteran stars essentially froze Hill out, refusing to pass him the ball and refusing to rebound his shots. They felt that the rookie, Hill, should have to work his way into the starting lineup. Coach Seymour called a team meeting and threatened to fine them. Kerner had a revolt on his hands, and it was easier to fire the coach than his star players.

The color blind Coach Seymour insisted on playing the rookie, Hill, who he felt was his best player. For foolishly trying to win rather than promote racial harmony, the coach got himself fired. The new coach, Harry Gallatin drastically reduced Hill's playing time and his scoring average dropped from double figures to 5 points per game as he spent more and more time on the pines.

The following season, 1962, Hill wasn't the same player. His intensity was gone, and the Hawks released him in the pre-season. In those days, players didn't have agents who could call upon the other teams seeking a place for their client. Although it was never proven, it appeared that the word was out that Hill was a trouble maker. Hill's former coach Seymour actually did contact several teams on Hill's behalf, but no team wanted him. "White-balled" was the word they used, according to Seymour.

Fortunately for Hill, he had earned a teaching degree and became a substitute teacher and went into coaching. He played in the Eastern League on weekends and made more money than he had as an NBA rookie. He became a successful basketball coach at Essex County College in Newark, NJ, winning 489 games in his 24 year career. He insists that he's no longer bitter about the St. Louis incident. "It wasn't racial, it was points," he said. He went on to say, "the one consolation I have is knowing that if I was merely mediocre, I would have been left alone. So I guess I must have been pretty good."

Cleo Hill is now 71 years old, living comfortably in New Jersey with his wife of 48 years and a house full of trophies and plaques commemorating his life in basketball. He has 2 grown children and 5 grandchildren. I'd like to say he has no regrets about what might have been. When one avenue in life is blocked off, you take a different route. Cleo Hill was successful in the game that really counts, the game of life.



Thursday, February 11, 2010


It's Mardi Gras time and many long for the bad old days when Chicago, the City of Broad Shoulders showed the world how to party. The party to end all parties was Chicago's First Ward Ball which was held every year from 1896 to 1908. This annual revelry was the brainchild of Chicago's infamous First Ward aldermen, Bathhouse John Coughlin and Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna. (In those days, each ward had 2 aldermen.) They were known as the "Lords of the Levee". Their claim to fame was that they controlled the rackets and vice in their downtown Chicago district--the numerous brothels, gambling houses, and who knows what.

Bathhouse John was a beefy, boisterous braggart who wore garish clothes and wrote bad poetry. A good hearted man, he was the caricature of an old style politician. He acquired his nickname as a young man who worked in a bathhouse as a "rubber" (he gave massages). Hinky Dink was the quiet political organizer. He owned a tavern on Clark Street called the Workingmen's Exchange which was the informal headquarters of the Democratic Party in the First Ward. He got his moniker from Chicago Tribune publisher Joseph Medill because of his small stature.

On Election Day, Kenna's party workers (who all had City jobs)rounded up the many lowlifes in the Ward and shepherded them to the polls and gave them marked ballots to drop in the box and bring back unmarked ballots in return for a dollar or so or a free lunch. The unmarked ballots were then marked again and brought to a different polling place.

The colorful duo's best known activity was their annual fundraiser, the First Ward Ball, which was held at the Chicago Coliseum on South Wabash Avenue. It was the great equalizer in which underworld characters like pimps, prostitutes, gamblers, pickpockets, assorted thrill seekers and even Republicans mingled with politicians and police officials for a decadent night of revelry and depravity. Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink paid for the event by selling overpriced tickets to the tavern owners and racketeers in their ward. Of course, a business declining to purchase tickets could expect an army of city inspectors to drop in looking for Code violations or worse. Each individual pimp, prostitute, pickpocket and thief was required to buy at least one ticket, but the tavern and brothel owners had to spring for blocks of tickets.

On a December night, 20,000 drunken revelers crowded into the Coliseum, spilling out into the street to greet their two patrons who arrived by carriage. Bathhouse John, dressed in a lavender tie and red sash, led the parade into the building, followed by a procession of Levee prostitutes. Authors Wendt and Kogan elaborated on it, "On they came, madams, strumpets, airily clad jockeys, harlequins, Diana's, page boys, female impersonators, tramps, panhandlers, card sharps, mountebanks...." I'm not even sure what some of those are! Men dressed as women, women dressed as men! Don't even ask about the dogs and horses. Remember, this was 1908, not today.

According to the Chicago Tribune, describing the 1908 event, "During the evening, revelers slopped up 10,000 quarts of champagne and 30,000 quarts of beer. Riotous drunks stripped off the costumes of unattended young women. A madam named French Annie stabbed her boyfriend with a hat pin.... Kenna proudly proclaimed, 'Chicago ain't no sissy town.'"

The Everleigh Sisters, Minna and Ada (no relation to the Everly Brothers) were there, seated in their private box with their girls. They owned the lavish Everleigh Club, the "classiest" and most famous of the brothels, catering to the politicians and movers and shakers. When they were closed down by the Mayor in 1911, they tried to Take a Message to Mary, but instead they sang Bye Bye Love .

The law enforcement community was present at the festivities with a full contingent of 100 policemen. The less than zealous cops managed to make 8 arrests and obtain one conviction. The unfortunate Bernard Dooley was convicted and fined for crashing the party without paying! Don't let it happen again, Pal!

After the outrageous 1908 affair, the reformers came out in full force and put pressure on Mayor Fred Busse to end it. He refused to issue a liquor license for the 1909 Ball and had the police on hand to make sure that none was served. With no booze, the 1909 First Ward Ball, if you could call it that, attracted only 3000 people who fell asleep from boredom.

Despite the corruption and depravity of Bathhouse and Hinky Dink, no criminal charges were ever brought against either of them. Coughlin was once accused by a major newspaper of corruption and he demanded a retraction, not because he was accused of graft, but because the paper falsely claimed that he was born in Waukegan, Illinois. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, Dec. 25, 2007). Hinky Dink stepped down as alderman in 1923 when the number of aldermen was reduced, but he remained the Democratic Ward Committeeman until his death in 1946 at age 89. Bathhouse remained alderman until his death in 1938.

Thus, the year 1908 is fondly remembered in Chicago as the last hurrah for the First Ward Ball. As for the 1907 and 1908 Cubs' World Series Champions, their baseball fortunes looked bright for the three-peat in 1909 and the future.



Monday, February 8, 2010


In the early days, basketball as invented by Dr. Naismith was not envisioned as a high scoring sport. After a player would make a basket, the referee had to fish the ball out of the peach basket and bring the ball back to center court for a jump ball. At the time, basketball appeared to have much in common with hockey or soccer. Every basket made was an event. As the game evolved, the rules were changed to liven up the game.

But as late as 1950, before the introduction of the shot clock, the NBA saw a 19-18 game in which the Fort Wayne Pistons edged the Minneapolis Lakers. The fans were snoozing in the stands, wondering why they actually paid admission to watch. And if they hadn't brought in the 24 second shot clock to juice up the game, (not to mention replacing a bunch of stationary white guys), the NBA would still be poking around in backwater cities like Fort Wayne, Rochester, and Syracuse rather than Chicago and Los Angeles. Of course, L.A. doesn't have an NFL team, but don't get me started on that.

After the 1954 introduction of the shot clock in the NBA, scoring, as well as attendance went up astronomically. Fans clamored to see athletic (read: Black) players like Russell, Wilt, Oscar and Elgin Baylor who could run the floor and dunk the basketball. They transformed the game into what it is today.

In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain set several records that will probably not be broken. He scored 100 points in one game against the New York Knicks. The game was played in Hershey, PA. At that time, the NBA teams often barnstormed to ignite fan interest in the hinterlands. The final score of that game was 169-147, the Philadelphia Warriors on top. Many of Wilt's baskets would not be allowed today because of offensive goal tending--he often got his hand on teammates' shots above the basket and dunked them. In that game he made 36 baskets out of 63 attempts, and hit 28 of 32 from the charity stripe. He also grabbed 25 rebounds. His point guard, Guy Rodgers racked up 20 assists. The way Wilt was going Mr. Rogers probably could have gotten those 20 assists.

By the fourth quarter, the game turned into a circus after the unfortunate Darrall Imhoff, Willie Naulls and Dave Budd fouled out attempting to guard him. The Knicks started quintuple teaming Chamberlain, thus giving his teammates open shots which they were declining. The Knicks even resorted to intentionally fouling Wilt's teammates in an effort to deny him the ball. Wilt's Warriors responded by fouling Knicks players to stop the clock and get the ball back to feed it to Wilt.

For the season, Chamberlain averaged over 50 points per game and over 25 rebounds. For the record, he played almost every minute of every game, logging over 4000 minutes in the 82 game season.

Among Wilt's other accomplishments was that he never fouled out of a game at any level--high school, college or pros. Actually, according to Bill Simmons in The Book of Basketball, Chamberlain was obsessed with his stats, often to the detriment of his team. When Chamberlain got in foul trouble, he basically stopped playing defense.

Personally, I think his most remarkable record was the 20,000 women he claimed to have shagged (in his biography). Since he was a stat guy, he may have hired someone to keep score. Chamberlain was a lifelong bachelor--some have suggested that he may have been gay and the 20,000 girl story was his cover. True or not, if you work the numbers, and I'm not a math whiz, he would have bagged 400 girls (one-night stands) per year for a period of 50 years--Chamberlain died in 1999 at age 63. We haven't considered the fact that he may have liked some of those girls and saw them on several occasions. As you can see, he was a busy guy off the court as well. Tiger Woods has a long way to go to break that record.


The Denver Nuggets squared off against the Detroit Pistons in Denver on December 13, 1983. We know that in Denver, the Mile High City, baseballs seem to fly farther, but I don't know how that would affect basketball. Nevertheless, the teams combined for 370 total points in a triple-overtime thriller. Detroit won 186-184. They combined to shoot 57% from the field. The Box Score is as follows:

Tripucka 14 7-9 5 35 English 18 11-13 4 47
Levingston 1 0-0 6 2 Vanderweghe 21 9-11 3 51
Laimbeer 6 5-9 4 17 Issel 11 6-8 3 28
Thomas 18 10-19 5 47 Williams 3 3-4 6 9
Long 18 5-6 4 41 Dunn 3 1-2 6 7
Johnson 4 4-5 4 12 Evans 7 2-2 6 16
Tyler 8 2-3 3 18 Hancock 0 2-2 6 2
Benson 0 0-0 3 0 Schayes 0 11-12 4 11
Tolbert 1 1-4 4 3 Carter 0 0-0 0 0
Cureton 3 3-5 5 9 Anderson 5 2-3 4 13
Russell 1 0-0 1 2 Dennard 0 0-0 1 0
Thirdkill 0 0-0 1 0
TOTAL 74 37-60 44 186 TOTAL 68 48-57 43 184

DETROIT 38 36 34 37 14 12 15--186
DENVER 34 40 39 32 14 12 13--184

Each team had 1 three-point field goal.

As you can see, it was a pretty exciting game. The Nuggets, under Coach Doug Moe, were known for pushing the ball up the court. They averaged over 123 points per game and scored more than 140 points in many games. The Pistons were no slouches themselves. Although in the late 1980's they won two championships as a relatively low scoring defensive force under Coach Chuck Daly, the 1983-84 version rang up 117 points per game.

The lead in the game swung back and forth, and with seconds remaining, and the Pistons trailing 145-142, Bill Laimbeer was fouled and went to the line for 2 free throws. He sank the first and intentionally missed the second. Isiah Thomas stormed up the lane to tip in the missed free throw to send the game into overtime. In the first OT, Denver took a 5 point lead, but Detroit came roaring back as Isiah hit his team's only 3-pointer to tie the game.

In the second OT, Kelly Tripucka scored all 12 points for the Pistons. Interviewed after the game, he admitted that he was motivated to get out of there because he was afraid all the restaurants would be closed because the game went on so long. But the Nuggets weren't going down so easily. Finally, in the third OT, Detroit was finally able to grab the lead. Denver closed to the final score with their only trey of the game, by Richard Anderson. It was the only game in NBA history in which 4 players scored more than 40 points each.

The high scorer in the game was Kiki Vanderweghe, whose claim to fame was genetic--his father, Ernie had starred in the NBA, and his mother, Colleen was Miss America in 1952. Alex English scored 47. Although the Nuggets stars were prolific scorers, they were considered defensive liabilities. According to the aforementioned Bill Simmons, "The Basketball Guy", Larry Bird used to destroy those guys, along with the Pistons' Kelly Tripucka (whose father was an NFL quarterback). Simmons said that if Bird had played in their division of the NBA, he would have added 3 points per game to his average.


This one boggles the mind, but Troy State (Alabama), in probably the consummate example of poor sportsmanship, blew out DeVry Institute of Atlanta, GA, an NAIA Division II school, by a score of 258-141 on January 13, 1992. I have searched in vain for the box score. DeVry, a for-profit school specializing in computer training, discovered that computer games don't translate well onto the hardwood. Students go there to learn computers, not defense. You can view excerpts of the game on YouTube, as I did. (http://www/ I hope I got that right!

What was remarkable was the lack of defense (huh?) Most of the Troy State baskets I saw were uncontested shots after turnovers. They were passing up easy layups to shoot treys--and making them. Although most DeVry players were short computer geeks, they DID score 141 points. Essentially, Troy State's five was on one side of the court while DeVry's was still on the other side, chasing them. A week earlier, on January 4th, they had lost to University of North Alabama 127-57. A year earlier, the same teams met, with Troy State winning 187-117, scoring a then record 103 points in the second half.

In a mismatch like this one, it is considered in poor taste to be shooting uncontested 3's from the top of the key with an 80 point lead. Incredibly, the Trojans launched 109 three-point shots, making 51. One player, Brian Simpson, played only 15 minutes, but managed to fire up 26 treys and score 37 points. The top scorer for the Trojans was forward Terry McCord with 41 points. By halftime, Troy already had scored 123. Early in the second half, they led 137-58. With 10:24 to go, they had run it up to 189-95. So even more remarkable, the computer geeks at DeVry scored 46 points in the last 10 1/2 minutes. Neither team did it at the free throw line. In the whole game, only 1 foul was called against Troy State and 6 against DeVry.

The run and shoot offense of Coach Don Maestri and Assistant David Felix was patterned after that of Coach Paul Westhead who, among other things made a name for himself in college at Loyola Marymount. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, Jan. 13, 2009) Westhead had coached the LA Lakers to the NBA championship with Magic and Kareem but was allegedly fired because he couldn't get along with Magic. The highest score Westhead could do at LMU was to beat U.S. International 186-140 on January 5, 1991 and 181-150 on January 31, 1989. While most coaches want their teams to move the ball around to set up a good shot, to Maestri, there's no such thing as a bad shot. Coach Westhead was kind enough to send films of LMU's high octane offensive schemes to the Troy State staff who studied them diligently and used them with devastating impact.

The bottom line was that run-and-shoot proved to be a successful formula for the Trojans who won 27 games in 1992, averaging 121 points per game, and moved up to Division 1A the following season.

While this assault on the record books sounds exciting, it's really no fun watching the neighborhood bully beating up on the little guy. The fans prefer real competition. Perhaps DeVry should play the infamous Washington Generals who haven't won a game since 1971. (see KENSUSKINREPORT March 31, 2008)

DeVry FG FGA FT FTA Reb PF A ST Points
Young 3-9 0-0 2 0 1 0 6
Heilig 13-24 0-0 8 1 3 1 27
Daniel 20-30 0-0 11 1 3 0 42
Jones 7-16 0-0 8 2 6 2 16
Kylers 14-22 0-0 7 1 7 1 28
Ramsey 7-10 0-0 2 0 1 2 14
Quarles 3-10 0-0 5 1 7 1 8
TOTAL 67-121 0-0 46 6 28 7 141

3-point FG Heilig 1-3, Daniel 2-4, Jones 2-6, Quarles 2-7
FG% 55.4% 3-point FG% 35.0 Turnovers 44 (Jones 19, Daniel 7, Kylers 7)

Troy St. FG FGA FT FTA Reb PF A ST Points

Evans 12-20 0-0 4 0 2 2 29
Smith 12-24 0-0 13 0 11 3 29
A. Davis 1-1 0-0 12 0 8 6 2
T. Davis 9-22 0-0 8 0 8 1 24
McCord 16-26 0-0 6 0 6 6 41
Hunt 5-9 0-0 4 0 4 2 15
Fayson 3-10 3-3 3 0 5 3 12
Gresham 8-19 0-0 15 0 5 4 29
Bryant 9-14 0-0 6 0 9 0 20
Bryan 14-16 0-0 13 0 2 0 29
Simpson 13-29 0-0 7 1 5 1 37
TOTAL 102-190 3-3 94 1 65 28 258

3-point FG: Evans 5-10, Smith 5-11, T. Davis 6-16, McCord 9-14, Hunt 5-7, Fayson 3-8Gresham 4-11, Bryant 2-3, Bryan 1-3, Simpson 11-26
FG %54.7 3-point FG % 46.8 Turnovers 11 (Bryan 3, Simpson 3)