Monday, September 29

Aubrey McClendon: Behind the Music

You may recall a few months ago when your friendly neighborhood Sonic blog ran a quick story about the divergent paths of Starbucks and Chesapeake Energy, the companies belonging to the Ghost of Sonics Past (Howard Schultz) and Future (Aubrey McClendon).

At the time, ol' Chesapeake was ridin' high (to use the vernacular of the locals), while Starbucks was lower than the broken axle of a prairie schooner in September (I'm just winging it now).


Since then, though, the money in Mr. McClendon's pocketbook has found a bit more room with which to roam around. The chart below traces Chesapeake’s value for the past three months.


As you can see, the partial owner of the Thunder has seen his shares plummet in value from $70 in July to $32 in September. Considering McClendon personally owns close to 34,000,000 shares, that’s a decrease in his net worth of more than one billion dollars.


Ah, you say, but surely McClendon acquired his shares back in the halcyon days of Chesapeake, and while the value has sunk recently, it is still far above what he paid for it way back when.


Ah, but you would be wrong, because your man Aubrey has purchased close to 2 million shares in the past three months, most of them at a price of between $55 and $60 a pop. Even those limited shares, less than 10% of his holdings and only purchased in the time it took to move the Sonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City, have cost McClendon $45 million in losses.


(And isn’t it amusing how McClendon so readily spares $120 million to purchase shares of his energy company, but was incapable of contributing a single dime to the renovation of KeyArena? Reminds one of the CCR song, Fortunate Son: “Some folks are born with silver spoons in hand/Lord, don’t they help themselves/But when the tax man comes to the door/Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale.”)


It also doesn’t help matters when CHK announces plans to cut drilling by 17% in the coming year, or when the price of natural gas drops by 50% since the Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City, delivering a lethal blow to the future health of the company. As you will see, though, losing $45 million in stock value would be the least of McClendon’s troubles in the past few years.

UNION DUES & BLUES


This past August, the United Steelworkers union held a rally at a West Virginia business park. Their target? Chesapeake and Aubrey McClendon. Among other complaints, the union accused the company of shirking its duties and short-changing long-term employees of their pensions and benefits, charges Chesapeake denies.


“Chesapeake is in the best financial condition of all these [natural gas] companies to take care of their employees. They just don't want to do it," a representative of the union charged. "Any money Chesapeake doesn't pay out in royalties or severance tax and employee wages and benefits is sucked right out of [the employees’ savings] and right into Aubrey McClendon's pocket.”


The straw that stirred the drink for the union workers, though, was another broken promise from Chesapeake.


In 2006, the company held a ground-breaking ceremony for a regional headquarters building, a massive project which would utilize numerous steelworkers. A project so important, West Virginia’s governor touted the gloriousness of it – and of Chesapeake – on his official website.



Since that groundbreaking, though, the atmosphere changed dramatically, especially when a jury found that Chesapeake and its subsidiaries (the tentacles of CHK are straight out of an Upton Sinclair wet dream) and another natural gas company had cheated the county out of unpaid gas royalties.


Essentially, a gas producer later bought by Chesapeake extracted natural gas from property owner’s land, but failed to inform them of the “true value of gas being extracted.” In other words, they told Joe Mountaineer that the gas they were taking out of his backyard was worth $20, when in reality it was worth double or triple that.


You can imagine how the jury reacted to the case. When they finally got finished adding in the total for punitive damages, McClendon’s company was looking at a fine of more than $400 million. Naturally, McClendon balked at the exorbitant sum of money, and Chesapeake appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court of West Virginia, to no avail.


Taking a line from the Clay Bennett Handbook, Chesapeake reneged on its promise to build the magnificent facility it had promised only a year before and scratched the whole regional headquarters, leaving the state, hundreds of employees, and their families twisting in the wind.

SAND MAN
When he’s not busy breaking promises in Appalachia, McClendon keeps busy on other fronts. In the past few months, his battle with the residents of the Northern Michigan town of Saugutuck over his proposed redevelopment of one of the last remaining pristine portions of the Michigan shoreline has garnered even more attention.


Two years ago, the residents had raised $40 million to buy a large piece of land from a local resident, hoping to stave off McClendon’s plans to put McMansions all over it.
[As an aside, in one of the first stories most of us read about McClendon, in the Journal Record by way of Henry Abbott’s TrueHoop, we see how he loves taking trips on his jet ski. It was from that jet ski that McClendon first spied Saugutuck in 1989, planting the seed in his mind to eventually redevelop the huge chunk of land.]


But back to our story. Our boy Aubrey, no fool he, plunked down $43 million, lobbied the state government to relax the state law limiting development on sand dunes which would hinder his development plans, and – when he’s not calling the residents of the area “completely dysfunctional” – now plans to go ahead with his project.


There is another, more salacious bit to this story as well. While to the many Saugatuck is merely a beautiful, pristine part of the Western Michigan landscape, to another group of society, it is much more. An “unofficial gay beach,” McClendon’s planned redevelopment would obliterate a popular destination for gay tourists. Considering that McClendon is an avid supporter of the “Americans United to Preserve Marriage,” is that merely a coincidence?
Difficult to say, but certainly an eerie coincidence.


Of course, given the state of the housing market in the U.S. these days, perhaps the best alternative is for McClendon to spend five years developing the site, only to find the folks willing to buy into his paradise will resemble the number of free agents willing to relocate to Oklahoma City.


WEDNESDAY
How McClendon’s manipulation of his company’s stock price is beginning to worry investors.

Kemp Says Ciao

As you no doubt have read by now, Shawn Kemp's return to professional basketball ended before it began, as the Sonic legend was waived by Premiata Montegranaro this weekend.

Kemp's letter to the club is on the team's website, but it's not too illuminating as to what caused the breakup. His written reason is "personal problems" back home in Houston, but the smart money is more on the physical conditioning of the Reignman more than anything else.

But if you think about it, in a year where the Sonics were ripped from this city with the delicacy of a frontal lobotomy, is it any surprise that one of our heroes falls short as well? What's next, a story revealing that Jack Sikma curled his hair in the lockerroom before games? That Slick Watts was never really "slick" at all? That Gus Williams was not really a wizard, but merely a sorceror's apprentice?

Friday, September 26

Arrivederci, Reignman?

As reported earlier by Ball In Europe, it would seem that Shawn Kemp's foray into the Italian League may be shorter than Sarah Palin's grace period with the media.

Now, basketcentral.com is reporting that Kemp's excuses for returning to the U.S. are beginning to mount, and that "voices in the corridor" are speaking of his imminent release from the team. Essentially, while Kemp's frequent departures to the U.S. may be the reason given for his release, the reality is that his physical condition is not up to par for the Italian League.

It's a surprising development, true, but like everything in Italy, things are not always as they seem, and while at the moment it may appear that Kemp's days with Premiata Montegranaro are dwindling, that perception could change in a heartbeat.

SSS HOF #7: Jack Sikma

Sikma

Jack Sikma, Harpers Index-style

Points scored by Jack Sikma in his Sonic career: 12,034
Points scored by Alton Lister, Jim McIlvaine, Olden Polynice in their Sonic careers, combined: 4,245

Number of 3-pointers made by Sikma in the first 11 years of his career: 7
Number made in the next three: 196

Number of playoff games Sonics played in Sikma’s first three years: 54
Number in the next 10 years: 47

Number of years Sikma averaged 10 or more rebounds per game in the playoffs: 6
Number of times since he was traded a Sonic center has done so: 3

Amount Sikma earned in his career as a player: $13,497,000
Amount Wally Szczerbiak earned last year: $12,275,000

Number of blocks by Alton Lister, for whom the Sonics traded Sikma, in his three years in Seattle: 500
Number by Sikma in those three years: 231

Number of points Sikma scored: 3,465
Number for Lister: 1,989

Number of categories in which Sikma ranks among Seattle’s top 10: 22
Number of categories in which Lister does: 1

Number of times Sikma was dunked on by Shawn Kemp and made to look like a punk: 0

Wednesday, September 24

Kemp Update

It’s been a bit since we updated you on Shawn Kemp’s activities in Italy, as the most legendary player in Sonic history continues his comeback after a five-year absence from professional basketball.

Unfortunately, there still isn’t too much to tell.

Kemp's new team, Premiata Montegranaro, just completed a tournament in Scafati this weekend(they went 0 for 2), but while fellow American Bryce Taylor (Go Ducks!) suited up and scored 26 points in two games, Kemp did not make it onto the court in either game, despite warming up before the game.

It’s difficult to get much information as to what is going on over there (any SuperSonicSoul readers in Italy want to shed some light on this situation?), but considering that there is YouTube evidence of Kemp warming up at another Premiata game (or is it a practice?), his debut must be imminent.

But put that on the back burner for now, for we have a press conference to pore over, with all sorts of enjoyable bits of information to digest.

Picture the scene in your mind – Kemp, surrounded by a gallery of 5’9” men with dark, curly hair, gesticulating at him while they shout questions in a language he cannot comprehend. There’s a poorly made Billy Crystal movie in their somewhere I think …

Back to the press conference. I’ll forgive you for not reading over the lengthy details, and provide you a quick recap of what Kemp, and his fellow conferencees had to say.

- It appears jersey numbers typically only go up to #20 in the Italian leagues, but Premiata was able to get a special exemption for the Reign Man to wear #40.

- In response to a question to his being “discriminated” against by NBA teams because of his weight, Kemp provided a thoughtful answer: “I do not know if they discriminated me but I think I personally, I think I've put myself in bad, bad positions.”

- The Mayor of Porto San Giorgio makes the suggestion for Kemp to live in his town, because it is “full of the fish” and “you do not gain weight eating fish.” At this point, the Mayor was escorted from the table by two gentlemen named Luigi and Bruno.

- From Kemp: “I do not know whether to buy a house in Porto San Giorgio but I can promise you that buy another Ferrari before leaving . I love the sea, the view of the ocean. There are so many differences with the U.S. beaches ... some of which are highly polluted, crowded and then see this sea is spectacular. I look forward to here in the future, my family, my wife and my children to see him Montegranaro.”

- Kemp’s answer prompted this question from Andrea Tosi of La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Tosi: How many kids? How many kids? Quanti figli?
Kemp: I got 3 boys at home.

Let’s just leave it at that.

Friday, September 19

Spencer Haywood: 5 Things

Five things you may not have known about Spencer Haywood.

1. He spent one year at Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado before transferring to the University of Detroit.

2. Was married to Iman, giving me the excuse to run the picture at the top of this post.

3. Won a championship ring with the Lakers in 1980. The team the Lakers knocked off to reach the Finals? The Seattle SuperSonics.

4. His 29.2 points per game in 1972-73 remains a Seattle record to this day.

5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the best man at his wedding to Iman.

Thursday, September 18

SSS HOF #6: Spencer Haywood

Spencer Haywood

Here's a fish hangs in the net, like a poor man's right in the law.


"Pericles," William Shakespeare

Two courts played a pivotal role in the last two years of Sonic basketball – the court we have come to expect, made up of hardwood and stretching 94 feet in length, and the court with which we sadly grew increasingly familiar, the one in which 5’8” lawyers stand taller than even the tallest center.

With those frustrating years in mind, those who followed the shenanigans of Clay Bennett, Howard Schultz, David Stern, and this city may be forgiven for thinking it was always thus, that the wheel in this costly game of roulette has been forever tilted in favor of the all-powerful NBA.

That, however, would not be mindful of history. For once upon a time, a man named Haywood slew the mighty beast called the NBA, defeating them in the highest court of them all – the Supreme Court.

It was 1970 and Spencer Haywood, a prodigious talent from the fields of Mississippi by way of Motown, was maneuvering himself to enter the NBA, even though he was a mere two years removed from high school.

Haywood entered the ABA with the Denver Rockets, but, no fool he, knew the big money and fame was in the league with the “N” and not the “A”, and, after pocketing the ABA’s MVP award, prevailed upon Sonic owner Sam Schulman to sign him to a six-year, $1.5 million contract.

And therein laid the problem. The NBA forbade players from playing until they completed four years of college, meaning Haywood, with Schulman’s assistance, had thrown down a massive challenge to an essential part of the league’s structure. Haywood, however, unlike certain current members of the Seattle municipal government, was willing and able to do whatever it took to defeat the league.

Haywood would not fight alone. Shed any notions you have that the past few years were the first time Seattle battled the NBA. Back in 1971, more than 35 years before the recent conflagration, the league reacted indignantly to the Sonics’ move to add Haywood, threatening to not only disallow the roster move, but to add “punitive measures” to the Sonics as a franchise.

Looking back on the situation with 40 years of hindsight, the whole state of affairs is slightly amazing. Here is a young man being told he is too young to play professional basketball, seeing other men his age being told they’re old enough to die in Vietnam. Like so many other young people of that generation, Haywood rebelled, refusing to knuckle under to authority.

You wonder, looking back now, what was going through Haywood’s mind during those months of court trials, through the series of appeals? Remember, Muhammad Ali had just been allowed to fight again, and Ali’s successful battle against what he felt to be an injustice had to be at the forefront of Haywood’s thoughts. Further, as a member of the 1968 Olympic team in Mexico City, he was an eyewitness to the fists raised in defiance by Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Whether he agreed with their position or not, the young man was undoubtedly changed by it.

With all of that in mind, contrast the two scenarios, now almost four decades removed. In one, you have a league endeavoring to bully a young man and a free-spirited owner into yielding to its will. Like so many others in the early 70s, Haywood and Schulman would have no part of it, and would take no quarter from the aggressor, regardless of how unlikely their victory seemed.

Turn the clock forward forty years, and an entirely different scenario plays out. A manipulative and condescending league office attempts to bully a city into yielding to its will, and it succeeds beyond its wildest dreams.

When push came to shove, Haywood pushed back. The city? It just got shoved.

Haywood, unlike the City of Seattle and Howard Schultz, would prevail against the league, as the Supreme Court sided with his argument that the league’s policy of forbidding young men from entering its front doors was a restraint of trade and, hence, utterly illegal.

Forty years have passed since Spencer Haywood challenged the NBA. The NBA continues to force its morals on poor black men by denying them an opportunity to earn a living because of their “youth,” while men the same age as they go off to die in an increasingly unpopular war.

Forty years ago, such revolutionaries as Joan Baez, James Brown, Spencer Haywood, and Muhammad Ali fought injustices, putting their own lives behind the causes in which they believed. Today, that spirit of sacrifice and noble pursuit of righteousness seems to have vanished, a long-forgotten relic of the nation’s past.

One look only at the differences between the US Olympic team of 1968 and the 2008 version for a perfect illustration of the changes which have transpired. On one hand you have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others, under the urging of Dr. Harry Edwards, declining to play for their country as a political protest of the racial unrest in the United States. As Edwards told New York Times Magazine at the time, “We're not trying to lose the Olympics for the Americans. What happens to them is immaterial….But it's time for the black people to stand up as men and women and refuse to be utilized as performing animals for a little extra dog food.”

As Jabbar points out on his blog, at the same time as black soldiers were being led off to fight for their country in Vietnam, black basketball players were being asked to go off to fight for their country in Mexico City. In both cases, Jabbar writes, those who left came back to be treated as second-class citizens.

(To be fair, Haywood did not join the boycott of the Mexico City Olympics, and the only reason he made the team was because others had abandoned their spots. In his words, he understood the boycott, but he didn’t agree with it. However, it might be argued that the events which transpired in 1968, combined with the racial upheaval in the U.S. in the ensuing years, altered his thinking, prompting him to challenge the NBA.)

Now contrast that set of emotions from 40 years ago to the series of events in Beijing at the just-completed Summer Olympics. Now, you have a group kowtowing to every whim of the Chinese officials, the entire roster forbidden from even speaking a word contrary to the glory which is China, let alone contemplating a boycott.

Now, you have a group of black men being silenced by white authority figures.

An observer far-removed would wonder, what has happened to this country in the gulf of time separating 1968 from 2008?

Where, he might also wonder, have all the Spencer Haywoods gone?

Tuesday, September 16

Shawn Visits a Deli

Watching this video, where Shawn Kemp gets the gold tour of a deli in Italy, including meeting the counter girl and - I think - asked if he would like some cold cuts, I get the distinct impression that the one thought running through his head during the entire exchange is:

"What the Hell have I got myself into?"

Of course, the 45 minute ride from the airport to 'downtown' inside a car of a size he has not ridden since the seventh grade, no doubt left its own impression.

Also of note, Kemp has left Italy to visit his home in Houston to evaluate the damage from Hurricane Ike, but is expected to return to Italy in time for Premiata's upcoming tournament.

Friday, September 12

Thursday, September 11

The Old Man and the Sea

When I was in college, I minored in English, which enabled me to read wonderful books by authors such as Joyce, Faulkner, and others and still receive credit. While my friends regurgitated formulas for their Chemistry tests, I coughed up just enough b.s. to fool my professor into thinking I had actually read the book. Trust me: English is a wonderful minor or major, especially for those of you interested in spending more time screwing around and less time reading textbooks.

Anyhow, one of the short stories in which I indulged was Edith Wharton's Roman Fever (and, yes, I do believe this is the first time Edith Wharton has been referenced by a basketball blog). While not a travel piece, the story was reflective of the re-discovery of Italy by Americans as a travel destination in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Like scores of writers before and since, Wharton delivered beautiful passages describing Rome and Italy. If you've visited Italy, you know from whence she speaks, and you can understand why seemingly every major writer of the last 100 years has put pen to paper to extol its virtues.

So that's why I was so surprised to read the details of Shawn Kemp's introductory press conference to the media over in Italy. Leave it to Kemp to summarize so beautifully and so succinctly what makes Italy such a wonderful country.

Q: The life of Montegranaro is very different from that of Seattle: does that bother you?

Kemp: “But here there are beautiful people and there is the sea… For me that is good."

Ernest Hemingway could not have said it any better.

Wednesday, September 10

Supersonicpedia: Al Tucker

The most common refrain you’ll hear about the greatness of former players is something along the lines of, “Sure, he dominated then, but there’s no way Player X would be able to do that now. The players are just much more athletic now.”

Usually, that’s an accurate assessment. Clearly, George Mikan would not lay waste to centers today the way he did half a century ago, and if you’ve ever watch any highlights of late 60s/early 70s basketball, it’s pretty clear that the game today is played in a completely different gear.

There are some players, though, for whom the opposite is true, that rather than benefitting from the times, they were punished by them, and were they born 40 years in the future, their careers would be much, much stronger.

Take, for instance, Al Tucker.


What if he was born at the wrong time? What if, instead of coming into this world in the midst of World War II, he arrived during Desert Storm? What would Al Tucker’s legacy be, then?

You see, Tucker never fit into the NBA in the late 1960s and early 1970s, not the way he would have in the 1990s and 2000s. A 6’8” center at Oklahoma Baptist, Tucker dominated the NAIA like no player before or since, three times taking his team to the championship game, winning once, and earning tournament MVP twice.

You look at his ridiculous numbers in college (the 30 points a game, the dozen boards), and you see a heavy, a tough, a “big” man … and you’re not even close. Because “Airline” Al Tucker was more than that, so much more.

He was the kind of guy who could, while just messing around with his brother, invent a play so integral to late 20th century basketball that to think of it not existing would be impossible. The kind of guy who could toss passes that would be talked of 40 years later. The kind of guy who could shoot a 3-pointer like Dale Ellis on one end, then block shots like Marvin Webster on the other. The kind of guy … wait, stop, let me go back a little further, let me tell you the whole story of Albert Ames Tucker, Jr., member of the inaugural Seattle Sonics.


Al Tucker may have been born in 1943, but his basketball roots go back 20 years before that, when his father, Al Sr., became the first black man to suit up for Roosevelt High School’s basketball team. Senior’s abilities – developed as a child with a tennis ball and a wooden basket nailed to a pole - led him to Alabama State Teacher’s College, then the Harlem Globetrotters (or the Savoy Big Five as they were also known for a time). Senior spent a number of years traveling all across the country for the Trotters, including, believe it or not, a game in January 1941 against the Enumclaw Merchants in Enumclaw (where Brian Scalabrine’s red-headed grandfather, Obadiah Scalabrine, watched in awe at the very end of the bench next to two cows and a three-legged sheep. Okay, that part’s not quite true). The skills his son would show on a much larger stage 30 years later were evident even then.

“I had a special basketball move,” Al told a reporter in 1998. “It was a little deal where I’d come down just beyond the foul line and when the defense moved in on me, I’d give a fake and kind of swing over and slip away from ‘em. It worked so much they tried to make a rule ‘round here. Said I was traveling. Truth is, I was just running in the air. It was something they weren’t used to seeing and they said ‘Al, you are pretty slick.’”

And so, “Slick” Al Tucker was born. Less than five years later in Dayton, Ohio, Al Jr. came along, followed close behind by a younger brother, Gerald (Al’s wife was Geraldine; whatever creativity the Tuckers had on the basketball court did not, alas, extend to baby-naming).

It was no surprise when the Tucker boys showed an aptitude for hoops, what with their father around to show them the way.

“When we were coming up, we used to play at Blairwood Elementary and the city guys would come out to play the Tucker boys,” Gerald said in 2005. “And we'd run 'em right back down to the city."

After dominating at Jefferson Township High School, young Al surely thought he’d have a good shot at starring for the University of Dayton, but it didn’t work that way, not for a young black man in the mid-1960s.

“Tom Blackburn was the (Dayton) Flyers' coach when we got out of high school and back then I don't think he wanted too many blacks on his team." Gerald explained.

So, rather than starring for his hometown college, Al was off to the College of Knoxville. Tennessee. The early 1960s.

I think you can guess where that was headed.

“We had what they called the Tennessee Theatre,” Al recalled in 2003. “And we would give the lady a dollar or whatever it cost to get in and she said 'Sorry, we don't allow Negroes in.' Next thing they're going to call the paddy wagon and take us to jail."

That essentially put an end to the College of Knoxville, and, seemingly, to Al Tucker’s basketball career. He headed back to Dayton to play for an AAU team with his brother and to await whatever fate destined for a 19-year-old black kid without a college degree in America.

In other words, nothing.

Luckily for Tucker, Gerald "Corky" Oglesby, a scout from Oklahoma Baptist University, came to Dayton in 1963 to visit a couple of prospects. While that didn’t pan out, he had heard that two other young kids might be worth seeing. His eyes popped when he saw the Tucker brothers in action, and Oglesby quickly got word to Bob Bass, OBU’s head coach, that he’d found something special. Now he just had to convince Al Jr. that Oklahoma Baptist wasn’t the College of Knoxville.

Gerald remembers the encounter: "I was more outgoing than my brother and said, 'Let's go.' Al wasn't sure, but after Daddy talked to Corky, he told Al, 'Get out of here and give it a try. You aren't doing nothing here but moppin' floors at Concord City.' "

Junior agreed, and just like that, Al Tucker had taken his first steps towards stardom.



An NAIA school, Oklahoma Baptist University lies 30 minutes east of Oklahoma City on Interstate 40 in Shawnee, Oklahoma, a town of no more than 30,000 people.  (Coincidentally, three months after Tucker arrived in town, Brad Pitt was born in Shawnee. It’s unknown if the young Pitt ever made it to see one of Tucker’s games.)

But back to our story. Al and Gerald arrived in town in the fall of 1963, not sure of what to expect. After his experiences in Knoxville, no one would have begrudged Al’s nervousness, especially when the Bisons went to play Southeastern University and he got called “Buckwheat” by the crowd.

Tucker, never one to retaliate with words let his skills do the talking, scoring 31 points in an OBU victory, his only acknowledgement of the painful taunts a raised fist after every made basket.

Helped by Coach Bass, who did his best to keep the Tuckers sheltered from racial epithets and taunting – an impressive effort for a white coach in the 1960s south – Tucker flourished at OBU, taking the team to the 1965 NAIA Tournament, which he proceeded to dominate by scoring 25 points per game as the Bisons advanced to the Championship before losing to Central State.

The next year, Airline Al exploded, averaging 36.4 points per game in the tournament as OBU claimed a massive 88-59 over Georgia Southern.

And, before you dismiss the competition entirely, know this: In the three years before Tucker’s three years at OBU, the NAIA Tournament featured a tough-as-nails center from Grambling, who averaged 22.8 points per game, including 27.4 his senior year. That center? Willis Reed. Or that other tournament MVPs included Dick Barnett, Lucious Jackson, Zelmo Beatty, Lloyd Free, all of whom posted solid NBA careers.  To further cement Tucker’s abilities, compare Reed’s 27.4 ppg as a senior in 1964 to the numbers Tucker put up in his three years at the tourney:

25.0, 36.4, 32.8

Not bad, right?

Tucker’s final year proved to be frustrating, as the Bisons fell 71-65 to #1 seed St Benedict’s despite Tucker’s 47 points in the championship game. And, yes, you just read that Tucker scored 47 of his team’s 65 points, even though St. Benedict’s knew they had to stop him, as Sports Illustrated observed:

“Coach Ralph Nolan figured he had to keep Tucker away from the basket and started off playing him man-to-man. But Tucker beat that strategy. When he was not firing in long-range jumpers he shuffled inside for hooks, drives, reverse layups and stuffs. Tucker jammed in 47 points to earn acclaim as the tournament's MVP, but not quite enough to give the Baptists a victory.”

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Tucker’s bona fides as a college basketball player are solid. He spent three years at OBU, he was named All-American all three years, took his team to the NAIA Championship all three years, was named Tournament MVP twice, set a record for Tournament scoring that stood for more than a decade, and generally dominated the crap out of everyone.

So, yeah, I think Al Tucker was a good college player.

But even having said all that, I haven’t said enough, because when he wasn’t setting all sorts of crazy records, he was busy inventing the most exciting play in basketball with his little brother, Gerald.

You see, legend has it that Al (6’8”) and Gerald (6’1”) were messing around and came up with the idea that, hey, wouldn’t it be neat if Gerald lofted the ball up in the air and Al slammed it through the basket?

Yes, in addition to all the accolades, in addition to the tournament glory, Al Tucker invented the alley-oop.

The play would gain greater acclaim with David Thompson at NC State a few years later, but it is generally accepted that it was Tucker & Tucker that first came up with the idea. And while that sort of thing is generally tough to accept as hard fact, if you were to brainstorm about the perfect scenario for creating the alley-oop, wouldn’t a 6’8” dunking machine and his younger, smaller passing-oriented brother make a bit of sense? When you throw in that their dad was a former Harlem Globetrotter, well, it just makes a whole lot of sense.

Add it all up and you can see why an expansion team from Seattle was so eager to select Al Hunter with the 6th pick of the 1967 NBA Draft.

 
PART II – After Graduation

In the spring of 1967, the Seattle Sonics and the San Diego Rockets flipped a coin to determine the teams’ placement in the upcoming NBA draft. With a smidgen of luck, the Sonics won the toss, giving the right to select 6th, and consigning the Rockets to 7th.

(Quick tangent: See Vancouver fans, this is how it can work. Even though you don’t get to pick first, you can still keep your team for 40 years before David Stern rips your heart out.)

Anyhow, the Sonics’ GM, Don Richmond, was faced with a bevy of possibilities with that pick: Kentucky’s Pat Riley, New Mexico’s Mel Daniels, North Dakota’s Phil Jackson, even local product Tom Workman of Seattle U. Instead, Richmond went with a 6’8” center/forward from OBU, Al Tucker. But, of course, you already knew that.

Tucker’s speed and outside shooting, to go with his height, made him an asset to the young team. The Sonics planned on being a team that put up a lot of shots that first season (and succeeded, as they finished third behind only the Lakers and Sixers in points per game); with Tucker, they had a “speedy forward to fill the lanes on the break,” as SI put it.

Tucker began the season in fine fashion, and as you can see from this yellowed clipping from the Seattle PI, he managed 10 points and six rebounds in his first game in a Sonics jersey. (Note that the Warriors had their way in the paint, grabbing 81 (!) rebounds, although, with 131 missed shots between the two clubs, they certainly had their opportunities).

The rookie forward didn’t waste his time in contributing to his rookie team, pacing the Sonics with 18 points in only his sixth NBA game, then following that up with the team lead in rebounds in three consecutive November contests.

Tucker maintained his contributions throughout the season, going on to lead the team in points seven times, including a 35-point night against the Lakers on December 10, and 28 against the Warriors in March. By the time the season ended, Tucker had finished with 13 points and 7.5 rebounds a game and  the third most total rebounds on the club. Admittedly, his advanced numbers were a bit pedestrian (he finished in the middle of the team in Offensive Win Shares and 8th in PER), but for a skinny rookie from an NAIA school, he came through just fine.

Voters for the All-Rookie Team felt so as well, deeming Tucker’s performance worthy of a starting spot on the squad, where he joined fellow rookie Bob Rule, Walt Frazier, Phil Jackson, and Earl Monroe.

His career underway, a All-Rookie Team trophy on his mantle, if you were Al Tucker, the summer of 1968 had to be a pretty good one, no? You have to imagine he came back to Dayton to see the family, talk with his dad about his exploits … and you have to think that Al Tucker Sr. must have had a whirlwind of emotions. His eldest son was experiencing everything he, the father, had been denied 20 years before. The steady paychecks, the notoriety … Al Sr. missed out on that simply because he was black. But now everything was different. And while Geraldine was probably more concerned about her younger son, Gerald, being off in Vietnam experiencing God knows what terrors, Al Jr.’s success had to have been a blessing to both parents.

Strangely, though, that summer would prove to be the last one in which Al Tucker Jr.’s basketball career would have any sort of upwards arc. In the next four years he would play for six teams, be waived multiple times, and finally call it a career at the age of 28.

What happened?

Part III later today

Part III

The aftermath

In Al Tucker’s last game as a Sonic, he registered 0 points and 2 rebounds. His denouement came in a 119-112 win over Atlanta; he spent the last three quarters of his Sonic career on the bench as a spectator in a frustrating end to a frustrating sophomore season.

Who knows why Coach Al Bianchi chose to sit Tucker – it could have been the 12 points he allowed Lou Hudson to score in the first period, or (more likely) it could have been that he had been traded to the Cincinnati Royals for John Tresvant.

The reasoning for the trade, as viewed by the Times’ Georg Myers, was simple – the Sonics needed to get tougher and “Supertwiggy,” as Myers and thousands of Sonic fans had dubbed Tucker, wouldn’t cut it anymore.

“The principal difference distinction between Tucker and Tresvant,” wrote Myers, “is that John has the heft and the temperament to be authoritative and aggressive, especially on defense.”

A withering portrait of Tucker, to be sure, and one echoed by an anonymous scout 40 years later. Tucker was “blessed with talent but not a lot of motivation,” the scout told the Times’ Bill Reader in 2006 (and if that scout isn’t Henry Akin, I’ll eat my keyboard).

Ironically, less than a year before, in June of 1968, Myers had nothing but good things to say about Tucker.

In the afterglow of his All-Rookie accolade, the rookie admitted to Myers his first NBA season was “tougher than I thought it would be. And I knew it was going to be tough.”

Tucker explained to Myers that he learned in his first year that the major difference between college and pro ball was that he was on his own.

“Nobody is looking after to you except yourself,” Tucker explained. “The coach isn’t going to hold your hand.”

Myers’ fawning piece went to great lengths to show how Tucker was going to bulk up over the summer, but, more importantly, that he understood what it took to be a successful NBA player.

How, then, did this strong relationship between young player and team fall apart so quickly?

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When the Sonics ran off a win against Boston in mid-January, Tucker’s strong effort was counterbalanced by a comment in the Times that he had been a “major disappointment most of the season.” Almost every story the paper ran after the trade was consummated held some reference to the “slender” Tucker, how Seattle was a “tougher” team now that Tresvant was on board, how the Sonics were better at rebounding and defense, and so forth.

It’s a puzzler, isn’t it? On the one hand, you have Airline Al Tucker, hero to thousands in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where 40 years after he led OBU to a national championship he’s revered by one and all, not just as an athlete, but as a friend.

On the other, you have Al “Supertwiggy” Tucker, who apparently wasn’t interested in utilizing his “God-given” talents (a useless phrase if there ever was one).

Consider, for a moment, the obstacles Al Tucker overcame to become an NBA player:

-          Not recruited by his hometown university because he was black
-          Forced to play at an NAIA school
-          Endures racial taunts by opposing fans and ignores them
-          Battles people much heavier than he as a center, and dominates the competition, earning three All-American awards in three years
-          Comes up huge in crucial games, including 47 (!) points in the NAIA championship his final year at OBU
-          Rebounds like no one before or since a OBU

And we’re supposed to believe he just showed up at the Seattle Center Coliseum and quit trying? That he just took the money and ran? That he wasn’t capable of grabbing rebounds all of sudden?

Further, if we’re to swallow the notion that Tucker just didn’t care about anything, then explain why he spent the summer after his rookie year studying chemistry at Oklahoma Baptist? And if the idea that Tucker was a hindrance to the team were true, if Tucker was such a disastrous underachiever, why would Bianchi go with him for the entire 24 minutes of the second half just two weeks previous, a victory over Cincinnati?

I think the real answer is that the Sonics were falling apart. The team had gone 2-18 from mid-December until late January, and even though they rattled off three consecutive wins to end that streak of misery, the front office and coaching staff obviously had to do something.  In the manner of the time, clich├ęs ran the day and the Sonics needed to get “tougher.” Tucker, a 190-pound small forward with glasses, an art lover who loved sculpture, was deemed expendable.

Which is why, on January 31, 1969, Al Tucker found himself a Cincinnati Royal and John Tresvant found himself a Seattle Supersonic.

In a way, it was a homecoming for both players. Tucker, a native of Dayton, now found himself playing less than an hour’s drive from his parents’ home, while Tresvant, the former Chieftain, would now be able to play in front of his college classmates in Seattle.

Bizarrely, the two would meet on the court less than a week later when the Sonics and Royals faced off in Seattle. The Sonics, led by Lenny Wilkens’ 32 points and Tresvant’s 19 rebounds, knocked off Cincy 102-97, although Tucker had some small revenge with 13 points, including 11 in a short span of the second period.

“As long as we won,” Coach Al Bianchi said after the game, “I was happy to see Al have a good game.”

And with that, Al Tucker’s voyage through the nether regions of professional basketball circa 1970 began.

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Up first, Cincinnati. With Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, and Tom Van Arsdale, the Royals had a strong roster, but were in the midst of a seven-year absence from the playoffs. Fans didn’t exactly flock to Cincinnati Gardens to take in the games, either; the team ranked last in attendance for the ’68-’69 campaign.

Still, considering what Al Tucker was leaving behind, it wasn’t that bad of a deal. The Sonics were even worse than the Royals, and with Lucas averaging nearly 20 boards a night and Connie Dierking almost 10, Cincinnati didn’t need any help grabbing rebounds. They needed scoring, and the slender small forward from Dayton seemed to fit the bill.

It didn’t work, though. 27-25 when they acquired Tucker, the Royals went 14-16 down the stretch, finished out of the playoffs, and waived their new acquisition at the end of the season in an ignomious end to Tucker’s return to Ohio.

 June ’68 to June ’69; America switches from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, and Airline Al switches from All-Rookie Team to nobody.

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Tucker spent the summer wondering where his future would take him, before landing that October in Chicago for the woeful (29-53 the previous year) Bulls. Chicago had hired a new coach, Dick Motta, to replace the outgoing Johnny Kerr, but it made little difference in the club’s fortunes.

By the time January rolled around, the Bulls were well below .500 and in need of a change. So, figuring that Tucker – a bit player averaging 7 points in 17 minutes off the bench – was expendable, they Chicago sent him to Baltimore for Ed (father of Danny) Manning.

Unlike Tucker’s previous stops in Chicago and Seattle, the Bullets were a good club, and led by fellow draftee Earl Monroe and the previous season’s MVP, Wes Unseld, Baltimore was primed to improve upon their 4-0 flameout against the Knicks the previous year.

Al Tucker, however, was not to be a crucial part of that experience, though. While he managed to get his first taste of playoff action in Baltimore’s 4-3 loss to New York, the eventual NBA Champions, it was only five minutes in four games. Strictly mop-up duty.

Now 27, Tucker returned to Baltimore the next year, hoping to get some more action in what was his fourth NBA season. On his fourth team in as many years, the young man from Dayton must have been wearied from his nomad existence, frustrated at his lack of success.

31 games in, the Bullets had seen enough, waiving him and ending Tucker’s NBA career. The only thing left for him at that point – 27 years old, college superstar, professional washout - was the ABA.

So that’s where he went.




Part IV – The ABA and The End

His NBA career in disarray, Al Tucker was at a crossroads. Was he a professional basketball player? Everything he had worked for in the past decade – past two decades, really – was seemingly for naught. Sure, he had made it to the NBA, he’d been named a member of the All-Rookie Team, but four different franchises had dumped him in the past four years.

Did he really need this anymore? At that point, fate intervened and reunited Al Tucker with someone from his past.

Coach Bob Bass, who had been such a friend to Tucker back at Oklahoma Baptist, had been named the head coach of the Floridians (they didn’t bother with the “Miami” at that point) in the ABA in mid January, and had converted an 18-30 team on his arrival into a more potent force.

Still, Bass needed some extra firepower to go with Mack Calvin and Larry Jones, and his prior relationship with Tucker must have held some sway, as the Floridians picked up Airline Al for the final 14 games of the season.

Tucker delivered, averaging 12 points in only 24 minutes, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, Tucker was a crucial part of the rotation.

The Floridians lost in the first round to Dan Issel and the Kentucky Colonels, but Tucker tallied the fifth-highest minute total on the team in the post-season, and, just as it did 10 years before in Shawnee, the future seemed bright for Tucker and Bass.

In the 1971-72 season, Tucker returned to Miami and played in all but 3 games for the team, knocking down 30 of 82 3-pointers for the best percentage on the team, and averaging his usual 18 or so points per 36 minutes.

Something happened in the second half of the season, though, and Tucker seemingly wound his way into Coach Bass’ doghouse, as the 28-year-old only played in three of the team’s four playoff games, and even then for only minor action. While the year before he was one of the five regulars in the playoffs, in 71-72 Tucker played the next-to-fewest among the Floridians.

After the Floridians were knocked out of the post-season in the first round (again), the team folded, and in June Tucker was picked in the third round of the ABA’s dispersal draft by the Denver Rockets.

He never played another game.

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And that’s all we know about Al Tucker. For the rest of his life, he’s invisible, on the internet, anyways, until May 2001, when he was struck by a brain aneurysm and died in Dayton, Ohio.

Four years later, his younger brother, Gerald, who had teamed up with Airline Al at OBU so many years before, still wasn’t over his brother’s death, forcing him to cut short an interview with the Dayton Daily News.

We’ll let John Parrish, longtime member of the Oklahoma Baptist family, and author of a book which details even more the story of Al Tucker as it relates to OBU to have the final word about Airline Al.

"We've got three trophy cases filled with Al's things,” Parrish told the Dayton Daily News. “Everybody remembers him. The last time he was out here in 1999, we were walking around the campus and went into the cafeteria.
“An old guy was in there and I said, 'You remember who this is?' And he just grinned, 'Oh course. Nobody forgets Al.’”

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