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Have You Ever Heard of: Bob Davies?

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Have You Ever Heard of…? is a series of articles written to recognize some of the lesser known Hall of Fame inductees whose contributions to the game are underappreciated and who deserve the “fame” that comes with enshrinement.

When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader, and one of my favorite series of books was about a guy named “Chip Hilton,” who was this great four-letter athlete. At the time, I didn’t know it, but the author of the series’ name was Clair Bee, who’s also enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Chip was based on a Hall of Fame player by the name of Bob Davies, according to Davies’s bio. And there was good reason to do so. At the time of his prime, Davies might have been the greatest basketball player ever, though, George Mikan would take that distinction from him before he retired. Davies was voted the sixth-greatest player of the first half-century.

Born in 1920, Davies didn’t have a playground to hoop on, so he had to get creative. Which is what he did, according to the Editors of Publications International, Ltd. at HowStuffWorks.com:

Davies began playing basketball in the alleys of Harrisburg,  Pennsylvania, shooting tennis balls into a five-gallon can tacked to a telephone pole. He weighed 90 pounds when he entered high school but grew to 5’11” and 142 pounds by his senior year. A good athlete, he went to Seton Hall on a baseball scholarship and signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox. Playing basketball on the side, he led Seton Hall to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

And he was apparently fun to watch, per his HOF bio:

Davies made the extraordinary look simple. He would often use behind-the-back, through-the-legs, and over-the-head ball maneuvers. With his exciting repertoire of moves, Davies became a two-time All-America at Seton Hall, leading the team to 43 consecutive victories from 1939 to 1941. After a stint in the military, Davies brought his magic touch to the professional level, playing two seasons in the American Basketball League before embarking on a ten-year career with the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League, the Basketball Association of America, and then the NBA, where he captured two titles in 1946 and 1951.

In Davies’s New York Times obituary, Thomas Rogers seemed to agree:

Mr. Davies, a speedy, elusive 6-foot-1-inch backcourt star from Harrisburg, Pa., whose ball-handling and shot making helped to bring on a higher-scoring style of play, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., on April 11, 1970. While at Seton Hall, he led the Pirates to a 19-0 record in the 1939-40 season, when he was a sophomore, and then to records of 20-2 in 1940-41 and 16-3 in 1941-42.

His ball-handling was so electric, it was allegedly lethal — literally! According to his How Stuff Works entry:

Meanwhile, Davies perfected the behind-the-back dribble, though no one paid attention until he used it at the National Invitation Tournament in 1941. A famous story is that a Seton Hall priest dropped dead of a heart attack after seeing Davies’s move. Years later, when Davies was with Rochester in the NBA, Royals coach Les Harrison ordered him to stop going behind his back because he was showing up his opponents. Grudgingly, Davies complied.

Though he passed away in 1990, his teammate, Red Holzman, thought his game was still current when he died.

”He was probably years ahead of his time,” said Mr. Holzman, the former coach of the Knicks. ”He was one of the few guys that could have been playing today. He was a great player.”

And there’s a little bit of video evidence to back it up. Check out the layup at 11 seconds:

Davies was one of the players who helped transition from the BAA to the NBA, though, by that time he was 30 years old, so he was past his prime.

Chip Hilton was noted for his creativity. Apparently, so was his inspiration. Before there was Ricky Rubio or Pete Maravich or Magic Johnson, there was Davies, the original great passer. And because of him, the whole notion of an uptempo game became attractive, and may have been one of the major factors in the league’s early survival.

And now you’ve heard of Bob Davies.

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