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.
Even the casual NBA fan can tell you Wilt Chamberlain is. After all, he’s only one of the greatest players in NBA history because he did things like average 50 points for a season and break the century mark all by himself. But have you ever heard of Guy Rodgers, the man who was most responsible for setting him up?
Mr. Rodgers was born and raised in North Philadelphia, and it was on the playground that he spent most of his days. But I guess since it wasn’t West Philadelphia he didn’t have to worry about a couple of guys who were up to no good.
Lena Williams of the New York Times wrote about it in his obituary:
Rodgers honed his skills on the recreational courts of North Philadelphia. He came out of Northeast High School, where he averaged 35 points a game, and gained a formidable reputation as a ballhandler.
In his senior year, he was named Philadelphia’s player of the year. The achievement was especially remarkable since his future Warrior teammate Wilt Chamberlain, as a 10th-grade student at Overbrook High School, was thought to be better than some N.B.A. players.
And as a boy, he had a friend who would also grow up to be famous, according JockBio.com:
As a boy, Guy hung around with a group of friends that included Bill Cosby. Watching the old “Fat Albert” cartoons, it’s tempting to figure out which character he is. The boys used to make up nonsense rhymes, many of which revolved around a fictitious character named Cooty Brown. Somehow, they decided Guy was Cooty Brown. Years later, Cosby would have Guy paged as Cooty in public places. Guy’s future wife, Gladys, also loved to call him Cooty.
Guy, Cosby and their buddies all loved basketball. It was on the hardcourts of North Philadelphia that Guy’s athletic talent began to blossom—and where he received the hoops education that shaped his game. Guy was a skillful driving guard and a superb set-shooter. By the time he enrolled at Northeast High School, Guy already had a fine arts degree in ballhandling. Coach Al Woolly had never had a player like Guy. He loved the game so much that Woolly often had to chase him off the court after the other Northeast players had finished practice.
While his fictional persona was a mystery, what wasn’t was his on-court showmanship. He was quite the magician with the ball. Per his Hall of Fame Bio:
The three-time Big 5 Most Valuable Player and Temple University All-America handled the basketball like the leather was part of him. He changed direction, flew by defenders, and dissected the lane like few before him. Rodgers liked to score, but he loved to set up his favorite targets for easy baskets.
And his Jock Bio profile reiterates that:
Warrior fans fell in love with Guy’s game from the start. Even his free-throw shooting was entertaining. Guy was one of the last of the underhand shooters. He would step up to the line, bounce the ball exactly five times, wiping his hands on his hips after the second and fourth bounces, and then float his shot to toward the rim.
Guy looked more like the denizens of the Max Myers courts than the NBA superstars at the Polestra. He dribbled through his legs and threw no-look and over-the-shoulder passes when both were rarities in the NBA. Yet even when running at full speed, he never lost control of the ball. And no one could take the ball away from him—a rep that would follow him throughout his career.
What he really loved seemed to be setting up his teammates. Wilt Chamberlain was the beneficiary of many of those passes. On one night, his HOF bio says Rodgers notched 28 assists.
GSW Stats wrote for NBA.com about that night:
On March 14, 1963, Rodgers tied Bob Cousy’s single-game NBA record with 28 assists against the St. Louis Hawks. To put that in perspective, the Warriors—as a team—dished out 28-or-more assists only 14 times last season. Rodgers out-assisted the Hawks by himself, 28-24, in the contest, dishing on 61 percent of the Warriors’ field goals (28-of-46). Combined with his own 14 points, he had a hand in 70 of the team’s 109 points. The single-game mark stood for nearly 15 years until Kevin Porter’s 29-assist performance in 1978, and has been passed only one other time since (Scott Skiles’ now-record 30 assists), remaining a Warriors franchise best. And yet, this is not his most memorable 20-assist game. That came just over a year earlier, on March 2, 1962, when his 20 assists helped the Warriors score a franchise-record 169 points, including an even 100 from Wilt Chamberlain.
According to Basektball-Refence.com, Rodgers remains the Warriors’ all-time leader in assists at 4,855, in spite of having retired in 1966.
He might not have the fame that some of his childhood friends like Wilt and Cosby do, but he’s one of the forerunners of today’s point guards. While he played in a completely different era, it sounds like Rodgers’s game, with an ability to handle the rock and break down defenses for the score or the pass, would transfer to the modern NBA quite easily.
And now you’ve heard of Guy Rodgers.