ORLANDO - Two NBA giants, literally, met for just 10 minutes Wednesday night in Orlando with both smiling about the opportunity to see what 40 years can do in a lifetime.
“This was one of the …
ORLANDO – Two NBA giants, literally, met for just 10 minutes April 4 in Orlando with both smiling about the opportunity to see what 40 years can do in a lifetime.
“This was one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” said Fleming Island resident Jim Tucker, now 85, and a 1955 NBA champion with the Syracuse Nationals. “He was very gracious to meet with me.”
Tucker at six feet, nine inches, was dwarfed by the seven foot, two inch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s career leading scorer, a six-time NBA most valuable player and a six-time NBA champion center who played for the Milwaukee Bucks and retired as a Los Angeles Laker, was on the Rollins College campus for a speaking engagement and had agreed to meet Tucker.
Tucker, from Paris, Kentucky, where his family worked as horse farm caretakers for racing horse ranches that produced the likes of Secretariat among others, had been recruited heavily by University of Kentucky’s legendary Adolph Rupp in the late 1960s, but wound up at Duquesne University.
“When he came to Paris to watch me play, we talked about how he could not bring a black player to Kentucky to play, but that he would make a phone call for me to get a scholarship,” said Tucker, who traveled to Rollins with his wife, Jan. “Years later, he told me he called Duquesne so that he would not have to play against me. Pretty funny.”
Tucker, who, with teammate Earl Lloyd, in 1955, were the first two African-Americans to win an NBA championship as well as become the stepping stone for future players in the NBA.
“A guy named Chuck Cooper, who also played at Duquesne just before Jim, actually signed the first NBA contract,” said Jan Tucker. “He played in 1950 for Boston with Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton. They opened the door.”
For Abdul-Jabbar, who spoke of his numerous books, some racial issues in America, but very little of his basketball career while on stage, shared his recruiting phase, though much different from Tuckers.
“I was a consensus All-American and the number one recruit when coach Wooden (legendary coach John Wooden of UCLA) recruited me,” said Jabbar, who went to Powers Memorial High in New York. “He coached us to learn from our own mistakes.”
Jabbar, who wrote “Coach Wooden and Me” about his 50 year friendship with Wooden is now a noted columnist with numerous other books, including children’s books, and has created a foundation for kids after his retirement; The Skyhook Foundation, with a monicker of “Give Kids a Shot That Can’t be Blocked,” designed to offer an education camp to kids.
“Not all of them can play basketball, but all of them can learn a skill,” said Jabbar, at his Rollins College appearance.