The Lost NBA Season & Dave Stallworth : #oldNBAcards
Sit back folks. I know it’s hard to digest losing the opportunity to watch John Wall, Jan Vesely, usually JaVale McGee, Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford, Nick Young, Chris Singleton, and others play basketball for the Washington Wizards. It’s the pits. On the other hand, I shrug my shoulders. What else are those who will inevitably return to the game when they start playing again supposed to do? We get ready for the long haul.
But don’t worry folks, this site will carry on just fine. Friends have asked me what I’m going to do during the NBA Lockout. One, I’m going to miss taking pictures at games. There’s nothing like being right there, and photography from the baseline has, at least for me, allowed for new ways to express basketball from different visual perspectives. I’ll also miss the ability to interview players about things that don’t necessarily pertain to basketball or the game at hand — Christmas presents, nicknames, clothing/shoes, and those who never made it being some of the topics.
And that’s what this Wizards-related website often is all about… an outlet for creativity, no matter the pixel medium. So while there will be no games for a long time, it seems, basketball doesn’t go away. There’s history, there’s some old games to break down, there’s forgotten about projects that deserve attention. Of course, all of this as time with regular life allows. But to exist, we certainly don’t need NBA basketball. They’ll be back, one day.
Dave Stallworth was born in Dallas, Texas on December 20, 13 days after Pearl Harbor. He is one of the all-time greats out of Wichita State. Better than Xavier McDaniel, once wrote Bob Lutz of The Wichita Eagle. For that matter, I suppose, better than Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston, and Cheese Johnson, who is not to be confused with Cheese Wagstaff.
Stallworth once unexpectedly lost two seasons of his NBA career.
He was drafted third overall by the New York Knicks in 1965, the events surrounding which are unimaginable by today’s standards. In a nine team league, the Knicks and the Golden State Warriors were the worst during 1964-65 season, and thus were awarded two picks each amongst the first four picks. However, these were the days when teams could just say, ‘Screw the draft order,’ and take guys from within a 50-mile radius before the actual picking started. Just imagine the Kevin Durant in Washington. (Note: Raleigh, NC is about 140 miles from Charlotte, so John Wall likely would not have been a Bobcat. No worries.)
So the Knicks took Bill Bradley, the Detroit Pistons took Bill Buntin, and the Los Angeles Lakers took Gail Goodrich in the territorial selection. Then the draft started. The Warriors nabbed Frank Hetzel and Rick Barry with the first and second picks. The Knicks, having already selected Bradley, took Stallworth fourth. Jerry Sloan went next to the Baltimore Bullets.
As a rookie Stallworth averaged 12.6 points, 6.2 points and 2.3 assists in 23.7 minutes, and he played in all 80 NBA games (yes, 80). The Knicks were still bad at 30-50, but New York fans were quickly drawn to the inspired 6th Man play from their lanky 6’7″, 200 lbs. forward; “Dave the Rave,” they called him. The Knicks improved to 36-45 the next season, and Stallworth averaged 13 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists as the team headed for a playoff matchup against the Boston Celtics.
But Stallworth wouldn’t make it to the playoffs. On Saturday March 4, 1967, 76 games into his second NBA season at age 25, he had a heart attack on the court during a neutral site game against the San Francisco Warriors in Fresno, CA. The tragedy of a lost career was the assumption, as might always be the case with such, and especially 44 years ago.
A news report indicated that Stallworth felt “twinges” in the couple weeks prior. The next day, a Sunday, doctors, not yet knowing it was a heart attack, gave Stallworth the approval to play in New York’s second game of a back-to-back against the Warriors in San Francisco. Technology and precautions back then were simply not aware of the gravity of the situation. He played 10 minutes before reportedly leaving the game with a bruised thigh, perhaps thankfully.
Upon a return to New York, Stallworth was hospitalized; it took time for what had happened to show up on a cardiogram. As with some heart attack treatments of the day, he was bed-ridden for nearly a month, left to thinking that he would be in that condition permanently, much less ever play basketball again.
But Stallworth had youth, a will to recover, and basketball on his side. After early stages of recovery were accomplished, he returned to the game he loved, but not as a player. Stallworth went back to Wichita State do some assistant coaching, secretly skipping rope for exercise. Then he found himself coaching a team in the National Amateur Basketball Association, the Wichita Builders. Then he started working out with the Builders.
Having missed the entire 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons, doctors began to approve the possibility of Stallworth playing for the Knicks again. This was also in the aftermath of the aforementioned Bill Buntin, from Stallworth’s 1965 draft class, suffering a fatal heart attack in a pick-up game in May 1968.
[side bar: DAVE STALLWORTH's stat-head career comparison in win-shares likens him to Terry Catledge, Jan Van Breda Kolff, Danny Fortson, Popeye Jones, Hakim Warrick, and Stromile Swift
Stallworth received a standing ovation upon his return to Madison Square Garden in the Knicks’ home opener against the Seattle SuperSonics on October 14, 1969, hailed as the rare hero to athletes with heart conditions. He would appear in all 82 games that 1969-70 season, apart of the Knicks’ valued “Minutemen” — including Cazzie Russell, Mike Riordan and Nate Bowman. This crew backed up starters Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dick Barnett, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley en route to winning the 1970 NBA Championship over the Lakers. In 16.8 minutes per game that season, Stallworth averaged 7.8 points and 3.9 rebounds. Most importantly, he helped contain Wilt Chamberlain in the NBA Finals, especially in Game 5, as Willis Reed struggled with his now-famed injury (and comeback).
Stallworth upped his minutes to 19.3 in 1970-71, playing in 81 games and averaging 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds. But the Knicks lost to the Baltimore Bullets in the Eastern Conference Finals, who were then swept by Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA Championship.
Fourteen games into the 1971-72 season, with Earl “The Pearl” Monroe making his discontent with Baltimore well-publicized, Stallworth was traded to the Bullets along with Mike Riordan and cash in exchange for Monroe. In 64 remaining games with the Bullets, Stallworth’s minutes jumped to 28.4 per game, serving as the next serviceable big man after Wes Unseld and averaging 11.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. Baltimore, however, lost to their rivals of the day, the Knicks, in the first round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Monroe led New York to the Finals in 1972, losing to the Lakers, and again in 1973, when they prevailed against Los Angeles. John Feinstein, a Knick fan growing up, once wrote on his blog that it “killed” him to see Stallworth and Riordan leave New York, but he got over it after that championship.
Stallworth appeared in 73 games with the 1972-73 Bullets, his minutes going down to 16.7 per game (6.0 points, 3.2 rebounds) with the arrival of Elvin Hayes from Houston. He appeared in 45 games the next season with the Capital Bullets, now just seeing 10.2 minutes per game to go with 4.4 points and 2.8 rebounds. In both seasons the Bullets lost to the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.
In September of 1974, at age 32, Stallworth was traded to the Phoenix Suns along with a 1975 second round draft pick in exchange for Clem Haskins. Before he had a chance to play for them, Phoenix waived Stallworth early in October and he was picked up by the Knicks nearly two weeks later. But that only lasted for seven games. On November 14, 1974, having played in 366 games and gaining an NBA championship ring after missing two seasons due to a heart attack, Stallworth was waived by the New York. His NBA days were over.
At that point, Stallworth’s lost seasons had to have been distant memory, appreciated for lessons learned and the ability to prevail. The NBA right now is in heart attack mode, banished from enjoyment by the stress and flaws of two arguing sides pumping their own blood at combating rates. The players, the owners, the agents and the Commissioner… assigning blame has become an absurd exercise in itself.
We are looking at a lost NBA season, but it’s not the end of the world. Just ask Dave Stallworth.
‘Dave Stallworth Is Hospitalized,’ AP – Lawrence Journal-World, Mar. 8, 1967.
‘Dave Stallworth back with Knicks after heart attack,’ Auburn Citizen Advertiser, Oct. 30, 1969.
‘Dave Stallworth Is Most Amazing Knick,’ AP – Schenectady Gazette, Nov. 25, 1969.
‘Ravin’ About Dave,’ The Progress-Index, July 19, 1970.
Also see: WizzNutzz Museum