Tales from NBA Draft History
The NBA draft is all the rage. Prospects
are dissected, analyzed, and compared to heroes of yesteryear. There is
the pre-draft camp, the endless talk show hustle as well as fantasy
drafts. Preceded by hype, hope and hoopla, the NBA Draft finally arrives
with a cast of hundreds of personalities, nationally televised hour
after hour. And then there is the endless post-draft commentary.
Once upon a time things were quite different in a simpler world and a
smaller NBA. The first draft in 1947 saw first-round selections made by
Pittsburgh, Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis,
Chicago, Washington and Baltimore. No name from that first-round faraway
time (aside from Knicks draftee Walt Dropo, who went on to a
distinguished Major League baseball career) had any kind of real
The records from that primitive time are so shrouded in a time warp that
a couple of the players drafted in '47 like Bob Alemeida and George
Petrovick have a question mark next to their name signifying a lack of
information as to the college they played for.
A few non-first-round players went on to make a name for themselves in
pro ball like Andy Phillip out of Illinois, Jim Pollard from Stanford,
Bob Kurland of Oklahoma A&M, and Red Rocha who had played at Oregon
A footnote to NBA history is Tony Lavelli of Yale, taken by Boston in
the 1949 Draft. He went on to play the accordion for the Celtics at half
time, sometimes. But contrary to rumors, his musical skill was not one
of the reasons for Boston drafting him.
The 1950 Draft went 10 rounds for some teams and 12 for others, as a few
teams lost interest. Territorial picks were sometimes much fought over
and debated. The exclusive right to draft a player who came from a
team's geographical region gave Philadelphia the legendary Paul Arizin
A couple of others who went on to fame and glory were picked in that
draft: Bud Grant (NFL) by Minneapolis and Bob Cousy by Tri-Cities.
The 1951 NBA Draft lasted 12 rounds, but most teams stopped picking by
The First Round went this way:
Team Player College
1 (Baltimore) Gene Melchiorre, Bradley
2 (TriCities) Mel Hutchins, Brigham Young
3 (Indianapolis) Marcus Freiberger, Oklahoma
4 (Ft Wayne) Zeke Sinicola, Niagara
5 (Syracuse) John McConathy, NW Louisiana
6 (NY Knicks) Ed Smith, Harvard
7 (Boston) Ernie Barrett, Kansas State
8 (Rochester) Sam Ranzino, North Carolina State
9 (Philadelphia) Don Sunderlage, Illinois
10 (Minneapolis) Whitey Skoog, Minnesota*
*The pick of Skoog was a Territorial one.
In the sixth round, the New York Knicks plucked Al McGuire from St.
John's. The last player picked was John Burke of Springfield,
Massachusetts by Baltimore in the 12th round. By 1966, the territorial
selections were eliminated. A year later, the New York Knicks used their
fifth pick to get Walt Frazier and their 17th to obtain Phil Jackson.
In the ensuing years, all kinds of marquee players and also-rans have
made their way onto NBA rosters through the draft. In my opinion, the
1970 and 1981 NBA Drafts rank among the all-time best yielding bumper
crops of players.
The 1970 NBA Draft yielded such greats as Dave Cowens by Boston (4th);
Pete Maravich by Atlanta (3rd); Bob Lanier by Detroit (1st); Calvin
Murphy by San Diego (18th); and Geoff Petrie by Portland (8th).
The 1981 draft included such gems as Isiah Thomas by Detroit (2nd); Mark
Aguirre by Dallas (1st); Buck Williams by New Jersey (3rd); Tom Chambers
by San Diego (8th); Rolando Blackman by Dallas (9th); Danny Ainge by
Boston (31st); Kelly Tripuka by Detroit (12th); Orlando Woolridge by
Chicago (6th); and Eddie Johnson by Kansas City (29th).
Who knows what the NBA Draft 2009 has in store. Stay tuned.
# # #
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
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