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Friday, August 04, 2006

Len Elmore: Athlete, Attorney and Advocate for Social Change

Len Elmore had a solid 10-year ABA/NBA career, but he never lost sight of his goal of becoming an attorney and urging athletes to develop self-reliance and community responsibility. He is currently the President of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) and in a recent interview he shared with me his goals for the organization:

"Increase our membership and in doing so there are a number of things that we have to do: make our benefits more visible, get guys to understand that this is a way that they can stay close to the game after retirement--but most importantly our involvement and our mission statement focuses on helping our own, which includes the guys who have not been as fortunate as some of us have been, helping them get on their feet and helping their kids to get an education, as well as helping others by contributing resources, manpower and influence to other organizations that help us carry out our mission, which is to spread good will through the game of basketball. Another thing is to increase the revenue and contributions to the organization, which will allow us to do these wonderful things. We would like to continue to grow the Dave DeBusschere Scholarship Fund. We’d like to be able to continue to keep the trust with the Legends Foundation, which provides emergency funds for needy players—guys who are certainly down and out. (We’d like to continue to) be able to fund organizations that use the game of basketball (to help others)--Playing for Peace, which is a terrific, global organization, or Bobby Jones’ group, 2XSalt, or some other organizations that are doing wonderful things in the community, particularly with kids."

You can read my HoopsHype article about him here.

As the article details, Elmore's 1974 Maryland team was denied an NCAA berth when the Terrapins lost to eventual NCAA Champion North Carolina State 103-100 in overtime in the ACC Championship Game. Talking about that game prompted Elmore to offer his opinion about the players who have had the most impact in college basketball history:

"It was a tremendous game (versus N.C. State), a tremendous series (N.C. State won the two regular season matchups by close margins). I think that David Thompson always made the difference, whether he was scoring or whether just his mere presence made other guys better. I consider David Thompson one of the three greatest players in the history of college basketball. He always made a difference." Asked who the other players on that list would be, Elmore replies, "I should have said top four," mentioning Thompson in the 1970s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) in the late 1960s, Oscar Robertson in the early 1960s and Bill Russell in the 1950s. Elmore notes that his selections are “based on impact," not purely on statistics.

One of Elmore’s Indiana teammates was Roger Brown, the subject of one of my earlier HoopsHype pieces (Roger Brown: Ankle Breaker and Shot Maker). Elmore says, "Roger was one of those guys who always had fun with the game. That is what happens when you are a veteran toward the end of your career--you start to recognize what this game truly means and how much you should cherish the experience because it is not coming back. Roger was pretty much loose and happy go lucky. He certainly would be focused during the course of the game but he never took it so seriously that it was out of context. That was important for a rookie like me and also for Billy Knight, who was my teammate. We were a close knit team during my rookie year and a lot of that had to do with the veterans on the team. Roger was kind of the leader of that. He also had a calming effect to a great extent on our star George McGinnis, always joking with him and keeping him loose. As a player, you still saw flashes of the prime Roger Brown, with that killer crossover. Before Dwyane Wade or anybody else, it was Roger Brown who started breaking ankles with that crossover. He just had an uncanny knack for getting to the basket. Even at his advanced age in his mid-thirties he still found a way to beat people off the bounce and create opportunities. He didn’t play a lot of minutes but Slick—our coach Bob Leonard—found ways to insert him when he could be effective and sometimes even carry the team for a period of time coming off the bench. He was a very generous person with his time. He was kind. He was a father at that time; he had a little girl, Gail, who was very young then. He was a doting dad—just a guy who the community totally embraced and it is unfortunate that he was taken from us so early because there were a lot of things that he could add to the careers of young players today."

Elmore saw both the ABA and the NBA incarnations of Julius Erving, but his ties to Dr. J actually go back to when Elmore was a junior in high school and Erving was a freshman at the University of Massachusetts: “We played against each other at the Jack Donohue Camp in Saugerties (a Catskills resort in New York). The funny thing about that was here I was a center and Doc was the tallest guy on the counselors’ team. The tip went up and he won the jump ball. We started going up and down the court. As a center, I’m used to playing guys who are playing in the pivot and here is this guy who I’m supposed to guard who is running like a guard, who is running on the fast break, rebounding and pushing it up and it was an amazing eye-opener to see what a guy with his size and athleticism was capable of doing. Certainly, in the pros we know how great he was.”

Elmore’s 1981 Milwaukee Bucks lost a hard fought seven game series to Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers. Elmore did not play much that season, but he had a good view of the Doctor operating in that postseason battle: “The thing that just knocked me out again was how focused Julius was throughout those seven games. Defensively, they were always a gambling bunch with he and Bobby Jones on the wings; they created some turnovers and got the best of us. But we still had to be proud of the guy who essentially changed the game a little bit, became the human highlight and brought people’s focus back (to the NBA). They talk about Michael, they talk about Larry—and that’s true—but always looming there in the early and mid ‘80s is Julius and what he brought to the table. I think that in many instances he does not get enough credit for helping to revitalize the NBA.”

posted by David Friedman @ 3:15 AM

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