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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ollie Taylor Battled All the Giants at Just 6-2

Ollie Taylor rode the bench in high school before jumping center against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in college and playing against Julius Erving and Rick Barry in the ABA. Along the way, he set numerous National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) records while leading San Jacinto to the 1968 national title. Taylor followed that up by lifting Houston to a Sweet 16 appearance in 1970. Owner of a 46 inch vertical leap, Taylor dazzled fans from Rucker Park to the ABA with his spectacular dunks. You can read all about Taylor's career in my HoopsHype.com article about him (10/12/15 edit: the link to HoopsHype.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

Anyone who saw Ollie Taylor play swears that he could fly but when he talks about himself he is, pardon the pun, very down to earth. "I didn't start and I only scored six points in my entire career," Taylor says of his high school basketball days in New York. "I came out of DeWitt Clinton High School. We had seven guys off of that high school team who were drafted." One of those seven, Nate Archibald, is a Hall of Famer and one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.

Taylor did not resent that his playing time was limited. "We had a great high school team," he says simply. "I have no problem with my school. I went to an all-boys high school. We had 10,000 boys in that high school, so you (the basketball coaches) could pretty much pick and choose." DeWitt Clinton once scrimmaged against Ben Franklin High School, which played in a different division. Ben Franklin's star player was none other than Earl Manigault, the streetball legend who was famously profiled by Pete Axthelm in the book The City Game.

Asked what he recalls about playing against "The Goat," Taylor candidly replies: "It was a short experience. Like I said, at that time I was not playing that much. I didn't really get to play against him but I saw him play. They had a talented team and we had a talented team. Some of his exploits that people talk about I never got to see him do. I remember more about stories. I never got to see any of the stories (in person)."

"He was not a devastating shooter; he was not someone who you had to go guard (on the perimeter)," Taylor adds. "His damage was done around the basket, dunking." Are the stories about Manigault jumping up and taking a quarter off the top of the backboard really true? "Well, there are stories about me taking quarters off the top of the backboard," Taylor answers. The next question is obvious: "Are those true stories?"

"No," Taylor responds without hesitation. "You might make them think so, if you jump high enough."

He says that the closest he ever got to touching the top of the backboard was about eight inches. Taylor played a lot at Rucker Park but he never saw anyone touch the top of the backboard (Wilt Chamberlain and Jackie Jackson are two other players who have been rumored to have done this) and he doubts that anyone ever has. He believes that such stories get started because "guys can get close enough. If you can get eight or 10 inches from there then people think that maybe you can."

Taylor used his vertical leap, which he says "was in the 46-inch range," not just to dunk on people but also to grab rebounds. "The thing that made me different from a lot of other guys who could jump was that I was physically strong," Taylor explains. "When you rebound, you have to be strong...you have to be able to jump in a crowd. If you can't move people off of you it doesn't matter how high you can jump. You have to be able to elevate with a body on you. I loved to rebound."

When Taylor was young, he modeled his game after Elgin Baylor. "Elgin was fluid," Taylor says. "Elgin was in the army (during the 1961-62 season). I saw him play when he got out on weekends and I saw him play when he got a special pass to play in the Finals and things like that. I said, 'Man!' I wore #22, like he did. I wore #22 all through my career to emulate Elgin. He was a little bigger than I am but I did a lot of things that he could do--hanging in the air and floating and stuff like that. What became even more amazing to me is that he played several years without kneecaps. I followed all of that. He was the man who I emulated."

Although Taylor mainly sat on the bench during the high school basketball season, when spring rolled around he excelled as a shortstop. "I was actually better at baseball than anything else," Taylor says. He never stopped working on his basketball game, though. "I wore a weighted vest and ankle weights," Taylor remembers. "Whether that contributed to my ability to jump or not, I can't really say. I know that it did contribute to my physical strength. I jumped center every year that I was in college. I jumped center against Jabbar and had jump balls against Artis Gilmore. I probably won about 95 percent of my jump balls."

Considering the limited run that he received in high school, it is not surprising that Taylor did not get any scholarship offers to play basketball. He began his college career at San Jacinto Junior College, where he set National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) records for points in a season (1409 in 1967-68; 30.7 ppg) and a career (2456; 26.2 ppg). He led San Jacinto to a 44-2 record and a national title in 1967-68, setting the school's single game scoring record that season with a 53 point outburst. Taylor was inducted in the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 1994 (other members include Bob McAdoo, Spencer Haywood, Artis Gilmore, Larry Johnson and Shawn Marion).

Taylor spent the last two seasons of his college career at the University of Houston. In 1969-70, his senior season, Taylor averaged 24.4 ppg and 11.5 ppg as the Cougars went 25-5 and made it to the Sweet 16. He was selected as a Helms Foundation All-American. Overall, Taylor averaged 22.0 ppg and 10.3 rpg in 56 games at Houston.

Coach Guy Lewis later told the Sporting News, "Ollie Taylor out-jumped Alcindor (UCLA's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at the start of the game. He was 6-2 and played the post for me. One of the best post players I ever had." That is high praise when one considers that Lewis coached Hall of Famers Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler (a college forward who shifted to guard in the NBA). Taylor was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers but elected to sign with his hometown New York Nets of the ABA.

Taylor averaged 8.7 ppg and 3.8 rpg as a rookie in 1970-71. He posted similar numbers in his second season (8.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and increased his production in that year's playoffs (11.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) as the Nets made it all the way to the ABA Finals before losing to the Indiana Pacers in six games.

Taylor was traded to the San Diego Conquistadors and he had the best season of his ABA career in 1972-73, averaging 13.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 4.0 apg. It seemed like his career was on the upswing but the next season turned out to be his last as he was only able to play in 31 games for two different teams; the downside of constantly battling in the paint against bigger players is the toll that this exacts on one's body.

Taylor is proud of the time that he spent in the ABA; the memories of his experiences will last a lifetime. "The biggest thing for me is that I played against so many guys who became megastars," he says. "I played with some of them--I played with Rick Barry, I played with Billy Cunningham, I played with Julius (Erving)--so those are the memories I have. I played with and against them, so I saw both sides of the fence. That was a major thing for me personally. Rick was a terrific shooter. Billy Cunningham was probably a little past his prime when I played with him but he was a complete player. Of course, Julius had all of those qualities. He played above the rim, which was something that the NBA did not have at that time. He was one of the guys who initiated that. I played with him and against him, so it became a real point of pride for me to say that I did that."

In addition to starring in college and playing several years of pro ball, Taylor also played in the Rucker League in its heyday, when NBA and ABA All-Stars came to Rucker Park in the summer to compete with and against top streetball players.

One year, Taylor was on a team with fellow pros Julius Erving, Bob Love, Charlie Scott, Billy Paultz, Manny Leaks, and Joe DePre. They beat a team led by Nate Archibald to win the championship but along the way they faced a team that had streetball legends Joe Hammond and Pee Wee Kirkland.

"What I remember most about it was the matchup of Charlie Scott and Pee Wee Kirkland, who I think at that time was the second leading scorer at an NCAA (lower division) school," Taylor says. "He (Kirkland) had quite a reputation. He was only about 6-feet tall and Charlie was about 6-6. They got into it and they started playing one on one in a full court game. We kind of stood to the side and let them go one on one. Charlie was as quick as any six footer, so it wasn't much fun for Pee Wee. It was kind of funny."

Of course, those great Rucker League showdowns only exist now in the memories of those who played in or witnessed them. Sadly, much of the ABA's history also lacks video documentation but Taylor believes that it is important for people to understand how much the upstart league shaped basketball history.

"The real history of the ABA starts with Spencer Haywood," Taylor declares. "The ABA existed before Spencer Haywood, but the storyline really begins with him because he was the first one to challenge the undergraduate rule, paving the way for all these guys who are high school players or undergraduates to come into the NBA and make the kind of money that they are making. Spencer went through a lot of stuff that people don't realize--being escorted off of the court, being locked out of the arenas and stuff like that (while his case was making its way through the courts and various injunctions restricted him from playing). Spencer was only 19-20 years old and going through a real trauma in his life and questioning whether or not he should continue to battle. He's not a guy who's going to toot his own horn but, when you see the story of 'Glory Road,' that's one story but there is another story and it is a very important story because eventually the ABA became the cornerstone for the NBA. The dominant players after the merger were ABA players--George Gervin, Dr. J, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone. Those guys became the cornerstone of the NBA. There is a real, untold story there and I don't think that many people realize that."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:11 PM


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At Wednesday, October 10, 2007 8:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article, David. All I knew about Ollie Taylor was from the writeups in the old Pro Basketball Handbooks. Thanks for another insight into a lesser known ABA player.

At Friday, January 25, 2008 6:39:00 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

Thanks a million for your article, David. I grew up on LI and was thrilled to have seen Ollie Taylor in action at the Commack arena and on WPIX-telivised games with Marty Glickman doing the play-by-play.
It was an amazing era and my brother and I always thought very highly of Ollie. In addition, during the summer, various Nets players performed a PR role for the club, going to local parks on Long Island to conduct clinics for interested kids, and we were very fortunate to get two up-close looks at our 6'2" hero, who amazed us with some of his awesome dunks.
My brother was also able to play in a 2 on 2 pickup game with a college star against Ollie and a friend he brought out from the Bronx one night at a park "under the lights" and I can still remember how Ollie ultimately took things under control to win the game.
I also remember seeing Ollie fly in on a fast break and slam right over Artis Gilmore in a WPIX-televised game one evening. He just blew right over Artis, exploded - one of the best dunks I ever saw in my life!
I'd just like to thank you again for the article and say that I was so glad to hear about N°22. I hope things are going well for Ollie and would like to thank him for being such a great guy. Thanks for the memories, Ollie!

At Friday, January 23, 2009 1:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a HUGE Ollie Taylor fan as a kid. I used to go see him play quite often back in th early 70's. As a 9 year old I was floored by some of his dunks....I copied them with my nerf ball in the basement. My father was good friends with Pete Vescey the Daily News Sportswriter so he used to hook us up with game tickets all the time. During Ollie's final season with the NETS he got me into the locker room to meet him....it was a dream come true. It was a moment that I always remember and mention to my kids from time to time. As I walked out of the locker after meeting Ollie and the rest of the team(Rick Barry, Billy Paultz,Trooper Washington, Gene Moore, Jim Ard, john Baum, Bill Melchioni & John Roche) we ran into a newcomer in the hallway from the Virginia Squires....Pete yells out "Hey Julius, I'd like you to say hello to a friend of mine". Those ABA days were GREAT MEMORIES!!! I wish we still had basketball like that on Long Island,

At Sunday, February 20, 2011 1:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ollie used to come to CT with Calvin Murphy (hometown is Norwalk) to play exhibition games. Ollie's pre-game dunks were some of the most amazing athletics I've ever seen. Rob mentions his dunk over Artis Gilmore - still the greatest dunk I've ever seen - 6-2 flying power jam straight over 7-2 - talk about shock value. I think of Ollie every time the All-Star dunk contest comes up. No one ever comes close - a sort of mix of Spud Webb (short) and Blake Griffin (power). The greatest.

At Tuesday, January 10, 2012 10:55:00 AM, Blogger Clarence Gaines II said...

Great Story - Never heard of Ollie until today. Your HoopsHype story brought him to life for me. What he had to say about Spencer Haywood is very special.

At Tuesday, January 10, 2012 2:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you and welcome to 20 Second Timeout.

I think that you will be interested in an article that I wrote at my other website:

"Black Magic": Must-See TV

At Friday, July 12, 2013 3:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story of Ollie Taylor dunk only tells half the story.... Ollie had taken a shot, Gilmore rejected it and it bounced out of bounds at half court.... while the TV announcer was talking about what an incredible block it was, Ollie raced to the baseline at half court... asked for the inbound..took the ball... raced down the middle of the lane , strait at Gilmore.......and then finished with that dunk!!!!!! It is the mist fantastic play ever......period.. if you showed it today.....they would give Ollie the all time small man dunks on big man award .... someone shouldnaskmgilmore about it, ... the news probably has an archive photo of it, but the whole sequence, blocked shot, inbound, drive, dunk......awesome..

At Friday, July 12, 2013 5:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for sharing more details about that spectacular play!

At Sunday, July 14, 2013 12:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow..you answered, my detailed comments on Ollie Taylor dunk, now if we could convince the nets to find that footage, photos, or sports stories about it.....we can just call it " the dunk"....just like the catch etc......interview the announcer, Gilmore, it must have been either Roche or melhionni that inbounded it....the nets should get behind it too. Cm on man, this can continue to build your career....

At Monday, July 15, 2013 4:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have some other projects that I am working on at the moment but the Taylor dunk would be an interesting story to pursue at some point. Unfortunately, I strongly suspect that footage either never existed or has long since been destroyed.

At Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the honor and privilege of attending U of H during the same time with Ollie Taylor. To say he was a great Bball player doesn't come close to describing just how great he really was. U of H was strong in sports; Guy Lewis couched basketball and Bill Yeoman couched football. I never missed a home game of either sport. But Ollie Taylor was the one guy everyone wanted to see play. I may be wrong, but as I remember, the Cougars were undefeated in Hofheinz Pavilion the two years Ollie played there. His athletic ability was dominant over any rival player he met on the court. His true abilities were held in check as "dunking' was not allowed during that time at the college level or we would have witnessed an even higher level of his ability. I remember pregame worm-ups when Ollie would dribble two balls at the same time at a full run from mid court and stuff both of them in a single jump from high above the rim. But never a show off.
When I would see him at the UC lower level playing ping pong I was always amazed at what he could do on the court and only be 2 inches taller than me. Always said 'Hi' when I spoke to him. I'll never forget his performance on the court. Hope he is doing well where ever he is today.

At Thursday, April 24, 2014 3:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for sharing those memories. Ollie Taylor had special talent and I am glad that I had the privilege to interview him and tell his story.

At Sunday, July 06, 2014 8:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dewitt Clinton rocks...
In the 60's Clinton was the NYC power house... except for the year
Jabar was at Old Power Memorial ...
Who would not rid the bench...
In 65 you had Nate , Mike Switzer, Luuther Green, and the list goes on.... You had Rick Sobers who did not want to play, Leon Howard, Ray hodge, Carson, Robinson, Ronald Bahegan ... and more start came after.... until Clinton became CO-ED ......Knowles

At Tuesday, October 07, 2014 8:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After calling the guy who told me about him a liar, we drove 250 miles to see him play. He did not
disappoint-he scored 46 points in beating our team. In warm-ups, he dunked two basketballs on the same run two the basket with ease; had to bend his neck to keep from hitting his head while spinning around in the air and dunking backwards. He didn't look like a basketball player either, carrying 190-200 lbs od solid muscle. VERY strong young man for a Bball player.


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