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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hall of Famer Bobby Wanzer Visits the NBA TV Set

Hall of Famer Bobby Wanzer appeared on NBA TV on Wednesday prior to the Warriors-Raptors game and he spoke with Pete Vecsey and Rick Kamla (fortunately, Vecsey asked most of the questions, while Kamla thankfully refrained from going off on a tangent about Minnesota or Kevin Garnett). Wanzer was one of the great guards in the early years of the NBA and he paired with Bob Davies to form a tremendous backcourt for the Rochester Royals, who beat George Mikan's Minneapolis Lakers in the 1951 Western Division Finals en route to winning that season's NBA title; Mikan's Lakers won the championship the two previous years and the three years after that. Wanzer played in five straight All-Star Games and made the All-NBA Team three straight times. His Hall of Fame bio states that he won the 1953 NBA MVP and an NBA TV graphic during his appearance mentioned that as well but the NBA did not officially start awarding an MVP until the 1955-56 season. It seems unlikely that Wanzer would have won the MVP if it had been awarded in 1953 because he only made the All-NBA Second Team, meaning that at least five players received more votes than he did for that honor.

Wanzer led the NBA in free throw shooting in 1952, becoming the first NBA player to shoot better than .900 (.904). He also ranked in the top ten in field goal percentage four times; the field goal percentage numbers from his era don't look great to today's eyes but there are several mitigating factors to consider, as I explained in a previous post: "The early NBA played its games in poorly lit arenas and dealt with travel and lodging accommodations that NBA and WNBA players of today could not even imagine. Also, forget 'no blood, no foul'—it was more like, 'no first degree assault, no foul.' Players did not dunk in games because leaving your feet was an invitation to a maiming—and yes, players back then could dunk the ball, as shown on old Minneapolis Lakers films displaying the team dunking during practice and pre-game lay-up lines. Even as late as 1959-60, Wilt Chamberlain’s rookie season, there was a 'Wild West' quality to the game. Sports Illustrated had a big story around that time about how Chamberlain planned to retire because of the cheap shots and rough play that he endured on a nightly basis."

Wanzer described to Vecsey and Kamla how the NBA game has changed: "Our game was much different than it is today. Today is a run, speed (game). We passed, went behind the picks, (ran) back door (plays). Possession was important--you had to get a good shot almost every time."

Here is how Wanzer evaluated his strengths as a player: "I was a very good shooter. I had what they called a 'case move,' where you make your move, faked and went in. I also liked to go in the post and take a couple hook shots."

Vecsey asked Wanzer to clarify what a "case move" is and Wanzer answered, "I think that every ball player should have a move where he can free himself up," adding that in today's game anyone who can do a good crossover dribble is virtually impossible to guard.

The 86 year old Wanzer said that he golfs three times a week but still keeps up with what is going on in the NBA. He likes the Nets' acquisition of Devin Harris for Jason Kidd because Harris is a young, talented player whose shot continues to improve but he also understands that Dallas did the deal in order to win now. Wanzer suggested that the Heat may let Shawn Marion leave after the end of the season and use the salary cap space to sign more players, prompting Vecsey to quip good-naturedly that the Heat should sign Wanzer as a consultant.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:42 AM

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