20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Herb Turetzky: The Original Net

Herb Turetzky was a Net before the Nets even were the Nets; the New Jersey Americans--one of the original ABA franchises--hired Turetzky to be their official scorekeeper in the league's inaugural season (1967-68) and Turetzky has been with the team ever since. The New Jersey Americans became the New York Nets in their second season and they were one of four ABA teams that participated in the ABA-NBA merger prior to the 1976-77 season. The Nets moved back to New Jersey in 1977 and were known as the New Jersey Nets from 1977-2012 but they will enter a new era in 2012-13 as the Brooklyn Nets. The team's journey back to New York takes Turetzky full circle; born and raised in Brooklyn, Turetzky played on several traveling teams as a youngster, including squads that won championships in the Daily Mirror-Department of Parks league (1960) and the Police Athletic League (1961).

In addition to being the Nets' official scorekeeper, Turetzky has coached touring basketball teams in Belgium, France, Greece and Israel and he worked for 12 years as a teacher/administrator in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighbor­hood of Brooklyn. Turetzky's 2010 book Basketball and Life--a collection of his poetry--can be ordered here.

When the Nets retired Julius Erving's number 32 in 1987, Erving's acceptance speech included the statement that people should "know about the history of the franchise, about people like Herb Turetzky." Turetzky later said, "Mentioning me on his night is an irreplaceable memory that I will remember for the rest of my life."

Turetzky has been honored by four Halls of Fame: the National Pro-Am City League Hall of Fame, the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Brooklyn U.S.A. Basketball Hall of Fame. Erving traveled from Florida at his own expense to present Turetzky into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004. "It made me feel like the king of the world," Turetkzy told me. "That's Julius Erving and his concern for other people."

I recently interviewed Turetzky; our wide-ranging conversation went into some unexpected--but fascinating--directions as he reminisced about a rich basketball life that includes not only scorekeeping but also playing and coaching. The interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Friedman: "Before the 1974 season, the Nets acquired Julius Erving from the Virginia Squires. That 1974 New York team is really remarkable because despite being the youngest team in professional basketball the Nets had a very dominant playoff run. They went 12-2, which matched a record set by the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks. That record stood until Dr. J's 1983 Philadelphia 76ers went 12-1 in the playoffs. What stands out for you about that 1974 championship season and some of the players on that New York team, including 'Super' John Williamson and Larry Kenon?"

Turetzky: "'Supe' and Larry were both rookies. 'Supe' was a very dear friend of mine and of Doc's. He was very, very brash, probably the cockiest player I have come across. His nickname of 'Super John' was self-imposed! He gave it to himself. The player I compare him to is Levern Tart, who passed away a few years ago and also wore number 23. Levern was from Bradley, about 6-2, 220. He was a bull. He could have played football. When he went to the basket, he went through you. 'Super John' was that type of player; John went through anybody who was in his way. He just wouldn't let anybody stop him from scoring.

Brian Taylor could really handle the ball. Larry was laid back. He was content to be the second or third fiddle. I don't think that they called him 'Mr. K' in his rookie year; that took a little while. Billy Paultz was very solid. He was big and burly. Julius, obviously, was special. His skills were a combination of Connie Hawkins and Elgin Baylor and he just took over the games. I was thinking about this earlier today; LeBron James is a monster—about 6-8, 260 or so—while Doc is about 6-6, 6-7 and much lighter but he did the same things that LeBron does: he could get the defensive rebound—not by moving people out of the way but by jumping over them—and then just take it the length of the floor for a layup. He was a one man fast break. Kevin (Loughery) was the player's coach. He was a former player, they listened to him and he led them to the ring."

Friedman: "The 1976 New York team that won the championship was significantly different; it was much less talented and deep than the 1974 team because the Nets got rid of Paultz and Kenon. Doc had one of the greatest playoff runs ever, capped off with that phenomenal Finals against Denver when he led both teams in every major statistical category. What do you remember about the 1976 team and specifically about that 1976 Finals against a Denver team that included two Hall of Fame players (Dan Issel, David Thompson) and a Hall of Fame coach (Larry Brown)?"

Turetzky: "It was a great series. Doc was very special. The team was much different. Dave DeBusschere (New York's General Manager) did not like Billy Paultz because Billy was not athletic but he couldn't touch him because we were a championship team. When we lost to St. Louis in the 1975 playoffs, that gave Dave the opportunity to do something without being criticized. He got rid of Billy and Larry. Billy had a great career after that with San Antonio. Dave brought in Rich Jones to play the power forward spot. Rich did a good job. Kim Hughes and Jim Eakins played center. This was more Doc being a one man team, except for the final game against Denver when--as great as Doc was--'Supe' had 24 points in the second half and 16 points in the fourth quarter. We didn't know if that was the ABA's last game; it was something that had been talked about but it wasn't a sure thing. My biggest memory about that game is that afterward in the locker room Brian Taylor and Willie Sojourner threw me into the shower. I was wearing a sports jacket, standing in the shower getting soaking wet, and I looked around and there was Doc in his uniform in front of me, just resting, staying away from the media for a little while. For about three or four minutes Julius just stayed there, talking about what a great experience it was to be a champion again."

Friedman: "Artis Gilmore and Mel Daniels have finally been inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame. What are your memories of Roger Brown, another great ABA player who should be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame?"

Turetzky: "There is a documentary that will come out in the next six months or so. It's being made by Ted Green in Indianapolis. Like Roger, I'm a Brooklyn guy. I was a mediocre ball player. In high school at Thomas Jefferson I played with Harvey Jackson, who is a good friend of mine to this day. Harvey's older brother Tony was an All-American at St. John's. Tony is the best pure long distance jump shooter I've ever seen. Then came the scandal of 1961, which was not really a scandal, but Roger, Tony, Connie Hawkins and Doug Moe got blackballed by the NBA because of their relationship with Jack Molinas, a former Columbia player who was a big-time gambler. Since they were not able to play in the NBA, they bounced around. Connie went to the Harlem Globetrotters, Roger played for an AAU team in Dayton, Ohio and Tony went to Chicago to play for the Majors in the ABL and then he bounced around to the Eastern League and different places. There was an AAU team called the ABC Freighters, owned by Arthur Brown and coached by Max Zaslofsky, who was also from Brooklyn and played at St. John's. Zaslofsky led the NBA in scoring (in 1947-48). Brown owned the New Jersey Americans during the ABA's first season and Zaslofsky was his General Manager and Coach. Zaslofsky's first draft pick was Tony Jackson. I went to the first ABA game to watch Tony play against Pittsburgh and Connie Hawkins. Max saw me and asked if I would like to help out with the scorekeeping. I became the Americans' official scorekeeper, which I have been doing since that day. Roger, who I followed since his days at Wingate High School, was unbelievable. He outscored Connie Hawkins in a high school game 38-18. When I finally saw Roger in the ABA, he was the same player. He had so many moves. He had a magnificent jump shot. When Tony Jackson took a jump shot, he jumped three feet in the air. Roger was maybe six to eight to 10 inches off the ground when he shot but it was as pure as can be. He was called the man with a thousand moves. There was nothing he couldn't do with the ball offensively. When the Nets lost to Roger's Indiana team in the 1972 ABA Finals, Roger just killed Rick Barry, who had been the NBA's leading scorer and an All-Star in both leagues; Roger just killed him. I am very hopeful that next year—I know that George McGinnis' name is already on the Hall of Fame ballot and it will be difficult to get two ABA players selected in the same year—Roger will go in or if not then the year after that."

When Turetzky mentioned Tony Jackson's brother I did not catch his first name and after I asked Turetzky to repeat it he did so, adding that there were four Jackson brothers and that Harvey played for the Seattle University team that handed the 1966 Texas Western team their only loss; Texas Western went 28-1 (including five NCAA tournament games) and became the first Division I team with five black starters to win a national championship.

I asked Turetzky about the Nets' first round victory over Erving's 76ers in the first round of the 1984 playoffs but it turns out that New Jersey's two home games in that series are the last two games that Turetzky missed, so he has no firsthand recollections of New Jersey's upset of the defending NBA champions. However, without any prompting, Turetzky shared some stories that illustrate what kind of character Julius Erving has.

Turetzky: "Greg Cluess, a 6-8 forward, played at St. John's from 1970-72. He was drafted by the Knicks and the Nets. He didn't make either team...Greg passed away from cancer in 1976. That season, Billy Schaeffer (Greg's teammate at St. John’s who later played three seasons in the ABA) asked what we could do to help Greg's family. We decided to put together an All-Star benefit game at St. John's that summer. The first person I went to was Julius. I said, 'Doc, I want to do this benefit for Greg's family but I can't have an All-Star game without you.' And he let me know he wanted to do this and when he would be available. Thanks to him, we had Tiny Archibald, 'Super' John, Kim Hughes came in from California, Ron Behagen and a bunch of other players...In the St. John's alumni game, Tony Jackson played, Alan Seiden played; Coach Carnesecca coached one team and his assistant coached the other team. In the NBA/ABA game, Kevin Loughery coached one team and Herb Brown, who was the Pistons' coach at the time, coached the other team. Dick Bavetta was one of the referees. We raised over $5000 for Greg's family. That was an example of Doc being Doc; someone was in need and he wanted to help.

'Super' John was a great friend of mine and of Doc's but he came from a different background--single parent home in the projects--and John got very sick. He did not always take good care of his body. He developed a lot of problems with his kidneys and he didn't have the money any more to take care of it. The IRS had taken away two houses he owned when he was playing for the Nets; his agents did not do a good job for him. We had two benefits for 'Supe.' One of them was at St. Anthony's High School in Suffolk County. Doc came into town to meet and greet people and encourage them to donate some money to help 'Super' John out. It was great. There was another benefit at New Haven. Doc signed autographs and I have one of them in my basement on a picture of John Williamson blocking Julius' shot. He said that it was the only time he had ever signed a picture of himself getting his shot blocked. John Williamson gave that picture to me. Again, that is just the kind of guy that Julius is. He is always there to help people out, especially his friends. He would never forget someone. The last season of his career, they were honoring him around the league. I owned a trophy shop at the time and Fritz Massman, the Nets' trainer, asked if I would custom frame one of Julius' jerseys so that it could be presented to him when his number was retired. Massman gave me two jerseys so that I could frame one for myself and I have it in my basement now. When they gave the framed jersey to Julius, he held it over his head and spoke to the crowd of more than 20,000 fans. My wife and kids were there and my in-laws were there. In the middle of his speech, he told the fans of New Jersey that they need to know about the history of this franchise, about the New York Nets and people like Fritz Massman and people like Herb Turetzky. When I heard him say that, my legs crumbled underneath me. It was incredible; on a night when he was being honored he took the time to mention me and Fritz. It was unbelievable. In 2008, I did my 1000th game with the Nets. They had a very nice ceremony honoring me. Doc couldn't make the trip but they had a six minute videotape that he made congratulating me and telling people what kind of guy he thought I was."

Turetzky has worked 1177 consecutive Nets' games since missing their home games in the 1984 playoff series versus Philadelphia. The reason that he missed those two games is very interesting; Turetzky was running the New York-New Jersey Pro-Am Leagues at that time and he took a team over to France to play in a tournament. Team members included Al Skinner (a member of the Nets' 1976 championship team who later became the head coach at Rhode Island and Boston College) and Craig Robinson (the current Oregon State head coach who is also President Obama's brother-in- law). 

Drazen Petrovic was the first great foreign player in the NBA who did not play college ball in the United States. Petrovic was a bench player for Portland before becoming a star in New Jersey. The 28 year old Petrovic died in a car accident in the summer of 1993 after making the All-NBA Third Team. I asked Turetzky about his memories of Petrovic's time with the Nets.

Turetzky: "You're killing me. I loved Drazen. Let me tell you one thing about the championship game that we played in Europe against a team from France. They had a 6-5 jump shooter named Herve Dubuisson. He was just killing us in the first half. He was shooting jump shots from 25, 28, 32 feet. It was either Al Skinner or Craig Robinson playing defense on him. In the second half, I said 'Hit him and let him know that he's playing in a ball game here!' And they did and we won the game. After the game, Herve Dubuisson became a friend of mine. I went to the Nets' General Manager at the time, Lewis Schaffel, and I recommended that they consider bringing him over. Herve Dubuisson was a great kid. He played for France in the Olympics in L.A. in 1984 but then he got very sick. He just didn't have the energy to keep going. He didn't make our team. He also just missed making the L.A. Clippers. If he had been healthy he would have been the first non-American to play in the NBA. He was 6-5 and he had crazy range.

Drazen did not do much in Portland, he just kind of blended in. My son David was a ballboy for the Nets at the time. He was a junior in high school. He would work with Drazen before the games. They both wore the same size shoe, size 12. Drazen would give David his shoes. I still have about six pairs of them in David's old room. One time Drazen scored 44 points against Houston and I asked him to sign his shoes. He asked why and I said that 44 points is a lot. He said, 'No, it's not. I scored more than 100 points in a game.' Drazen was a great person and an incredible player. If he had not been in that accident there is no question he could have been an all-time great NBA player."

Here is a link to a page with some Dubuisson highlights: Légendes du Basket français - Hervé Dubuisson

This is footage of a 1985 scoring duel between Herve Dubuisson and Drazen Petrovic:

Here are some highlights from Petrovic's 44 point game against Houston:

Friedman: "The highlight for the Nets in the NBA so far has to be the period of time that included the back to back trips to the NBA Finals with that squad led by Jason Kidd. What do you remember about that era? Also, I am interested in your thoughts about Kidd compared with Stephon Marbury. It seems like every team Kidd joins becomes better and every team he leaves becomes worse, while the opposite seems to be true of Marbury."

Turetzky: "The teams that made it to the Finals with Jason Kidd were tremendous. He should have been the MVP in 2002. The award went to Tim Duncan. J. Kidd got (robbed) in that voting, I believe. Kidd turned the entire franchise around. We had a very good team--Kerry Kittles, Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin--but J. Kidd made the difference. All of a sudden, these guys ran like deer because they knew that he would get them the ball for layups. It was unbelievable. It was a beautiful thing to watch. Jason Kidd is the most valuable Net since Julius Erving. Julius Erving is the greatest Net of all time and J. Kidd is number two. J. Kidd is a great player who makes other players better. He changed his game and developed a jump shot toward the end of his time in New Jersey. He used to be known as 'Ason' because he did not have a 'J.' That changed.

I first saw Stephon play when he was in the eighth grade. He was a great player in high school. I think that his downfall started with the Nets. When he first came to the Nets, Stephon Marbury could pass the ball as well as most guards. Then Keith Van Horn changed Stephon Marbury. Stephon would pass the ball to Keith and it would either bounce off of Keith's hands or he'd miss a shot or get his shot blocked. After watching this and seeing his passes go no place, Stephon decided to take it upon himself to do more of the shooting. He became more self-centered."

Friedman: "What is the hardest part of your job as a scorekeeper?"

Turetzky: "I don't think that there is a hard part of the job. When I was growing up in Brooklyn I used to play punchball but after I learned how to play basketball I never played punchball again. At the Boys and Girls Club they didn't just teach us how to play basketball; I also learned how to run the clock and how to keep score and how to collect the tickets. It's really very basic. To me, the key thing is I know the game and I love the game. I played it, I love it, it's part of my life. It's instinctive. You can see things develop 40 or 50 feet down the court because you can anticipate what's going to happen. It's not difficult if you know the game. You have to be unbiased. You work with the officials on the court to make sure that the game flows, that subs come into the game when they are supposed to come into the game; I can't allow something to happen that affects the flow of the game: if a sub is at the bench and not at the scorer's table I can't sound the horn to let him in because that affects the flow of the game and could take a fast break opportunity away from a team. Those are the kinds of things that I have to be on top of."

Friedman: "Do you think that--either in terms of the official rules or just the way that the rules are handled from a practical standpoint--the standard for what an assist is changed from 1968 until now?"

Turetzky: "Absolutely. Absolutely."

Friedman: "How has it changed?"

Turetzky: "An assist is supposed to be a pass that leads directly to a basket. If a player catches the ball at the foul line, takes two dribbles, spins and makes a layup then there should not be an assist on that play."

Friedman: "It seems like assists are given on those kinds of plays now."

Turetzky: "There is an awful lot of flexibility now. As the numbers have gotten bigger, I think that they want assists to be given out and so you see players getting 10, 11, 12 assists in a game."

Friedman: "Do you feel pressured either directly or indirectly to give assists to Nets players or do you get pressure from other teams that have top playmakers who they want to receive credit for a lot of assists?"

Turetzky: "See, I don't do that; I oversee the scorekeeping for the game. They have a stat crew who sit behind me, four of them now with their computers. They have discussions and I hear the discussions sometimes and sometimes it is a little troubling. It is almost amusing at times. Many years back, I just had two people working with me at the table and we would just do it between us, before the computer systems came in. I did the scoring on every play and the stats would go from my mouth to a typist who put it down on paper and that was it. The NBA then went to the computer system and it switched out of my hands and into the hands of the computer people. That is how it is all around the league...To me, that's been the problem."

Friedman: "When did that change happen?"

Tutetzky: "Probably about 10 years ago. I don't remember specifically."

Friedman: "Prior to that, you had more input—"

Turetzky: "I did the play by play along with a play by play typist—and I had some great ones, including Jonathan Supranowitz, who is now the Vice President of Public Relations for the Knicks."

Friedman: "I did a study of regarding assists. I watched some games and charted how many assists should be awarded by rule--which, as you said, is a pass leading directly to a basket. What I noticed is that a lot of times someone would get credit for an assist even if the recipient of the pass went through the whole Kevin McHale low post repertoire before making his shot. You think that the change has taken place in the past 10 years or so."

Turetzky: "Yes. I think that some of this is that executives started keeping track of the statistics and the records. You didn't see Bob Cousy setting these kinds of assist records. It's not quite the same."

Friedman: "What is your favorite memory or your favorite moment from your time with the Nets?"

Turetzky: "Being in the shower with Doc after the 1976 championship. No question about it. That's a once in a lifetime experience. After Michael Jordan came into the NBA, it probably took me six years or more to accept that he may have surpassed Doc. I thought that Doc was the greatest player of all time. I eventually became resigned to the fact that Jordan took it to a little bit of a different level. But I was in the shower with, to me, the greatest basketball player of all time. What could be better than that?"

Friedman: "Yeah. I know from talking to some of the ABA players and coaches that there was camaraderie not just among teammates but among everyone in the league, even opposing players and rivals. There was a camaraderie that was not quite matched after the merger."

Turetzky: "The guys in the ABA were all in the same boat. They were struggling for recognition against a league that looked at us like we were second class people--even after the merger: they considered us a circus act with the red, white and blue ball and the three point shot. I used to drive through the city and see that ball at every playground. It was the greatest teaching tool that coaches had because you could see the rotation on the shot. It was marvelous. But the NBA was very, very established and very strong and our guys realized that they were second class citizens compared to the NBA, that they were all in the same boat. They weren't established but they had a fraternity. After games, we would all go to the same restaurants with some of the ballplayers and it wouldn't matter who picked up the check. You can't have that today when ballplayers are making $15 million and you are making $70,000. We travel in different circles. In those years, there was a club up in Hempstead that had a buffet after every game for the players and the staff and the fans. The night after we beat Denver in six games for the 1976 championship, I was at the bar next to (Nets' owner) Roy Boe. He pulled three tickets for game seven out of his pocket and said, 'I guess I won't need these.' I put them in my pocket and the next year I had Julius sign one, I had David Thompson sign one and I had Kevin Loughery and Larry Brown sign the same ticket together. Those tickets are in my basement now. I have scorebooks from the two championship seasons signed by all of the players. You could have the players and staff in the same restaurant together eating, drinking and talking. That can't happen now."

Labels: , , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 3:48 AM



At Friday, October 05, 2012 9:36:00 AM, Anonymous Ilhan said...

Beautiful interview, as usual for you, David, thanks a lot!


Post a Comment

<< Home