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Thursday, December 10, 2020

Remembering Eugene "Goo" Kennedy, 1949-2020

I was saddened to learn today that Eugene "Goo" Kennedy recently passed away. I first met Kennedy at the 2005 ABA Reunion, held in Denver during the NBA All-Star Weekend. Kennedy and several other ABA veterans immediately made me feel welcome after I introduced myself, and the time that I spent with them will forever be one of the highlights of my writing career. Players of his generation are around my parents' age, and those are the players who were in their primes when I was a child first learning about basketball. It is sobering to see an increasing number of people from that generation passing away.

Kennedy was not a star player in the professional ranks, but he starred at Texas Christian University, winning the team MVP and the Southwest Conference Player of the Year award for the 1970-71 season after averaging 20.4 ppg and 16.6 rpg while leading the squad to an NCAA Tournament berth. 

Kennedy averaged 8.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg during his five year professional career, spending his first four seasons in the ABA before finishing his career with the Houston Rockets in 1976-77, the first season after the ABA-NBA merger.

His life--any life--adds up to so much more than just numbers or statistics or accolades. Kennedy spent his post-playing career devoted to education and to helping at-risk kids, and he also raised several foster kids with his wife Mary.

During the 2005 ABA Reunion, I did a one on one interview with Kennedy. I was working on several stories about the ABA and pro basketball history. Looking back through my interview archives, I realize that my interview with Kennedy has never been published, nor did the quotes from that interview appear in subsequent articles. Here is an excerpt from that February 18, 2005 interview:

Friedman: "I'm doing an article about James Silas, who has that great nickname--'Captain Late.' What do you remember about playing with him as a teammate? What made him so special as an offensive player that people really didn't get to see in the NBA after the knee injury?"

Kennedy: "I called him 'Si-Lee.' I remember when he came in as a rookie. He was very quiet, wouldn't say anything."

Friedman: "Really?"

Kennedy: "Yeah. He was very quiet."

Friedman: "He seems talkative now."

Kennedy: "Very quiet. We became very close. We always talked with each other, even when we were with other teams. He's just an all-around good guy."

Friedman: "There was camaraderie in the ABA, even if you were on different teams everyone seemed to really have an 'all for one, one for all' mentality."

Kennedy: "When Fatty [Roland 'Fatty' Taylor, organizer of the 2005 and 2006 ABA Reunions] started getting this (ABA Reunion) together, we said, 'All right, let's get together.' We started talking to other people who Fatty couldn't get in contact with, so we spread the word and it worked well."

Friedman: "What's your favorite memory from your playing days?"

Kennedy: "My rookie year, first coming in and seeing all these guys with gray hair--the veterans. "

Friedman: "You felt like you knew you had a shot, that some of those older guys were on their way out--is that what you were thinking?"

Kennedy: "No, no, no. I'm thinking, 'What am I to do?' You know some of the guys that you meet because you played with them in college, but you didn't know them that well. When I first came in I knew Collis Jones. We were very close because we had played against each other, he at Notre Dame and myself at Texas Christian University. So we hit it off very well and have been together ever since. When I came in he was the number one draft choice [17th pick overall in the 1971 NBA Draft, selected by the Milwaukee Bucks]."

Friedman: "Collis was with the Chaparrals?"

Kennedy: "With the Chaparrals and in the NBA. He decided to come to Dallas. It was tough, it wasn't easy."

Friedman: "What's your best memory of Julius Erving, the best move that you saw him do? I know that everyone says that his best moves aren't on tape, that they happened in the ABA and were not filmed."

Kennedy: "We all came in at the same time. He was a rookie when I was a rookie. In the ABA, Doc went to a lot of cities that did not televise the games nationally. They were only shown in that town. A lot of people did not see him in his prime. They missed it all. He would come into town and people did not know who Dr. J was. They missed a great opportunity."

Friedman: "Also, he came out of a small, unheralded schoo1."

Kennedy: "UMASS."

Friedman: "Right. He came from a small school into a league that was, undeservedly, given second class status in terms of television coverage."

Kennedy: "Right. The ABA was a great league with great players. Look at after the league folded how many guys went into the NBA from the ABA"

Friedman: "Many of the All-NBA guys for the next several years--Erving, Thompson, Gervin, Moses, Maurice Lucas--"

Kennedy: "Moses and I played together at Utah in the ABA and then we played together in Houston."

Friedman: "What did you think of Moses when you first saw him come out of high school at about 210 pounds?"

Kennedy: "Skinny kid who had so much ability."

Friedman: "You could see it even when he was that young?"

Kennedy: "Yeah and everybody was determined to beat up on him. You could beat up on him and it didn't make any difference. Moses was a quick jumper. He could go down and go back up, go down and go back up. For his size, he was unbelievable. He was young, but he could play."

Friedman: "He developed some offensive moves a little later on, but when you were roommates he was mainly scoring off of offensive rebounds, right?"

Kennedy: "Rebounds and put backs. Then he worked on his little turn around jump shot and taking the ball to the basket. He was just a great all around player and a good guy."

Friedman: "What do you remember of Marvin Barnes, another guy who was a great offensive rebounder?"

Kennedy: "Speaking of Marvin, I was just talking to him out there. We played together in St. Louis--Marvin Barnes, Maurice Lucas, Joe Caldwell, Steve Jones, Fly Williams, Gus Gerard. We had a really good team."

Friedman: "What do you remember of the 1975 ABA playoffs? The Nets were the defending champions and had beaten you something like 13 straight times."

Kennedy: "They had beaten us, but during that playoff we were on a roll. We had come together as a team."

Friedman: "What changed?"

Kennedy: "Everybody started to get to know everybody. Everybody felt real comfortable about what was going on and got to know the system. Everybody liked everybody. We had fun doing it."

Friedman: "For those first couple years, Marvin was an incredible player. He was putting up 25 and 15."

Kennedy: "Marvin was a great offensive rebounder, great defender. He could handle the ball, he could shoot the ball--he could do it all. He had so much ability it was unbelievable."

Friedman: "Did you ever read the book by (David) Halberstam, The Breaks of the Game? Steve Jones was interviewed in that book and he talked about Marvin Barnes. That was the first time I ever read about or heard about Marvin Barnes. That book came out a long time ago, like 25 years ago--I read it as a kid."

Kennedy: "Marvin was the type of guy who did what he wanted to do. He didn't think about what would happen. He just did it and then thought about it afterwards. He's a fun guy, he's a neat guy. He always wants to help somebody."

Friedman: "He has a good heart."

Kennedy: "Good heart, good, tender heart."

Friedman: "After you guys beat the Nets, then you played the Colonels and that's when Freddie Lewis got injured, right?"

Kennedy: "I think that it was an old knee injury from when he played with Indiana. When he went down, he was our main point guard. He was at the top of his game that year. He was scoring, playing good 'D' and running the team. We had other good quality guards, but when he went down it was not the same as having him out there."

Friedman: "I read about a guy you had on the Spirits named Don Adams."

Kennedy: "Don Adams came in from Detroit."

Friedman: "I guess he was a physical player and he frustrated Doc a little bit during the series. What do you remember about that?"

Kennedy: "Well, what frustrated Doc more than anything during that series was Marvin. Marvin was all over Doc. When Marvin played he talked a lot of noise. He was constantly talking on the court, (saying things) like, 'You can't stop me, you can't do this.’"

Friedman: "That was one of the real shocking upsets in basketball history. I actually did an article a while back about some of the greatest upsets based on the difference in won/loss record. They were the defending champs, they had the better record and had beaten you so many times in a row." 

Kennedy was a soft-spoken man, and a fun interview subject. I am glad that I had the opportunity to speak with him about his ABA and NBA memories.

Rest in peace, "Goo."

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:44 PM



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