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Old 07-25-2011, 11:42 PM   #6
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Default Re: Happy Birthday to an Underappreciated All Time Great

'Quick Talk w/ Nate Thurmond,"Extra Sauce", Bret Dougherty, 3/15/2004

In the seating area, you cannot help but look at the dozens of pictures hanging upon the wall. A black and white photo shows Wilt Chamberlain walking down the street in a white button down sweater, followed by Nate and Wayne Hightower in dark suits with dark porkpie hats to match. The three big men in their suits look like they could fit on stage with Miles Davis抯 Quintet at the time.

揟hat one was taken on Haight St. in 1963. We were the biggest front line in NBA history at the time611, 71, and 69攨.We look pretty smooth there....Wilt was a big influence on me at that time. That year, I will never forget that he picked me up in a purple Bentley with a record player attached to the dashboard that played 45s. We drove that thing down to the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and we had a really good time.

Yet, Nate is careful not to mis-represent his feelings for Wilt.

揧ou can抰 be friends with guys you compete against..When Wilt left the Warriors, I learned to be all business, Thurmond says. 揑 can抰 understand how these guys joke around on the court with each other. I always felt that the other guy was out to take my dinner money.

However, Nate抯 admiration for the centers of today is obvious.

揑 really like the centers that are coming out now, he says. 揟hey抮e talented, quick, and agile. Most importantly, they have good footwork and lateral movement. That抯 why I like Duncan and KG (Kevin Garnett). They have the athleticism.

When I look at a center, I immediately ask, 慶an he run? You can抰 coach a stiff. I want a guy that can run, not a galoof. Most guys today can run.

Nate also realizes that his position would be totally different to play now, compared with three decades ago.

揑 look at Shaq and Yao, and there抯 no way I could have handled them. I would have liked to have guarded David Robinson, Hakeem, and Duncan. I would have been challenged by them, and I think I would have done well because I had good enough footwork to step out of the paint to guard someone.

Today, Nate shows up five days a week to run his family business, and above his desk hangs a sign with a quote from Bill Russell.

揟he Game is On Our Schedule. We have to play the game. So why not win.

When I ask, if he holds that statement true to his business, Nate smiles and states, simply, 揌ey baby, I play to win.

Teamate Walt Hazard:

"Night in and night out you can depend on him doing his job. His statistics aren't overwhelming, but his presence on the court is unbelievable.. As for blocking shots, I've seen guys get offensive rebounds and then go back 15 feet to make sure they can get a shot off. They know Nate is there."

By now Abdul-Jabbar had been in the NBA for three seasons, and Chamberlain for a decade longer. It was an era of supercenters, big men who could dominate games by scoring nearly at will, and by defending with long arms, quick reflexes, and sheer intimidation. Thurmond, while never reaching the rarefied level of Chamberlain or Abdul-Jabbar, was nevertheless one of the elites of his era.

But not everyone felt that way. It was a source of considerable anguish to Thurmond that some fans and and members of the media often overlooked him because he wasn't flashy and didn't produce huge offensive numbers.

"I'm just not a tricky basketball player," he once told Sport magazine. "Being flashy takes unnecessary effort. Once I got cute and tore up a leg muscle that kept me off the court for four weeks.. I suppose I could make a reputation for myself by dunking the ball and other stuff. But what would it get me?"

He took solace in the fact that his opponents respected him, which meant more to him anyway. "The other players think I'm the best defensive big man in professional basketball," Thurmond added. "They're always coming up to me and saying that. I get the same reaction from other players that Bill Russell used to get."

Both Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain have gone on record saying they felt Thurmond was their toughest adversary. "He plays me better than anybody ever has," Abdul-Jabbar told Basketball Digest when he was in his prime. "He's tall, has real long arms, and most of all he's agile and strong." In an article in Sport, Abdul-Jabbar also said, "When I score on Nate, I know I've done something. He sweats and he wants you to sweat, too."

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