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InsideHoops NBA [HOME] Sept 3, 2003

Joe Caldwell Interview




Jumping Joe Caldwell, also known as Pogo Joe, is one of the greatest defenders in the history of basketball. Don't just take our word for it. Julius Erving said so, too. Caldwell played in the NBA, ABA and the Olympics. If you like "retro," Jumping Joe Caldwell is your man. He's a repeat NBA all-star who Marty Blake says belongs in the NBA Hall of Fame. editor Jeff Lenchiner and Joe sat down after an EBC game at Rucker Park for an exclusive interview. For starters, reintroduce yourself to the world.

Joe Caldwell: Hello, my name is Joe Caldwell, I'm a former NBA player. I played with the Atlanta Hawks and the Detroit Pistons, and played four years with the ABA, the Carolina Cougars, which later was called the Spirits of St. Louis. Where did you think you might get drafted, compared to where you actually did?

Joe Caldwell: My first choice was, I was trying to talk Detroit out of taking me in the first round, second pick. I wanted - had they bypassed me and taken Willis Reed, I would have ended up New York. It was just a stroke of luck that the Detroit Pistons took me with the second pick in the first round, behind Jim "Bad News" Barnes. I don't know if you know him. I do, yeah.

Joe Caldwell: But Jim "Bad News" Barnes and I played on the same Olympic team along with Bill Bradley, Jeff Mullins, Dave Davies, all my teammates, George Wilson, Luke Jackson, so, I think we were the first real Dream Team. [Laughs] We were the original Dream Team. So that was 1964, when you got drafted. And you were hoping to go to New York...

Joe Caldwell: I was hoping to go third to New York, or fourth to L.A. But it didn't work out that way. So you wound up in Detroit.

Joe Caldwell: In Detroit, where it was cold. I come out of Arizona State, and every day of the week it was 100 degrees, 90 degrees, so I gotta come to Detroit where it's freezing? They had an assistant coach by the name of Earl Lloyd. I said, "Earl, it's freezing, why do I want to play in Detroit?" And he said, "NBA is in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, it's freezing!" [Laughs] I said okay. Where'd you grow up, exactly?

Joe Caldwell: I grew up in Texas City, Texas, till I was 15, then I moved with my sister to California, and I went to John St. Fremont High School, and I was 'drafted' out there - Arizona State came and got me one night. I was on UCLA's campus, I was going to stay in California, and they came and put me in a car and drove me to Arizona. So that was the recruiting process for you!

Joe Caldwell: Well, they were riding down the street, I said "where ya'll taking me?!" and they said "we're taking you to Arizona." I said "I'm going to jump out!" And they said, "we'd rather see you dead than go to UCLA," and I got scared, I'm 17 years old, so I just sat there, "all right, all right!" When everybody comes and gets you and steals you, you have to go with them. But it all worked out.

Joe Caldwell: They wanted me real bad at Arizona State, and I must admit, at first it was too hot for me, but over the years I've grown to love the place. I retired there now, I live in Arizona, my family lives there, my daughters, and my grandkids, everybody lives there. So, it's worked out right. And talk about playing at Arizona State and then moving on to the NBA the way you did.

Joe Caldwell: When I went there, I was the only guy that ever came out of Arizona State that was drafted number two in the country by an NBA team, and to end up in the league for like eight or nine years... a team came along with Byron Scott, Fat Lever and Alton Lister, they followed me... and Sam Williams... I was gone like ten or fifteen years before they came along. But I'm the only one that came out - because they said, "Arizona, who in the hell plays basketball in the desert?" Well, Jumping Joe plays basketball in the desert. [Laughs] You helped put the place on the map.

Joe Caldwell: I met Connie Hawkins in the CYO High School All-American game here in New York, and he and I became friends, and now he lives in Arizona and we're still friends. He and I both are getting to be 61, 62 years old, so we remain friends. Basketball is a unique thing; it creates a friendship that will go with you for the rest of your life. It just travels with you. It's just something that you never lose. A good friend you never lose. I played with guys like Lenny Wilkins... Bill Bridges, Walt Hazard - oh, I'm sorry, Abdul Rakman, I got to give him his respect, he changed his name. All those guys I played, Walt Belehemy... guys who are outstanding citizens now. When you look back at them, you say, "wow, we did it right." There wasn't all this that they got now going on, but it was a game played from the head up. Guys thought about the game, they took it seriously, and they became good players. I played against some outstanding players, like Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Jerry West, Walt Frazier, all those guys were magnificent athletes. Earl Monroe was the first showtime player that they can have, you know, because he did all this stuff that they're doing now. When I come to the Rucker, and I see guys doing that stuff, my immediate thought is Earl Monroe. What are your favorite moments of your NBA career?

Joe Caldwell: The one that sticks out in my mind was in 1968, I think, we were sold to Atlanta, Georgia. And I couldn't for the love of me understand why we would have been sold from St. Louis to Atlanta, being that the system's racism was at its peak, Lester Maddox was standing in the doorway, so when we were playing our first game in the Georgia Tech Coliseum, there were 7,200 people, and those people did something that 20,000 people couldn't do for me. That warm feeling, and that "you are our team." And as an NBA player, you look in the city you're playing in and you find out that these people are just outstanding, it's just unbelievable. I never would have left Atlanta, but I had to go, because circumstances drove me out, but I never would have left Atlanta. I would have retired there. Matter of fact I might not have even moved back to Arizona, because I loved that city. Atlanta, Georgia was, at that time, up and coming, now is a big mecca. Everybody parties in Atlanta, Georgia. It's just one of the fun things. If I have to pick one incident of basketball, because we all play to win at all times. So I have some good memories of good games I played in. When I played against Kentucky I got 56 points. And I had 48 or 49 in the third quarter, and I wanted to score 60 or 70, and I thought I was going to get 100, I said "I'm going to break Wilt Chamberlain's record" - in my mind, I didn't tell anybody. But I couldn't make anything in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter I finally got a few more points. Was it after you told yourself that you might break Wilt's record that you started missing?

Joe Caldwell: ... I had some teammates at the time and they saw I was getting a little tired, so they took it upon themselves to carry... it was more fatigue setting in. I think after I said that, it seemed like I got tired. But when you brag too much and talk about what you're going to do, your body takes over.

That concludes Part One of this interview. Part Two is right here and is a must-read.

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