October 15, 1973
All eyes are still on Nate Archibald. The I gazes, however, aren't those of fans in an NBA arena or at a Rucker League blacktop. Rather, they are the eyes of sixth-to eighth-graders, watching intently as their phys-ed teacher demonstrates a textbook bounce pass at RS. 175/I.S. 275 in Harlem. "Did you ever play for the Knicks, Mr. Archibald?" a student asks as the bell rings to end the period.
No, Archibald never played for the Knicks, but in his 14-year career as a point guard with five NBA teams he established himself as one of the best little men in the game. In 1972-73, as a member of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, he became the only player to lead the NBA in scoring (34.0 points per game) and assists (11.4) in the same season; he also won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 1981. Archibald retired after the 1983-84 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame six years later.
From 1984 to '89 Archibald was an assistant at Georgia and then at his alma mater, Texas-El Paso. However, his heart remained in his hometown, New York. During his NBA days the playground legend would return to the city in the off-season, running clinics, coaching amateur teams and buying equipment for kids. Archibald earned a degree in elementary education from UTEP in 1974, and after going home for good in 1989, he earned a master's in adult education and human resource development from Fordham. He is now pursuing a doctorate.
Archibald is in his ninth year of teaching health and physical education at the Harlem school. It's not the milieu in which you expect to find a Hall of Fame athlete—an overcrowded inner-city facility where faculty turnover is high and new books are often lacking. "People wonder why I'm back here, but I just love kids," says Archibald, 50, a father of five and grandfather of eight who lives in the Gun Hill section of the Bronx. "I'm not here to change lives," he says. "These kids need positive people to take an interest in them."
Though he admits to sometimes thinking about the glamour of running his own college program, Archibald knows that that life is not for him. "Maybe I should have stuck it out in college coaching, but I'm not really the type," he says. "I never liked to cruise around in fancy suits. I always felt most comfortable in my sweats."