SI Vault
Frank Deford
December 13, 1965
For 11 years, as a collegian and a pro, little Guy Rodgers passed the basketball to the big fellows and watched them score the points. Now, leading the San Francisco Warriors, he is astonishing teammates as well as opponents with his shooting
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December 13, 1965

The Name Of The Game Is Cooty's Turnabout

For 11 years, as a collegian and a pro, little Guy Rodgers passed the basketball to the big fellows and watched them score the points. Now, leading the San Francisco Warriors, he is astonishing teammates as well as opponents with his shooting

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He was, of course, just plain hot during all this, but there are other factors in his success, some of which also account for the increased scoring by back-courtmen throughout the NBA. Never have guards so dominated the game. Chamberlain is the only center or forward among the league's top eight scorers, and even Wilt is averaging his lowest ever (32.8). A partial explanation of this startling turnabout is that almost all of the fine cornermen of the last decade have left at the same time. Bob Pettit, Dolph Schayes and Tom Heinsohn are retired, Elgin Baylor is injured and Cliff Hagan and Jack Twyman are fading. But the game itself has also changed in favor of the little man since the lane was widened again last year.

Suddenly, too, it is fashionable to run. The press and the fast break have never been so much in evidence in the NBA, and guards are controlling the play from one end of the court to the other. Nowhere has this change been so marked as in San Francisco's post-Chamberlain era. Only now, with Wilt gone, has Rodgers had a chance to follow his instincts. He and Wilt are very close friends—Wilt called up last week with the news that his Great Dane had had puppies and that he was saving one for Rodgers—and Guy's only regret about his new playing freedom is the fear that in the process of explanation Wilt will be criticized unfairly. "Certainly it wasn't as natural playing with Wilt," Rodgers begins. "We were all more like specialists. But don't make it sound like this was his fault. When Wilt Chamberlain is on your team, you have to play to him. He is just so good.

"But things are more flexible now with Nate [Thurmond] underneath. It is more spread out with him, and more things just seem to happen when the lane is opened up. When Wilt was in there, even if they gave me the lane, when I got there, there he was and there was his man. This is more natural now. It's easier, and you can do more things."

Rodgers himself has had to do even more since Paul Neumann, the San Francisco guard who can shoot, broke a finger at Los Angeles the night Rodgers got 47. In Neumann's absence Rodgers is the shooter. That, perhaps, is the largest single reason, if the most transitory, for his increased scoring.

San Francisco will miss Neumann for a few more weeks, but even with him and the new Rodgers the happy Warriors would still be quite happy with a .500 season. It would be a considerable accomplishment, for this is the team that last year set an NBA record with 63 losses. In the city where topless is a way of life now, the Warriors had the bottomless concession to themselves. Before Rodgers started leading the club back, San Francisco looked like a city that could kill basketball and sex all in the same year, which is quite a parlay.

Last year the Warriors averaged only 2,800 spectators desperate enough to wander in out of the fog. But the fans are starting to come back now, and not just because the Warriors are a novelty, almost the only entertainers in town with their clothes on. Rodgers, despite big Thurmond and some bright rookies, is the draw. Says Warrior Owner Franklin Mieuli, "I've lived here all my life, and I know how provincial this town can be. When the Giants came out, they wouldn't accept Willie Mays. He was New York. Orlando Cepeda was just getting started, so they made him the hero. It is the same way with Guy. Maybe he came from Philadelphia with the franchise, but the new Guy Rodgers happened right here, so he is ours."

The new Guy Rodgers is the same old happy but fretful Guy, according to Gladys Rodgers. Devoted to children—he has taught retarded youngsters, is the athletic director at one summer camp, a basketball instructor at another—he is a willing baby-sitter for Tony Rodgers, 4, and Marc, 2. "And there are always other kids hanging around, here or back in Philadelphia," Mrs. Rodgers says. "If Guy isn't home they will just come in and talk to me about him." Rodgers does not smoke or drink alcohol. His favorite drink is a Shirley Temple.

Rodgers' alter ego is another Warrior guard, Al Attles. A bachelor, Attles lives with the Rodgers family in San Francisco, and he and Guy are inseparable. The whole Warrior team is extremely close, though Rodgers, at 30—now he worries about his age, Mrs. Rodgers says—is something of an elder statesman.

Thurmond, out of Wilt's shadow, is really a rookie center; baby-faced Mo McLemore is in his second season; and there are three good rookies—Rick Barry of Miami, Fred Hetzel of Davidson and Keith Erickson of UCLA. Hetzel is known as "Stoney," because he was so awed when he came to camp that he had a stunned expression frozen on his face for a week. Barry, unperturbed, moved right into a starting forward role opposite Tom Meschery and is the team's second leading scorer. He is given to $6 razor haircuts, a fact that impresses his teammates as much as his play. They call Barry "Super Rookie."

Erickson, a third-round draft choice, has been a big surprise and is learning to play a swing-man role. He is, as ever, completely unflappable. When Rodgers, kidding around before the Cincinnati game last week, could not smooth down some unruly hair on Keith's head, Guy yanked out the uncooperative strands. "Keith just looked up with no change of expression at all," Rodgers relates incredulously, "and all he finally said was, Thanks, man.'" They call Erickson "Super Flake."

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