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Alex Hannum
November 18, 1968
Thoughtful Innovator, budding administrator and embattled coach, Alex Hannum has become a force in pro basketball. Here he begins his story, from early small-town days to his struggle to keep a new league's franchise alive in Oakland
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November 18, 1968

I've Barely Begun To Fight

Thoughtful Innovator, budding administrator and embattled coach, Alex Hannum has become a force in pro basketball. Here he begins his story, from early small-town days to his struggle to keep a new league's franchise alive in Oakland

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The assassination was the special reason I refer to. Dr. King was killed on a Thursday, and the series was to open in Philadelphia the next night. The Boston team met Friday morning before their flight, agreed that they would go ahead and play that night but that they would not play the second game, which was scheduled for Sunday. I second-guessed myself, for I should have called a team meeting Friday morning. Instead, the 76ers did not meet till they arrived at the locker room shortly before the game. Spectators were already coming into the arena when Chamberlain opened discussion and eventually brought matters to a vote. The 76ers decided, as the Celtics had, not to play Sunday, but they reluctantly agreed that—since fans were already on hand—they should play that night. By the time we went out on the floor, our emotions had been stripped raw. We were beaten, I think, before the game started.

Two weeks later, when we lost the seventh game and the series, I dragged back to my apartment. The phone rang. It was Franklin Mieuli, who wanted me to come back to San Francisco and replace Bill Sharman who had replaced me. I don't know whether I should have laughed or cried. In the two years, almost to a day, since Mieuli awoke me at 7 a.m. to tell me I was fired I had worked with Philadelphia and negotiated in one way or another with Boston, Cincinnati, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Denver and in the last few months the new NBA teams, Milwaukee and Phoenix, and the ABA teams, Oakland and Los Angeles. Why not full circle and back to San Francisco? I half expected Oshkosh to call me any minute.

I met with Mieuli a few days later but I doubt that he was really serious. All he offered was a one-year coaching contract while he broke in George Lee—whom he subsequently signed. I had spoken on several occasions with Oakland Owner Ken Davidson, but it was not until after I examined the 11th-hour Mieuli offer that I began to negotiate seriously with him. At last I signed. At last I had found a home of my own in professional basketball.

I'm looking forward with a special relish to competing against Mieuli because I know I can beat him. Franklin is a promoter first, and the thing he promotes most is Franklin Mieuli. I was watching on television last year when Nate Thurmond was given the Eddie Gottlieb Award as the Warrior who contributed most to the team, but Mieuli took up most of the halftime getting himself presented with a cable-car bell that he could ring at games.

It is my view that the game of basketball can stand by itself and compete as it is for the entertainment dollar. I don't think basketball needs gimmicks. In fact, I'm very concerned about the ABA's red, white and blue ball. I'm skeptical. The ABA will have to prove to me that it is good for the game. On the Oaks we're going to promote basketball first.

I was never Mieuli's man, even when I was working for him. Like Kerner at St. Louis, Franklin got stuck with me, because Eddie Gottlieb brought me in while he was still in charge. Then Eddie moved back to Philadelphia, and Mieuli took over. The trouble with trying to work for Franklin is that he wants to be the main attraction and he wants everybody to agree with him all the time. I think this was, at least, part of the reason for the breakdown in his negotiations with Barry, and it was why I got fired and why Wilt Chamberlain got traded.

Wilt was officially traded back to Philadelphia on Jan. 5, 1965, but I'll tell you the instant when I think he started on his way out of San Francisco. The season before we had moved from fourth place to the Western Division title. Wilt suggested that we all should receive a memento of the accomplishment and he proposed something unique, like a diamond stickpin, instead of the usual ring. Mieuli took Wilt's stickpin suggestion under advisement but then decided to get us all rings.

Just before the next season, '64-65, started, Wilt came down sick. I was told that a San Francisco doctor diagnosed his trouble as a possible heart ailment. Wilt was flown to Philadelphia, where his personal physician's diagnosis was that Wilt had a pancreas disorder. Meanwhile, we had already started playing what was to become a disastrous season. Mieuli at last received word that Wilt was recovered and would return in a couple of days. He wanted Wilt back in action and he wanted him happy, so he decided to get a welcome-back, get-well present for him—a beautiful custom-made diamond stickpin. Just what Wilt wanted. Chamberlain got off the plane, and Mieuli was there to meet him. As Franklin told me, he gave him the present with the warmest words of greeting and then waited, full of expectation, as Wilt stared dolefully at the stickpin. At last Wilt said, "What's this piece of——?" and at that moment, I think, Wilt was through with the Warriors.

Mieuli completely caught me off guard when he got rid of me after the next season, though. I had been more nimble with Ben Kerner back in St. Louis in 1958, quitting as his coach before he got around to firing me. As I said. Ben didn't want me in the first place. Slater Martin, my roommate, became coach while still a full-time player. Since I was playing so little, Slater asked me to run things on the bench. But Slater, who really didn't want to coach, didn't even like that arrangement, so at last he went to Kerner and prevailed on him to give me the full coaching title.

I didn't get a raise, but Ben did set up various bonus arrangements contingent on how well we did for the rest of the season. Since we lasted seven games against the Celtics in the finals, I came out O.K., and then on the plane coming back from Boston, Kerner came right out and asked me to come back for the next season as strictly a bench coach at $10,000. That was a terrific raise for me. I hadn't made that much since I made the $11,000 I didn't make 10 years before at Oshkosh.

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