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THE IRON MAN IN THE MASK
John Papanek
November 20, 1978
Ron Boone of the Los Angeles Lakers has had his share of injuries, like this broken nose, but he's about to set a record for consecutive games
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November 20, 1978

The Iron Man In The Mask

Ron Boone of the Los Angeles Lakers has had his share of injuries, like this broken nose, but he's about to set a record for consecutive games

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In his one season at Iowa Western Community College, he played in all 25 games. After transferring to Idaho State in 1965, he played center although he was only six feet tall. The star of the team was Dave Wagnon, who had a 32.5 scoring average and finished second to Purdue's Dave Schellhase for the NCAA scoring title. After Wagnon graduated, Boone, by then a sinewy 6'2", performed at guard and forward and became a 22-points-per-game scorer. His 61 straight college games brought his string to 249 before he signed his first pro contract in 1968 for $15,000 and played his first game for the Chaparrals. After 2� seasons in Dallas, five with the Stars, one with the Spirits of St. Louis, two in Kansas City and a month with the Lakers, Boone had played in something like 1,170 consecutive basketball games. Congratulations. You're only 960 behind Gehrig.

The other day Boone left his Spartan two-bedroom apartment in one of those Jacuzzi communities in Marina Del Rey to spend 24 hours with his wife and two children in Omaha. There he checked out the construction of their "dream house." a contemporary ranch home tucked tightly into an affluent new section outside town and hard by the exclusive Omaha Country Club. Boone, a scratch golfer, hopes to play there. " Los Angeles is not my kind of place," he says. "I drive to the airport, to practice and to the Forum. That's it. Omaha will always be my home. It's a perfect place for the kids." Indeed, 12-year-old Jozette is a budding track star, already owning a shoe box full of gold medals from regional Junior Olympic meets. Since she began running for the Omaha Skylarks last April, she has burned a 26.1 220 and an 11.3 100. But 4-year-old Jaron could probably make it in Hollywood. He's a bundle of personality and, with the same high cheekbones, pointed chin and light eyes, the image of his father, who is part Choctaw Indian.

Jaron was resplendent in a denim leisure suit at the Omaha airport, where his mother had taken him to meet his father's plane. He couldn't wait to find out how Ron had done in the Lakers' victory over Denver the previous night. His first words were, "Daddy, did you score 20 points?"

"No," said Boone somewhat sheepishly. "I only scored seven." The boy's eyes fell.

"But as soon as I get rid of that mask I'll score 20," said Boone.

Jaron shrieked, whirled and shot an imaginary jumper.

The visit ended all too quickly; Boone was on a plane back to L.A. the next morning. Thumbing through the last edition of the ABA Guide, he reminisced, shaking his head as he read forgotten names. "Does it make me feel old?" he said. "No. I feel about 10 years younger. Look at all these guys I played with. They're all old. Cincy Powell, John Beasley, Glen Combs, Cliff Hagan, Tom Thacker, Spider Bennett. Whew!"

He recalled playing a game against the Houston Mavericks with 82 people in the stands, sliding across the ice-hockey rink to get to the court at the Long Island Arena in Commack where the New York Nets used to play and, during training with the Chaparrals, "always having somebody new in camp every day. Hagan was the player-coach and he'd bring some guy in, play him one-on-one and the next day bring in somebody else."

He chuckled when he noted the 1975-76 roster of the Spirits of St. Louis, which he had joined after the Stars ran out of money and the club was disbanded after 19 games. "Listen to this," he said, " Marvin Barnes, Caldwell Jones, Moses Malone, me, M. L. Carr, Freddie Lewis, Don Chaney and Mike Barr. The best team that never went anywhere. I remember the first day I joined that club for practice, I couldn't believe it. Everybody did what they wanted. Freddie Lewis just sat around, said he had a toothache, and Marvin, I don't even think he bothered to come that day. Marvin could do no wrong. We'd have an eight o'clock game, Marvin would show up at 7:30, have a hot dog and a Coke, then go out and score 50. The folding of the league was the best thing that could have happened to that club."

Boone also recalled playing with the ABA champion Stars in 1971, the year Dallas traded Boone and Combs for Donnie Freeman and Wayne Hightower. "The best trade I ever made," says Vince Boryla, then the Stars' GM. "Getting Ron was what won us that championship," says Bill Sharman, who coached the Stars. Sharman is now the Lakers' general manager and made the deal to bring Boone to Los Angeles. "Ron was so tough in the playoffs, I always called him the Al Attles of the ABA," says Sharman. "I coached them both. They were two of the nicest kids I have ever known. Real gentle and quiet, but don't get them mad."

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