SI Vault
Rick Telander
March 02, 1981
The Bibby boys, little Henry of the NBA Clippers and big Jim of the baseball Pirates, are notables, though not to one another
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March 02, 1981

He's Not Hot Stuff, He's My Brother

The Bibby boys, little Henry of the NBA Clippers and big Jim of the baseball Pirates, are notables, though not to one another

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Henry Bibby, Jim Bibby's little brother, the 6'1", 179-pound veteran NBA guard, steps into the batter's box. He surveys the ball field, eyes the opposition. It's late August, just before the start of basketball training camp, and Bibby is playing for the 76ers in a benefit softball game at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. He steps back. Slowly, he raises his bat until the fat end points at the centerfield wall. Babe Ruth, they say, once made a similar gesture.

Bibby takes the first pitch, a ball. The second is down the middle, and he swings, stroking a liner into right center, not far from where he had pointed. The ball skips between two outfielders, and Henry Bibby, crafty, tough, as unlikely a nine-year NBA man as there has ever been, wheels around the bases.

Jim Bibby. Henry Bibby's older brother, the 6'5", 250-pound star pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, shakes the sweat from his shooting hand. He dribbles the basketball twice, then glares at the rim, which is about 25 feet away. He is standing by himself in late summer on an asphalt court near his townhouse in Pittsburgh.

"Bibby's alone," he says. "Bibby fires." The ball arcs, spins around the iron ring and falls out.

After charging in and grabbing the rebound, he pivots and leaps into the air. With both hands gripping the ball, Jim Bibby, the veteran righthander who will finish the season at 19-6, his best major league record ever, jams the ball viciously through the hoop.

What can you say about brothers? That they're alike yet dissimilar? That they can never stop fighting, competing with one another, even in the other's sport? ("Henry knows he can't score buckets on me," says Jim. "I think with a couple days practice I could hit some home runs," says Henry.) But they are inextricably bound together, more or less forever. Dostoevski covered this ground a century ago in The Brothers Karamazov.

Henry and Jim Bibby, ages 31 and 36, respectively, are brothers from a sisterless family. There is a third sibling, Fred, 38. A fine athlete himself, Fred was one leg of a fraternal triangle back on the Bibby family's farm near Franklinton, N.C. (pop. 870). To understand the parts they played, here's a true-life boyhood scene:

It's a hot summer day, circa 1960. Jim is standing on the dusty court behind the farmhouse, aimlessly bouncing Henry's basketball off the white wooden backboard their father, Charlie Bibby, has erected for his sons. Henry is begging Jim for his ball. Henry leaps again and again but is too short to reach it. Hearing the commotion, Fred appears and demands that Jim give Henry his ball. An argument ensues. Jim and Fred begin to fight. The two larger brothers tumble into the house. Mrs. Bibby gets quickly out of the way. They each weigh more than 200 pounds, and during the tussle a bed collapses, a door is ripped from its hinges. Little Henry begins to cry. Angry as he is with Jim and thankful as he is to Fred, he can't stand the prospect of seeing either of his brothers hurt.

"I'm very proud of my brothers," says Fred Bibby, now a high school phys ed teacher in Richmond. "I take magazines just to keep up with their careers, and they always call me to talk about their athletic problems. But back on the farm we were all different. In a way, Henry was more like me, more aggressive, more into hustling around. Jim would always drag along, taking it easy. Jim picked on Henry. I protected Henry. And Henry cried. But in the end, really, all three of us could get the job done."

What's remarkable about Jim and Henry is that at advanced ages (Jim is the 31st-oldest player in major league baseball; Henry is the 33rd-oldest player in the NBA) and without great tools (Jim has been told that he's far too muscular to be a pitcher; Henry has been described by 76er Coach Billy Cunningham as "lacking in size, speed and jumping ability"), they are still getting the job done. Jim, in fact, has improved steadily throughout his career and has now become, as Pittsburgh Manager Chuck Tanner says, "the ace of my staff, one of the most dominant pitchers in the league."

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