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The next year, when he moved the franchise to St. Louis, Kerner was told he was going to a graveyard sports city, and I think it was already part of his thinking that he was just getting Pettit closer to home in Baton Rouge. Bob was definitely aware that St. Louis was better than Milwaukee for him. He always planned to go back home after he finished playing, and it was very important to him that the Hawks' games were on KMOX, a 50,000-watt station that reached into Louisiana. When the time was right, Bob quit the game, got married and went home to Baton Rouge to be successful, just as he had always planned.
Pettit was an All-Star from the first, but Cliff Hagan had a much more trying start. He had spent two years out of college in the Army while Pettit was in the league, and in the next year Kerner picked me up from Fort Wayne, probably because Hagan, who was only 6'4", wasn't working out up front. At just about the time they made me coach, they were also in the process of trying to convert Cliff into a backcourt man. I told Ben it was out of the question. I had scrimmaged against Cliff, and it seemed to me he just didn't have the talents of a guard. He had definitely lost his confidence playing the position. The first thing I did was tell him that he would never be in the backcourt again.
What I usually tried to do was get myself into the game with Cliff. I could vacate the pivot, draw my man out and we could then splash Cliff down into the pivot and get him the ball inside. I was good at this. I couldn't do much with the ball itself but I could get it to someone who could.
Cliff was beginning to pick up confidence, when all of a sudden Kerner told me he was ready to trade him. I urged Ben to hold off, and he did for a few days, but then one night Hagan did something wrong in a game, we lost, and when I met Kerner the next day all he could say to me was, "Hagan's stealing from me."
He had already made a deal, Hagan for Dick Schnittker of Minneapolis, straight up. I pleaded with him not to go through with it, invoking team spirit, a winning combination and everything else. At last, reluctantly, Ben agreed not to make the trade. Schnittker played one more year in the league. Hagan retired from the Hawks nearly a decade later. At the time he was the ninth leading scorer in NBA history.
It is not fair, though, for me to single out Ben for a bad early judgment. Everybody in basketball has guessed wrong on some of the best players. You could fill a room with the guys who told Red Auerbach that K. C. Jones wouldn't make it. I saw that great Ohio State team play and, while I liked Jerry Lucas right away and thought Larry Siegfried would make a fine pro guard, John Havlicek struck me as merely a good athlete who did what he was told and played defense. Right after we drafted Rick Barry, Franklin Mieuli tried to trade him to Los Angeles for Gail Goodrich.
I can match that myself. I tried to trade Nate Thurmond when he was a rookie and now I think Nate may be the most valuable piece of property in basketball. At that time, though, he was just a big center playing out of position at forward. He didn't like it in the corner and saw no future for himself as long as Chamberlain was there. At one point early in the next season Nate actually quit basketball because he was so disappointed. I spent almost a whole day with him, convincing him to stay in the game.
By then I sensed what a great player he was, but the season before Eddie Gottlieb and I had actually closed a deal for Thurmond, trading him to Detroit for Bailey Howell and Don Ohl. Then Charley Wolf, the Pistons' coach, and Fred Zollner, the owner, asked for a little more time to think it over. They left and never came back. One of them had second thoughts, but I never found out which one. They traded Ohl and Howell to Baltimore for Terry Dischinger and Rod Thorn at the end of the season, and Detroit is still looking for a first-rate center.
That's a funny thing about trading. Once you talk seriously about trading a player, even if it falls through, you are now more prone to trade the guy to someone else. It just seems that he should be traded. If you can catch a team on the rebound, after a trade collapses, it is often most vulnerable. I think you make the perfect trade when you obtain a player who fits in with your team, while the one you give up in return may be technically better but at his peak and more valuable strictly as a property than as a team player. I have encountered one pure case where this was all in evidence. It came in late November 1965. The player was Guy Rodgers.
Chamberlain was gone from the Warriors by now. Thurmond was in the middle, Barry, a rookie, was already lighting sparks in the starting lineup and the Warriors were starting to come on again after the disastrous previous season. We still lacked the one thing I never had at San Francisco—dangerous outside shooting. Rodgers was our leading guard, an All-Star, the only guard ever to make more assists than Oscar Robertson, but with Wilt no longer in the middle I could see that Rodgers' many talents were not well suited for the new Warriors.