Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James is NOT Akron's First Hall of Famer!

Okay, a show of hands. How many of you think I’m wrong? Well I’m not Pippen Peoples. Time for a history lesson. Keep Reading! With February being Black History Month, Pippen Ain’t Easy will be circulating historical documentaries of  African-American players that made an impact on the Chicago Bulls in the past. The NBA has a Dream Big campaign going on throughout this month. However, we all can’t progress to the future without remembering and giving homage to the people who paved the way and provided the blueprint to do so. Let’s start our series with a player who was one of the all time great big men of our time, Nate Thurmond. He only played one year in Chicago, but he did something that was historic and only a few others have done since.

When we all think about big men in the 60’s and 70’s, only two names come up. They are Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Wilt was the most  dominating player at that time (who am I kidding? He was THE most dominating of all-time.) Bill Russell was Wilt’s nemesis and the greatest winner of all time. Nate Thurmond should have the third guy on the Mount Rushmore of big men at that time. He was respected throughout the league, especially by Chamberlain and Russell. To many basketball purists, Thurmond was known to have a better defensive game than Chamberlain and a better offensive game  then Russell. Nate Thurmond had that rugged-in your face game that intimidated a lot of players.

The Hall of Famer played for 14 years, averaging 15 points and 15 rebounds. That’s for a career folks! He was a seven time All-Star that helped the San Francisco/Golden State Warriors to prominence. In 11 years he was the Warriors all time leader in games played, rebounds and minutes played. He also led the team to the NBA Finals twice unfortunately losing both times. The Bulls made a trade for him in 1975. Wouldn’t you know it, the Warriors, with a gunslinger named Rick Barry ended up winning the NBA title right after Thurmond left.

It’s not like the Bulls didn’t want Nate. They traded a young center named Clifford Ray, a draft pick and cash to get Thurmond in a Bulls uniform. The Bulls had four 50 win seasons, but had no division titles. The Bulls believed that Nate was the piece to put them over the top. Coach Dick Motta called the trade the best in the team’s history. He believed that his veteran leadership would be the key. Boy, it really looked like it the first game of the season. Nate Thurmond recorded NBA’s very first quadruple-double. Against the Atlanta Hawks on October 8,1974, Nate went off for 22 points, 14 rebounds,  13 assists and 12 blocks! In the history of the league this has only happened three times SINCE! This is history Pippen Peoples. The good times did not last however. Nate went into a serious shooting slump later on in the season. Couple that with Dick Motta’s offensive system being run through the forwards, Thurmond’s scoring average suffered.

The very next season, Nate was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Steve Patterson and Eric Fernsten. (Yeah, I know, who???) Nate Thurmond, a native of Akron Ohio (and you thought that LeBron James was going to be the first Hall of Famer out of Akron) made it a glorified homecoming turning the Cavaliers’ season around. The Cavs were 6-11 before the trade. After Nate showed up, Cleveland went 43-22 for the rest of the season and won the Central Division title marking the first time in franchise history the team made the playoffs. It was known as the “Miracle of Richfield”.

Nate played one more year and then retired. Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar both have gone on record as saying that Thurmond is their greatest adversary. He had an old school game with stats that did not knock you over. But the  thing was he never stopped playing hard. He was Dennis Rodman, without the ridiculous antics. Thurmond never took a night off. That work ethic was respected throughout the league. He still to this day hold the record  for rebounds in a single quarter with 18. He’s a throwback player that stands the test of time. Pippen Ain’t Easy salutes Nate Thurmond!

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