Basketball Urban Legends Revealed #11

This is the eleventh in a series of examinations of basketball-related legends and whether they are true or false. This week, we find out the truth behind Anfernee Hardaway’s unusual first name, learn the strange way that Bob Cousy ended up a Boston Celtic and learn the odd experiment the NBA tried out to slow down George Mikan.

Click here to view an archive of all the previous basketball legends.

Let’s begin!

BASKETBALL LEGEND: Anfernee Hardaway was named “Anfernee” by mistake.

STATUS: False

Drafted third overall in the 1993 NBA Draft, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway came over to the Orlando Magic in a blockbuster draft day trade where the Magic traded the #1 overall pick, Chris Webber, to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for the Warriors’ first round pick (Hardaway) and three future first round picks. Teaming up with 1992-93 Rookie of the Year, center Shaquille O’Neal, Hardaway helped to make the Orlando Magic one of the most promising young teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

In 1995, Hardaway made the first of four straight All-Star Game appearances. In addition, in 1995 and 1996, Hardaway was named first team All-NBA. He was named to the third team, All-NBA in 1997, the first season he played without Shaquille O’Neal (who had left the Magic as a free agent to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers). Hardaway’s career was forever altered in the 1997-98 NBA season when he suffered an awful knee injury. After recovering from the knee injury, Hardaway played well in the 1999 strike-shortened season and then forced the Magic to trade him to the Phoenix Suns, where he would play in the backcourt with Jason Kidd. However, in the 2000-01 season Hardaway suffered a second knee injury that effectively robbed him of most of the skills that had made him an All-Star level player. He played another six seasons in the league, but he was essentially a bench player for most of them (barely even that towards the end of his career).

Besides his stellar play early in his career and a series of popular Nike commercials (with comedian Chris Rock voicing a puppet called “Lil’ Penny”), Hardaway is perhaps best known for his unusual first name. The origins of the name have become clouded over the years and today it appears that the general consensus is that his name was the result of a mistake on the part of his mother.

This, however, is not the case.

In a mailbag from earlier this year at the popular sports website, Deadspin, the generally held belief regarding Anfernee Hardaway is detailed pretty succinctly (I cleaned up the language a bit – click the link above to see the unedited text):

I think a lot of badly spelled names out there are legitimate misspellings. Like Kwinsee Pittsnogle. I really do think the Pittsnogles were too f-ing stupid to know that Quincy is spelled Q-U-I-N-C-Y, and not the {expletive} phonetic way. I don’t think they were aiming to give the child a unique spelling. I just don’t think they can spell. But there’s no polite way to tell someone, “Hey, your kid’s name is misspelled, f-head.” You come off like an a-hole or a racist if you do that. And that’s why Anfernee Hardaway is still Anfernee Hardaway.

That’s basically what people seem to believe, that Hardaway’s mother made a mistake and the doctor did not correct her.

You see this repeated in a number of places, including a MySpace page for Anfernee Hardaway (written as though it is BY Hardaway himself, but it’s pretty clearly a fan page):

My name is Anfernee Hardaway. I was born on July 18, 1972, in Memphis Tennessee. My name is Anfernee because when I was born, my mother couldn’t pronounce “Anthony,” so when the doctor asked her what my name was, she answered “Anfernee.”

In fact, that seems to be the same basic paragraph that many sites repeat about Hardaway:

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was born July 18, 1972 in Memphis, Tennessee. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway got the name Anfernee because his mom couldn’t say Anthony and the doctor wrote down Anfernee when he asked Anfernee’s mother her baby’s name.

First off, Hardaway was born in 1971, not 1972.

Secondly, Hardaway’s mother, Fae Hardaway (now I believe she’s Fae Patterson), has always been extremely upfront about her son’s name. The late, great Ralph Wiley, did a feature on Hardaway in 1991 for Sports Illustrated. This was well before Hardaway was the famous player he became now. Heck, he had not yet even played for Memphis State due to problems with his ACT scores (in fact, that was what the article was about). Wiley asked Fae about the name:

When I was in school at Lester High, there had been a boy named Anfernee. I always thought it was such a beautiful name. People think I don’t know how to spell Anthony.

The same explanation was later re-told in 1996 for a Vibe profile on Hardaway (by now one of the most famous players in America) by Kevin Powell.

I did some checking and I found, just in Memphis ALONE, two men named Anfernee who would have been teenagers or older in 1970.

So when you add together Fae Hardaway’s explicit recollection, the fact that there WERE people named Anfernee around at the time and the fact that the various explanations for the mistake doesn’t even particularly make sense (she couldn’t say Anthony? What the heck?) and I am very confident in saying that this legend is false. Going past that, it is also a pretty disappointing legend. A name sounds weird? The mother must be a moron who couldn’t spell Anthony! Sheesh.

Thanks to Ralph Wiley and Kevin Powell for their respective pieces and thanks to Fae Patterson for giving us the answer.

BASKETBALL LEGEND: The Knicks participated in a special lottery where they nearly drafted Bob Cousy!

STATUS: True

Fans of the National Basketball Association (NBA) are quite familiar with the story of the first NBA draft lottery, which was also one of the greatest days in New York Knicks history. On Mother’s Day, 1985 (May 12th), the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern, pulled out an envelope that had the New York Knicks’ name in it that signified that the Knicks had won the #1 pick in the 1985 NBA Draft (a pick that everyone knew would be Patrick Ewing).

But over thirty years earlier, did you know that there was a different lottery, of sorts, that also involved the New York Knicks? A lottery that the Knicks where the Knicks also had the first pick? A lottery where the Knicks had a 2 in 3 chance of getting a Hall of Famer? A lottery that the Knicks managed to pick out the sole non-Hall of Famer in the bunch and yet came away from the day thrilled with their pick?

Well, if not, let me tell you about the 1950 Chicago Stags Dispersal Draft Lottery and how Bob Cousy was nearly a New York Knick.

The Chicago Stags were one of the founding teams of the Basketball Association of America in 1946, and they actually played in the very first BAA Finals, losing to the Philadelphia Warriors in 1947. Although they continued to put together an above-average squad in each of the next three seasons (making the playoffs every year) their attendance figures were really quite low. So low that they folded after just one season in the NBA, 1949-50. The team did not decide to quit until AFTER the 1950 NBA Draft, and in fact, they actually picked up a player from a different NBA team that had went under a few months earlier, the Anderson Packers (Anderson, Indiana, in case you didn’t know what state Anderson is in), who had held a league-wide dispersal draft of their players. The Stags picked up guard Frankie Brian, who was Second Team All-NBA in the 1949-50 season (like the Stags, the Packers were not a bad team, they just didn’t draw enough fans – heck, they were coming off of appearing in the NBA Finals!).

You might think it odd of a team to participate in a dispersal draft when they, too, were considering going under, but the Stags owners had a plan. They went to the other NBA owners and held secret auctions for their players. If they were going to go under, they were at least going to make a few last bucks in the process. Ned Irish, President of the New York Knicks, was very active in trying to pick up as many of the good Stags players as he could, with four-time First Team All-NBA guard/forward Max Zaslofsky his main target. Not only was Zaslofsky a star, but he was actually from New York! Averaging over 20 points a game during this time in NBA history was extremely difficult (usually just two guys did it each season) and Zazlofsky had already done it in back-to-back seasons, 1946-47 and 1947-48. The only knock that there was on Zaslofsky was that he was a bit of a “let me get mine first” guy, but still, he was an extremely skilled scorer.

The Philadelphia Warriors were also in on the Zaslofsky bidding. Meanwhile, the last place Boston Celtics and their owner Walter Brown and General Manager Red Auerbach were complaining to NBA Commissioner Maurice Podoloff that the players should be put into a dispersal draft and, since the Celtics had the worst record in the league, that they should be allowed first pick (and, naturally, Zaslofsky).

Podoloff decided to step in and take control of the situation. He decided to determine values for each of the Stags players, and the other teams would pay the cost to help pay off the debt that the Stags owed the league. Podoloff doled out the players to teams that he felt were best benefited by the player in question. That was fine for the lower rung players, but for the really good players, the other teams insisted on different treatment. First off. Tri-Cities Blackhawks owner Ben Kerner argued to Podoloff that the aforementioned Frankie Brian (the guy the Stags got in the Packers dispersal draft) should get to come to the Blackhawks because Kerner and Brian were close friends (weird argument, but whatever works) and the Blackhawks could use the player (seeing as how Brian was the second-leading scorer in the NBA in 1949-50, that is not much of a surprise). Podoloff agreed, but only if the Blackhawks would trade the rights to the player they picked in the 1950 NBA Draft, which was the 3rd pick in the draft (4th overall because the Warriors had used their territorial pick on future Hall of Famer Paul Arizin). The Blackhawks gladly agreed, especially since they were having trouble signing the pick, a three-time All-American guard named Bob Cousy.

Bob Cousy was a star at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, particularly known for his flashy style of play. When he declared himself for the 1950 NBA Draft, there was heavy pressure for the Boston Celtics to take the local kid with the number one overall pick. But the Celtics, who were always looking for size back then, took center Charlie Share instead. After the local press began their outrage, Red Auerbach made the famous quote, “”We need a big man. Little men are a dime a dozen. I’m supposed to win, not go after local yokels.” Cousy was devastated (especially since he was trying to establish a driving school in Worchester, which would be pretty difficult to manage from the Mid-West). Cousy actually went to visit Celtics owner Walter Brown to ask if there was some way that Brown could acquire Cousy. Brown told him no. So Cousy was stuck with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. Cousy didn’t even know where the Tri-Cities were (they’re the Quad-Cities now – four towns right next to each other on the border of Iowa and Illinois). So he requested a fairly outrageous sum of $10,000 if were to move out there. Blackhawks’ owner Ben Kerner countered with $6,000. Cousy refused to report. So when Kerner was given the option of trading Cousy for Brian, he leaped at the opportunity.

So Podoloff now decided that since all three teams wanted Zaslofsky, he would hold a lottery between the three teams. They now had three backcourt players and three teams looking for backcourt players. So he wrote the three names on three pieces of paper, folded them and put them into a hat of Danny Biasone, the owner of the Syracuse Nationals.

The three players were now Zaslofsky, Cousy and Stags point guard “Handy” Andy Phillip, a member of the second team All-NBA team and the league’s leader in assists per game (a feat he would duplicate in 1950-51 and 1951-52). Phillip would go on to play in the first five NBA All-Star Games and be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961. Phillip and Zaslofsky were the clear highlights of the three-man draft.

Ned Irish of the New York Knicks picked first and he was thrilled to pick out Zaslofsky’s name. The Celtics picked second (despite many stories to the contrary that they went last) and picked out Cousy’s name. Walter Brown was highly irritated. He felt he had just been screwed out of Zaslofsky, and now he didn’t even have the best consolation prize!! Eddie Gottlieb of the Warriors picked last, getting Phillip.

Zaslofsky lasted just two years as a Knick before being traded along with Jim Luisi and Roy Belliveau in 1953 for Jim Baechtold, who had been the second pick in the 1952 Draft. None of the four players had much of a career in the NBA, although Zaslofsky did make one All Star Game as a Knick in 1952.

Phillip, as I mentioned, went on to a Hall of Fame career and Cousy…well…thirteen All Star Games, ten first team All-NBAs, two second team All-NBAs, one NBA MVP, two Finals MVPs and six NBA Championships later, Cousy was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1971.

If the Knicks of the 1950s and early 1960s didn’t have bad luck, they would have no luck at all.

Thanks to John Taylor’s The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball for a lot of great information!

BASKETBALL LEGEND: The NBA tried out 12-foot rims to handicap George Mikan.

STATUS: False

George Mikan was the first truly dominant player in NBA history.

The six foot ten inch, 245 pound Mikan was practically man amongst boys in the early days of the NBA.

Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers won the NBA title five of the first six seasons that the NBA existed (including its time as the Basketball Association of America, before it folded the National Basketball League into itself to form the NBA). The only season the Lakers did not win, Mikan broke his leg during the playoffs!!

So the NBA was quite worried about Mikan dominating the game TOO much. They instituted a new rule that the lane beneath the basket was widened from six feet to twelve feet, as Mikan was just basically hanging around the basket too much.

Eventually, his various injuries led to Mikan retiring, so the NBA did not have to worry. Honestly, though, the 24-second shot clock likely would have diminished Mikan’s effectiveness substantially, as the lumbering Mikan (from all of his injuries) would not have been as dominant in the faster paced NBA of the post-shot clock era.

But the NBA did not know that they would one day have a shot clock, so they kept trying new ideas. One particularly bizarre idea was tried out during an official game in March 1954 between the Milwaukee Hawks and the Lakers. To combat Mikan’s effectiveness, the game would be played with 12-foot rims instead of 10!

The experiment did end up hampering Mikan’s field goal percentage, but the problem was that it hampered EVERYone’s field goal percentage!

The Lakers won the game 65-63, with the Lakers shooting 28 percent from the field!

After the game, the players and coaches were almost universal in their dislike for the idea. Mikan stated, “It threw the whole game out of sync and made it tougher on the smaller man. With the timing of the ball coming down from the 12-foot basket, there were more injuries under the boards.” Milwaukee guard Bob Harrison said, “It’s screwy; it’s terrible. I’ll take the old game.”

The best quote, though, was from five foot ten Laker guard Slater Martin, who advocated a six-foot rim, as it would make a Mikan out of him!

Suffice it to say, the NBA did not adopt the new rims. Interestingly enough, that game also had another experiment in it. Rather than shooting free throws at the time of the foul, the teams would compile all of their free throws and shoot them at the end of the quarter, with fouls canceling each other out (so if Milwaukee was fouled 8 times and the Lakers were fouled 6 times, Milwaukee would shoot 2 foul shots). That idea also did not catch on!

Thanks to Stew Thornley for the great information about this strange game (especially the great quotes)!

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

3 Responses to “Basketball Urban Legends Revealed #11”

  1. I am totally willing to believe Ms. Patterson that her son was named after a boy she went to high school with.

    I don’t think the myth is ridiculous on its face, though. There are many, many illiterate poor people (whites included) that give their children oddly-spelled names by mistake.

  2. Hi Brian, I’m surprised you did not at least mention the legend slash conspiracy theory that the 1985 NBA Lottery draft was rigged by the commissioner so the Knicks would get the first pick for Patrick Ewing (who turned out to be a bust in terms of 0 championships). The theory goes that when they dropped the cards in the spinner, they intentionally slammed and bent the corner of the Knicks card so it could be easily picked later. You can see the card he draws is clearly “marked” in this video…weird stuff.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mN3OGRGybA&feature=related

  3. I dunno, Reggie, I don’t think there’s enough yet to say one way or the other on that one, which is why I’ve avoided dealing with it.

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