What Peculiar Punishment Did Future TV Star Chuck Connors Suffer While Playing for the Boston Celtics?
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BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: Chuck Connors was once punished in a peculiar fashion for his reaction to a tough loss against the St. Louis Bombers.
Kevin “Chuck” Connors served in the military during World War II and was almost 25 when he got out of the service, but while still in the Army (he was an instructor at Camp Campbell in Kentucky and West Point in New York), Connors moonlighted as a professional basketball player for a variety of teams in the American Basketball League.
His dream, though, was to play for his hometown team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and eventually he got his chance, after spending a number of years in the minors…
While in the minor leagues, he played basketball, as well (taking time off from the minors when necessary), becoming an original member of the Boston Celtics of the brand-new National Basketball Association.
Connors was even drafted by the Chicago Bears of the NFL, although he never suited up for them.
Connors was not particularly good at any of the sports, but he was athletic enough to stick around. For the Dodgers, he had ONE at-bat (in 1949). In said at-bat, he grounded into a double play.
But first, in his one season with the Celtics, Connors was known as being a good defender because of his athleticism (but also because of his hard-nose, aggressive play, where he was willing to hit a guy if it needed doing). However, on the offensive side of the game, he was not so proficient.
This was highlit during a particularly brutal loss that the Celtics suffered in November of 1946 to the St. Louis Bombers in St. Louis.
Up by six points with thirty seconds to play, Boston Celtics head coach John “Happy” Russell called timeout to draw up an inbounding play. He told his team:
We’ve got this one made. All we have to do is this: don’t let Kevin [Chuck-BC] touch the ball. They’ll only steal it from him, or he’ll dribble it off his foot and he’ll start fouling everybody in sight. Repeat: don’t let Kevin touch the fucking ball.
As the players got up to go, Russell quickly called ANOTHER timeout, his LAST of the game. He called his players back and reiterated:
Repeat: don’t let Kevin touch the ball. And whoever does catch the ball, just stand there and do nothing.
Russell then told the referee that he was out of timeouts, so make sure not to give any player a timeout if they asked for one.
In any event, there was a bit of a scramble between the Celtics on the way back, with the team unsure who was supposed to be inbounding the ball. The ball ended up in the hands of, who else? – Connors!
Connors had to get the ball inbounds quickly, because the Celtics had no timeouts left now. He threw it towards a teammate, but a Bombers player intercepted the pass and drove to the basket. Connors chased after him and fouled him, but the player still made the basket. After shouting the foul shot from Connors hit, the Celtics were now only up three.
Again, the Celtics inbound the ball. This time, another teammate was inbounding, and this teammate looked around, and even though Connors made sure to stay far away from the inbounder, he still decided to throw it TO CONNORS! And, of course, a Bombers player knocked the ball from Connors hand and dribbled down court for a layup. And, of course, Connors chased after him and hit him as he made the shot. A foul shot later and the game was tied!!
The Bombers won in overtime. Russell naturally berated Connors mercilessly.
The next day, the Celtics were preparing to leave for Boston via train. While waiting in their hotel lobby for the team to depart, Connors (who obviously was not feeling great about himself) tried to calm himself by reading a collection of Shakespeare plays he had with him.
Russell came downstairs to find Connors reading Shakespeare and exploded…
Shakespeare? Christ almighty, you blew a game on me and you’re reading Shakespeare?
Presumably, Russell’s position was that anyone smart enough to be reading Shakespeare on their down time was far too smart to have screwed up so royally.
That became evident when it came time to board the train.
Russell told Connors that there was no ticket for him.
You’re the only son of a bitch who can figure out how to blow a six-point lead with thirty secodns to go. If you’re so smart, you can figure out how to get back to Boston without a ticket.
Connors’ teammamtes chipped in to buy him a ticket on the train.
But that would be Connors’ only full year on the Celtics. He played a little bit for them in 1947-48 before ending the year in the New York State League.
But that was about the same time his baseball career was nearing major league level. After his short stint with the Dodgers in 1949, he went back to the minors but surfaced on the Chicago Cubs in 1951. The next year, he was sent to the Cubs’ minor league affiliate, the Los Angeles Angels.
It was while playing for the Angels in Los Angeles that Connors realized ANOTHER dream of his – to become an actor!
After a few bit roles throughout the early 1950s, Connors finally nailed the role that he would forever be known for, Lucas McCain on the long-running (1958-1963) Western series, The Rifleman.
He spent almost all of the rest of his life (he died in 1992) acting.
The legend is…
Thanks to Charley Rosen’s great book, The First Tip-Off: The Incredible Story of the Birth of the NBA, for confirming the information about Connors’ career for the Celtics.
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