Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lost stars: Purvis Short

Adrian Dantley was recently elected to the hall of fame, at long last. His previous omission was one of those egregious things that happens in sports where an all time great is forgotten for reasons that are not entirely clear. I wrote about it last year. A similar problem occurred for Bob McAdoo before he was enshrined in 2000. (Why do they call it enshrinement, anyway? It's not the shrine of fame.)

Purvis short ain't gonna be in the hall, or shrine, or anything of fame any time soon. He's not even the best player from his hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Danny Manning holds that honor, and there's a good chance that another resident, Brett Favre, would beat Short to the Hattiesburg HOF by a few strides. (Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Floyd are other notable residents.) However, like Dantley, Purvis is also a man notable for his omission - he is possibly the best player in NBA history not to make an all-star team.

Purvis Short was a guard/small forward who played the majority of his career with the Golden State Warriors teams of the early eighties. The year before he was drafted, they reached the Western Conference Semifinals. The year he left, they reached the Western Conference Semifinals. However, in the ten years between (1977-1987), the Warriors never smelled the playoffs even once.

The ten year period was a giant transition in the history of the Golden State Warriors. When it started, Rick Barry was the leading scorer on a team that featured Jamaal Wilkes, Phil Smith, and a young Robert Parish (something I grew up considering an oxymoron). When it ended, the it was Chris Mullen's rookie year, and the Warriors were on the cusp of entering an era of late 80's/early 90's coolness (Mitch Richmond was still two years away; Timmy Hardaway, Sarunas Maciulionis, Uwe Blab, a dying Marques Johnson, Tom Tolbert and Manute Bol three...what a team).

(An aside: in 1989, Tom Tolbert played 1347 minutes for the Warriors [about 20 per game] and Manute Bol played 1310. Tom Tolbert had a total of 25 blocks that year, and Manute Bol had 238.)

The intervening years between Rick Barry and Chris Mullen were not entirely terrible, even though there was never a playoff series. For instance, In 1981, the Warriors won 45 games but did not make the playoffs. In 77, they won 43 but again filled to make the playoffs. The problem with the team seemed to be an acute lack of progression - one year they'd win 35, the next 45, the next 25, and so on.

Purvis Short was a good rotation player for the Warriors in the late 70's who blossomed into a lethal scorer in the 80's. How lethal? Here are his averages from 1982 through 1986:

1982: 21.4
1983: 22.8
1984: 28.0
1985: 25.5

On November 17, 1984, Purvis Short scored 59 points against the Nets, and at the time only 9 players had had higher single game outputs.

Those were years good years for basketball, and with Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, and Dominique Wilkins grabbing tons of headlines, it's understandable that a 20-point-per-game scorer for a listless Warriors team wouldn't be front page news. But isn't it a little strange that a guy could average about 24 points a game for four years without making any headlines, and without being considered an all star?

Purvis wasn't just a scorer, either. He averaged on or about five rebounds a game his entire career, as well as more than 3 assists during his high-scoring years (not bad for a SG/SF). He also averaged close to one and a half steals and less than three turnovers per game. His shooting percentages were consistently over 47% and he did it all without a viable three point shot.

Purvis was also notable for his defense - at least for one game. In 1981, Larry Bird scored zero points against him in 37 minutes - the first time Bird had gone scoreless in his college or pro career. I don't believe that ever happened to Larry Legend again, though I could be wrong.

The one thing Short could never do was win. The closest he came to winning a championship was when he led the Israeli team he played for in 1993, Hapoel Tel Aviv, to the finals against Israeli juggernaut Maccabi Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, Short lost there, too, in game 5 of a five game series.

Purvis Short was a prolific scorer has his place in basketball history and who deserved recognition while he played. He never made the NCAA tournament despite averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds a game over his four year career at Jackson State. He had only one chance to make an impact in the NBA playoffs, and his greatest success was against inferior overseas opponents. I'm not sure what to make of Short - I've never seen even a clip of him playing. Either way, he presents an interesting example of a player who reached the height of individual scoring prowess but could never capture fame or recognition from it.

As always, e-mail me at don'


Short now is the director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA - the union) Player Services Department. He was Vice President of the union from 87-90. Basically, he is the guy that runs the orientation program to educate young players about the dangers of being young, rich, and famous. And, based on the recent years, I'm not sure he's gonna be getting any fame for that, either...


Anonymous said...

I grew up watching Purvis in the 80s in Sacramento. We'd get the Warriors broadcasts. The thing that was unique about him, which you didn't mention (because anyone that saw him play would have mentioned it), was his rainbow jumpshot. Now alot of people use that phrase, "rainbow jumper", but the player that really defined it was Purvis Short. I mean he took it to the next level. I'd venture to say he had the highest arching shot we've ever seen, in the NBA or anywhere else. Sometimes the ball would come through the net and the net wouldn't even move. It was totally unique, and he was quite accurate. It was a thing of beauty to watch Purvis shoot.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Frederick said...


sheba021 said...

My absolute all-time favorite player ever, period. I have a few of his games but none of his really huge scoring ones and I would kill for those! Thanks for the article, much appreciated.

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Anonymous said...

I think a good comparison to his greatness, (not his play style) would be Rudy Gay. Gay is an outstanding player. He has the capabilities to put up huge numbers, and he seems to be a team player who knows his role is to score. But he never wins. For years he has been on teams who have had the talent to be finals contenders, but they usually barely make the playoffs. The Grizzlies improved when he left. The Raptors improved vastly when he left. I think the kings should have a much better record than they do now. Every time I hear about Short, I am always reminded of Rudy. Great player, but can't figure out how to win. And just for the record, I believe Short was a much better player than Gay.