Guy Rodgers finally gets his call to Hall of Fame

Guy Rodgers won three straight Big Five player-of-the-year awards as a point guard at Temple. He went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA, mostly for the Philadelphia and San Francisco Warriors.
Guy Rodgers won three straight Big Five player-of-the-year awards as a point guard at Temple. He went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA, mostly for the Philadelphia and San Francisco Warriors.
Posted: August 08, 2014

Sonny Hill minces no words when he discusses the basketball career of Guy Rodgers, his "big brother [and] mentor."

"When people ask me, 'Who is the greatest player in the Big Five?' It's not even close," Hill, Philadelphia's iconic basketball organizer and advocate, said Wednesday. "That's how good he was.

"Let's put it in Philadelphia perspective: Whoever it is that you think is the second-best Big Five player, he's not close to Guy Rodgers."

Rodgers, a heady and gifted point guard who won three straight Big Five player-of-the-year awards at Temple, will be inducted posthumously Friday night into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., picked by the Hall's veterans committee.

Other inductees include Immaculata University, for its women's team that won three straight national championships in the mid-1970s; former NBA commissioner David Stern; and Gary Williams, who played at Collingswood High School and won a state championship as coach of Camden's Woodrow Wilson High School before coaching at the University of Maryland.

Rodgers retired from the NBA after the 1969-70 season and died in 2001 at age 65. The fact that he had to wait so long to find a place in the Hall is a sore spot with Hill and others who played with Rodgers on the Philadelphia playgrounds or spent time as his teammate at Temple or during his 12 pro seasons.

"I was on a couple of Hall of Fame committees, and I was one of the advocates for Guy for many years," former Temple coach John Chaney said. "Some of the people that voted against him were unbelievable. When the committee changes, and they put a lot of young people on, they don't know the great players from the past. His assist records were second to none."

Rodgers is the first Big Five player to make it to the Hall; Paul Arizin of Villanova and Tom Gola of La Salle played before the Big Five existed. He is the fifth Philadelphian to make it, joining Arizin, Gola, Wilt Chamberlain, and Earl Monroe. Monroe will present Rodgers for induction.

Rodgers was admired by his peers in the NBA, where he led the league twice in assists and averaged 7.8 per game for his career. Hill said that Oscar Robertson once told him Rodgers "was the greatest dribbler and passer that he's ever seen," and that Nate "Tiny" Archibald called him "the fastest guy to get the ball up the floor."

Al Attles, who also will be enshrined for his service to basketball, roomed with Rodgers during their days with the Philadelphia and San Francisco Warriors, and the two stayed close after their playing days.

"He was the best, I don't know of anybody better," said Attles, who still works for the Warriors as a team ambassador. "He was terrific with the basketball.

"Many times when you're playing defensively against someone, they're concerned about you and they're looking at you rather than what's going on on the floor. Guy never looked at you. He always looked at the next play."

Rodgers' basketball legacy began at Northeast High School, where he averaged 35 points in his senior year.

"He was Magic Johnson before Magic Johnson," Hill said. "He rebounded the ball. He dribbled the ball up the floor. He made all kinds of passes. He stole the ball. He played the pivot on offense. His senior year, he was the Markward Club's player of the year over Wilt."

Chamberlain would become a teammate of Rodgers' in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Chaney said Rodgers was the best thing that happened to Chamberlain.

"Wilt would get so frustrated - he didn't have a point guard until Guy Rodgers came out," he said. "Guys would be rolling the ball to a 7-footer, and Guy was the only one that could make good passes to Wilt. I think that helped a great deal with Wilt's success."

While Friday's honor may be belated for some, many basketball greats are thrilled to see Rodgers be enshrined for all time.

"Guy's game translates into any era," Hill said. "He could have played in the old era, when the NBA was just formed. He could have played in his era, or in the era after that. He would still be the same great basketball player. Guy was a transcendent player because his game was so far ahead of its time."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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