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NBA 75 Series: #63 Nate Archibald

Ranked #63 in my 75 Greatest NBA Players of All Time is Nate “Tiny” Archibald. Born Nathaniel Archibald on September 2, 1948, in New York City. Archibald grew up a playground legend in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood in the South Bronx borough of New York City. He grew up in a two-bedroom apartment as the oldest of his seven siblings. He was named after his father, “Big Tiny”, and would have to learn fast at just the age of 14 when his father left the family and he was left to watch over his siblings. Basketball helped steer him away from the drugs, gangs, and violence that claimed many of his peers.

He would play high school ball for one-and-a-half seasons at Dewitt Clinton High School, where he was cut from the varsity squad his sophomore year and even almost dropped out of school. He would return to the team as a junior, after receiving help from two mentors in Floyd Layne, the community sports director at the time, and later head coach at City College in Manhattan, and Pablo Robertson, who helped turn his life around.

Layne knew the head coach at Dewitt and convinced him to give Archibald another chance. He wouldn’t be disappointed as Archibald would play the next two seasons and even be named to the All-City team as a senior. Despite him staying in school, Archibald’s grades weren’t good enough to be warranted a scholarship to a big time college basketball program.

Instead, he would attend Arizona Western Community College for one year, then would accept a scholarship at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP). At UTEP he would go on to average over 20 points per game for three straight seasons while also shooting over 45% from the field. In postseason collegiate All-Star games he would outplay his competition, scoring 51 points in the 1970 Aloha Classic, averaging nearly 40 points in the five exhibition games.

He would impress the former Cincinnati Royals (now Sacramento Kings) coach and NBA Legend Bob Cousy and general manager Joe Axelson to take him as the 19th pick in the second round of the 1970 NBA Draft. That Draft was loaded with all-time greats in Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, and Bob Lanier among others.

Archibald would earn his spot as the starting point guard due to a contract dispute at the time with veteran guard Flynn Robinson. He would average 16 points that season on a marginal Royals team that went 33-49. He struggled with turnovers early on in his career and played spotty defense. But that wouldn’t deter him from improving his game and becoming one of the greatest point guards in NBA History.

He was one of the toughest and greatest little guys in NBA lore, standing at just 6-foot-1, paving the way for guys like Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson. Archibald was one hell of a playmaker and scorer, being the only player in league history to lead the league in assists in scoring in the same season! He did that in 1972-73 with averages of 34 ppg and 11.4 apg. He had a lightning quick first step and was a tremendous finisher.

For a decade he was among the league’s best guards with averages of 20.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 8.0 apg, and 1.2 spg while making six All-Star appearances. He was at his best from 1971-76, posting 27.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 8.7 apg, and 1.5 spg despite the Kansas City-Omaha Kings struggling to find success as a team during that span. He tore his Achilles in 1977, but was able to recover and remodel his game by 1981 when he joined the Celtics.

Archibald would join a young Bird, McHale, and Parrish to win the 1981 NBA championship in a season where he ranked fifth in assists in the league with 7.7 per game. Along with being a champion and six-time All-Star, Archibald is a All-Star MVP (1981), and five-time All-NBA selection. His No.1 is retired by the Sacramento Kings and is a member of the 50th and 75th NBA anniversary teams.


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