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Shaun Powell

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Rod Thorn has seen it all in professional basketball from 1960s NBA and the ABA to million-dollar contracts.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

A walk down memory lane with Rod Thorn


Posted Aug 27 2010 11:19AM

Rod Thorn has worked in professional basketball longer than most people have been alive. When the Sixers reached out and rescued Thorn from retirement this summer, just weeks after he left the Nets, his streak continued.

Since 1963, when he was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets, until now, as the new president of the Sixers, Thorn has been out of basketball for only two years, when he worked in the financial markets and when he attended college. When he finally calls it quits, he will likely have 50 years in the game on its highest level.

As a former player, assistant coach, head coach, league executive and team executive, Thorn has been there and done that. He also worked in the ABA, one of the few currently active NBA people who can make that claim.

Rather than write a story chronicling some aspects of his career, it's better to let Thorn flush out a few details, in his own words. He shared his thoughts recently:

"I traded options on the Chicago board, and I went to school at the University of Washington. I thought I was going to law school. I thought I was through with basketball. And then one day in the summer I got a call from Kevin Loughery, who was named coach of the New York Nets. He offered me an assistant coach's job and I ended up taking it. Then we got Julius Erving in a trade with the Virginia Squires. I knew right away I wasn't going to law school.

"I was the second pick in the Draft in 1963, by the Baltimore Bullets. My first contract was for $12,500. And it was not guaranteed. My last player contract was with the Seattle Supersonics in 1971, and it was for $25,000. Got a big raise over the course of time. As a general manager, I've signed players to contracts well over a few hundred million dollars combined. That's quite a big difference between today's players and me.

"When I was an assistant with the Nets, I got hired by the Spirits of St. Louis to be the head coach. Marvin Barnes was my star player. He was a great talent, a little bit like Bernard King, in that he could score. But he missed some games because he was in and out of court. He was accused of hitting a kid in the head with a tire iron.

"Marvin was never on time. Came late all the time. Didn't take care of himself. It was tough for me because I was a young coach. He didn't care about practice, just coming to the games. It caused a lot of problems on the team.

"We played in Utah, we won and he had a big game. I called him up to my room and we talked for 2 hours about his obligation, being the best player on the team. Had a great talk. He agreed with everything I said. Next day he missed the bus, missed the plane. I thought I 'd made headway. Another time, we won a game, and then we never heard from Marvin from that game on Friday until he called me the next Thursday afternoon and said 'Coach, howya doin?' I'd had enough.

"In all of my time in pro basketball, Julius Erving was the best teammate. He was very sensitive to what kind of star he was and how the other guys on the team got lost in the shuffle, because Doc was the ABA. Here's a good example: Julius and George McGinnis were even in the scoring race late in the season. Larry Kenon, our other forward, liked to score. Kenon had a couple games where he scored under 10 points and was down about it. Our next game was against Indiana and McGinnis. With the scoring title up for grabs, Julius finds Kenon no matter where he was, in the corner, under the basket, at the top of the key, wherever Larry was, Doc would find him. We won the game; Kenon had 25 points and was all happy. Julius had 15 points. McGinnis had 28 or 29 points. How many guys would even think about another teammate like that? That's the kind of teammate he was. He led our team in everything you could think of, and he always guarded the best forward on the other team. Plus he played 44 minutes a game. He would do things athletically that you didn't see before. He'd reach out and snatch a ball with one hand like you or I would do a baseball. A lot of people missed out watching Doc in the ABA.

"When I drafted Michael Jordan, he was a bigger star than most players who were already in the league because of how he did at the Olympics. I tried to downplay everything by saying we weren't looking for Michael to carry the team. In the fourth quarter against the Bucks, early in Michael's rookie season, Don Nelson double- and triple-teamed Michael, and Michael scored every time. Sidney Moncrief had just been defensive player of the year and Michael went around this guy, over him, through him, just put on a show. I said to myself that night that this guy was going to be unbelievable.

"You had to have white shoes in those days. Michael comes out in red, white and blue shoes. The league is going crazy and screaming at me. I didn't know what to do. I finally let Michael and Nike do what they want. And then they had an ad campaign about the shoe, saying, 'This is the shoe banned by the league.' It wasn't so bad. Everyone got over it.

"With the Nets, we went to the NBA Finals twice, but we were outmatched with Shaq and Kobe the first time. We didn't have a shot. They were too good. I thought we had a great chance against San Antonio, though. We matched up well with them and we won one of the first two games in San Antonio. Then we were tied 2-2, and in Game 5 we throw the ball away in the last few minutes of a close game. We then go to San Antonio for Game 6 and have a double-digit lead and blow it. We should've been champions; I'll always believe that.

"I loved working in the front office, where I was in charge of issuing fines, among other things. This was during the Pistons and all the Bad Boy stuff. They gave me no choice; I had to fine them a few times. One day the Pistons were in New York to play the Knicks, and the NBA offices are located in Midtown. I was out to lunch when Ricky Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer came by the office. They had a very professional-looking sign with them, and they super-glued it to my door. And the sign said: 'This office was furnished through fines paid for by the Detroit Pistons.' Well, we couldn't get the sign off. We tried almost everything, but that thing was super-glued tight. Finally we got it off, and it made a big hole in the door.

"While I worked in the league office, I'd gone to a game in Detroit; I used to play for the Pistons back in the 1960s. I'm sitting near the court, and during the game on the overhead scoreboard they had a question -- such-and-such played for Detroit at a certain time. I really wasn't paying attention. All of a sudden, I hear the crowd booing and I said to myself, what the heck is that all about? Well, they were booing me. I was the answer to the question. I wasn't too popular there.

"Another time in Detroit, I was sitting a few rows up, and with about a minute left in the game, a guy walks by and says, 'You're a [bleep].' I don't say anything, I just let him keep walking. And then this older lady, who's sitting in front of me, turns around and says, 'That guy is right. You are a [bleep].'

"I was with Horace Balmer, the director of security, and he says, 'I'm never sitting here with you again.'"

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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