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Paul Westphal On H.O.R.S.E.

by Andrew Pearson,

Thirty years after the NBAís foray into the world of H-O-R-S-E, originally broadcast during halftimes of the leagueís weekly telecasts on CBS, the D-League has decided to bring back the improvisational fan favorite as part of its inaugural Dream Factory Friday Night. To get a feel for what fans can expect to see, we asked one of 1970s most underrated guards and an original H-O-R-S-E competitor, Paul Westphal, what he remembered about the competition and his run to the tournament championship, albeit with a surprise twist.

Cazzie Russell was one of several NBA greats who Paul competed against in H.O.R.S.E.
Wen Roberts/Getty Images/NBAE
What do you remember about competing in the last H-O-R-S-E competition held 30 years ago?

Westphal: "I had a lot of fun doing it. It is something that most kids, at least when I grew up, had played just for fun in the backyard and it was kind of neat to bring that out into the open.

I worked on a few things, but mostly my biggest advantage was that I could use my left hand equally as well as my right on close-in shots within 12 feet or so. I worked on a few things off the backboard where I would bounce the ball off the backboard and then end up finishing with my left hand and that seemed to work well for me."

How was the competition staged?

Westphal: "They filmed it in probably two or three days at a mall in Atlanta. They brought everybody down and ran everything but the finals. They had some bleachers set up and there was a live crowd, but it was nowhere near the production like the NBA would do now."

Who were some of the other players that competed?

Westphal: "Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Cazzie Russell and Pete Maravich were a few. For Cazzie, his whole thing was he felt he was a better 15-foot shooter than everybody. I forget who he beat, but he made like 19 or 20 15-foot jumpers in a row and knocked somebody out. When I played him, as soon as he missed, I was able to go to the left hand. I could shoot the jumper well enough that he couldnít knock me out. To tell you the truth, my sense of it was that as soon as I started shooting the left-handed shots, most guys couldnít keep up. I think thatís what I got Maurice Lucas with, little left-handed jump hooks and turnarounds, a few things off the backboard where Iíd bounce it off and then cross under with my left hand. Honestly, because of that advantage with my left, the competition actually wasnít that tough."

H-O-R-S-E has always seemed like a game that lends itself to a lot of trash talking. Was that the case during this competition?

Westphal: "Actually there wasnít much of that, at least for me. I was more worried about concentrating. With trick shots especially, you might have a little bit of trash talk, but the way it played out for me, it was more concentration than anything else."

You made it all the way to the finals of the competition, but things didnít go exactly as planned. Explain.

Westphal: "Well, I was supposed to play Pete Maravich in the finals at halftime. As it turned out, Pete got injured. It was decided that I would compete against a mystery opponent. Rick Barry, who was part of CBSís announcing team for that dayís NBA telecast along with Brent Musberger, was going to be disguised as the unknown basketball player. If people remember the unknown comic at that time, the guy with the bag over his head, well they decided to put a bag over Rickís head. Normally, he could make like nine out of 10 free throws blindfolded, so they thought they would have him go up there and make a free throw with this bag over his head. They figured I would miss it being blindfolded. Then they were going to say, ďThatís ok, you get the prize anyway,Ē and then give me the check or whatever it was. They didnít announce that it was Rick Barry, but he shot his free throws underhand, he was 6-7 and he was wearing the white suit that he was wearing to do the broadcast, just with a bag over his head. I think most people were in on the joke. If they didnít know, they didnít follow basketball. Anyway, turns out Rick missed his and I made mine and it screwed up the whole script. Brent Musberger didnít know what to say, and I didnít either. When it was over, I donít recall if he revealed himself, but thatís how it played out."

Did anyone produce any memorable shots or standout moves that you can remember?

Westphal: "Pete Maravich had a lot of stuff that was really tricky. The problem with his shots was that they were all high risk, even for him. The key in H-O-R-S-E is that you canít miss too many and give the other guy a chance to shoot his shot on you. Pete could put on a show, but his were such high risk shots that it was hard for him to come back if the other guy got the lead."

Paul feels that Dirk Nowitzki would be one of the best H.O.R.S.E. competitors among today's players.
Glenn James/Getty Images/NBAE
What was it about Peteís game that made him so special on the basketball court?

Westphal: "Knowing what we know now about the heart condition he had, the most amazing thing to me is how tirelessly he worked to get his shots. His stamina to continue attacking and work as hard as he did when they set the defense against him was incredible, even for someone with a healthy heart, and he didnít even have that. He had great body control, imagination and artistry, really. Thatís the thing that comes to mind more than anything to me. He was kind of an artist with the ball. He enjoyed pushing the envelope to places that other people hadnít gone."

If there was ever criticism of Peteís game it was that he may have sometimes put style before substance. Is that a fair statement?

Westphal: "His weak spot was probably drawing that line. On top of that there were very few situations where he was on the right team. When he went to Atlanta, they needed him and set up things up for him to sell tickets, which didnít go down very well with his teammates and didnít set a very good precedent for how his career would go. Partially it was his tendency to entertain and partially he wasnít on a team that demanded him to play the game the way the purists would like to see it played." Who, if anybody, would you compare to Pete in terms of his style of play?

Westphal: "Many people probably donít remember him, but Ernie DiGregorio had a little bit of that flair. Bob Cousy had a little bit of that flair. Earl Monroe is probably the closest one in my mind, but Earl ended up being on the right team. He still had the flair but directed it towards winning. Pete never really had the chance to do that."

What are your thoughts on the D-League bringing the H-O-R-S-E event back?

Westphal: "The nature of H-O-R-S-E is that players will try a lot of difficult shots and miss a lot of shots or if the shots are too easy, then you just get duplicated. Either way, the individual games can last a long time. It is going to depend on the format. It can get boring if it is not run properly and I donít know how to really do it properly. One of the keys to the televising of the H-O-R-S-E competition when I did it was that they taped it. They edited out a lot of the standing around and a lot of the missed shots Ė and there will be standing around and missed shots Ė and really went to the good stuff. If you donít have a time limit on it or some kind of mechanism to edit out the slow parts, it wonít be a good thing in person. If you edit it right, it can be very entertaining. But in person, it can be very unpredictable. Thatís the problem with it."

Who in todayís NBA would be a good competitor in H-O-R-S-E?

Westphal: "Dirk Nowitzki would be one. Heís got incredible body control, range, and the consistency that no one is going to shoot him out. You canít just shoot jumpers and expect to beat him. Youíve got to come with some imagination. If you watch his shooting workout, itís unbelievable with the different one-legged, running-away-from-the basket shots he can make. If you do crazy things, you better not miss, because if you give Dirk the ball, youíre not going to get it back. Heís the most incredible shooter. There is nobody like him with no defense in front of him. He just doesnít miss. He would be my favorite off the top of my head.

Kobe Bryant certainly has the competitiveness and the imagination to be a real factor in it. Youíve got to have shooting range because if someone can take you outside of your range and start dropping threes on you, youíre gonna be out. Kobe has that. Dirk has that. I think Steve Nash would be incredible in it. He is a lights-out shooter. Heís got imagination. Heís got all the little one-legged things off the run. Being able to shoot with either hand is a huge advantage in that game. That was the biggest advantage that I had, that I could shoot jumpers with either hand. If you can make a relatively easy shot with your off hand and the other person doesnít have a good feel for that, itís over. They donít get to go to their strength."