Legendary guard who once led the NBA in assists and points in a single season has vast admiration for Golden State's star
POSTED: Apr 1, 2016 7:41 PM ET
Stephen Curry's improved ball-handling -- not his sweet shooting touch -- has impressed Nate Archibald most.
Nate "Tiny"Archibald, who rocked the NBA more than four decades ago as a little man dominating a big man's league, had been asked about Stephen Curry, the little man currently dominating what's becoming less and less a big man's league. He was just revving up in his answer when he dropped this:
"So I went to the White House a couple weeks ago and I was talking to [former Maryland coach] Gary Williams, who coached against Curry when Curry was at Davidson, OK?" Archibald said Thursday. "And he said he had guys on his team at that time who handled the ball a little better than [Curry]. Curry was always a great shooter, but now what he's done, he has worked on his ball-handling skills. He has perfected it. His dad [Dell] was a great shooter but his dad couldn't handle the ball, and he didn't need to playing with Muggsy [Bogues] ..."
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back this up a second, Tiny. Did you say White House?
I love watching him play. He has galvanized a different persona with these young people. ... I'm around kids all the time and they get the ball, 'Oh, Steph Curry!' Don't talk about nobody else.
– Nate Archibald, on Stephen Curry
"Yeah, they're working on a commemorative coin for the Hall of Fame," said Archibald, 67. "A good friend of mine when he was in Delaware [Vice President Joe Biden], he was there. I was hoping to see the President but he was busy someplace else.
"I'm just trying to help out and move things. Just trying to be positive and be visible out there. But Steph is the man. Steph is the man."
Right there, though, that tells you a lot about Archibald, who was the man not unlike the Golden State Warriors' sharpshooter but who also does not dwell in the past.
A member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame for a quarter century already, Archibald strung together five stellar seasons for the Cincinnati/Kansas City franchise (now in Sacramento) from 1971-76. He averaged 27.3 points and 8.7 assists as a 6-foot-1, 150-pound one-man wrecking crew for the Kings, earning three All-Star appearances and three first-team all-NBA berths in that run. And, in 1972-73, was responsible for one of the league's most incredible individual seasons ever, becoming the only man to lead the NBA in scoring and in assists in the same year.
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Since ending his 14-year playing career in 1984, Archibald has spent most of his public time working with youngsters -- grade school, high school and college -- in and near his roots in the South Bronx of New York. He teaches them the game, he stresses the importance of education and he backs it up himself with his three degrees (his bachelor's from Texas-El Paso and a master's and professional degree from Fordham).
Archibald is all about now. It's like pulling teeth to get him to talk about yesteryear because he's so busy doing what he can to help young players snag a better tomorrow.
"I played against some of the best players in the world," Archibald told NBA.com in a phone interview. "I was in a dream world. I played against Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier. I played against Jerry West and Earl Monroe. That was then.
"I interact with more kids than probably anybody else in the league," he added. "Doing my leagues, clinics, camps and stuff. I see so much potential in these kids. And Steph's jersey, like Iverson's jersey, is the hottest thing -- it's steamin'! He is -- and this is a 007 movie -- 'The Man With The Golden Shot.' "
But I tell people, you can't put him back [in the 1970s] and you can't move them ['70s stars] up. Different eras of basketball.
– Hall of Famer Nate Archibald, on Stephen Curry
Contrast that to some comments last month from Robertson, the always-candid NBA legend. When prompted in an ESPN radio interview, Robertson said that as good as Curry is, he benefits from poor strategy by opposing coaches.
"[Curry] has shot well because of what's going on in basketball today," Robertson said. "There have been some great shooters in the past. ... But here again, when I played ... if you shot outside and hit it, the next time I'm going to be up on top of you. I'm going to pressure you with three-quarters, half-court defense. But now they don't do that. These coaches do not understand the game of basketball, as far as I'm concerned."
It wasn't the all-in, back-in-my-day rant some made it out to be but it did question the validity of Curry's MVP-caliber dominance here in 2015-16. So did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he at least concurred with his old teammate Robertson that the physical play back in the 1970s and '80s would make it "difficult to make jump shots from that far out."
Archibald, who actually can speak with authority about what it would be like for someone close to Curry's build to play amongst the old-schoolers, wouldn't really go there.
"Oh, he'd have got a whipping," Archibald told NBA.com. "But I tell people, you can't put him back [in the 1970s] and you can't move them ['70s stars] up. Different eras of basketball. Certain rules change the game. The rules now is, they want the game to move. And it's not just to his benefit, it's to everybody's benefit."
The City Game: Nate Archibald
Hall of Famer Tiny Archibald still lives in his hometown of the Bronx, where he pays a visit to his alma mater, storied DeWitt Clinton High School.
Earlier this season, when Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of Curry: "He's rewriting the history of the game." It just so happens that, in identifying a little guy who had such an outsized impact, Archibald was the one writing the first draft.
In 1972-73, he averaged 34.0 points and 11.4 assists, leading the NBA in both categories in a feat unmatched before or since. Curry this season is at 30.0 points and 6.5 assists. Certainly, the Warriors' All-Star is the far more efficient player: He averages 20.1 field-goal attempts to Archibald's 26.3 in '72-73, he's shooting 50.5 percent from the floor to Archibald's 48.8 and Curry plays 34 minutes a game compared to Archibald's 46 that season.
Then again, the 3-pointer didn't exist until seven seasons later. And Archibald has proof of the punishment he took in the 9.8 free-throw attempts he averaged in 1972-73; Curry, who is 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, shoots 5.2 per game now.
Both generated awe and more than a little head-shaking, navigating in and around (in Archibald's case) or over (in Curry's) the trees of the NBA.
"I rate him No. 1," Chicago Bulls guard Norm Van Lier said of Archibald in an October 1973 issue of Sports Illustrated. "The brother's mean, man. He comes to play every day and he does it to death. I don't believe there is anything he can't do, and his moves are inexhaustible. He'll stand out there 25 to 30 feet away from the basket dribbling. It looks so easy to go up and take the ball away, right? Wrong. Nate's just baiting you. He wants you to make a move for the ball because when you do, you're all his."
West, who beams proudly as a Golden State exec over Curry's exploits in 2016, said this of Archibald back in 1973: "He looks like a high school kid and plays like a superstar. One step and he's at full speed and gone." And when Robertson was asked then if Archibald's ball-dominance might actually hurt Kansas City's chances of winning more games, the "Big O" sounded like a grumpy young man when he responded: "The only way his style could hurt them is if he played against them."
There are dramatic differences between Curry and Archibald off the court. The former comes from an NBA family, an intact, comfortable home. Archibald was the oldest of seven kids raised in a two-bedroom apartment in the housing projects by his mother Julia, once their dad, "Big Tiny", left the family.
When Steph Curry catches the ball, he's in attack mode. He has a confidence in him that's unbelievable, OK? He's exuberating with confidence.
– Nate Archibald
Archibald had his career nearly ended and fairly bisected by severe knee and leg injuries from 1976-79, then re-invented himself as a floor leader and facilitator for the Boston Celtics from 1979-83. Archibald earned three more All-Star selections -- despite modest stats (12.5 ppg, 7.1 apg) -- and was the starting point guard on the first Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish championship team in 1981.
Yet he harbors no grudge over his bumpier background relative to Curry, nor resentment for all the sweetness, light, champagne and cash -- Archibald played in the NBA's six-figure days -- flowing to the Warriors star these days.
He is, in fact, an unabashed fan.
"He reminds me of a couple guys," Archibald said with genuine excitement. "He reminds me a little bit of Isiah [Thomas] but more 'Pistol' Pete Maravich. Pistol Pete had a yo-yo on the ball. He could take the ball anywhere he wanted to take it and -- wait a minute now! -- those guys didn't shoot 3-pointers.
"But there's another guy I played against, if the 3-point shot was in, he would probably have averaged about 50 points a game. And that's Jerry West. He reminds me of a combo guy like that.
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"When Steph Curry catches the ball, he's in attack mode. He has a confidence in him that's unbelievable, OK? He's exuberating with confidence. You can see when he works out and he's doing the two-ball drill. I teach kids that, where you get the rhythm and the confidence. Between the legs, behind the back -- I teach that with high school and college guys. Why two basketballs? Cuz it's got you concentrating."
As many have mentioned, Archibald sees first-hand how young players who can't truly relate to the size and power of Shaquille O'Neal or LeBron James can identify with Curry, who is built more like folks you'd see on the street. Or in the mirror. Archibald inspired a generation of regular-sized players, too -- but good luck getting him to talk about his time.
He prefers this one, dominated by the "horses" of San Antonio and the "ponies" of Golden State. And its prize thoroughbred.
"We're not giving him enough credit for his ball-handling prowess," Archibald said of Curry. "He came into the league, he was a good shooter and he became a great shooter. But now he's going to the basket on guys. He's got that long-range shot but he's got a mid-range shot too. He can pull up on you. And then he's got the left hand to finish off, when you're thinking he's coming back right. 'You stay on that right-hand side, I'm laying the ball up lefthanded.'
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"All of that is what makes him the most dangerous guy in the league. I love watching him play. He has galvanized a different persona with these young people. Plus he's a nice-looking young man, he handles himself well, speaks well. Comes from a great program, a great family background. Y'know what? Can't touch that. I'm around kids all the time and they get the ball, 'Oh, Steph Curry!' Don't talk about nobody else."
For a stretch in the 1970s, when giants roamed the NBA, a different generation of kids said pretty much the same thing: "Oh, Tiny Archibald!" Barely talked about nobody else.
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