Warriors.com (DotCom): How is Big Nate’s Barbeque restaurant in San Francisco doing?
Nate Thurmond (NT): They’re doing fine. I sold most of the business, but it still bears my name. The two guys who bought most of the business from me have three other restaurants in the city and they kind of think they can franchise “Big Nate’s,” so I’m still involved with them.
DotCom: How much pride do you have in that restaurant considering that you were the one who started the business and it’s still around today?
NT: When I opened the business, I was 50 years old. I did a 20-year stint and as you know, in San Francisco, that’s very difficult considering there’s so many restaurants. I’m proud of that fact and I’m proud that it’s still going. My son is still working there. I go in there often and make sure the recipes are virtually the same.
DotCom: Tell people about Gus Johnson. A lot of the younger fans probably don’t know how good he was.
NT: He was 6-foot-6, about 230-35 pounds of solid muscle, could jump high, a sweet shot. He could pass the ball off the dribble. Back in those days, a lot of guys could not do that. His defense is legendary. We had the same high school coach and he taught us how to play both ends of the floor. He was just a tremendous ballplayer and I’m so glad that he made the Hall of Fame (in 2010).
DotCom: Can you describe your Draft day experience in 1963?
NT: I really didn’t know it was draft day. I was sitting in the cafeteria and somebody, I have no idea who it was, came in and said, “You were drafted by the San Francisco Warriors.” I said, “No, that can’t be,” because I knew they had Wilt Chamberlain. So I dismissed that comment and later on that day, my coach called me and told me that I indeed had been drafted by the San Francisco Warriors and I was obviously very puzzled.
DotCom: Did you have to adjust your game to play with Wilt Chamberlain?
NT: What really helped my career is that every day I played against Wilt in the middle at practice. Being able to try and learn how to guard a guy who was the most prolific scorer the league had ever known was something that was great for my career. And then, when I was able to play power forward and face the basket and get a decent jump shot, not a good one, it helped me in later years when Wilt was traded.
DotCom: Do you feel that things really came together for you once Wilt Chamberlain was traded to Philadelphia?
NT: I really liked Wilt as a person. We kept in touch after he left San Francisco, but it was a happy day for me when I heard when he was traded because I didn’t want to play forward for the rest of my life and neither did I want to play behind Wilt for the rest of my life. It was a really happy day and I was ready for it.
DotCom: What was Rick Barry like as a rookie?
NT: Fabulous. If I knew a better word, I’d give it to you. He was fabulous. We couldn’t believe it when we started practicing how quick and how fast he was, and his vast array of offensive skills, plus his passing ability. Forgetting Wilt for a minute, the best player that I ever played with was obviously Rick Barry. When you talk about small forwards, there are only three guys who should be mentioned in my opinion, and that’s Barry, (Larry) Bird and (Elgin) Baylor. Rick doesn’t get the accolades that he should be getting. He is in the class with those other two guys.
DotCom: Can you describe your experience from the 1967 NBA Finals?
NT: We get to the NBA Finals against Wilt. We’re the youngest team at that particular time to reach the NBA Finals. We played them tooth and nail. They had probably one of the best teams in the history of the NBA … If I may say this years after, we were cheated out of a game up in Philadelphia that turned the series in their favor. We were right there, there’s no question about it. This is not sour grapes; it’s just something that happened. It was a pick and roll with me and Rick, and Wilt goaltended. Rick has never forgiven me because I didn’t do a lot of dunking, but if I would have dunked that one, I think we would have been champions that year. That’s history, but it definitely was a goaltend.
DotCom: How did you prepare yourself to defend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, better known then as Lew Alcindor?
NT: I had seen him on TV, but you can’t see footwork on TV. I wanted to see how he used his feet to set up for that skyhook, which was his favorite and most devastating shot. The night before he was going to play against me for the first time, he was playing down in Los Angeles … At that time it was about $16.50, $20 round trip, something like that, something very, very accessible to my wallet. I had a friend get a couple of tickets. I flew down to L.A., went to the game, had a seat where I could see where he planted his feet and what he did with his feet … I don’t know the final stats when he was here, but I know that I held him to his lowest production that year or something like that. It was all because of what I saw the night before. That particular game, that first game, set the tone for our whole career. Not that he never scored 30 against me but he had to work and he had to shoot more shots than the average person to get that 30 … It was the best $25 I ever spent.