The Day the NBA Came to Springfield, Mo.

Front Cover Featuring an autograph from Hall of Famer Bob Pettit

On October 7, 1963, something that would be unheard of today happened in Springfield, Mo.  And I, along with my friend, Ronnie Potter, was there.

The NBA World Champion Boston Celtics and the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks played an exhibition game in the Parkview High School gym in Springfield.  I still have the program from that game.

The Back Page of the Progam which is autographed by Hall of Famer Cliff Hagen

The Celtics won 134-116 in front of a packed house.

By 1963, Celtic’s future Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell had been named NBA MVP six times and had led the Boston Celtics to six World Championships.  The Hawks were led by 10-time All-Star and future Hall-of-Famer, Bob Pettit.  The Celtics would go on to win another NBA Championship that year, while the Hawks were runners-up in the Western Division.

Can you imagine the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors coming to Springfield, Mo. and playing an exhibition game in a high school gym?

Me neither.  But things have changed a lot since 1963.

The highest salary Bill Russell ever made in the NBA was $100,000.   That equals about $600,000 adjusted for inflation today.  Stephen Curry of the 2018 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors will earn $37,157,154 for the upcoming season.  The average salary in the NBA is now $7.1 million per year.  One of my favorite quotes about players salaries came from Babe Ruth.  When a reporter asked him how it felt to make more money than the President of the United States, the Babe responded “I had a better year than him.”

The most memorable thing for me about attending that game in 1963 was not the game.  It was what happened after the game.  Programs in hand, Ronnie & I sneaked into  the Parkview Boy’s locker room where both teams were showering and getting dressed after the game.  Just walking around in there was memorable enough, but I took advantage of my good fortune by securing 20 autographs on my program from players in various stages of dress – or “undress” in some cases.  Five autographs on my program are from players who are now in the NBA Hall of Fame.

The memorable night did not end there.


Ronnie’s dad picked us up after the game and before he dropped me off at home, I heard my very first Beatles song on the radio.  Later that month, the Beatles came to the attention of  variety show host Ed Sullivan when the plane he was on was delayed at London’s Heathrow Airport by screaming teens welcoming the Beatles.  On February 9, 1964, 73 million viewers tuned in to the Ed Sullivan Show to watch the Beatles perform five songs: “All My Loving”, “‘Til There Was You”,  “She Loves You”,  “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

The music world was changed forever.

Something else that would be life-altering for teenage males was brewing in October of 1963 totally unbeknownst to Ronnie Potter and me.  When that game was played, there were already 16,732 American troops in a little known place in Southeast Asia by the name of Vietnam.   Five years later that number had grown to 536,100 American troops  in Vietnam.  Ronnie Potter joined the Marines.  He spent over a year in Vietnam, much of it in combat.

He survived, thankfully, though I’m sure he had some close calls.

Eleven months and two days after that game – on the very day I turned 16 – I got my driver’s license.

I have since survived 54+ years and a couple of million miles behind the wheel, thankfully, though I’ve had some close calls.  Occasionally my passengers from the 60’s still remind me.

And my autographed program from October 7, 1963, the one and only time the St. Louis Hawks and the Boston Celtics ever visited Springfield, Mo. has survived the last 55 years as well.

I wish I could say the same thing about my baseball card collection.

Here is my record of first half scoring.  Basketball fans, especially old ones like me, should recognize quite a few stars from the 1963 Celtics and Hawks.


Men of a Certain Age

At a wedding reception I attended earlier this month, my wife and I found ourselves at a table with 6 other people. Three of them were men about my age, fellow Baby Boomers. All of us were draft age during the Vietnam War.

As we talked, the subject of the Draft Lottery came up. On December 1, 1969, the United States held the first Draft Lottery since World War II. 366 blue plastic capsules, each containing a day of the year, were placed in a large container and drawn out one at a time. The future course of life for many males born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950, depended on when the capsule containing their birthdate was drawn.

draft lottery drawing
These Blue Balls Delivered Bad News to Many

Without hesitation, each man at the table spouted their number. 316, 323, 325. Mine was 263. I thought my number was high but at that table I was the low man on the totem pole.

The draft lottery didn’t matter to me. I had already served in the Army National Guard for 3 years when the draft lottery took place. I owe that fortuitous decision to my parents. When I graduated from high school in 1966, the Vietnam War was starting to heat up. Not overly excited about starting college immediately, I informed my parents I planned to join the Army and go to Vietnam. Ah, nothing like being 18 years old and knowing everything.

Before I actually signed my name on the dotted line, my Dad suggested I consider joining the National Guard instead. It was a six-year commitment with six months active duty, and 5 1/2 years of Guard Drills one weekend each month and two weeks active duty every summer.

“You can go in for six months, see if you like it, and if you do you can tell them you want to stay on active duty and go to Vietnam. If you don’t like it, you can come home after six months and go to college” reasoned my Dad.

Somewhat incredibly, I took my parent’s advice. On December 10, 1966, I enlisted in the National Guard. On February 27, 1967, I boarded a bus in Springfield, Mo. bound for Columbus, Ga., home of Fort Benning. After spending 30 hours on a Greyhound Bus or in a Greyhound Bus station, I arrived at the United States Army Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga. There I would spend the next 9 weeks at Sand Hill learning to march, make a bunk to Army standards, learn to fire an M-1 rifle, and do a lot of push-ups.

A Few Fellow members of Echo Company, First Battalion, First Brigade, aka “Trainees”

After Basic Training, I rode another bus to Fort Rucker, Alabama for training as a helicopter repairman. I was back home in time to start the Fall semester at Southwest Missouri State College, now known as Missouri State University. I was in the best shape of my life, and I was very happy to be walking the halls of college rather than the jungles of Vietnam.

Tonight, about 4 hours from when I am writing this, a good friend of mine whose life took a different turn will be boarding a plane bound for Washington, D.C. On December 1, 1969, his birthdate was the 43rd drawn, a sure ticket to the draft. He served 2 years, half of it in Germany, and came home to resume his life. Tonight he will join 104 other veterans on an Honor Flight. Tomorrow they will visit the War Memorials in Washington on a well-planned, very tight schedule that will deliver them back to Missouri before midnight tomorrow night.

My hat is off to Central Missouri Honor Flight, a worthy cause serving those who have served their Country.

Central Mo Honor Flight

The ultimate honor belongs to those who answered the call and sacrificed their lives. In Vietnam alone, 58,220 died, and thousands more were injured.

Thank you to all who have served.

If you want to see how you would have fared in the 1969 Draft Lottery, find your birthday on this chart. September 14 was the  first date drawn.  June 8th was the 366th number chosen. No one above 195 was drafted. The last draft call was December 7, 1972.

draft lottery

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