A staggering compilation of talent and achievement. Five big men—four of them Hall of Famers—have put up outstanding numbers in a Warriors’ uniform.
Joe Barry Carroll is the member of this group that’s not in the Hall, but scored 20.4 ppg (second among Warriors’ centers), 8.3 rpg and 1.7 bpg in 491 games. Joe may have been accused of “barely caring,” but he could flat out play.
After an awesome collegiate career, Carroll was the top pick of the 1980 draft. As a rookie, he averaged 18.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg, and was selected to the All Rookie First Team. He broke out in 1982-83, averaging a career best 24.1 ppg and grabbing 8.7 rpg. He followed this up with a 20 ppg and eight rpg in 1983-84. After a year away (more on this in a sec), he returned to the NBA in 1985-86, averaged 21.2 ppg in each of the next two seasons, and earned his only career All-Star selection in 1987.
Carroll didn’t play in the NBA in the 1984-85 season, not because of injury or suspension, but because he opted to spend the season playing in Italy. This decision was not popular, and attracted plenty of media ridicule. As usual, the media in its infinite wisdom was dead on. Why would a well-to-do 26-year-old want to spend one of his prime years plying his trade in a beautiful, foreign land? What a loser!
Now, on to the Hall of Fame parade, kicked off by a young Robert Parish.
Before establishing himself as a perennial All-Star and actually building the HOF resume in Boston, the Chief spent four seasons in Oakland, where he started to become one of the league’s better young bigs. In limited minutes, Parish was only good for 9.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg as a rookie in 1976-77, and 12.5- 8.3 in his second season.
However, as Parish began to receive consistent minutes (2,100+ each of last two seasons), his scoring climbed to over 17 ppg, and he emerged as a top-flight rebounder, averaging 12.1 and 10.9 rpg in his last two seasons as a Warrior.
Parish was traded to the Celtics in the summer of 1980, along with a draft pick that would become fellow Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, in exchange for the rights to the aforementioned Joe Barry Carroll.
Next, we go back in time, to the early of not only the Warriors’ franchise, but the NBA itself, to examine the work of Neil Johnston. Johnston spent his entire eight-year career (1951-59) with the Philadelphia Warriors. He averaged roughly six ppg and five rpg in his first NBA season, as well as his last, with half a dozen seasons of 19.5+ ppg (22+ five times) and 11.1+ rpg sandwiched in between.
Johnston led the NBA in scoring for three straight years (1952-53- 1954-55, averaged 22.3, 24.4 and 22.7 ppg), topped the NBA in FG percentage three times (to give you an idea of the era, he didn’t top 50 percent in any of three seasons), and led the league in rebounding (15.1 rpg) in 1954-55.
In each of the six prime seasons of his career, Johnston was named an All-Star. He earned four straight All-NBA First Team selections from 1952-53- 1955-56, and a Second Team nod in 1956-57.
Neil Johnston was also a central figure in the Warriors’ 1955-56 title team, which captured the second of the franchise’s three championships. Johnston was vital in the team’s run to the title, averaging 20.3 ppg and 14.3 rpg in 10 postseason games.
Those three alone represent a pretty solid legacy in the middle for an NBA franchise. Not here!
Now…on to the big guys!
First up, Nate Thurmond, one of the greatest big men ever at both ends of the floor.
In 11 seasons with the Warriors, Thurmond averaged better than 16.1 rebounds eight times, including a six-year run of 17.7+ rpg, and twice averaged better than 21 rpg. He scored 16+ ppg in nine straight seasons, including five straight years of 20+.
Thurmond was named to the All-Rookie team in 1964, earned seven All-Star selections, five times was named to the All Defensive Second or Third Team, and was named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1996.
Twice in the 1960s—1964 and 1967—Thurmond’s Warriors reached the NBA Finals. Thurmond was a rookie the first time, averaging a solid 10 ppg and 12.3 rpg. Three years later, as the focal point of the 1967 Finals team, Thurmond averaged 15.9 ppg, and was a monster on the glass, grabbing 23.1 rpg in 15 postseason games.
Thurmond produced a pair of other outstanding postseason performances. In 1969, he averaged 16.7-19.5, and in, when he posted an incredible 25.4- 17.8.
Sadly, much of Nate Thurmond’s incredible work has gone overlooked—or at least underappreciated—thanks to the legendary exploits of his contemporaries. The early and middle part of his career was spent battling Russell and Wilt during their respective primes, with Kareem and more Wilt (the Laker version) standing in Nate’s way in his later years.
As great as he was at his best, Thurmond was never named All-NBA First Team or All-Defensive First Team. Not only is this not a travesty, there’s not even a case to be made for Thurmond.
The aforementioned four playoff runs? Downed in the Finals by Russell (1964) and Wilt (1967), Wilt again (this time with the Lakers in 1969) and a young Kareem in 1972. The three greatest centers in the history of the game repeatedly prevented Thurmond from adding to his legend.
Thurmond’s last season with the Warriors was 1973-74, after which he was traded to the Bulls, where he began playing out the waning days of his career. He started his run in the Windy City with a bang, recording the NBA’s first-ever quadruple-double (22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocks) in his first game with the Bulls. Cool, huh?
Yeah, until you consider that he wound up the season averaging 7.9 ppg and 11.3 rpg, while Rick Barry led his former team to the 1974-75 NBA title.
If we had to identify a theme for Nate Thurmond’s career, “Hard Luck All-Timer” might fit.
And then there’s Wilt.
The best of Wilt.
Entire books could be written about Wilt’s time with the Warriors (hell, I think I’ve written an entire book here!), but I’ll try to keep this short.
Wilt Chamberlain spent the first five and a half seasons of his NBA career with the Philadelphia Warriors. In that time, he won an MVP award (as a rookie), was named All-NBA First Team four times, and an All-Star in all five seasons.
Twice he averaged 44.8 ppg or better, and his rebounding average never dipped below 22.3 rpg.
His worst season with the Warriors (by some margin) was 1963-64, when he averaged 36.9 ppg and 22.3 rpg.
It was with the Warriors that Wilt averaged 37.6 ppg and 27 rpg as a 23-year-old rookie.
It was with the Warriors that he averaged his career high of 27.2 rpg in 1959-60- to go along with 38.4 ppg.
It was with the Warriors that Wilt dropped 100 on the Knicks in Hershey, PA.
It was also with the Warriors that he averaged 50 per game, along with 25.7 rpg, that same season.
When the Warriors moved from Philly to San Francisco in 1962, it was Wilt that made sure NBA hoops would be well-received by Bay Area fans, averaging 44.8 ppg and grabbing 24.3 rpg 1962-63, and leading the Warriors to the NBA Finals the following year.
Wilt was traded back to Philly (to the 76ers) 38 games into the following season, while averaging 38.9 ppg and 23.5 rpg. Is it an indictment on the man’s personality and grasp of the team concept that a team could not refrain from trading him, even as he was making a statistical mockery of the sport? Sure—and it probably also explains why, for all the incredible numbers, Wilt didn’t reach the top of the NBA mountain in his days with the Warriors.
However, with all of that said, Wilt was nothing short of a monster with the Warriors, where he reached the pinnacle of individual dominance in the NBA.