Paul Arizin: On the Target, 1955

[Here’s a brief story about NBA pioneer Paul Arizin, one of Philadelphia’s all-time basketball greats. The article appeared in the magazine Sport Review’s 1955 Basketball issue and is notable because Haskell Cohen, the NBA’s publicity director, wrote it. Cohen describes how the high-scoring Arizin, returning after two years in the Marines, will pair with the top-scoring Neil Johnston to power the 1955 Philadelphia Warriors and give the NBA some extra sizzle. 

Well, the Warriors finished dead last in the Eastern Division that year. But, as advertised, Arizin (21 ppg, third-best in the NBA)  and Johnston (22.7 ppg, tops in the NBA) put on a high-scoring show. It was also par for the course for Warriors’ owner Eddie Gottlieb. Gotty’s promotional M.O. was to feature an offensive machine or two on his teams to bring out the fans, starting with Joe Fulks and running through Arizin, Johnston, and Chamberlain. Today, Chamberlain still deservedly gets all the ink for his amazing numbers. But we shouldn’t forget Johnston and especially the great Paul Arizin. Just ask Haskell Cohen.] 


Can Paul Arizin pick up where he left off two years ago? That’s what a host of National Basketball Association followers are asking these days as the Philadelphia Warriors star picks up his service-interrupted career. 

Two years have passed since “Pitch-in Paul” wrested the NBA scoring championship from George Mikan. And two years can do a lot to a young athlete apparently in the prime of his playing life. Arizin, who is one of the most taciturn guys you’d ever want to meet, himself hesitates to make any predictions. (His backers aren’t so backward, however, for they can’t see how he can miss.)

Paul played a lot of basketball in the past two years while going through Marine training at Parris Island, S.C., and Quantico, Va., but naturally the competition is far from that of the pros. “Maybe it’s not as good as the pros,” Paul says, “but it’s almost as tough.”

What Arizin was referring to was the numerous physical beatings he took while leading Quantico to a pair of All-Marine championships. Opponents figured they’d be noticed if they stopped Arizin short of his 25 or 30 point a game average, so they usually roughed Paul up more than usual. One time, he came back to Philadelphia to play in a preliminary game to the Warriors, and he looked as if he belonged in a hospital ward. He had a black eye, his left elbow was bandaged, his right knee was taped, and his body was aching all over. 

But Paul had been advertised as a player, and he decided to play. Paul said at the time he wasn’t in any worse condition than ordinarily. Still, despite the legal mayhem, Paul managed to keep his scoring eye tuned up and usually wound up with a good number of points. 

Now he’s back and hoping he can regain the form which enabled him to score 1,674 points in the 1951-52 campaign, his title-winning year. Since his departure, Neil Johnston has moved into the league scoring spotlight as the Warriors center won the point-making honors in 1952-53 and 1953-54. Thus, coach Eddie Gottlieb will have two scoring champions playing for him this year, a feat never happening before. It also is expected to give the Warriors the greatest one-two punch in the history of the league. 

To make him more effective, Paul has added a few shots to his repertoire. The main one of these new tricks is a one-handed shot from the outside, about 20 feet or so out. “That middle can get pretty crowded when you have as many big men as we have,” he said, “so I thought it wouldn’t hurt if I tried hitting from the outside.”

In his first two seasons in the league—during which he tallied 2,795 points—most of his field goals came on jump shots from around the foul line, or at a similar distance toward the sidelines, or on pivot shots when he would take his man inside. 

Arizin hasn’t discarded this technique. Far from it, in fact, as he has done a lot of work on perfecting those phases even more so. But it’s just that he figured he’ll be roaming around the outside more than Johnston, an expert from the pivot slot, as his teammate. 

Johnston, who has aspirations of equaling Mikan’s record of winning the scoring crown three times, is almost entirely a pivotman. When moved away from the basket, he loses some of his scoring and rebounding value. 

So, it’s simply the case of Arizin adjusting himself to the new Warriors, a team that hopes to move up into playoff territory this year with his return. 

That Arizin has turned into a full-fledged star is no surprise around his hometown of Philadelphia. He was a sensation during his college days at Villanova. He captured the Helms award on the basis of his great play there, was picked on every All-American team, and scored 85 points in one game before anyone ever had heard of Bevo Francis. 

But still, there were some skeptics who said he’d never make the grade as a pro because he was too small to operate as a big man in the pro ranks. At 6-foot-4, it would appear that Arizin would face a certain handicap, but the spring in his tremendous jump almost evens things up. 

Apparently, Arizin has made quite an impression around the circuit in the short time he has been up. Toward the end of his second season, no less an authority than Joe Lapchick, the Original Celtics star who coaches the New York Knickerbockers, called Arizin one of the best players of all time. He put it this way: “Paul is great. For a player to break into this league and in two years take the scoring title away from George Mikan is phenomenal.”

Arizin is one of a line of outstanding individual stars that Gottlieb has developed during his eight years of the pro league. First, Gottlieb had Joe Fulks who copped league scoring honors in 1946-47, the same years the Warriors won the league diadem. Then came Arizin. And finally, Johnston. As if Arizin and Johnston on the same team are not enough to worry about, the Warriors also have draft rights to Tom Gola, college basketball’s No. 1 player who is in his senior year at LaSalle.  

Arizin will be out this year to prove that his scoring feats were no fluke. Even if he doesn’t quite reach that goal, Gottlieb knows he has a valuable piece of basketball property in the popular youngster who never played in high school but learned his game in the church clubs of South Philadelphia. 

All in a night’s work: Philadelphia’s Neil Johnston (center) get manhandled by Fort Wayne’s Larry Foust.

Bonus Coverage: This recap of the January 27, 1955 New York Knicks-Philadelphia Warriors game offers a vivid account of how wild things could get on the NBA hardwood in the early years. This article from reporter John Webster appeared the following day in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Warrior chieftain Eddie Gottlieb, bedded down in Presbyterian Hospital with a pesky gallbladder and a two-game losing streak, was given the best sort of a get-well message last night when his stout-hearted gallants drubbed the New York Knickerbockers, 92-83, in a National Basketball Association thriller, garnished with fury and fisticuffs, at Convention Hall. 

Gotty, an absentee from home action for the first time since the Warriors have been in business, missed a dramatic clash, viewed by 4,836. The Warriors were in front from the outset when jut-jawed Neil Johnston tapped in a basket after a Paul Arizin shot bounced off the rim. The latter was the game’s leading scorer with 25 points, one more than Johnston or the Knicks’ Harry Gallatin. 

Johnston was embroiled in the fourth-period fisticuffs, though in an unfavorable position as he wound up on the bottom in a two-man spill with New Yorker Jim Baechtold. The latter, making the most of his advantage, clouted the struggling Neil in a wild mixup before they were separated. 

Earlier, there was a third-quarter rhubarb involving Gallatin and the Warriors’ Jack George (a valiant contributor of 23 points), and fiery Danny Finn. Gallatin, apparently about to “take his best” at George at the end of the court, was checked in his purpose when Finn, rarely a peacemaker, leaped from the Warriors’ bench and took the burly Gallatin into custody. 

While the Knicks cut into the early Philadelphia edge—they trailed only by 24-21 as the first quarter ended—they dropped far back in the second period. With 10-for-28 shooting averages for the first two sessions, the Warriors led, 48-30, at the half. 

They didn’t cool off much in the third quarter, and the period wound up 62-54. But it was tough going in the fourth as Finn and then Joe Graboski were banished on personals—and a commanding lead was whittled to 79-74. But the Warriors firmed up here and went on to make the victory sure. 

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