Darrall Imhoff: Lalas and Beans, 1970

[George Kiseda, who covered the Philadelphia 76ers in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, is one of my all-time favorite basketball writers. Hands down. He was endlessly curious about the alien NBA world around him and wrapped his curiosity in an unforgettably wry sense of humor that brought each 76er to life. If your curiosity is piqued, here’s a little Kiseda at his best. It’s a clip from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, published on January 19, 1970, about “lalas and beans” and a 76ers squad full of great guys.]


Among the great shooters in the National Basketball Association, Darrall Imhoff is not a name that leaps into the mind. There are other things Imhoff is better known for:

  • He was the center on a University of California team that won the National Collegiate championship in 1959 with a little talent and a lot of Pete Newell’s coaching. There might have been 100 college teams that year with material as good or better. 
  • He was traded to the 76ers in the summer of 1968 for one-third of Wilt Chamberlain. 
  • He has never committed a personal foul in 10 years in the NBA. Oh, he has been charged with more than 2,000, but in each case, Imhoff corrected the referee immediately after the erroneous call was made. 

Now, though, Imhoff is branching out. The man—whose lifetime shooting average in the NBA is 44 percent, whose lifetime scoring average in the NBA is 6.7 points a game—has now shot 64 percent and averaged 16 points a game over the last 15 games. He has been over 50 percent 15 consecutive games. 

He scored 22 points in 30 minutes in the 76ers’ 141-116 frolic with the Cincinnati Royals at The Spectrum yesterday, shooting 75 percent, getting 14 points in the first nine minutes, making his first seven shots, and giving the writers a language lesson. 

He owes it all to “lalas” and beans, Imhoff said. Lalas? Beans?

“My lalas are starting to work a little better,” he said. “On the pick-and-roll, sometimes you get the ball, and you have to find out where you are. That’s where the lalas come in. You have to know which english to use. “

What kind of english is a lala?

“Anytime it’s an unusual shot with a little twist at the end, it’s a lala.”

Imhoff made some beautiful lalas yesterday. Working a pick-and-roll play with one of the guards, usually Hal Greer, Imhoff would cut for the basket, catch the ball while still in motion, and flip a shot one way while his body went another way. There were reverse layups, little hooks, and over-the-shoulder flips. 

Okay, that takes care of the lalas. What about the beans? Greer gives him the beans. It started after a game in Phoenix, Imhoff managed to score 29 points while missing seven layups. There was some teasing, so Imhoff and Greer made an arrangement (arrangement is a euphemism for bet; that’s to keep [NBA Commissioner] Walter Kennedy from knowing).

“Every time he misses a free throw,” Imhoff said, “I get a bean. Every time I miss a lay in, he gets one. I’m up six beans.”

What does is a bean?

“It depends. We haven’t settled it.”

[As an added bonus, here’s Kiseda on the beloved Wally Jones and his frenetic jump shot. I have an even-better Kiseda description of “Wally Wonder from 25 feet” stashed somewhere in my files. Where I don’t know. But this one works nicely, too. Fun times, fun team, and this snippet was published on January 17, 1970 in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin.]

The guy wearing No. 11 with no name on the back of his jersey didn’t fool anybody. How could anybody mistake Wally Jones? Sure, there are other guys in the NBA with natural haircuts and natural goatees, but who else in the NBA has a natural jump shot like Wally Wonder’s?

When he cranks, hitch-kicks, jackknifes, and flutters, it looks more like a slingshot than a jump shot. There are times when it makes 76ers coach Jack Ramsay wince, but the second quarter at The Spectrum last night was not one of those times. Wally Wonder got cranked up and did not get cranked down until he had 15 points (in 12 minutes), and the 76ers were on their way to a 127-105 victory over the San Francisco Warriors. 

Afterwards, Wally Wonder very seriously explained to the assembled press that he does not force shots, no matter how bizarre those shots may look. “Not according to the way that I play,” he said. “There are times I know there are shots he’d prefer me not to take from the corner. That’s my shot.”

He wore No. 11 (made famous by earlier Villanovan Paul Arizin) he said, because No. 24, his regular number, apparently had not come back from the cleaners. 

No. 11 came off the bench at the start of the second quarter with the score tied, 29-29, and didn’t sit down until the 76ers had a 63-49 lead at halftime. With two seconds to go, he came racing upcourt on a fastbreak, looked at the clock, and fired a buzzer bomb from 35 feet off the wrong foot. Naturally, it was good. 

His Marques Haynes shot, he called it, insisting he had studied Haynes carefully in last night’s Harlem Magicians prelim. A guy comes off the bench and scores 15 points in one quarter . . . he’s entitled to do some embroidering. 

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