Second Chance for Clyde Lovellette, 1958

[Clyde Lovellette was considered one of the NBA’s top centers in the 1950s. Make that, one of its top-scoring young big men. “He is not as fast as the Pistons’ Walter Dukes,” quipped a reporter, “not the rebounding or defensive equal of the Celtics’ Bill Russell, not as agile as the Hawks’ Bob Pettit, and he lacks the muscular strength of the Lakers Larry Foust. But there is one thing Clyde Lovellette does well, and few can match him at it, big or small. He puts the ball in the basket.“

It was all the other stuff that Lovellette supposedly couldn’t do around the basket that incited his many critics. In some cases, the jeers were undeserved. Lovellette was a decent rebounder. But Lovellette was indeed slow, lumbering, and without much spring in his legs. He also spoke his mind to management. That got him into deeper and deeper trouble with his first team, the Minneapolis Lakers, where he was slated as the 6-feet-9 heir apparent to the aging George Mikan. 

In 1958, the Lakers shocked the pro basketball world by unloading their future to the Cincinnati Royals in a blockbuster, multiplayer deal. The Royals’ front office described the swap as “the Brinks robbery,” thrilled to get the formidable Lovellette and pair him on the frontline with the formidable Maurice Stokes. This article, published in the January 1958 edition of SPORT Magazine, takes a hard and mostly positive look at Lovellette in the Queen City. Doing the looking is the veteran scribe Irv Goodman. 

By September 1958, Stokes tragically would be gone, bed-ridden with post-traumatic encephalopathy. Lovellette would be gone, too. After a solid first season with the Royals, Lovellette asked for a pay raise. The team’s GM told Lovellette fat chance and traded him to St. Louis for a king’s ransom. “I asked for a little more money than they could afford,” said Lovellette. “So, it was a good move for them getting five guys [including Wayne Embry], and a great move for me knowing I’d play with Pettit and Hagan.”

St. Louis owner Ben Kerner, not feeling real warm and bubbly about his new acquisition, told reporters, “Lovellette is no bed of roses. We got heroes without him.” He then vowed to transform the high-scoring Lovellette into a mere role player. With Pettit and Hagan as the first scoring options, Lovellette would be the big lug inside. He would set the hard screens, rebound, and do all the dirty work. 

Well, not exactly. Despite his chilly reception from Kerner, Lovellette stuck with St. Louis for four outstanding seasons. Though splitting time with his buddy Charlie Share at center, Lovellette averaged just over 20 points per game in three of the four seasons and hauled in around 10 rebounds an outing.

But Goodman’s story is about more than just the ups and downs of Clyde Lovellette. It’s the perennial tale of good NBA players stuck on bad teams and getting unfairly labeled as headcases and losers. Here’s the story of a future Hall of Famer during his tougher early years.]

When you do a story about Clyde Lovellette, you are confronted with at least three unpleasant problems that must be worked out somehow before this 6-feet-9 basketball player, with hands as talented in their fashion as Paderewski’s and a reputation freely besmirched by experts and slobs alike, becomes something other than an easy target for cheap jokes.

1. As a professional player of considerable skill, he has been compelled, up to now, to perform within the gigantic shadow thrown by Big George Mikan, a very considerable handicap.

2. As a hayseed-looking character (also he is from the industrial town of Terre Haute, Ind.) with pale white skin and an unalterable slope to his long and soft body, he has acquired an undeserved reputation for being a lazy, selfish player, and he has been unable to disprove the slander.

3. As a well-intentioned competitor, he wants to be a rah-rah boy, a back-slapper, and a cheerleader. But pro basketball, too sophisticated or too hard-nosed  or too matter-of-fact, has rejected this in him (as it has in others) and has turned him, instead, into a convenient scapegoat.

It would seem, if these indictments are true bills, that Lovellette is fighting a losing battle. When he was traded by the Minneapolis Lakers to the Cincinnati Royals this past summer, the easy observation made by knowing basketball people was that the Lakers were well rid of an oversized headache. In his first day at the Royals’ training camp, one new teammate said: “I hear we’ve got 11 new balls, one for each of us and two for Clyde.” And another said: “Is it true we’re gonna pay him $50 for every assist he makes?” And a veteran, arriving late in the day, said: “So big Clyde’s here. There goes any worries we had about not beating the 24-second clock.”

It happens often in the play world of sports, where emphasis is placed more on the manly arts than the human ones. (That may not be wholly fair: It happens in other worlds, too. Every group needs its butt for jokes.) The important question is how does one beat such malignant murmurings? It is the old gag, have you stopped beating your wife? Do you laugh off the presumptiveness of the feeble joke? Do you protest? Or do you shut up?

Clyde Lovellette, by a privately-arrived-at decision, is going to fight it. He is going to prove, he says, that he can do a team job. “I’ll be playing,” he has announced, “to beat the Lakers’ pants off.” Only he didn’t say “pants.”

His task appears to be monumental. Following his trade to the Royals, I found many people within the National Basketball Association willing to talk about Clyde, though none were willing to do their talking for the record. They charged, in no particular order of importance, that:

Clyde is a selfish player. If his team loses and he scores his 20 or 25 points, he’s happy.

He is atrocious on defense, and worse, he doesn’t try.

After he has got his points, say, 25 or so, he calls it quits.

He is still a big kid, a big clown.

And Minneapolis, a prominent accessory to what has been going on here, apparently has been content to allow the impression created by the trade—that Clyde was being dumped because of these “failings”—to stand. The logic of the trade, after all, was all too clear to be ignored. Why else would a club like the Lakers, in shaky condition these days at the box-office and on the court, willingly surrender a sure 20-point-per-game scorer?

Lester Harrison, the owner of the Royals when they were in Rochester and the general manager now that they are in Cincinnati, explains the trade in simple basketball terms. “For our young club, we needed a  scorer,” he said. ‘The Lakers felt they needed quantity and our first draft choice. The trade was good for both teams.”

What the deal involved was Lovellette and Jim Paxson for Bob Burrow, Art Spoelstra, Ed Fleming, Monk Meineke, and the highly valued draft pick. Entitled to first call, since they finished last in won-lost percentages, the Royals had intended to draft Charley Tyra of Louisville. But under Minneapolis instructions, they announced for Rod Hundley of West Virginia. In their own first turn, the Lakers selected Jim Krebs of SMU, who is scheduled to be cast in the image of George Mikan himself, now the Minneapolis coach.

In none of his talk about Lovellette, did Harrison refer to any of the raps against the big fellow. Instead, he said, “He’s starting from scratch with us. He’ll be great. He’s just what we needed, a scorer. I’m happy.”

All through the training period at the Plattsburg Air Force Base in upper New York State, Clyde showed that he wanted to work. This was grist for the Royals’ talking mill. “You know,” Harrison said to me one morning at the training camp, “you’ve got the best story in the NBA this year. Clyde wants to be the greatest center in the league, and he’s going to be.”

For the first day of practice, Lovellette woke up at six a.m., was finished with his breakfast at seven, and walked over to coach Bobby Wanzer, who had just come into the mess hall. “Where can I get a sweat suit, Bobby?” he asked. “I’m going out to do some running.”

Wanzer told him, then watched the tall fellow walk out. “This absolutely never happened before,” Wanzer said, rubbing his crewcut briskly. “Not in all the years I’ve been in the league. Players just don’t go out looking for conditioning.” Then he smiled.

From the start, the strategy of the Royals was clear. They were going to be a pep squad for Clyde, praising the little things he did in public; and giving him “the word” in private.

Boss and coach and player had their first heart-to-heart-to-heart talk in Harrison’s room at the training base.

Said Harrison: “Clyde, you’re going to be great with us.”

Said Wanzer: “Don’t forget, we never played with a pivot before. You may not be getting all your shots.”

Said Lovellette: “That’s okay. They don’t owe me anything. I’ve got to show them.”

Said Harrison: “We gave up a lot for you. But you’re worth a lot.”

Said Wanzer: “It’s going to have to be you and (Maurice) Stokes working under there. You fellows’ll have to be helping each other.”

Said Lovellette: “That’s the way I want it. I’m here to prove I can do the whole job.”

Said Harrison: “Attaboy, Clyde.”

In the first scrimmage of the 1957-58 season, with Harrison and Wanzer and most of the players taking particular notice of Clyde’s play habits, the big fellow, in rapid order, outjumped Stokes for a rebound, passed off, took a rap on his rib cage under the offensive boards and stepped away down the court grinning. “They say Clyde won’t listen,” Harrison said. “But did you see him? He wants to be the greatest. I’m telling you, the greatest.”

Wanzer said: “Clyde is playing a high post. (Meaning he was away from the basket, at the top of the foul line, where there is more chance for passing the ball, less chance for shooting.) I haven’t seen him do that in years.”

Lester Harrison is no George Weiss. He knew that Lovellette was available (so did the rest of the league) but he wasn’t sure if he should take the risk. Once he made the trade, he grabbed hold of every hopeful sign he could find. By the end of the training period, he had a fistful of them. “Clyde’s happy,” he said. “He wants to play for us. So, I’m happy.”

If Harrison was correct, it was the first time in a long while that Clyde Lovellette has been happy. In the February 1953 issue of this magazine, Lovellette (he pronounces it Lo-VELL-ette, by the way, not Lo-vell-ETTE), bylined a story entitled, “Pro Basketball is Not for Me.” At the time, he meant it.

He had finished a fabulous career at Kansas University, had gone to Helsinki with the Olympic team, and shaking off attractive bids from the pros, have joined the Phillips Oilers of the AAU. Critics in the NBA accused him of going into AAU ball—the “amateur” variety—because he was afraid the NBA was too rough for him. He didn’t want to tarnish his All-America reputation against the abrasive pros, they charged. It was a rap, but a mild one. And Clyde’s raps had started long before that, anyway, when he first went to Kansas after Everett Case, an old Indiana boy himself, told everybody he had the kid all tied up for North Carolina State.

Clyde’s story, when he joined the Oilers, was that he was thinking of the future. But he decided after less than a year of it, that was “a waste of time.” He had been in Phillips public relations department, “which it’s fine if you do public relations. I made a few speeches. But mostly, I cut clippings out of newspapers. There just wasn’t enough for me to do. You work from eight to five every day, during the season as well as later. But you don’t do any work. Or so it seemed to me.”

When he first joined the company, he had wanted to get into the sales department. It was never explained to him why he was placed in public relations, although he suspects that that department was better prepared to give him the free time that he needed to play basketball.

Once he decided to quit AAU ball, the pros moved swiftly. The Lakers had been calling him all summer, encouraging him to quit. When Clyde finally told them toward the end of the summer that he was interested, the Lakers flew a man down to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to get his signature on a piece of paper.

Life with the Lakers swiftly created problems for Clyde. He had heard that the pros played a rough game, and he doesn’t hesitate to admit that he was worried. In his well-ordered college days at Kansas, with Phog Allen administering his patented mother-hen protection, Clyde had been able to move around the court without taking too much punishment. Perhaps in awe of his All-America status and perhaps out of deference to the vocal Phog, opponents neglected to climb heavily on his fleshy frame.

Although most of NBA ball is freelance (with the general idea being to get the ball into the center or to the cornermen), the Lakers had a cut-and-pick pattern generally, with maybe four straight plays (“90 percent of the time, they didn’t work”). With the pushing and shoving and holding he found, Lovellette couldn’t work too much off the pivot. “I could get there,” he said, “but I couldn’t stay. I had to move. I had always learned that the pivot is where a play starts. But not in this league.”

In the beginning, this realization got him down. “Just running down court, I was getting 13 knocks before I even made it to the post. The refs didn’t do anything to protect you. You had to protect yourself. So, there would be two big goons, me included, pushing and shoving and leaning. It looks kind of silly. If one of us stepped away, the other guy would fall on his face.

“I wasn’t afraid of the pounding. It didn’t scare me. I’ve banged with the best of them since I’ve been in the league. But it is so pointless. We big men are agile; we can give a good show if we played clean basketball. But how can you? This stuff works back and forth. You hit me, I hit you. You foul me, I foul you. It just gets more and more.”

We were talking at the time in the Visiting Officers quarters at the airbase, and Clyde, his shoes off, was stretched across two chairs, looking out the window at Lake Champlain. He rubbed his nose as he thought about what he had been saying. Then, he leaned forward. “Like I was told when I first came in. If you’re gonna commit a foul, make it a good one. That bothered me. Why should I give it to another guy, and why should he give it to me? That isn’t basketball.

“And all those fights we have. There’s no reason for them, not on a basketball court. You know what I’d do if I were a ref? First time guys jammed, I’d give them a double foul. The next time, throw them both out.

“Sure, this is a contact sport, and you get clipped and tempers flare. But there’s got to be control. You get an elbow; you give one back. And the ref is saying, ‘Easy, now.’ What good is that?

“I have a good friend—Charley Share of the Pistons. We have troubles. If we could agree to forget the bangs we get and just take whatever comes, we wouldn’t fight. But neither one of us is up to that point yet. So, we fight bloody messes, then go out and have a beer together. Doesn’t make sense?”

George Mikan, the man he had been brought in to replace eventually, helped Lovellette during those first weeks in the league. He showed him how to work in the pivot and how to use his body to get and hold a position. “I learned,” Clyde said, “that you can’t take your hook shot from the spot on the court where you started. I had to learn to allow for moving away when I shot. When, at first, I tried to turn and hook, I always found there was a hand on my rump, shoving me.”

The vital education of a young pro is such that, in quick time, Lovellette learned how to draw fouls by turning into a close defender, how liberal certain referees were, what chippie plays (minor fouls) would go by.

In that first season, 1953-54, he got to play more than most rookies do, and he showed, when he was out there, that he had a scoring touch. But mostly, his assignment was to relieve Mikan when George needed a rest. “I can’t say I was disappointed because I did get to play,” Clyde said. “But there were times when I felt that I and the other young players should have been used more. But John Kundla (the Laker coach) would keep his regulars in until the last minute. Then, with seconds left, he’d send us in. Rookies can’t develop in this league unless they get the chance to play. Kundla didn’t do that. You’ve got to lose incentive when you’re used that way.”

Nettled as he was at the limited play, Clyde had a good rookie year. That first season may have shown that he was no Mikan, but it did indicate that he was a good pro player, with better-than-average rebounding skill and a great shooting touch, better than Mikan’s, for that matter, although it would have been radical at the time to argue that point in Minneapolis, where Mikan was king and the Lakers were champs.

But Clyde was caught in the vise holding the Mikan mold, whether he liked it or not. Big George was obviously fading, and Minneapolis was almost frantic in its hunger for a satisfactory successor. Clyde went home to Terre Haute after the season somewhat satisfied with the work he had done. At least, he knew he had made the grade.

But when the time came for new contracts to arrive in the mail, Clyde once again sensed that he was just a pawn in the great Mikan game. The Lakers did not send him a contract.

Some people thought that smart-aleck Lovellette was a holdout. He must be holding up the Lakers, they said, figuring they needed him. That was the story that went around. The facts, however, were different. While Clyde sat at home and worried about why the team hadn’t sent him a contract, Minneapolis was playing a little game of Intrigue.

The club was waiting for Mikan to sign. There had been some talk about the big fellow retiring; and until they knew where they stood with him, the Lakers were holding off on young Lovellette. Finally, Clyde went up to Minneapolis to find out what was going on. Mikan is going to sign, the Lakers told him. Then they tossed a contract at him for the same salary he had received the season before. “I had good pay my first year,” Clyde says, “and this one didn’t call for a cut, so I was satisfied.”

Only after he signed did he learn that Mikan was not going to play. Instead, Big George had bought into the club and was retiring. The Lakers’ finesse may not have been exactly inspirational, but then it wasn’t employed against an expert bridge player. Clyde has been suckered in by a cheap trick. In time, it was bound to take its toll.

What happens when you replace someone like George Mikan? You can step into the greater responsibility with a smile on your face and the hunger in your heart to become a better player, even a better man for it. There is a school of thought that contends the job makes the man. But there is another philosophy that says a man crumbles under the unnatural pressure of trying to be another man (even if it is only a man in short pants who shoots balls through a basket).

Lovellette played good basketball, averaging 20 points per game for the next three seasons and taking down better than 900 rebounds per. But he got little credit for his work. Attendance began to drop in Minneapolis without Big George in the lineup. The little stories began to circulate that, despite his scoring, Clyde was a drag on the Lakers. After having won five out of six league playoffs, the Lakers were shut out the next three (or Lovellette) years. Circumstantial evidence, it would seem, was piling up against Clyde. Of course, the critical question remained: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Who should Minneapolis blame, the player or the team?

How did it really go after Mikan left, we asked Lovellette. “You’ve seen Minneapolis play, right?” he answered. “We always had a set rule. The guards brought the ball down and moved it in to George. That’s the way the Lakers played it ever since they came into the league. Deep down, I think, those Minneapolis guards believed they could do more with the ball if they had the chance. Not always feed it to George. Now that George was gone, it was like the rules had changed. The fellows felt they finally had their chance to stay away from the pivot, to go on their own.

“I didn’t want it to be the way it was when George was there either—feed, feed, and fall back. I wanted us to work together. But the fellows seemed to steer the ball away for me. At the beginning. We had no combination, and we were going lousy. There was no click. Then, after a while, it was as if we had finally learned to live without George. The ball started coming in to me, and we were winning more ball games.”

That was the year Clyde became known as Jelly Belly. He had reported in heavy. Before then, he claims, he had never had to watch his weight. He was a dedicated chocolate-malted man, and in the summer following his rookie season, he may have gone at it too ambitiously. Whatever the cause, he was 245 pounds when he reported, and worst of all, the excess weight seemed to have lodged exclusively in his stomach. He had to work hard to knock the weight off, so hard, in fact, he later resolved never to fall victim to his sweet tooth again. And he hasn’t.

To maintain a manageable weight has required a three-part program.

1. During the preseason training period, he runs and runs and runs. Then he stops, and runs again.

2. The year ‘round, he watches what he eats. This way, he feels, he can maintain his weight through the season . . .

3. He follows a program of progressive calisthenics. Every day in training, for example, he does sit-ups to strengthen his stomach muscles. The first night he arrived at the Royals’ camp last September, he did 40 sit-ups. Each day, he increased the number, until after a week, he was doing 70. Once the team began its exhibition tour, the calisthenics ended. When you’re playing almost every night, Clyde explains, you no longer have to worry about your weight or your condition. If you’re in shape by then, you will stay in shape. 

After the lesson of his fat-boy year, Lovellette came to the Lakers’ camp in 1955-56 looking as much like a skeleton as a pink-fleshed giant with rolling hips can. He was a svelte 225, and during the season, he slimmed to a downright skinny 210. “I felt good, and I was playing good,” Clyde says now. “I was pushing (Bob) Pettit in both scoring and rebounding.”

The Laker front office wasn’t nearly so happy about the shape it was in. Attendance had continued to sag. The club wasn’t playing good enough ball to bring the fans back. (And Minneapolis, even in the golden days, never had been heavy in attendance, a condition which has forced some NBA officials to argue that the team must get out of town and into a larger population area, or at least into a larger arena.)

As an inevitable result of such turmoil, the Lakers were what they looked like—a disorganized club. “We worked hard,” Clyde explains, “but we didn’t know what we were doing. It seemed that in every game someone was getting teed off at the rest of us. Kundla couldn’t explain what was wrong, and he couldn’t cope with it.”

Clyde, though, was having a good year (“My best,” he thought). Still, the Lakers decided in midseason to bring Mikan back. Mikan, who at 32 was no longer Mikan. More than anything else that happened that year—and there was quite a bit—this move annoyed Lovellette.

“Everyone knew I had been playing good ball. They couldn’t say I had been goofing. I was rebounding better than I ever had. I was third or fourth in the league in rebounds at the time. But as soon as the announcement was made, Kundla started Mikan and kept me on the bench the first quarter. He cut my playing time in half.”

To Lovellette, it seemed that it should have been the other way around. Mikan was atrociously out of shape. He hadn’t been on a court for a year and a half. He weighed 260 pounds, and he couldn’t even approach playing shape. “He didn’t help the team,” Clyde says without venom. “Maybe he helped draw fans—and maybe that was the only reason he was brought back—but he hurt the play of the team. George was slow, very slow. And he wasn’t rebounding. This had to affect the rest of us. From the start, the team felt that he shouldn’t come back. And once he did, they were convinced it had been a mistake.

“Believe me, I wasn’t upset for myself. At least, not only for myself. Bringing Mikan back and using him the way Kundla did hurt me, but it hurt the club more. We finished second that year, and we should have been on top.”

More than once, Lovellette had gone to Kundla and said: “Put me in. He can’t do it, and I can.” If this added to the troubles that were to follow, it is understandable.

In the last game the Lakers were to play in that year’s playoffs, with only seconds remaining and Minneapolis in possession of the ball, one point behind, a timeout was called. The Lakers wanted to work out a play for that one last shot. Kundla gave the honor of the shot to Mikan, who was not shooting well, instead off to Clyde, acknowledged as the best shot on the club. This bothered Lovellette because it hurt his ego, and because he knew he should be taking the shot for the sake of the club.

By last season, all the troubles between Lovellette and the Lakers funneled into a personal conflict between him and Kundla. “As an individual, I think John is a fine fellow,” is the way Clyde begins his discourse on the subject. “He’ll do anything for you. In fact, I still like him. But on the court, it was something else. He had been coach of this team for 10 years, and for the first six years, when the team was in its prime and he had Mikan, all he had to do was sit back and watch.”

As a coach, Lovellette insists, Kundla did not help him one bit. “He never gave a rookie any advice. I realized I couldn’t play for him. We began having arguments on the court.”

What were Clyde’s gripes? Well, he explained, in a tight ballgame, when the Lakers needed some coaching direction, Kundla would not want to call time. “He never had anything worked out for us to do,” Clyde says, “that’s why he didn’t want to take a timeout. When we walked back to the huddle looking for a play or a change in plans or a word of advice, he would tell us nothing, and we felt let down. At least, I did.

“Hell. I’d say, ‘Tell us something, John. Anything. But talk.’

“He had no control of the team. Why, if I ever talked back to Phog Allen the way I did to Kundla, I’d never get off the bench again. Allen would take the responsibility. Right or wrong, he’d tell us what he wanted, needed to have us play it his way. There, we’d all come back to the huddle talking at once. Everybody had a play. Because we knew John wouldn’t. But John wouldn’t tell us to shut up. He wouldn’t tell us anything. We’d all keep talking at once. When we went back on the court, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, we’d end up taking some stupid shot from 40 feet out.”

That Kundla lacked confidence in Lovellette from the start must have rankled, too. “When John wouldn’t call on me to take a key shot, it hurt. It got so I began thinking maybe I couldn’t make that last shot. That I froze when it got crucial. That’s wrong. A coach shouldn’t let that happen to a player.”

As he talked about Kundla and the Lakers. Lovellette appeared relaxed and thoughtful. Not once did he resort to name-calling. Now he leaned forward, hulking over like a giant crane. “I’m no coach,” he said. “I don’t pretend to be. But I knew something had to be done. I talked to Kundla about it. Several times. He’s a great one for agreeing with you. It seemed, after we talked, that things were straightening out. But when we were back on the court and he had to face those nine other fellows, everything was the same again.

“I can understand how I developed a reputation, talking the way I did. Most fellows aren’t like me. What’s on my mind has got to come out. I learned that from Dr. Allen. Most of the fellows wouldn’t say much to Kundla about what was happening to us. Oh, they had opinions on the subject, but they talked only among themselves. Never out in the open.”

Before the trade came, Clyde has decided that he was going to retire rather than play another year under Kundla. (With a new ownership coming in, Mikan as the coach, and Kundla kicked upstairs as general manager, Lovellette says he might have decided to play another year, although not positively. When Kundla was first moved upstairs, Clyde thought that Jim Pollard, another former Laker great, would get the coaching job. “I never thought it would be George.”)

Although he must have expected it, Clyde was nonetheless shaking when he heard about the trade—from Harrison. It had to be due to the rumors, he decided. “I never quit on them. I didn’t think Kundla would trade me because of our differences in basketball thinking. I felt disappointed.” And yet, he must have realized that something had to be done. If he was thinking of retiring, why shouldn’t the Lakers be ready to get rid of him while they were still able to get something for him? (There were no contingencies to the trade; if Clyde had decided not to report to Cincinnati, the Royals would have been out of luck.)

Right after the trade, the newspapermen began to call. Some of them wanted him for radio and television interview shows. Others were shopping for an explanation of the trade. But they all seemed to sympathize with him, in part, at least. The gist of what they said to him was: Don’t feel bad, it’s just one of those things. Trades are part of this business. Some used that old saw: Teams often trade for the sake of trading; it’s considered good for their business. What made Clyde feel better, though, was the statement: You should feel proud that it took five players to make the trade for you and Paxson. 

“I feel better, but I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Clyde says. “I thought about it a lot. I didn’t know if I wanted to play in Cincinnati. But I did know I wanted to prove something. That the rumors were wrong. That the Lakers were wrong. Finally, I realized I wanted to play for the Royals. I wanted to prove I can do an all-around job, that I could help a team win, that I know how the game should be played.”

Trading is an accepted fact of professional sports life, but it is a problem every time for the fellow who has to make the move. The NBA, in particular, is a tight, little, insular world. Living as they do so much of the time on trains and planes and in hotel rooms, NBA players sustain themselves on the crumbs of gossip within the trade. 

Moving in with his new team, Lovellette thought about these things. The Royals undoubtedly have heard all the rumors about me, he thought. They’ve talked about it. They may even have laughed at me. His only chance was, he decided, to start from scratch.

No one can ever go that far back, but at least up to now, the Royals have given Clyde a reasonably fair shake. They’ve seen him working hard, jumping rope, bringing down rebounds, feeding, running, hustling. He hasn’t forced himself on them. (“Oh, I’m not going to stop shooting. They don’t even want me to. But on this club, my main job is feeding, handing off along with Stokes and taking the good shot.”)

That the Royals are a young club is important to Lovellette. “Coming into a new town with these fellows just might be a barnburner,” he said. “Like the Braves in Milwaukee. Experience is important, but it takes youth in this league. Manny pros become lackadaisical. You get the hustle from these young fellows who haven’t been reached by the stir of pro ball yet. (Lovellette is 28.) I wish I knew why this drive gets lost in pro ball. Doesn’t it happen in other sports? Here you try to holler or slap a guy on the back, doesn’t go.

“On the Lakers, it was a cardinal sin to get worked up before a game. There was no noise in the clubhouse. You sat with your head down. It was like one of those private gentlemen’s clubs. Everyone just sat and moped.

“I’ve always been a joker in a clubhouse. I feel we’re all there for the same reason: to win. I don’t want to sit around and mope. I want to cut up. The coach’ll quiet me down if that’s necessary.

“You know, in college I used to start shaking the morning of a game. Now I sleep late, take in a movie, rest again, and just go and play. But it’s always in the back of my mind—how can we get pepped up for this game? If I can, I clap and yell and scream and laugh and kid around. Relax, that’s the idea. I’ve always been a happy player before a game. But some guys don’t like it. I’ll have to find out about the Royals.”

So, if you see Clyde Lovellette leading a cheer—or passing off—or taking down the rebound—or running with a fastbreak—you’ll understand that he’s trying hard to prove a point. It means a lot to him.

One thought on “Second Chance for Clyde Lovellette, 1958

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