Jon McGlocklin: Straight, No Chaser, 1975

[Author John Devaney always considered himself a true New Yorker. But in 1970, Devaney got the wild idea of leaving behind Gotham and tagging along with the Milwaukee Bucks for a season. His tag-along led to the popular paperback, Alcindor, the Big O & The Champion Bucks. But it also put him face to face with plenty of regular folks from Middle America, and that included Bucks’ guard Jon McGlocklin.

“I met Jon McGlocklin a little later, introducing myself. A sharp-faced Indiana boy, incessantly chewing gum on the floor, he reminded me of a dozen New York City schoolyard basketball nuts I have known: crazy about the game, dribbling a basketball from morning to dusk, slightly stooped from all that dribbling, crafty eyes moving constantly as they look for a screen and the open shot . . .

“[McGlocklin]  grew up shooting at hoops in the dusty backyards of Franklin, Indiana, and there are few better outside shots in the league. But he doesn’t dribble well—” put the ball down.” as the coaches say—and last year the Bucks guards, when pressured, often had trouble getting the ball upcourt.”

McGlocklin went along with Devaney’s assessment of the poor dribbling. But in this article, published in the April 1975 issue of Basketball Digest, he probably wouldn’t have. As McGlocklin tells journalist Bob Messenger, he’s been typecast as only a shooter. But there’s more to his game. Here’s his story.]

****

Jon McGlocklin stirred uneasily in the Bucks’ locker room following a hard-fought victory over the Chicago Bulls.

“I’ll tell you something,” he said, “I’m sick and tired of reading what a great pure shooter I am. I’m sick and tired of hearing and reading about all my so-called defensive inadequacies.

“You ask me if it bothers me personally that I don’t receive more credit for the other things I do besides just shooting. Hell, yes, it does. I’ve got a lot of pride, and I like to think that there is more to Jon McGlocklin than simply a good outside shot.

“But you know something. Once you get tagged with a certain reputation in the NBA, like being just a great shooter, baby, you’re stuck with it. A lot of the writers I know, and man, most of them wouldn’t know the game of basketball if it ran over them, never talk to me about anything except points scored. And if I haven’t scored many points in a particular game, they never talk to me. 

“So, it’s getting to the point now where I don’t even give a damn if they recognize my other abilities or not. If my teammates do and the guys I play against, well, that’s all that really counts.”

McGlocklin is in his 10th season as a pro and his seventh with the Milwaukee Bucks, who received him from the San Diego Rockets in the 1968 expansion draft. Ironically, the reputation he so despises was actually spawned in the City of Beer.

“Our play-by-play guy, who I think is a fine person, really started this thing when he nicknamed my shot “the rainbow jumper.” Pretty soon, it got so the fans and press just thought about my wonderful outside shot—and nothing else.

“Now, I don’t really blame the announcer. Clichés and descriptive superlatives are a part of the business. But the way I see it now, it had a negative influence on my all-around abilities. The fans in Milwaukee are super, probably the best in the world, but I suspect that recognition by them for my defensive and playmaking capabilities is no longer possible. In their eyes, I’ll always be just a great shooter. Man, it really gets me down sometimes.”

McGlocklin has a legitimate gripe. During last year’s playoff confrontation against the Los Angeles Lakers, Jon handled hot-shooting guard Gail Goodrich like he owned him. “They ought to give McGlocklin a saddle,” Goodrich angrily told the press, offended that the Bucks’ guard was able to defense him as well as he did.

“If I had defended him any closer,” McGlocklin said, “I would have been inside his uniform.

“Look, Gail Goodrich shouldn’t complain. I’ll tell you something. He is as physical on offense as any player in the NBA is on defense. He hooks and grabs as much as anybody. I just can’t feel sorry for him.”

But, unfortunately, very few people saw McGlocklin’s defensive handcuffing of one of the best scoring machines in the league as ample reason to classify him an adequate defensive ballplayer. “I don’t know what you have to do to convince writers that you can play other facets of the game,” McGlocklin emphasizes. “I guess handling Goodrich wasn’t enough.”

Bob Love, an All-Pro forward for the Chicago Bulls, bemoans the fact that his team does not have a player like McGlocklin to come off the bench and spark them: “I think Jon is a good player. He can shoot, and he can play defense. I know a guy like that could help the Bulls.”

“McGlocklin is a very good fundamental ballplayer,” says Oscar Robertson, who retired from the Bucks this season and is now a color commentator for CBS. “Unfortunately, the thing that has befallen Jon is something that happens to a lot of people in the NBA. They come into the league, acquire a reputation for one particular skill that they possess, and the fans and writers see only that skill and little else as their careers develop.”

“I think Jon McGlocklin has come a long way in his game,” Bucks’ coach Larry Costello points out. “He can play defense when he has to. Hey, Jon took care of Goodrich in the playoffs as well as anybody in the NBA could have. That was a real key in our victories against L.A.”

Jon McGlocklin is probably right about one thing—he may never get the recognition due him for his versatility as a basketball player. Many sportswriters, who think the only good copy is that which builds itself around one of the league’s numerous superstars, seldom have the time to sit down and objectively analyze the attributes of ballplayers who are anything less than starters.

But for those who know the game, there is no longer any doubt that the man Milwaukee affectionately calls, “Johnny Mac” has reached the point in his career where he can handle all phases of the game quite well. Maybe not as spectacularly as the superstars, but good enough to give a prolific scorer like Goodrich fits. And there aren’t many ballplayers who can do that.

“I can’t fight it anymore,” McGlocklin summarizes, “but it still remains a very frustrating thing. I respect sportswriters and people in the media, they’ve got a tough job and they have to earn a living. But I have reservations about the majority of them possessing the ability to accurately judge the talent of any ballplayer, particularly a second-line player.

“They’ve got to quit stereotyping ballplayers, and they have to look beyond the points-scored column if they are going to pass public judgment on an athlete.

“As it stands now, particularly in my case, their attitude is: ‘Once a shooter, always a shooter.’ There is just no way a man could stay in the NBA for 10 years if that’s all he has going for him.”Case closed

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