Utah Jazz vocal helmsman "Hot Rod" Hundley took a break before calling Thursday night's Jazz blowout over the Lakers and reminisced about basketball's good ol' days when yearly salaries were only five figures and all-star players were awarded black and white televisions instead of hefty bonuses.
"Basketball's come a long way," Hundley told surgeons and surgical technicians at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. He was the guest speaker at a hospital luncheon held as part of National Surgical Technologists Week observance.Hundley, a No. 1 draft choice in 1957, played six years for the Lakers - three in Minneapolis and three in Los Angeles after the team moved West. He said his first-year contract totaled $10,000 and that when he retired six years later he was making $11,500.
"Every time I see my mother I say, `Why didn't you wait?' " said Hundley, who kept the surgeons in stitches with a humorous look back on the NBA's early days. "But I don't feel any animosity. I just hate all the current players for their salaries."
He said there were only eight professional basketball teams back then, and the Lakers team flew to away games in its own twin-engine plane. Unlike today's players, those in the late 1950s and early '60s whiled away the hours on away trips by playing cards.
"These guys (today) make $1 million a year and they don't play anything," he said.
On one trip, Hundley said, the plane became lost and the pilot was forced to make a touchy emergency landing in an Iowa cornfield. Once the players realized they had landed safely, "All hell broke loose. You'd think we'd won a world championship."
Though drugs weren't a problem among professional athletes, Hundley admitted, "In my days we all smoked cigarettes and we all drank beer. But parents today would love to have us" because the players were drug free.
Hundley said today's basketball stars may be better players than he and his teammates, but they don't play with as much intensity and rivalry.
"When I played our coach would kill us for talking with the other guys. Today it's all lovey-dovey," he said. "But I couldn't even dunk the ball and I'm 6-4. I could just see myself guarding Michael Jordan."
Hundley said he laments retiring after only six years. "But I was a little insecure at the time, so I gave it up."
But he said being in broadcasting has kept him involved with basketball. Hundley was a broadcaster for the Lakers and Phoenix Suns before joining the Jazz 14 years ago.
"Broadcasting, to me, is the next best thing to playing. If I'd been this excited, I'd still be playing," he said in reference to covering the close Jazz-Lakers playoff series.
"It's nice. In fact, it's wonderful," Hundley said. "I want to win as badly as the owners. If we're still playing June 23, we'll be the world champs. We only have to win about 11 more games, and we can do it."
Hundley said the Jazz have come a long way and that fans throughout the state have responded with a lot of support. And even though Jazz coach Frank Layden is giving his starting five a lot of playing time, Hundley said, he doesn't believe the players are getting too tired to win.
"How can you be tired when you're 25? As Frank would say, `You've got to reach back. Just give me 48 minutes.' Now (Kareem Abdul-) Jabbar is tired. He's 41."