WITH A LOCKOUT threatening to delay or even cancel the coming NBA season, it could be a long, boring winter. But maybe not. Just in time, there's a book due out this fall featuring the recollections of sandpaper-voiced Jazz announcer Hot Rod Hund-ley. If you aren't going to be, as Hundley calls it, "lookin' live" on the NBA action, at least you can be reading about it.
As if there were any doubt, the title will be "You Gotta Love It, Baby."Written with Standard-Examiner NBA writer Tom McEachin, the book details the sometimes heartbreaking story of Hundley, from a virtually parentless childhood to stardom. But it is far more than just maudlin recollections of his own underprivileged past; it is filled with self-deprecating jokes, humorous locker-room tales and straighforward observations.
Along the way it gives insights into Hundley few have seen. He explains why he was never a star in the NBA (his coach didn't like his style of game), why he quit after six seasons (the Lakers wanted to trade him) and how much money he made in his career ($62,500).
Hundley's history has always been slightly ambiguous. Most Jazz fans know he grew up poor in West Virginia and that his father was a gambler and drinker. His mother gave him up because she couldn't support him. The book sheds light on the subject, though, including explanations why he was first left with townspeople, then left on his own.
His travels not only earned friendships with hundreds of basketball players but other public figures as well. When playing in L.A., he lived across the street from "Mannix" star Mike Conners. He once stayed up half the night talking sports with Mickey Mantle. He teased Doris Day as she sat on the sidelines, taking shots from half court and even sitting on her lap. When he moved on to be a broadcaster, he interviewed Peter Falk, Nick Nolte, Walter Matthau and Bob Hope.
Suffice it to say, Hundley's story is as colorful as his "belt-high dribble, frozen-rope, cowhide-globe-hits-home" play-by-play rhetoric.
Hot Rod came along before the NBA was synonymous with big money. He signed his first contract for $10,000 a year after shrewdly talking the owner of the Minneapolis Lakers up from $8,000. After four years in the league, he finally got a raise - to $11,000.
He loved the drinking and carousing that came with being a famous athlete. He relished living in New Orleans (as the Jazz's first announcer) and Los Angeles (as a player and broadcaster), where drinking and carousing opportunities were extensive. When he missed a plane in New York after staying out all night with teammate Slick Leonard, he was fined. The $1,000 penalty amounted to a tenth of his salary.
The book also includes a healthy dose of Hundley's best banquet-circuit lines. There was the night he was playing for then-coach George Mikan who yelled at halftime, "I thought I told you to watch (Bob) Cousy."
Said Hundley: "I've been watching him, coach. Isn't he great?" Then there was the night Elgin Baylor hugged him after a game, saying, "Wow, 78 points! I want to tell you there's a lot of points between us sitting in this cab." They both laughed, knowng Baylor had scored 71 of them.
Asked by former KSL sports anchor Paul James what the most points scored by a guard in a playoff game were, Hundley replied 45, by John Havlicek. When James asked how he knew off the top of his head, Hundley said, "Because I was guarding him."
After being the top college player in the nation, Hundley enjoyed a short and unspectacular pro career. Mikan, who was a teammate and then coach, didn't like Hundley's game because he thought the flashy play showed he wasn't serious. Later the Lakers hired former West Virginia coach Fred Schaus, which actually hurt Hundley's career. Hundley theorizes that Schaus didn't want to play both Jerry West and Hundley in the starting lineup since they were all from West Virginia; he didn't want to make it look like favoritism.
The book also provides a quaint look into a bygone era of the NBA; an era when players washed their own uniforms and piled four to a cab to get to games. Players and coaches would smoke cigarettes until a haze hung over the locker room. When a teammate sprained an ankle and had to go to the locker room to be taped, he even smoked while waiting, returning to the floor with a cigarette still dangling from his lips.
Hundley also recalls the now-famous emergency landing by the team plane in an Iowa corn field; how Elgin Baylor went to the back of the plane to lie down, saying if there was to be a crash, he wanted going to go out comfortably.
Perhaps this year it will be the NBA season that crashes. If so, it would pay to get a copy of Hundley's book. As Baylor noted, if trouble is on the way, it's always best to get comfortable.