Next month, Fort Smith native Jahlil Okafor could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. If he is, the 6’11” center will be the third Arkansan native to go No. 1 in a major American team sport since Joe Barry Carroll in 1980. Okafor spent his childhood in the Ft. Smith area before moving to a bigger metro area in Chicago. Carroll, meanwhile, spent some of his elementary school days in Pine Bluff before his mother shepherded her large family to Denver.
There, among the Rockies, Carroll grew to seven feet tall and became a prized recruit. He then became a legendary player at Purdue, leading the Boilermakers to the 1980 Final Four while racking up 26.3 points a game.
I’ve written about Carroll’s lofty place among NBA Arkansans in multiple statistical categories, but I hadn’t seen much about his roots in Arkansas until the following news showed up in my inbox.
It turns out Carroll has become both a painter and writer who has been contemplating his Arkansan roots. Now living in Georgia, Carroll will return to his home state this fall for an exhibit in Little Rock:
“The Historic Arkansas Museum will host the contemporary art exhibit, “Growing Up . . . In Words and Images” by NBA All Star, Joe Barry Carroll. The exhibition will open in Historic Arkansas Museum’s Trinity Gallery for Arkansas Artists during 2nd Friday Art Night on September 11 from 5 to 8 pm. The opening reception will include a gallery talk with Carroll and a book signing in the Museum Store.
The exhibition will include paintings from Carroll’s memoir coffee table book of the same name. The colorful and evocative acrylic and mixed media paintings have been described as “folk” and “impressionistic.” The paintings explore what Carroll refers to as “shared humanity”—childhood, dreams, family ties, southern culture and self-discovery. In “Growing Up,” Carroll’s southern-comfort prose reveals the life of a boy who seemed “to not be enough of any one particular thing to be the right thing.”
Born the tenth of thirteen children, Carroll was raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Denver, Colorado, where his mother supported the family as a domestic worker, fry cook, and eventually a nurse’s aide. He dreamed of saving the day for his family and writes, “Every time I witnessed my mother’s defeat and difficulty as another dream died, I resolved to make it all better one day.”
Carroll led the Purdue University Boilermakers to the Final Four in 1980 and graduated with a degree in Economics. Carroll was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He would go on to play for Milano (Italy), the Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns. Carroll is now a wealth advisor, philanthropist, painter and writer.
Historic Arkansas Museum is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 – 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission to the galleries and parking are free; admission to the historic grounds is $2.50 for adults, $1 for children under 18, $1.50 for senior citizens. The Historic Arkansas Museum Store is open 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 – 4 p.m. on Sunday.”
Carroll, it turns out, had the seventh-highest scoring performance in NCAA Tournament history in 1980. Interestingly, the number one player on that list – Glen Rice – apparently was born in Jacksonville, Ark. before moving to Michigan as a baby or toddler.
In the early 1980s, Carroll was one of league’s best men while playing for the Golden State Warriors, which is now the favorite to win the NBA Finals according to sports handicappers. He averaged more than twenty points per game in seven seasons there and made the All-Star Game in 1987. Overall, Carroll played 12 seasons with a career high average of 24 points in the 1983-84 season.
Below is more about Carroll’s wide-ranging past, via his official biography:
Bobby Portis doesn’t have much hair.
But what little he has, he let down in full during a Tuesday press conference after announcing he was taking his game to the next level. In basketball, he’s a potential lottery pick. In singing, he’d be lucky to find volunteer work in Bulgaria. Below is the full conference transcript. Excerpted video of Portis’ serenade is near the middle.
Mike Anderson: This is a day that, you know, you have dreams when you’re a young kid. Coming here, taking this job four years ago, one of the first tasks that I had was to go down to Hall High School, and see this young man work out. In that spring, in that summer, this committed to the University of Arkansas. His sophomore, you’re talking about finishing his sophomore year, so when you talk about a guy committed early, this guy committed early, so to sit here four years after that, and he has an opportunity to realize his dream. It’s kind of a more sweet than it is bitter day. Why, because this kid, he’s part of my family, and that’s Bobby Portis, as well as all my other players on our team. When you talk about a young man who’s had two unbelievable years, it’s amazing what has taken place. In his freshman year, he’s second team All SEC. His second year. You got to understand this. He’s second team All-American. That is a special, special year, and that’s why we are here today.
His teammates are here in attendance, as well as our staff, as Bobby has announced that he will be moving beyond that, and I’ll let him talk more into that. As a coach, he’s been a great ambassador for our university. He’s a great basketball player, we know that, but he’s been a great, great ambassador, a great, great role model for a lot of young players around, young people in the state of Arkansas and around the country. We could not have a better representative than Bobby Portis. To be here today as he makes his statement, I couldn’t be no more proud of Bobby Portis. Player of the year in our league. Things that haven’t taken place here in 20 years. That tells you how special he is. Not only special Bobby is, but his teammates as well. He’ll be the first to say that. I can’t talk any more, because I get a little emotion, but to Ms. Tina, I want to thank her for entrusting me with her son. I told her, “You send me a young boy, I send you back a man.” Well, he kind of expedited the process. I told him to go at his own pace, as a freshman, because coming in, you can imagine, McDonald’s All-American, all the pressures, and I said go at your own pace. His pace was a tremendous pace, and that’s why we’re here today. I just pass over here to Bobby Portis.
Bobby Portis: How everybody doing today? Ain’t nobody sad or nothing, is it? Everybody good? You know, today’s a good day
for me, to try to take that next step and go to the NBA. As a kid, all kids grow up wanting to go to the NBA. For me, myself, I finally had that first chance to go to the NBA this year, so I took the opportunity and tried to run with it. Thanks for Coach A for always having that trust in me, on and off the court. He made me a captain this year, as a sophomore, and I think that’s big for me and my teammates. Thanks for my teammates, always having their trust in me, on the court, passing the ball to me, even though I’m hollering, “Give me the ball! Give me the ball!” All that stuff. Thanks to Coach [Matt Zimmerman] staying late in the gym with me, and always rebounding for me and all that. Thanks to the managers, too, and Coach Watkins and Coach Cleveland. You’re all a part of my family, now, and this is something that I’m proud of, so thank you all and God Bless.
Reporter: You really talked a lot about your mom and what she means to you. How big a part was her, how hard she works and what she does, in your decision?
Bobby Portis: It was a big part, just because, my mom, she works 2:00 AM to 1:00 PM. That’s an 11 hour shift. For any person, that’s a tough burden on anyone, so I just want to take that next step, not just for her, but for myself. I’m not doing this for my mom, or anything, I’m doing this for Bobby Portis, just because I feel like I’m ready to take that next step, and go on about my basketball career.
Reporter: In the beginning you said it was going to be a committee decision. In the end, was it just you that made the call?
Bobby Portis: I believe so, just because, my mom wanted me to make the decision for me and not her. That’s something that she always preaches. Not trying to make me make a decision for her, just to change her life and my little brother’s life. She wants me to live my dream and try to be the best basketball player I could be.
Q: I understand it’s a basketball on one side, but how nice is it that you’re going to be able to help your family out?
Bobby Portis: I think it’ll be nice to help my family out, but I still have to work as hard as I can every day, and just try to be that same person that I was, and just stay humble and hungry. Just because, if I get my name called and put that hat on, that doesn’t mean that it’s just the end of the road and I get money. It’s more than just money. It’s a job, too, at the same time.
Q: What kind of feedback did you get from the NBA folks about where Bobby’s likely to be drafted?
Mike Anderson: First of all, this wasn’t an easy decision for Bobby. This guy, again, he committed as a sophomore to be a Razorback, and trust me, he’s been wrestling with this. I know you guys, whether it be social network, or we continued at the banquet last night, “Hey, Bobby, what you going to do?” It wasn’t an easy decision for him, so we gathered information for him, in terms, of where, what’s going to take place. Obviously, from the lottery to first round. He’s going to be … He’ll be a first rounder, there’s no question about it. Where? That remains to be seen. I have all the confidence in this guy, right here. He’s on the fast track, on the fast track to do some great things. No one can knock his work ethic. For a 6’11” guy, that can do the things that this guy does, is remarkable. He has that burning desire, to not only be a good player, so even as he goes to that next level, he don’t just want to be a good player in the NBA, he wants to be a great player in the NBA. I don’t question anything this guy puts his mind to. The feedback we got was very positive, and so we sat down, and just discussed it. At the end of the day, it was Bobby’s decision, and I think, one thing about it is that, I think, for him, I think he made the right decision.
He’s done some great things here for us, here at the University. Took us some places we hadn’t been in a while. I think he just starting something that’s really going to continue to take place, and when you talk about elite players, having the opportunity to come in, and have a chance to showcase the God gifted talents. He took my word, when I sat there with he and his mom, because there’s a lot of places he could have went. There’s a lot of programs he could have went. He chose the University of Arkansas. In the matter of a year, two years, now he’s had an opportunity to go and live his dream. It’s a big statement in a lot of ways. I’m sure the basketball people out there, the NBA teams, and hopefully, the recruits understand that, you know what – we get it done here at the University of Arkansas. Our kids, they develop. They do it the right way on and off the floor and when they leave here they will be ready, not only for the NBA, but they will be ready for the real world.
Q: What was the tipping point when you decided everything?
Bobby: Last Tuesday me and Coach Anderson sat down and talked about everything. He just laid out two or three scenarios and from there, I kind of ran with it. I sat down and told him then that I thought I was ready to make that next step. I made it last Tuesday.
Q: … How tough a decision was it? … Like Mike said, it was something you had to wrestle with.
Bobby: Man, last night I played this song, “I don’t want to leave, but I got to go right now.” That was cold, though. No, it was a tough decision for me just because growing up in the state of Arkansas and being a native of this state, I felt like I was a great ambassador for our basketball team and for our program, not only for the basketball team, but for the whole, entire Razorbacks. I believe I showed kids that you don’t have to go to Kentucky or Florida just to try to live your dreams. Coach Anderson and his staff gets it done here, too.
I recently examined how good Kentucky’s defense has been this season compared to the best teams in college basketball history. The piece is in SLAM here.
Naturally, the great UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s (winners of 88 straight! Seven straight national championships!) were part of the analysis. And fortunately two of the best Bruins of this era – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes – provided me with some first-hand insight.
I found out that Abdul-Jabbar considered the best UCLA defense he played with to be different from what UCLA’s media guide indicates. Jabbar’s senior team (1968-69) held all of its opponents to an average of 37.4 % field goal shooting and 63.8 points a game. Those numbers were at 38.4% and 67.2 ppg the previous season.
And yet it’s Kareem’s junior year, 1967-68, which he considers the best college defense he played on. He explains:
“That was our most versatile team. The depth and the good athletes made that our best team. The only loss we had was against the University of Houston because I had a sub par game having spent the previous week in the Jules Stein Eye Clinic with an injury. Everyone counted us out until we had the rematch in the NCAA Tournament and beat them by 32 points.I had kept the Sports Illustrated cover featuring Elvin [Hayes] hanging inside my locker for the rest of the season as a reminder and motivator. Since this was the first loss my UCLA teams experienced I didn’t want it to be a repeat occurrence. It must of worked because I only lost two games during my entire college career.”
I’m not one to argue with an authority like KAJ. It’s very possible the ’68 defense was actually better than ’69 relative to how strong its opponents were. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same kind of strength of schedule metric for teams of this era as we do for more recent teams.
The work around, as I detail in SLAM, is to look at how teams performed purely against Associated Press Top 25 foes. Those specific stats often take work to come by, but they are worth it.
Here are other excerpts from my January interview with Abdul-Jabbar, who recently authored the latest installment of his “StreetBall Crew” series for young adults:
Q: I know many rules have changed since the 1960s, but how do you think that [1967-68] defense would have fared against some of the top teams in modern NCAA basketball?
A) I think we would have been just as dominant as we were in the Sixties. I think the fact that our players had to stay in school and could not jump to the NBA enabled them to learn the game in-depth and the one and done players don’t have that type of complete fundamental preparation.
Q) Do you feel like the best UCLA team you played on would have been athletic enough, overall, to beat a modern elite NCAA team?
A) Modern elite NCAA teams do not feature players who have stayed through their junior and senior years and lack the in-depth competence of a team that has upper classmen. I still think we would have to be considered as one of the best teams that ever played college ball.
Q) On the defensive end, what similarities do you see between the 2014-15 Kentucky team and your best defensive UCLA team? Are there any current Wildcats (or Wildcats on the 2010 or 1996 teams) that remind you of any Bruins on that team (in style of play, physicality or both)?
A) I haven’t seen the Wildcats play recently so I can’t compare them, but I do know that they are dominant team from the way they whipped UCLA and held them to 7 points in a half.
Q) In your opinion, what are the best two or three defensive teams in all of NCAA history?
A) Bill Russell’s 1956 USF team*, John Wooden’s first NCAA championship in 1964 and my UCLA 1968 team are the three best. None of the modern teams would have been able to compete with Bill Russell’s teams or the UCLA teams because they lack the cohesion you get from staying in a program for four years. Bill Russell’s team featured two of the best defensive players that ever played in the NBA, namely Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. The 1964 UCLA team was undefeated – need I say more ?
*I would love to see how this team performed against Top 25 foes. Unfortunately, those box scores appear to be missing as of now. We do know for sure is that USF ’56 was very, very good, holding all foes to 31% shooting and 52 points a game.
Stay tuned for more excerpts from the Jamaal Wilkes interview, and some details numbers from my all-time teams comparison.
An upcoming major motion picture about Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African American to sign an NBA contract and play in an NBA game, will have strong Arkansan roots. Clifton, who grew up near England, Ark. in Coy in the 1920s, starred with the New York Knicks in the 1950s and was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame alongside Nolan Richardson last summer.
The character of native Arkansan Louis Jordan also features into the plot for “Sweetwater.” Jordan, who grew up in Brinkley, Ark., was one of the towering entertainment figures of the 1930s through early 1950s, a star in the music and film businesses with wide appeal across all races. He briefly attended Arkansas Baptist College before heading north, where he ultimately landed in New York City. There, he fell into the same circles as Clifton and Clifton’s mistress, an aspiring blues singer, according to Martin Guigui, the movie’s writer and director.
Rap superstar Ludacris will play Jordan. Guigui said last summer he discussed the project with Ludacris, a veteran of multiple movies such as Fast and Furious 6, and the entertainer told him he wanted to be involved any way he could. Guigui decided Jordan’s character was the best fit for Ludacris’ talents. Ludacris will also be involved in the not-yet-made “Sweetwater” soundtrack, which may feature contemporary hip hop music as well as updates to Swing Era classics.
Actor Wood Harris, perhaps best known for his role as Avon Barksdale in the HBO series The Wire, will play Clifton.
Haters of numbers, shield your eyes.
For the below data dump, I looked at every NBA or ABA player ever, tracking who was born in which U.S. state. Then, I tallied all those U.S.-born players’ combined three point attempts and makes.
Pure, unadulterated bragging rights result:
Ranking Each State’s NBA Natives’ All-Time Aggregate Three-Point Percentage
|1. New Hampshire||773||1,870||41.34%|
|2. South Dakota||1,784||4,397||40.57%|
|20. New Jersey||9,942||28,599||34.76%|
|21. District of Columbia||5,027||14,492||34.69%|
|29. West Virginia||3,517||10,291||34.18%|
|31. North Carolina||9,966||29,386||33.91%|
|33. New York||22,888||68,052||33.63%|
|41. South Carolina||2,702||8,344||32.38%|
|44. Rhode Island||205||662||30.97%|
|47. North Dakota||12||41||29.27%|
|50. New Mexico||19||87||21.84%|
The list below cares not a jot for accuracy. It concerns itself solely with sheer, unbridled quantity.
Yet if that were the only metric, then the big boys – New York, California, Texas – would easily win on account of their populations. So, to even the playing field, I’ve included each state’s population as a factor too.
Ergo, the world’s first and likely last all-time* NBA-ABA per capita 3-point production ranking:
In few realms does the state of Arkansas travel the Middle Way. In politics, we’re among the reddest of the red. In education, we’re near the bottom of nearly all national metrics. Income stats, too.
It’s hardly a long shot to say Arkansans don’t do moderation well.
Except when it comes to producing world-classily average deep shooters. Arkansas ranks No. 25 among 50 states in three-point shooting in the NBA and the now-defunct ABA. That’s an accuracy only ranking, tallied by adding up all three-point makes and attempts by all NBA/ABA players born in each state. New Hampshire, South Dakota and Nebraska are tops here, with New Mexico, Delaware and Wyoming groveling at the bottom. Click here to nerd out more on this stuff, as I did for SLAM.
Looking at only native Arkansans, we see one reason for the state’s supreme averageness is the lack of any elite deadeye gunners. No Kyle Korvers, Hubert Davises, Dell Currys – or even Martell Websters or Anthony Morrows -have ever come out of our state. While Joe Johnson did briefly hold the NBA record for three point makes in one quarter (8), he hasn’t consistently been able to sustain the elite accuracy he showed early in his career with the Phoenix Suns.
Indeed, when it comes to accuracy, the best Arkansan long bomber isn’t even know for being an Arkansan. Mike Conley, Jr., son of Razorback track great Mike Conley, moved in childhood from Fayetteville to Indiana.
14 Best NBA/ABA Arkansan Three Point Gunners
|3 PT%||Made||Attempted||Native Town|
|Derek Fisher||0.374||1248||3341||Little Rock|
|Joe Johnson||0.372||1671||4497||Little Rock|
|Marcus Brown||0.333||13||39||West Memphis|
|Quincy Lewis||0.333||37||111||Little Rock|
|Jeff Webster||0.333||2||6||Pine Bluff|
|James Anderson||0.33||173||525||El Dorado|
|Fat Lever||0.31||162||523||Pine Bluff|
|Dennis Nutt||0.294||5||17||Little Rock|
|Sidney Moncrief||0.284||110||387||Little Rock|
*I don’t consider Jasper Wilson the most accurate NBA Arkansan three-point shooter of all time. He just lucked out with a small sample size. A “not-small” sample size, in the context of this ranking, should probably begin around 200 career attempts.
Notice the rankings only consider birthplace, not where the player actually went to high school. That’s why even the most hardcore NBA Arkansan fan will see unfamiliar names on these lists. And while I technically shouldn’t have included Ronnie Brewer on account of his spending his first four years in Oregon, where his dad played basketball, I couldn’t help myself. Too many Arkansans would want the exception to be made.
Ronnie has never been known as a great shooter, so it comes as no surprise he ranks No. 14 in the
Worst 21 NBA/ABA Arkansan Three Point Shooters
|Jeff Martin||0.282||29||103||Cherry Valley|
|Ronnie Brewer||0.254||90||335||Portland, OR|
|Andrew Lang||0.25||5||20||Pine Bluff|
|Ron Brewer||0.248||30||121||Fort Smith|
|Sonny Weems||0.241||19||79||West Memphis|
|Jim McElroy||0.206||7||34||Cotton Plant|
|Keith Lee||0.167||2||12||West Memphis|
|Archie Goodwin||0.159||7||44||Little Rock|
|Bryant Reeves||0.074||2||27||Fort Smith|
|Joe Barry Carroll||0||0||13||Pine Bluff|
|Michael Cage||0||0||25||West Memphis|
More of a surprise is the depth to which second-year pro Archie Goodwin’s shooting has submarined. Sure, Goodwin’s strength has always been driving to the basket. But he had made strides shooting from deep his senior year at Sylvan Hills and was better than this in his lone season at Kentucky. We’ll see how much he improves with more minutes, and more opportunities to get in a groove.
I should also be noted Sonny Weems has in recent years become a 37% three-point shooter in the world’s second-most competitive league.
Of course, some of the best NBA Arkansans never had a chance to prove their not-so-middling mettle in this realm. Below are mostly native Arkies who either played before played before 1979, when the NBA adopted the three-pointer, or who played but not in the ABA – which used the three from its 1967 get-go.