George Gervin Rumors
ESPN: What role do you think you have played in influencing that next generation of the versatile big man on court, players who can shoot, dribble, be playmakers? Chris Webber: I think when you talk about big men who were versatile, it was Magic Johnson. That first came to me. Of course, Connie Hawkins. Of course, Mr. Finger Roll, Mr. Ice [George Gervin]. But when you looked at like a 6-9 guy … When I was in high school, they wouldn’t let the big guy be in the middle for 3-on-2 drills. And I remember fighting and asking, you know, could I be in 3-on-2 drills or playing with the guards, playing 21 where I had to shoot outside and the guards had to shoot inside. Once I saw Steve Smith and Derrick Coleman — in my opinion, Steve, with the [hesitation move], and him being seven foot, Derrick, being probably [in the] top four most versatile powerful forwards to this day. I just studied the game, man. I just wanted to be [one of] the greats.
“This is some real s—,” Klempner says as he continues to rifle through the foot-high stack, flinging contracts and letters signed by the likes of George Gervin, Larry Bird and LeBron James. Some papers have historical significance: docs connected to the league’s first collective bargaining agreement, salary cap and drug program, plus records from lockouts and lawsuits past. A manila folder emerges with a JOHNSON MAGIC sticker attached. Other pieces veer towards esoterica. There is a stack of signatures from players who came together to protest the changing of the regulation basketball in 2006. A collection of 1990s Knicks stars—Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell—signed a sheet to verify they’d received 1099s. On top of it is a hot pink sticky note, addressed to Klempner and signed by Chris Dudley, who wrote, “Didn’t realize I still had these… Hope it didn’t cause too much of a problem.”
In the summer of 1981, on a basketball barnstorming trip through parts of northern Michigan and deep into the American South, George Gervin was wearing out Isiah Thomas. Sometimes with his lightning-quick dribbling, other times with that goddamned finger roll that helped him win four NBA scoring titles, and then those trick bank shots. Mind you, this was all done in sweltering-hot gyms in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, Mich., in Memphis and Birmingham, Ala., and places in between. Now, some 39 years later, Thomas recalls it didn’t help that Magic Johnson, who was on those trips, too, would always get the first pick over Thomas when assembling teams and would always take Gervin at the onset.
But what Thomas was really getting tired of was The Iceman’s stories about this “cracker box” of a gym on Detroit’s west side, where Gervin, a legend in those parts, was king among the lot of NBA vets, college stars, high school standouts and streetball legends who played there every summer. “All I wanted to do was get back to Detroit,” said Thomas, who grew up in Illinois, played collegiately at Indiana and had just been selected second overall by the Detroit Pistons in the ’81 NBA Draft. “Gervin would tell his stories, and all I wanted to do was get away from George Gervin and find St. Cecilia’s.”
It might not look like much now, but St. Cecilia’s is famous for having been compared to legendary Rucker Park of New York because of all the big names who came through. Isiah. Magic. Gervin. Also, David Bing. That’s four of the greatest players in NBA history. Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman of “Bad Boys” Pistons fame. B.J. Armstrong. Chris Webber. Jalen Rose. Derrick Coleman. Steve Smith. Shane Battier. Jimmy Walker and Spencer Haywood and Ralph Simpson and Campy Russell. Dick Vitale (awesome with a capital “A,” baby). Dozens of others.
Twelve of these St. Cecilia’s alums agreed to share their stories, including Gervin, who regaled The Athletic with the same tales that drove Thomas nuts so long ago. “It was almost spiritual,” Gervin said. “That was the spot. I’m telling you. I’m sad that the story ain’t never really been told about St. Cecilia’s. You’re hunting us down — it should’ve been done already.”
Drexler also offered up suggestions on a handful of other NBA greats. “And then you’ve got guys like Dr. J [Julius Erving], Larry Bird, George Gervin, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West. All those guys are in the conversation, and so for people to bring this up today, to me it’s just unbelievable. And I love Michael and LeBron. But still, let’s not take something away from those other guys who played.”