High School Hierarchy: 11-15
SLAMonline ranks the top pro-producing high schools of all time.
14. Central-Hower High School, Akron, OH
NBA Players Produced: Nate Thurmond, Gus Johnson, Bill Turner, Claude Virden
Combined Experience: 31 seasons
NBA/ABA Championships Won: 1
All-Star Appearances: 12
Hall of Famers: 2
Total Points: 77
Akron, OH, claims among its famous professional basketball alums a center who held his own in the days of Russell and Chamberlain, a dynamic athlete often credited as being ahead of his time and a certain Chosen One who winters in South Beach. Those first two Akron players attended the same high school, Central, which closed in 2006, and give the school a unique claim: 50 percent of the NBA players Central produced are Hall of Famers.
You’ve probably heard of: It’s understandable that Nate Thurmond’s greatness may get overshadowed somewhat. His career began when NBA iconic big men Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell ruled the game, and on top of that, Thurmond was Chamberlain’s teammate early in his career, so it was easy for him to get overlooked.
Thurmond, however, carved out his own reputation as one of the League’s best centers of all time, recording the first ever quadruple-double (though to be fair, Russell and Chamberlain probably would’ve beat him to this had blocked shots been a recorded stat in their primes), and he’s one of only five players to average at least 20 points and 20 rebounds per game in the same season, along with Russell, Chamberlain, Jerry Lucas and Bob Pettit. Thurmond could score, but he made his mark in the League by defending some of the best centers of all time.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said this about Thurmond: “A lot of guys beat on me and said they played good defense, but Nate actually could do it,” the former Lakers center says. “He had the length and the agility and he knew what he was doing. He made me work for my points.”
Don’t forget about: There are many players who are referred to as “ahead of their time,” or guys who exhibited some of the modern flash that the NBA is known for at an early state in their careers. No player may have a more interesting claim to this than the late Hall of Famer Gus Johnson. Johnson was a powerful, undersized frontcourt player, but also a dynamic athlete who spent most of his career with Washington. Former Bullets owner Abe Pollin recalled in Johnson’s obituary the ravaged backboards Johnson often left in his wake:
When the Bullets retired Mr. Johnson’s No. 25 last December, Abe Pollin, the owner of the Bullets since 1964, recalled a road game Mr. Johnson played against the St. Louis Hawks.
“He shattered the backboards,” Mr. Pollin said, “and Ben Kerner, the Hawks’ owner, sent me a bill. I tore it up.”
Johnson also had a sense of style about his game, enjoying a little showboating at times and wearing a gold star in his front tooth. Johnson also had a great back-story on his journey to the NBA, dropping out of the University of Akron, working for the treasurer’s office in Cuyahoga County and ending up playing at a JuCo in Idaho for one season and the University of Idaho for a season before becoming a second round pick of the Bullets.
Random fact: Thurmond is not only a successful basketball player. He’s a successful restaurateur, owning ‘Big Nate’s Barbeque’ in San Francisco for more than 20 years:
Later, after working several years for the Cavaliers as a television commentator, Thurmond couldn’t help noticing that Domino’s was delivering pizza all over San Francisco.
“But nobody was delivering barbecue,” he says.
“Barbecue, if it’s good, you can eat it at room temperature. That’s not true about a pizza. So we said, ‘Hey, we can deliver barbecue.’ That’s how it got started, and I’ve been here 19 years.”
Thurmond is not just a silent owner of the business, either, telling the L.A. Times in 2009 that he’s there at least four days a week and that he’s very accessible to his customers — “If somebody asks for me,” Thurmond says, “I’ll come down.”