Cold Chillin’

by October 15, 2008

by Matt Caputo

The matter of George Gevin’s legacy is solid. In the 13-year period he played in the ABA and NBA few scorers ran the table like “Iceman.” As one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players and arguably the most dangerous scoring elements in pro basketball history, Gervin defined his own era and helped shape those that would follow.

In his day, Gervin scored more than 26,500 points. He was a 12-time All-Star and led the NBA in scoring five times. While he never won a title in either the ABA or the NBA, Gervin’s impact on the game was no less left.

Now less involved with basketball and more active in civic affairs, the “Iceman” is an advocate for health and education.

Gervin checked in with SLAM to reminisce recently.

SLAM: What are you up to these days? How do you keep yourself busy?

George Gervin: I got my own charter school here in San Antonio; I have a high school and an elementary school that’s first-sixth grade. I have a technology school and then a basic center that takes care of teenage pregnant girls. I have a childcare facility; you know I’m into education. It was easy to get into. I wasn’t a real good student myself back in high school, and when I retired I waned to get that message out how important education is so I jump-started my own program six to eight years ago.

SLAM: Are you doing any coaching at the moment?

GG: No not right now. I’m doing some consulting for a NBA D-League team down in McAllen, Texas, which is like a farm team for the NBA. I’m with the Vipers. In 2000, I was coaching for the Detroit Dawgs in the ABA, and we won the championship. We had a good team that year and my son (George ‘Gee’ Gervin, Jr.) was MVP.

SLAM: How did you get into that after all these years?

GG: One of the owners over there just really wanted George Gervin to coach the team. He looked me up and asked me if I was interested and at the time. I was, so I took the job and built up the team. I brought my son in.

SLAM: What do you feel is the biggest difference from the NBA when you were playing to the NBA now?

GG: I don’t think there is too much different. You are still playing with ten guys on the floor and a ref. You got superstars and you have role players. I’m just proud to see what the NBA has grown to after all these years. It’s a global league now. I’m proud to see what it’s all about now.

SLAM: Is there a story or time period from the ABA that stands out in your mind?

GG: I guess for me, when I started playing in the ABA it was for the Virginia Squires and Julius Erving was on my team. Or I should say I was on his team. That was real exciting for me. I remember after practice I would run to the locker room and Julius would call me over and say, “Hey rook, you ain’t finished yet.” And then him and me would play one-on-one after practice all the time.

SLAM: Was he a hard worker?

GG: Oh man, was he ever. He loved the game. He was really incredible.

SLAM: I don’t think many people realize it, but you are the only person to play on the same team with Dr. J and Michael Jordan. Did you see any similarities between the two?

GG: Well both of them were great athletes; both of them had that drive to succeed or to win, which is important to becoming a great ballplayer. Neither one of were real good jump-shooters at the beginning of their career. I think Michael became a better jump shooter later on in his career. When they started winning all those championships he really had developed a mid-range jumper. He always could drive to the basket and take contact and still finish the play. Julius was like that too, and he was a lot taller than Michael. Both of them could explode off the floor. Both of them were obviously winners; Mike won six championships, and I think Doc won a couple. Two great talents.

SLAM: You were named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest and one of SLAM’s Top 75 players, was there anybody you played against or with who you felt should have been on those lists?

GG: I think Bob McAdoo. Artis Gilmore are just two guys off the top of my head. And even going way back, I think Satch Sanders. He was a great contributor to some championship teams, he was never put in the Hall of Fame either. When you look at the 50 Greatest, you have to look at the younger guys who are on that list and not inject some of the guys that I was saying. Not to take anything away from the younger guys, but some of them guys weren’t playing long enough to be on the 50 list. Maybe the Top 75, but that first 50 Greatest should be that early era, the 70’s and 80’s era, but that’s just my opinion.

SLAM: You were definitely one of the first superstars that went to Europe early back in the 80’s, can you talk about how do you feel the international teams are going to fit in in the future and the experiences you had playing overseas?

GG: For me, it was all positive. When I went, I played for a team in Italy called Banco Roma, which had a great support. They had good players, some of those Italian guys could just flat out play. One of the guys I can remember guy by the name of Galapatchi or something like that. He was an older guy at the time, still dropping 40, 45 and 50 points. I think me and Bob McAdoo were the first big names to go over there. They had a great basketball team. The Coach Mike D’Antoni was also on that team with McCadoo in Milan. He came back and became a pretty good coach. I like to see the international flavor injected into the NBA. It gives you that global presence and obviously the Europeans have gotten better. One of the things they got on us right now is that they have more basketball academies. They teach kids at an early age to understand the game of basketball and working on their skills. The Europeans can flat out shoot the ball. I wish here in America we would develop more basketball academies where we can start working with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders to really prepare them for their future in basketball, not just on the floor but off as well. Dealing with the media and having values. I think that is important to make a kid whole. It’s more than just shooting, dunking and running on that floor, guarding people. You still got to have the ability to work with others.

SLAM: In your mind, who do you feel was your biggest rival when you were playing ball?

GG: Probably Dennis Johnson. And the reason I say him is because Dennis was a great defender. He was big, he moved his feet well, he didn’t go for many fakes, he always stayed in front of you. He and probably a couple other guys gave me more problems than most. Bobby Jones was another one too. Jamaal Wilks, Michael Cooper, T.R. Dunn. Them five guys, I would probably get a hard 30 on them versus some of the other guys where I would get an easy 30 or an easy 40. Those guys really made me use my skills.

SLAM: Looking back on your career, what would you say was your biggest tool to becoming such a good scorer?

GG: I was fundamentally sound. I could go to the right and shoot a jumper, and I could also go to the left and shoot a jumper. I had left and right handed hook shots, I was a pretty good free-throw shooter, I really liked taking 3-point shots. I shot 51 percent for my career and to have the total number of points that I had in the NBA and ABA, that’s pretty special. Especially when you see today the guys that are averaging 28, 29, and 30 like I did, their percentages are way down. They might be better athletes than I was, but their fundamentals I don’t think are as focused as mine. I could get 30 shooting 15 times when some of these guys get 30 shooting 30 times. It was important to be to have accuracy. I like playing off my teammates. I like involving them so I can get easy shots.

SLAM: Did you ever feel like you were unfairly criticized for defense?

GG: Well, I mean, yeah, I do. For the simple fact if you really look at my defense, I was criticized all the time for not playing defense, but if you look for guards for block shots I probably have more blocked shots than any guard in history. So it was an unfair criticism that they threw on me, but I live with it. I always said, “Well, they just talk about my defense cause they can’t talk about my offense.” (Laughs).

SLAM: Having accomplished all that you did, is there anything you wish you had gotten done that you didn’t?

GG: Well, obviously, I wish I had won a championship. I think I accomplished all the individual goals that an individual can accomplish in my career. But I love to win — we won division titles, I went to the Conference Finals twice — so I was twice one step away from being in the Finals. I was twice runner up for MVP in the league. That’s an honor that I know I would have appreciated. So, yeah, I have some regrets, but I still feel like a champion because I played my heard out and I love winning. I think being able to win a lot of games like we did in my era, I feel good about it.

SLAM: What’s your son up to these days? Is he still in Sweden?

GG: Yeah, George Jr. is in Sweden. He just signed a new two-year deal and they joined the cup this year, so he’s getting a lot of experience. They really love him over there and he loves being over there.

SLAM: He’s a star over there as I understand.

GG: Yeah, they love him over there. But, you know, he can play. People always ask me, who reminds you of you? And I say Tracy McGrady, cause he’s big and he can put it on the floor, but I don’t think he has as many skills as I did. I say that because of his size. But George Jr. is the only guy that I see that has as many shots as I had, loves the game the way I did, and he’s the only one that can finger roll with both hands.

SLAM: How close did he come to the NBA?

GG: You know, he really never got a shot. A lot of scouts felt he was too small, and that used to bother me because that’s what they said about me — they said I was too small. He never got a real chance to prove he could play in the NBA.

SLAM: When did you start doing your finger rolls?

GG: I started doing that in the ABA because I got tired of dunking. Because, you know, when you dunk, you hit your wrist on the rim all the time, and that used to hurt. Really, I didn’t develop the finger roll because, if you think about it, Connie Hawkins had his own version of the finger roll, Julius Erving had his own version of the finger roll, and Wilt Chamberlain had his own version of the finger roll. I kind of took a piece from each one of them and came up with my own finger roll. So, I might be the one who made it famous, but I ain’t the one who invented it.

SLAM: Where did the nickname “Iceman” come from?

GG: That came from the ABA. Fatty Taylor and Julius Erving were the guys that named me “Ice.” It came about because I’m from Detroit and had my own little Detroit style and when I played. I was real skinny, so I didn’t sweat that much. Fatty started calling me Iceberg Slim, but I said Fatty, I ain’t no Iceberg Slim cause there’s no pimpin’ in me. So he said alright, I’m just gonna call you Ice. That’s how I got my nickname.

SLAM: Were you in that Semi Pro movie they did a while back?

GG: Actually, I was. Ken Altman used to live in San Antonio when we played, and he’d come to the games all the time. And he really wanted to put that real, true flavor to be a part of the movie — because Semi Pro is really about the ABA. So he called on me, James Silas and Artis Gilmore, since we were all ABA guys, and he was saying, “Guys, I want y’all to do a cameo for me.” We were excited and glad to do it, so that’s how I got involved.

SLAM: He was on the cover of one of the old Spurs programs if I’m not mistaken.

GG: Right, right.

SLAM: Tell us about this high blood pressure and hypertension and what you’ve been doing to educate the public about the risks involved with conditions like that.

GG: You know, as you get older, I stopped working out. I used to work out all the time, but I kind of got lazy. And I used to get my annual check up all the time, and I started putting that off. Then my wife kept getting on me, “you need to get your check up, you need to get your check up.” I heard it so much, I got tired of hearing her say it, so I finally went. When I did go, my doctor told me I had hypertension. He said, “George, you got hypertension. Your blood pressure is real high and I’m going to have to put you on medication.” He told me, “George, you do too much in this city, you’re helping too many kids, you’ve got too many programs — I want you to stop doing that. If you don’t deal with this hypertension, you can die.”

You can get heart disease; it’s a solid killer. More of us should get checked, especially as we get older. He put me back on my workout program to work out 30 minutes a day; I’m on medication, I take one pill per day. It’s important. We have 73 million adults walking around in the US who have hypertension. One out of three take medication but still haven’t reached their goal of lowering their blood pressure. So, having the disease, maybe I can motivate people to just go get checked. It don’t take much; all you got to do is go to your healthcare provider, get checked, let him see whether or not you have high blood pressure of hypertension and, if you do, let him get you in a situation where you can manage it. Because, if you don’t, you might not be here the next day. It’s important for me, since I do have a following, to get the word out — because life is precious. I’m 56 now, and I want to live until I’m 96. And if I change my lifestyle and watch what I eat, I have a better chance of reaching that 90 years old. That’s the kind of message we’re getting out to our community and the country: that you need to take the time to go out and see if you have high blood pressure, because high blood pressure can create other problems within yourself.

SLAM: I coach a bunch of seventh graders and three years ago, a kid came to our first practice with a George Gervin jersey on. I wasn’t sure if he knew anything about you, but he did know that you played for the Spurs and were a great scorer. Are you ever surprised at the attention you still get for having been such a great player?

GG: Really, I appreciate it. Because, in my era, on my way out, you had Michael, and I played against Magic and Julius. You know, the great ones that probably got more national exposure than I did. But you got that certain group of people that just love basketball and really understand the game and, as I travel around the country, people come up to me and tell me, “Mr. Gervin, you were one of the greatest I ever saw. I just want to thank you for entertaining me.” So, it still makes me feel good that people appreciated my ability to play that game and they saw the love.