When the NBA came to Reno

Northern Nevada once was the National Basketball Association’s training ground.

Some of the greatest legends in league history graced Northern Nevada’s courts for one night each fall over a span of five decades.

Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Robert Parish, John Stockton, Bob Pettit and others all performed in Reno, many at the height of their careers.

Three dozen Hall of Famers and even two future Nevada Wolf Pack head coaches performed for Northern Nevada audiences in NBA exhibition games over a period of 50 seasons (1957-2006).

Although Northern Nevada didn’t always show its love for the NBA with lackluster crowds, the moments the region did receive from the league will never be forgotten.

A look back at the exhibition games played by NBA teams in Northern Nevada . . .

St. Louis Hawks vs. San Francisco 49ers (April 24, 1957)

Northern Nevada was thrilled to get a chance to see the 1956-57 Western Division champion St. Louis Hawks. The Hawks had just lost in the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics in overtime in Game 7 only two weeks before and were now going to play an exhibition at the University of Nevada against a team of 49ers football players. The Hawks roster featured future Hall of Famers Bob Pettit, Ed Macauley, Cliff Hagan and Slater Martin. The Hawks also put on a basketball clinic in front of 300 area high school and college players in the afternoon before taking on the 49ers at night. “The interest manifested by the high schools of Northern Nevada and eastern California was greater than it was for any athletic event ever staged at the university,” Wolf Pack athletic director Art Broten said the day before the game. A new 24-second shot clock was shipped from Minneapolis to Reno for the game. The 49ers were represented by stars Bob St. Clair, Y.A. Tittle, Gordie Soltau, Bill Wilson and others. St. Clair and Tittle are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “This is probably the greatest aggregation of professional athletes ever assembled in Reno,” the Nevada State Journal reported. The Hawks took a 50-29 lead at halftime. The two teams were then mixed for the second half with the Whites beating the Reds 41-38. Pettit led all scorers with 23 points followed by teammates Martin (17) and Macauley (13). Soltau and Wilson led the 49er players were 12 points each. Tittle had four.

San Francisco Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Oct. 13, 1962)

Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the greatest center (and player) to ever play the game of basketball, came to Reno in the fall of 1962. Chamberlain was coming off the greatest season in NBA history when he averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds a game in the 1961-62 season for the Philadelphia Warriors in his third year in the league. The Warriors moved to the west coast for the 1962-63 season and met the Los Angeles Lakers at the Wolf Pack’s gym. The Lakers beat the Warriors 108-105 in front of a crowd of 2,000. Chamberlain scored 36 points for the Warriors, which also got 17 each from Guy Rodgers and Tom Gola. The game was the eighth and final exhibition game between the two teams that preseason (the Lakers won six). Just a week before Chamberlain scored 69 points in a Lakers’ win in Salem, Oregon. The night before the Reno game Chamberlain had 41 and Elgin Baylor had 46 in another Laker win over the Warriors in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Chamberlain, Rodgers and Gola are now in the Hall of Fame. A couple of other Hall of Famers led the Lakers in Reno as Jerry West had 31 and Baylor had 24. Just over 2,000 Northern Nevada basketball fans watched basketball royalty that evening.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Francisco Warriors (Oct. 10, 1963)

The Warriors beat the Lakers 112-95 at the University of Nevada as Chamberlain had 37 points. Warriors’ coach Alex Hannum, who coached the Hawks in Reno in 1957, was ejected in the second quarter for arguing a call. The Warriors led 60-56 at halftime and 86-69 going to the fourth quarter. Jerry West had 17 points in the first quarter (21 for the game) and Elgin Baylor (17 points) scored 11 in a row in the second quarter for the Lakers. Frank Selvy had nine for the Lakers. Rookie center Nate Thurmond added 19 for the Warriors and Tom Meschery, who would later become a teacher at Reno High and the head coach of the Reno Bighorns of the CBA, had 10. Future head coach Don Nelson, in his second year in the NBA, had four points for the Lakers.

Cincinnati Royals vs. San Francisco Warriors (Oct. 2, 1965)

Reno’s new Centennial Coliseum and its 7,500 seating capacity (Nevada’s gym seated 3,500) was the site of this game. The Warriors were going to play an exhibition game in Reno in 1964 but a delay in the Coliseum’s construction canceled the game. The Warriors beat the Royals 113-100 in 1965 in Reno in front of just 1,500 fans. The Royals, who would eventually move to Sacramento and are now the Kings, were led by future Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas’ 20 points. Another future Hall of Famer, Nate Thurmond, had 19 for the Warriors. Tom Meschery, the first non-American born (Russia) player to play in an NBA All Star game (1962), had 16 for the Warriors. Wayne Embry added 10 for the Royals and Hall of Famer Jack Twyman had six. The Royals’ Oscar Robertson, though, missed the game with an injury. Rookie Rick Barry scored 15 for the Warriors. One of the scoreboards did not work and neither 24-second shot clock worked. Game officials had to scramble to find an official statistician and public address announcer before the game and there were no game programs for the fans or heat and towels in the locker rooms. The Reno Gazette-Journal called it “a comedy of mismanagement errors.”

Philadelphia 76ers vs. San Francisco Warriors (Sept. 27, 1966)

The NBA returned to the Coliseum in 1966 despite the problems in 1965. The Warriors won 125-118 in overtime in front of just 2,184 fans as Chamberlain had 16 points, including a dunk that sent the game to overtime. The 76ers got 50 points combined from a pair of future Hall of Famers Chet Walker (24) and Hal Greer (26). Another Hall of Famer, Rick Barry had 27 for the Warriors. Meschery had 19 and Paul Neumann had 26 for the Warriors as the two teams combined to go 67-of-97 at the free throw line. Alex Hannum was back in Reno, coaching the 76ers. Hall of Famer Bill Sharman made his head coaching debut for the Warriors in this game.

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Oct. 2, 1973)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leader in points scored, poured in 41 as the Bucks whipped the Lakers 118-103 in front of a Centennial Coliseum crowd of 6,000. Terry Driscoll added 14 and Jon McGlocklin had 11 for the Bucks. Oscar Robertson, now with the Bucks, was in Reno for the game but did not play again because of an injury. Bill Sharman was now the Lakers’ coach. Wilt Chamberlain, now with the Lakers, did not show up for the game. He was replaced by center Elmore Smith, who had 24 points. Future Lakers coach Pat Riley hit a shot from the corner to cut the Bucks’ lead to 99-91. Milwaukee then scored 10 points in a row to put the game away. “We’re not sharp yet,” Bucks coach Larry Costello said. Jerry West ended his holdout just two days before the game and made his season debut by scoring 17 points. “To be honest with you, I feel a little tired,” West said. Abdul-Jabbar was 18-of-25 from the floor with 11 rebounds. Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich had 15 for the Lakers and Riley added 12.

Golden State Warriors vs. Phoenix Suns (Oct. 8, 1976)

This was the first appearance for Golden State in the Silver State. The Warriors, who moved to Oakland in 1971-72 and became the Golden State Warriors, edged the Suns 117-116 in front of a crowd of 4,500 at the Coliseum. Alvan Adams had 22 for the Suns. Paul Westphal, a Hall of Famer, had 12 and former UNLV Rebel Ricky Sobers had 11 for the Suns. The Warriors got 16 from Robert “Bubbles” Hawkins, 14 from Jamaal Wilkes and 13 each from Rick Barry and Charles Dudley. Clifford Ray added 11. Rookie Robert Parish had nine points and eight rebounds for Golden State. Gar Heard (11 points, eight rebounds), Dick Van Arsdale (10 points), Tom Van Arsdale (six) and Dennis Awtrey (nine points, 11 rebounds) stood out for the Suns. Barry, Wilkes, Parish and Westphal would all go on to the Hall of Fame. Sobers, a Wolf Pack nemesis while at UNLV, appreciated the support Pack fans gave him. “It surprised me,” Sobers said. “It was nice to receive a warm welcome from the fan base here. Before the game (Nevada Governor) Mike O’Callaghan came down to the bench to shake my hand. That shows you the kind of people there are in Nevada.”

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors (Oct. 1, 1977)

The Lakers beat the Warriors 100-93 in front of 5,351 at Centennial Coliseum. The Warriors’ Rick Barry sat out with an injury. “I wish I could play,” Barry said. “If it was the playoffs it might be a different story.” Jamaal Wilkes had 16 in his first game for the Lakers against his former teammates. Rickey Green had 20 for the Warriors and Robert Parish had 13. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 14, Norm Nixon had eight and rookie center James Edwards had 10 for the Lakers. Kermit Washington, who would crush Rudy Tomjanovich’s face with a punch two months later, had 11 points for the Lakers, including two pivotal three-point plays in a span of 30 seconds midway through the fourth quarter.

Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Sept. 29, 1978)

The Lakers beat the Warriors 117-101 in the fourth exhibition game in Reno between the two teams. Jerry West was now the Lakers head coach. Lou Hudson, one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame, had six points for the Lakers. Adrian Dantley, who is in the Hall of Fame, led the Lakers with 24 points, making 16-of-19 free throws. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, playing his third and final game in Reno, scored 16 points with 10 rebounds despite fouling out with 5:23 to play. Referees Ed Rush, Hue Hollins and Terry Durham combined to call 68 fouls. The Lakers were 31-of-40 from the line while the Warriors were 25-of-29. Jamaal Wilkes had 16 for the Lakers while Norm Nixon had 19 points (9-of-11 shooting) and five assists. The Warriors got 19 points and 13 rebounds from rookie center Wayne Cooper, 15 points from Phil Smith (in 12 minutes) and 10 points from Sonny Parker. Robert Parish had four points on 2-of-10 shooting for the Warriors while John Lucas had two points on 1-of-9 shooting.

Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets (Oct. 20, 1982)

The NBA returned to Reno after a four-year absence. The Nuggets won a high-scoring game, 138-127, at the Centennial Coliseum despite Joe Barry Carroll’s 35 points and nine rebounds for Golden State. Carroll was 15-of-30 from the floor. Kiki Vandeweghe led the Nuggets with 29 points. Dan Issel and Alex English, two Hall of Famers, each had 21 for the Nuggets, coached by Doug Moe. The Warriors were missing Purvis Short, World B. Free, Bernard King and No. 1 draft pick Lester Conner. King would be traded to the New York Knicks two days later for Michael Ray Richardson.

Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings (Oct. 21, 1985)

The Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento for the 1985-86 season and were quick to play an exhibition game at the two-year-old Lawlor Events Center in Reno. “How much Reno interest will there be in the Sacramento Kings,” asked the Reno Gazette-Journal. Well, it turns out, not much. A crowd of just 3,300 showed up to watch the Kings beat the Warriors 107-99 behind 16 points from former UNLV Rebel Reggie Theus. Larry Drew, the father of future Wolf Pack point guard Lindsey Drew, had 15 points. Eddie Johnson also had 15 and Mike Woodson had 12 for the Kings. The Warriors got eight points and five rebounds in 13 minutes from Joe Barry Carroll and 13 points each from Sleepy Floyd and Larry Smith.

Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings (Oct. 14, 1991)

Run TMC led the Warriors past the Kings 110-100 in front of 4,631 at Lawlor. Chris Mullin (The C in Run TMC) scored 25 points, Mitch Richmond (M) added 19 and Tim Hardaway (T) had seven points and nine assists. “This game proved our training camp is running smoothly,” Warriors coach Don Nelson said. Kings coach Dick Motta added, “Chris Mullin has never looked better to me than he did tonight and it’s only an exhibition game.” Anthony Bonner had 14 points and Spud Webb had 12 to lead the Kings. Nelson told the Northern Nevada media before the game, “I don’t ever coach a basketball game I don’t think I can win. We’re coming to Reno to win.” The Kings also had a 27-year-old reserve guard named Steve Alford, who would become the Wolf Pack head coach in 2019. Alford, a long shot to make the Kings’ roster (Motta was his former coach with the Dallas Mavericks), scored four points on 2-of-6 shooting with three assists. The Kings cut him two weeks later. Alford then became an assistant coach for his father’s New Castle High (also his alma mater in Indiana) basketball team a month later and in December became head coach at Manchester College in Indiana.

Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Nov. 2, 1992)

Another sub-par crowd (4,829) witnessed the Warriors’ 122-116 victory at Lawlor. The big news that day in the NBA, though, was the second retirement of Lakers’ star Magic Johnson. Chris Gatling scored 21 points, Chris Mullin had 19 and rookie Latrell Sprewell (he had not strangled P.J. Carlesimo yet) added 15 for the Warriors. Ken Norman led the Clippers with 20. Danny Manning and Gary Grant each had 17 while Ron Harper had 16. Hall of Famer Sarunas Marciulionis did not play for the Warriors because of a leg injury. The NBA would not return to Reno for four years though a game set for Oct. 13, 1995 between the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets was called off three weeks in advance because of an NBA labor dispute.

Sacramento Kings vs. Denver Nuggets (Oct. 20, 1996)

A crowd of 5,201 saw the Kings’ second game in Reno, a 95-87 loss to the Nuggets at Lawlor. Mitch Richmond, now on the Kings, had 23. Ervin Johnson of the Nuggets had 13 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks. Olden Polynice had 16 for the Kings while Dale Ellis and LaPhonso Ellis each had 18 for the Nuggets. Sarunas Marciulionis had 11 for the Nuggets. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a former Nugget, was 0-for-8 from the floor for two points for the Kings. “About the only good thing I did see the whole time we were here in Reno was (Kings’ trainer) Pete Youngman hitting the slots for a nice sum,” Kings coach Gary St. Jean said.

Utah Jazz vs. Sacramento Kings (Oct. 10, 2002)

The NBA returned to Reno in 2002 after a six-year absence. Reno responded with its biggest crowd by far for an NBA exhibition game, a sell-out gathering of 11,280. Bobby Jackson led the Kings with 19 points and Chris Webber had 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three dunks in just 22 minutes. Hedo Turkoglu added 12 for the Kings, which also got eight points from Vlade Divac. Utah was led by Jason Collins’ 14 points (10-of-12 free throws) and Karl Malone added 13 (11 in the third quarter). John Stockton had nine points, six assists while Andre Kirilenko had nine points for the Jazz.

Seattle Super Sonics vs. Golden State Warriors (Oct. 15, 2003)

The biggest crowd for an NBA exhibition game in Reno (in 2002) was followed a year later by one of the smallest. Just 2,719 showed up at Lawlor as the Warriors beat the Sonics 88-71. Avery Johnson had 16 points off the bench for the Warriors while Erick Dampier had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Nick Van Exel and Mike Dunleavy both missed the game for the Warriors because of foot injuries. Ray Allen sat out the game for the Sonics. The coach of the Warriors was Eric Musselman, who would later coach the Reno Bighorns (2010-11) of the NBA D-League and the Wolf Pack (2015-19). “Avery had a great game,” Musselman said. “He’s just a guy sitting in the bullpen for us and if we need him we can call on him.” Brent Barry had 16 and Rashad Lewis had 11 for the Sonics. This was the 12th and final exhibition game in Reno for the Warriors.

Sacramento Kings vs. New Orleans Hornets (Oct. 22, 2006)

Musselman returned to Lawlor, this time as head coach of the Kings. Just two nights before the game, however, Musselman was charged with a DUI at 2:15 in the morning, trying to make a right turn from the left lane near downtown Sacramento. “I’m sorry, embarrassed and ashamed,” said Musselman, in Sacramento the morning of the game in Reno. Musselman emerged from the incident as well as could be expected and wasn’t fined or suspended and coached the Kings in Reno. The Kings beat the Hornets 117-93 behind 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists from Ron Artest. Francisco Garcia had 15 points while Brad Miller and Kevin Martin each had 14. Mike Bibby had seven points and seven assists. The Hornets, which would also play numerous games that season in Oklahoma City, got 14 points and five assists from Chris Paul while ex-King Peja Stojakovic had 15. Anthony Mason and David West each had 12 and another ex-King, Bobby Jackson, had 10. “We looked like the Bad News Bears,” Paul said. A crowd of 5,377 showed up at Lawlor. Musselman, as he often did as Pack coach, praised the Reno fans. “This is a city that loves basketball,” he said. “The people who were here saw the Kings play hard.” Musselman was fired by the Kings after the season despite still being owed $5 million on his contract. Since that last NBA game in Reno in 2006, the NBA has played 15 exhibition games in Las Vegas as well as games in Stockton and Fresno, Calif., and Boise, Idaho.

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