On Nov. 2, 1949, the Minneapolis Lakers opened what ultimately became a successful defense of their National Basketball Association title, defeating the Philadelphia Warriors 81-69.
The Lakers were paced by two future Hall of Famers, Jim Pollard (30 points) and George Mikan (17) in the first of four straight wins to open the season, on their way to a 51-17 record.
There was one other Laker who contributed that night at Philadelphia Arena, if in a small way: a 6-foot-7-inch rookie forward from Loyola University in Los Angeles named Normie Glick, who sank the only shot he attempted. That was the first and last shot Glick ever took in the NBA, making him one of a select few players (and the only Laker) to retire with a career shooting percentage of 1.000.
Glick (who died in 1989 at age 61) was also the first, but not the last, graduate of what is today Loyola Marymount University to play in the NBA. A product of Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, Glick’s pro career lasted just the one game. His uniform number (20) was given to another future Hall of Famer on the 1949-50 Lakers: Harry Peter Grant, better known as “Bud,” later coach of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, who reached (and lost) the Super Bowl four times.
When it comes to pro basketball, the West Coast Conference (the majority of them Catholic universities) has certainly contributed its share of elite performers, topped by four Hall of Famers: the University of San Francisco’s Bill Russell (11 titles for Boston in 13 seasons) and K.C. Jones (his college and pro teammate and fellow Hall of Famer); Gonzaga’s John Stockton (the NBA’s all-time assists leader); and non-Catholic school Pepperdine’s Dennis Johnson (a star on three Celtic title teams).
Santa Clara’s Steve Nash (two-time NBA MVP) is certainly a HOF candidate, and almost every other WCC school boasts a distinguished NBAer on its alumni rolls — Portland’s Ray Scott, USF’s Bill Cartwright and St. Mary’s Tom Meschery among them.
In contrast, LMU’s NBA success stories haven’t been nearly as illustrious, save for Rick Adelman, who followed his somewhat nondescript seven-year playing career (462 games, 7.7 points and 3.5 assists per game) with what may prove to be a Hall of Fame-worthy coaching record.
In 23 seasons as a coach with five teams, the 6-foot-1 graduate of Pius X High School in Downey recorded 1,042 regular season wins, ninth all-time among NBA head coaches. He led Portland to the 1990 and 1992 Western Conference titles, losing in the NBA finals to Detroit and Chicago, respectively, and (with Sacramento) nearly beat the three-peating Lakers in the 2002 Western finals.
The most recent LMU Lion to play the NBA was Corey Gaines, whose last game was with Philadelphia on April 23, 1995 (he scored 3 points). In 80 NBA games spanning parts of five seasons, the St. Bernard High (Playa del Rey) grad averaged 3.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. In 1991 with Denver, Gaines scored 18 points in a loss at Houston and tallied 16 assists in a win over Minnesota.
Perhaps LMU’s most famous grad to make the NBA (apart from Adelman) was Bo Kimble, a star on the high-scoring 1990 LMU team that reached the NCAA tournament’s “Elite Eight” despite losing Kimble’s close friend and fellow high-scorer Hank Gathers to heart trouble. The 6-foot-1 Kimble, 1990 WCC Player of the Year and eighth overall pick in the 1990 NBA draft (by the L.A. Clippers), played two seasons with the Clips and one with the Knicks, averaging 5.5 points in 105 games.
The Philadelphia native started brilliantly, with 22 points on opening night of the 1990-91 season in a Clippers’ win over Sacramento, and scored in double-digits in his first 15 games, including 27 points in a win over Minnesota. But a shooting slump reduced his playing time over the next two years, and Kimble ended his career playing nine games for the 1992-93 Knicks.
Two former LMU cagers each played in the NBA in 1987. Keith Smith, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard from West Covina High School, was a second-round pick of Milwaukee who played 42 games for the Bucks, averaging 3.3 points, topped by a 15-point effort against Portland in January, two nights after a career-best 9 assists against Washington.
Forrest McKenzie (Pasadena High) scored 17 points in six games for the 1986-87 San Antonio Spurs after being a third-round choice. The 6-foot-7 forward had his best game Nov. 28, 1986 at Boston with 8 assists and 4 rebounds in a loss to the Celtics.
Two NBA players spent time at Loyola Marymount before transferring to other schools: Richard Petruska, who played at LMU and UCLA, and in 1994 with the Houston Rockets, and Orlando Johnson, who played freshman ball at LMU, three years at UC Santa Barbara, and from 2012 to 2016 in the NBA with four teams (most recently Phoenix).
Finally, there was Jerry Grote, recalled here recently as the first product of a Los Angeles Catholic high school (Cantwell in Montebello) to reach the NBA. Grote’s 11-game career lasted from Nov. 20 to Dec. 23, 1964 with the Los Angeles Lakers, in which he scored 14 points — the first four of them on Nov. 25, 1964 in a 130-117 win over Detroit at Sports Arena (two players of some renown named West and Baylor scored 35 and 31, respectively, to aid the cause).
Grote has one other distinction in Laker history. During his brief Laker career, he was assigned number 32, worn the previous seven years by center Jim Krebs, who had retired. Few Lakers wore 32 after Grote departed — the last, a young fellow from Michigan who enjoyed a certain measure of success during the 1980s. A guy named Magic something-or-other …
Sources for this article included basketball-reference.com and basketball.realgm.com.