Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Spirit of '76 Part I: Rudy LaRusso

(This is will be an ongoing look at the history of the NBA Players Association.)

Before there was Curt Flood, there was Rudy LaRusso. I mentioned him earlier this month in a piece that I found on my hard drive. Rudy was a tough forward; half-Italian, half-Jewish who hailed from Brooklyn and went to James Madison High. From there he went to Dartmouth before being drafted by the then Minneapolis Lakers. Red Auerbach had territorial rights to him, but passed. He was an All-Star, a Don Rickles fan (according to one news story), and must've been something of an enforcer. In my research on him, I found a number of boxscores that said "Fouled Out - LaRusso."

In January of 1967, LaRusso was part of a three way trade that would send him to Detroit. But he refused to go to the Pistons and retired. He had established himself in the Los Angeles area and had a day job as a stockbroker in Beverly Hills with McDonnell and Company. The league suspended him. LaRusso's attorney filed an anti-trust suit and sought compensation for the balance of his contract plus any future basketball income. But the forward and the NBA never went to trial.

1967 was also the year that the American Basketball Association started. One of the franchises would be the Oakland Oaks (Pat Boone would be a part owner.) They hired Bruce Hale as head coach. Hale's son-in-law was Rick Barry. Barry would jump across the Bay from from the San Francisco Warriors to the new team (more on that in a future edition of this series.) The NBA was also expanding that year and SF also lost Warrior-poet Tom Meschery. They needed a forward. So head coach Bill Sharman talked ownership into trying to see if LaRusso would be interested in going north. The 6-9 Ivy Leaguer said that he'd "rather pursue a career than a lawsuit" and SF purchased his rights from Detroit.

Leonard Koppett and David Halberstam have written about different events involving the NBAPA, but I didn't see anything by them about LaRusso. So I worry that I may be overstating the significance of him here. But two years later, there were a number of baseball players who were traded that balked at the deals; Donn Clendenon, Hawk Harrelson, and, ultimately, Curt Flood. Were they inspired by LaRusso?

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