A champion at every stop, Jeannette ends Hall trek

May 09, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

Buddy Jeannette, who, as player-coach, led the Baltimore Bullets to the Basketball Association of America championship and played for five other title-winning teams, will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame today.

But Jeannette, 76, can remember his humble beginnings, when pro basketball was in its embryonic stage and played in small towns and gyms in Warren, Ohio; Sheboygan, Wis.; Moline, Ill.; and Waterloo, Iowa.

"The basketball record doesn't show it, but I once played for a team called the Cleveland White Horses in 1942," recalled Jeannette, who lives in Nashua, N.H. "I guess the team's biggest claim to fame was the beautiful white stallion it had as its mascot.

"Before the game, they'd parade him around the arena. Unfortunately, he wasn't housebroken, and the games never started on time."

But today, Jeannette will be leading the parade of inductees into the basketball shrine in Springfield, Mass. He will be joined by coach Chuck Daly, who led the Detroit Pistons to consecutive NBA titles (1989-90); coach Denny Crum of Louisville, who won NCAA titles in 1980 and 1986 and made six trips to the Final Four; Italian coaching great Cesare Rubini; and women's basketball star Carol Blazejowski.

Former Boston Celtic Bill Russell played for more championship teams during Boston's NBA dynasty in the 1960s.

But no one can match Jeannette's feat of winning six titles in four different cities -- Detroit (1941), Sheboygan (1943), Fort Wayne (1944-45) and Baltimore (1947-48), and also playing in three different pro leagues -- the National Basketball League, the American Basketball League and the BAA, forerunner of the NBA.

"That's no coincidence," said Lester Harrison, former owner of the Rochester Royals and himself a Hall of Fame member as a founding father of the NBA.

"Jeannette was a winner, period. Wherever he played, he brought tremendous enthusiasm for the game.

"I first saw Buddy play for Fort Wayne, where he played in the backcourt with Bobby McDermott, a great set shooter. McDermott got more publicity and was voted to the Hall posthumously a few years ago. But, believe me, Buddy was a better player and the heart and soul of that Pistons team."

Jeannette was paid the same kind of tribute by former Bullets teammate Paul "The Bear" Hoffman, still living in Baltimore.

"We owe that title to Buddy," said Hoffman, an aggressive rookie forward from Purdue on that 1947-48 championship team.

"We played the New York Knicks in the quarterfinals, and Ned Irish, the Knicks president, was so confident they'd win the deciding game he had a railroad car parked at the station here filled with champagne for the victory party.

"But Buddy spoiled the fun. We were trailing most of the game, but Buddy began to time Carl Braun's high dribble. He made a couple of key steals in the closing minutes to win it for us."

Jeannette also proved effective as a motivating coach in the finals against the Philadelphia Warriors.

"We lost the first game, and we were down 21 at halftime in the second game in Philadelphia," Hoffman recalled. "Buddy didn't say anything, but he started ripping the doors off the lockers and tearing the bathroom apart. We got the message. We won the game, 66-63, and the Warriors never recovered."

Jeannette started playing basketball in his hometown of New Kensington, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh. But he was cut the first time he tried out for the high school varsity.

"I was too small and scrawny," he said. "The only way I could see the games was to play clarinet in the school band. But I grew a bit and made the team the next year."

Jeannette went on to win honorable All-America honors at Washington & Jefferson. After a brief stint as a history teacher, he tucked a basketball under his arm and set off for an audition for a pro team in Warren, Ohio.

"The day I left home, my father shouted after me, 'You should have stuck with the clarinet!' " Jeannette said. "Well, wherever my dad is today, I hope I helped change his mind."

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