As a ten-year-old who just started watching NBA basketball, he was the player I remember most. It was because of him, I wanted to be a point guard. I was 5’9″ and he made me think that in basketball, size doesn’t matter.
It was the 1972-73 season. The Cincinnati Royals, who contended in the 1960s with star players Oscar Robertson and John Lucas, had just moved to Kansas City and changed their name to the Kings. By then, both players were gone, and the Kings were in search of a new superstar.
I turned on the TV and there he was. A guy named “Tiny” dominating the game darting in and out among the giants.
Nathaniel “Tiny” Archibald had always rose against the odds. Coming out of the Patterson housing projects in the South Bronx, Archibald used the game to separate himself from the violence and drug use surrounding him. When he was a shy child of only 14 years old, his father walked out on the family leaving him to be the role model for his six younger siblings. That’s when he became “Big Tiny”.
It’s also when he started taking his game more seriously. Unfortunately, grades kept him from playing in a big-time college program. After one year at Arizona Western Community College he transferred to UTEP, where he averaged over 20 points his senior year.
Still, nobody really paid close attention. His 51 points in the 1970 Aloha Classic changed everything. He had piqued the interest of the Royals head coach, the legendary Bob Cousy, himself a 6’1″ point guard.
The Royals had the 5th pick in a strong class that included Bob Lanier, Rudy Tomjanovich, Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, Sam Lacey and Calvin Murphy. They used the pick on Lacey and prayed that maybe Tiny would last until they picked second in the second round.
Somehow, he slipped through and Cousey handed his protege the keys to the offense as a rookie. He averaged 16 points and 5.5 assists. In his second season, his point guard education continued as the turnovers remained a concern. His scoring though was not an issue. He averaged a remarkable 34 points for the second half that year.
A Bulls fan, my favorite players were guards Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan. But to this day I have never seen a 6’1″ point guard dominate the way Nate the Skate did the following 1972-73 season, the Kings first year in Kansas City. His 34 points and 11.4 assists per game were simply amazing. Mind boggling, actually. He remains (I believe) the only player ever to lead the league in BOTH points and assists per game.
Can we imagine today a 6’1″, 160-pound player doing that? He truly was phenomenal. A legend! My idol! My inspiration!
An Achilles tendon injury limited his next season and though he averaged nice numbers for the next few seasons, it was only in the 1980-81 season that Tiny eventually made it to the top.
A six-time all-star and member of the Hall of Fame, Tiny Archibald’s 1972-73 season remains the most memorable of any player I have ever seen.
Not Isiah, Not Stockton, Not MJ, Not Kobe, Not Harden, Not LeBron, Not Steph.
Tiny’s season remains better than any they ever had. My inner basketball child remembers.