There is no mystery as to why a man who revolutionized the game of basketball is so underrated. It is because Paul Arizin is, quite simply, a man without a team. While Wilt would make a triumphant return as a Sixer after the Warriors moved, Arizin never got the chance, so his records are kept in the city of Oakland, where he never played a game in his life. Furthermore, he is underrated there as well, simply because he never played there. While the jersey numbers of Tom Meschery (12.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Al Attles (8.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) hang in the rafters at Oracle Arena, Paul Arizin’s #11 is free to any player who wants to wear it, despite his 22.3 ppg and 8.6 rpg. Despite the fact that he has the 3rd most points and 5th most rebounds in franchise history and despite the fact that he was named one of the NBA’s 50 All-Time Greatest players in 1996**.
Paul Arizin was born in Philadelphia, and he shockingly did not make his high school team. After high school he went to Nova. He made a name for himself in the Catholic Youth Organization during his freshman year in college. He was approached by then Wildcat coach Al Severance and asked, “How would you like to go to Villanova?” He answered, “I already go to Villanova.” He started for the team his sophomore year, and was instantly a superstar. He averaged 20.1 PPG in his career, and despite playing only 3 years is the 5th all time leading scorer in Villanova history. Upon his death in 2006, Jay Wright said, “Paul Arizin was the most dignified, classy and humble legend I’ve ever met. He is adored and respected by anyone who has touched Villanova basketball.”
He was the first pick in the NBA Draft in 1950. He lived up to the billing. He averaged 17.2 PPG and was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. The next year he led the league in scoring, at 25.4 a clip. But it wasn’t just his scoring that electrified the league…it was the way he did it.
When Paul Arizin entered the league, almost every player in the NBA was still utilizing the two handed set shot or the hook shot. The jump shot had been invented in the 1930s, but it was still seen as a circus shot, and was rarely used. Until Paul Arizin came along. Arizin had developed the jump shot as a youngster. As he told the Inquirer in 1998, he learned the shot while playing intramural ball in high school, “Because they held dances in those gyms, the floors would be very slippery. I couldn’t get feet set under me to try a hook shot, so I started shooting with my feet off the floor.”
Other players had tried, but Arizin was the first bonafied superstar to make the primary weapon in his arsenal. Once Paul became one of the premiere players in the game, other players started emulating him, and by the end of his career, he had relegated the two handed set shot to the same dustbin that held the peach basket and the stitched basketball.
Arizin took off two years to serve during the Korean War, and the Warriors went from contenders to the laughing stock of the league. As soon as he returned, the team improved, and in 1955-56, they won the NBA title, led by Arizin’s 24 PPG and 7.5 RPG.
He would maintain a high level throughout his career, averaging 21.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 1961-62, the final year of his career. When the team decided to move to San Francisco, he decided not to make the trip, despite being the 2nd highest scorer on the team. The Philly native had been offered a job at IBM making more money than he was making in the NBA, and he decided to moonlight with a semi-pro team called the Camden Bullets. He remained in the area for the rest of his life, and passed away in 2006.
He gets to be number one on the list not only because he was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA, but because he revolutionized how the very sport was played.
**He is one of only three in the Top 50 to not have their jersey retired. The other two were Dolph Schayes and John Lucas. Interestingly, the Sixers are in a very similar situation…Schayes played almost his whole career Syracuse as a National (the current Sixers). But since he only played one year in Philly, he has been ignored by Sixers brass. I’ll have another post on this soon.