Bobby “Leadfoot” Couslicek, star of those great Washington Generals teams of the early days of the NBA, has sounded the alarm on what he sees as a dangerous trend in professional basketball. Couslicek, who made his bones on the full court press, the set shot and other tricks that date almost back to the peach basket days of the sport, thinks that increasing player size might actually hinder the evolution of the pro game.
Couslicek, who just celebrated his 96th birthday, is perhaps most famous for his winning shot in Washington’s thrilling 5-4 victory over the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons — forerunners of today’s Detroit team — in the 1948 NBA championship game. Shooting from about eight feet out, Couslicek hit one of his patented underhand shots — one of only two field goals actually scored by the Generals that night — with about 15 minutes left in the game. The score stood, as both teams resorted to pressing defenses for the rest of regulation.
Couslicek, the tallest man on the floor that night at 5’8″, went on to play 17 seasons in the league, mostly as a passing foil for Rufus “Back of the Team Bus” Johnson, one of the first African-American players of that era and one of the pioneers of something at least resembling the modern style of play. Johnson, at well over six feet, was one of the tallest men in the sport, and was often critiqued as being “all height, no might.”
Since then, of course, player heights have skyrocketed, as has the number of African-American players in the sport, who now dominate the league by a wide margin over white players. Couslicek has noticed, and doesn’t like it one bit.
“These colored players have taken over the damn game,” laments Couslicek. “In my day, it was a slow, white man’s world, and we were damn proud of it. Men made a living because they could hold on to the ball and keep it away from other white men. There was none of this ‘shoot, shoot, score, score’ mentality. These tall fellers, especially the colored ones, have an unfair advantage over the regular-sized guys.”
Reminded that players in his era, even white ones like George Mikan, were starting to push the seven-foot barrier, Couslicek shot back that “Mikan had, like, a 9-inch vertical. Hell, I could out-jump old Georgie.” Most alarming to Couslicek is the possible arrival of Nigerian phenom Abiodun Adegoke, purported to be close to eight feet tall.
First touted by Shaquille O’Neal, Adegoke might be 17 years old. Or 13. Or maybe 35. No one seems to know his real age, or exactly how tall he is. What seems clear, however, is that he’s tall, and that further fuels Couslicek’s criticism of the modern game.
“So, now what? This kid from the jungle is something like 9 feet tall. What are they gonna do? Move the goddamn basket 20 feet off the floor?” If Adegoke is drafted this summer, he would, of course, be the tallest player in the history of the NBA. “I have nothing against the coloreds,” offered Couslicek. “I just don’t like the really tall, talented ones. Is this equality? Short lives matter, too!”