Some of you may remember Spud Webb, the 5-foot-7 inch NBA guard who played six seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.
He’s always been one of my sports heroes - if for no other reason than he's one of the few guys of my height to make it into the NBA, let alone make a career out of it and win a slam dunk championship.
So it was fun for me to talk to Webb, who will be in Savannah Saturday from noon-2 p.m. signing autographs and promoting Altell’s "My Circle," where "we’re hosting a party for all of Savannah," he said, and "one lucky customer will go home with a $5,000 grand prize."
When he’s not promoting Altell, Webb spends most of his time these days being retired - though his website at www.spudwebb.net also offers his service as a motivational speaker.
"(I) Just play a little golf when I can, travel when I can and watch a little basketball on TV," he said from a car phone.
In his day, Webb was a phenomenon. Undersized, but blessed with a 42-inch vertical leap and plenty of determination, he played for Jim Valvano at N.C. State, went undrafted, played in the USBL, got drafted and cut by the Detriot Pistons, then played from 1985-1991 for the Atlanta Hawks. Webb also had stops at Sacramento, Toronto, Atlanta again, Minnesota and Orlando before retiring in 1998. His best seasons statistically were 1991, when he averaged 16.4 points a game for the Hawks, and 1992 when he averaged 16.3 points a game for the Kings.
He led the league in free throw percentage (.934) in 1994-95 and is ranked No. 43 all time with a career percentage of .848. He’s No. 66 all-time in assists, and his career assist percentage of 31.1 percent ranks him No. 36 in the NBA. Not bad for a kid who grew up poor and short in Dallas and, according to Wikipedia got cut the first time he tried out for the Wilmer-Hutchins High School varsity basketball team.
But the accomplishment which still lends him a certain iconic status among many may well have been his edging out teammate Dominique Wilkins for the 1986 slam dunk title. Remember, we’re talking about a guy who is 5 foot, 7 inches. That's pint-sized. It's my size.
I didn’t ask him how it felt to win the slam dunk title. I wish I had. But I did ask him why we don’t see many players his size make a splash in the NBA anymore.
"Players are so big, strong, fast and talented these days they don’t have time to look (for smaller players),’ he said.
I also asked him whether the NBA was better in his day or now. Now, he said, without a bit of hesitation - rattling off the reasons, which range from more coverage and the influx of international players.
"Every game is on national TV now. When I was playing, us (Atlanta), Chicago, New York and the L.A. Lakers were the only teams on national TV," he said.
Speaking of the Hawks, Webb thinks the Atlanta team that pushed Boston to a seven-game series in the opening round of the playoffs earlier this month is a team on the rise, but needs to add veterans to a nucleus that includes Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, rookie Al Horford and Josh Childress.
"They’re very talented," he said. "They gave Boston a run for their money and that’s good to see."
Speaking of Boston, Webb didn’t pick a favorite for the NBA title, though he said he’d like to see Celtics coach and former Atlanta teammate Doc Rivers get the trophy. And as someone who’s overcome more odds than many, Webb also has some sound advice for youngsters.
"Work hard, make a commitment," he said. "Be disciplined about what you want to do in life. Don’t believe in all the naysayers. Always try to compete and have fun."
Webb will be signing autographs from noon -2 at River Street’s Rousakis Plaza.