By Reinis Lacis (@LamarMatic)
Gus Gerard — one of the few ever Spirits of St. Louis — joined the show to relive the days of the strong ACC in the 1970s, his time in the ABA with the Spirits and the Denver Nuggets, how underrated the Kansas City Kings were and to tell more about the secret life he lead during his play days, how he successfully recovered from his addiction.
Topics discussed in the podcast:
01:20 – Picking up basketball in the 8th grade, spending time on the playgrounds whether it’s night or day, summer or winter, his coach Harold Taylor at Laurel Highlands in Uniontown, Pennsylvania working with him, a memorable 39-point debut on the varsity team;
05:45 – His dad’s beloved Boston Celtics and John Havlicek being his first connection with basketball, the lack of NBA games on television in the 1960s;
07:25 – The impact of coach Taylor who also coached Wilbert Robinson, a hero for everyone at Laurel Highlands who had lead the team to a state championship;
08:25 – All ACC teams recruiting him, a basketball camp in Gettysburg being the place where University of Virginia coaches took him under their wings, choosing the Virginia Cavaliers thanks to other Pennsylvania guys on the roster and the opportunity of playing time;
12:40 – Virginia having talented players like Barry Parkhill and Wally Walker, yet being undersized against other ACC teams during times when only the conference winner would get to the NCAA tournament, playing center at 6-7 against huge guys like Tree Rollins, yet averaging 20 & 10;
16:05 – Signing with the Spirits after his junior year, the Portland Trail Blazers drafting him a year later to get NBA rights after the merger, how that contract allowed him to help his family, however, gave access to parties and drugs, money taking over his life;
20:35 – Veterans like Freddie Lewis, Steve “Snapper” Jones and Don Adams being brought in to handle Marvin Barnes, how they taught the youngsters to get rest and eat properly, Jones reminding that they have to act and dress like professionals, Lewis being a coach on the court;
23:40 – Roommate Tom Owens showing him the ropes in training camp, Snapper being very nice to him because — unlike Barnes and Fly Williams — he would listen, Owens’s career and how nobody hears from him anymore [an article on Tom Owens not returning to the University of South Carolina];
26:55 – Him matching up against Julius Erving and Larry Kenon in the 1974-75 First Round series against the New York Nets, the Spirits famously beating them 4-1 after a 0-11 record in the regular season, Freddie Lewis’s game-winner in Game 5, that being an unforgettable time;
31:00 – The last ABA game ever – the John Williamson-led Nets comeback against the Denver Nuggets in Game 6 of the 1976 ABA Finals, his belief that they would have won in a Game 7, Larry Brown following him in the ACC and later pursuing a trade for him in the ABA, his career-high of 37 points against Denver;
35:45 – Regrets of not hanging around with Denver and its great team of David Thompson, Dan Issel, Ralph Simpson and Bobby Jones, how Larry Brown wanted to bring in a solid guard in Jim Price to move Thompson back to forward, Brown having said that he won’t be traded to the Buffalo Braves;
38:45 – The many stints in the NBA with Buffalo, the Detroit Pistons, the Kansas City Kings and San Antonio Spurs, his Spirits contract carrying over and signing a second one after Dick Vitale had cut him in Detroit, it being fun at Kansas City until they wanted to bring in a bigger guy for the playoffs [John Lambert], then losing interest in basketball as drugs had become a priority;
42:05 – Coaches having no clue about his addiction because they were always more concerned about the troubles of other stars, him never missing a team function, there not being any drug testing, the status of cocaine back then;
44:55 – Otis Birdsong always having been underrated, Phil Ford having college credentials, yet also being underappreciated, how Ford’s body was already beaten up, two more great players in Scott Wedman and Sam Lacey;
47:25 – The coincidence of the Blazers drafting the first four Virginia players in the pros – Parkhill, Gerard, Walker and Jeff Lamp;
49:10 – Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons and him having a very good relationship, Fitzsimmons trading him away in Buffalo since Adrian Dantley was there, Ernie DiGregorio taking care of AD on the court, reuniting with Coach in Kansas City and having a very enjoyable time there because of the team atmosphere;
51:40 – How lovable and helpful Barnes was, Mike Carey’s recently published autobiography on Barnes, the only ever rookie front-court of Gerard, Barnes and Maurice Lucas;
54:25 – Being sick and tired of waking up and worrying about where he’ll get money for drugs, reaching out to John Lucas after a failed suicide attempt, Lucas saving his life, becoming a counselor, his work in this field.
The media related to the podcast:
Notable snippets of the interview:
Thanks to Gus for coming on the podcast and being so insightful about his career!