It’s arguably the most revered position in the NBA and that’s the point guard; the point guard is the premise of a solid NBA team. It’s a position that sets the pace and tone for the entire team; not only is the point guard an essential position, but it’s also been going through a makeover throughout the decades.
This was documented by Isaiah Thomas on the NBA homepage a few weeks ago in which he described the transformation of the position from big to smaller in stature. Think of the elite point guards of today: Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, and Russell Westbrook. All of different facilitating styles, but all have a smaller size and speed in common.
Perhaps, this is a time to introduce you to one of the premiere small, swifty, and smart “small men” during a time when the league was saturated with giants.
Archibald would rise from his surroundings in the South Bronx’s Patterson Projects, a place that would claim much of his neighborhood in the form of violence and drugs. Archibald would utilize basketball to not be claimed as another statistic.
“It’s interesting how guys who are into drugs are always looking to get other guys involved, as if they want company when they go under. Me? I was always into basketball.” -Tiny Archibald
Archibald never made his high school basketball team during sophomore year, but thanks to outside prodding, he made the cut in his junior year and made the All-City Team in his senior year. He would attend Arizona Western Community College his first year, but would receive a scholarship to the University of Texas at El Paso for the following season and would stay 3 years.
In the 1970 NBA draft that contained Pete Maravich and Bob Lanier, Archibald was selected in the second round by the Cincinnati Royals whom was coached by Bob Cousy at the time. Although, Archibald was small in size, 6’1″ and 160 pounds, he would prove to be substantial. He began his NBA career as a starter and averaged 16.0 points on a mediocre 33-49 team.
And as most young ball-handlers go, Tiny had difficulty not turning the ball over; it was rumored that the Royals tried trading him for a big man, however, that never came to pass, but the team traded Norm Van Lier for Jim Fox, 6’10″. Archibald, with Royals’ scorer, Tom Van Arsdale out with injury, turned up the production and finished the 1971-72 averaging 28.2 points per game.
In 1972-73, the Royals moved to Kansas City-Omaha, and became the Kings. It was this season, Archibald stood out; he averaged 34.0 points and 11.4 assists and would set a milestone. He would become the only player to lead the league points and assists in the same year (NBA.com). He would receive his first tremendous accolade: All-NBA First Team selection.Despite his official arrival, the team still was the poster child of mediocrity posting a 36-46 record.
The following season, Archibald dealt with an injured Achilles tendon and only played 35 games and just averaged 17.6 points. In 1974-75, he averaged 26.5 points and 6.8 assists and led the team to a winning season, 44-38. The Kings made the playoffs, but would lose in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Chicago Bulls in 6 games.
Unfortunately, the following season the team returned to losing, 31-51, design Archibald’s incredible 24.8 points and 7.8 assists through 78 games.
Just like we see in today’s NBA -think LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers- without the proper surrounding talent, Archibald would have to settle for amazing personal accomplishments on a dismal team.
But the best was yet to come, but before that, Archibald would have to weather three seasons that would test his mental fortitude and spirit.
Tiny was traded to the New York Nets prior to the 1976-77 season and 34 games into the season suffered a severe foot injury and would miss the remainder of the season. He was then traded to the Buffalo Braves, but would never in 1977-78 as he tore an Achilles tendon; he was traded before the 1978-79 season to the Boston Celtics (Hoopedia).
It would be an uphill battle that season as he was overweight, an undefined role and a public feud with Dave Cowens. Oh, and the Celtics boasted a 29-53 record
After that season, it seemed the NBA and its enthusiasts had fallen asleep on Tiny. It’s not as if it was unwarranted; Archibald had been riddled with serious injuries and seemed to be a shell of his former self.
But just like a phoenix, Tiny Archibald – and the Celtics – would rise.
The Celtics assembled a new team with the newly drafted Larry Bird, M.L. Carr, and new coach Bill Fitch, the Celtics were back and only needed one item.
A floor general.
Needless to say, Archibald returned to Boston for the 1979-1980 season and would have a clear role. He wouldn’t be needed to score like in the past, he just needed to orchestrate an offense -Boston had the proper go-to scorers – they just needed a situated facilitator.
They needed Tiny.
He would average 14.1 points, but would tally his second highest season in total assists with 671. He was also named an All-Star and the Celtics would thrive to a 61-21 record, but would lose to Philly in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 1980-81 season, Tiny would see his sacrifices and tribulations come to fruition.
He would lead Boston to a robust 62-20 record while averaging 35 minutes and 7.7 assists per game. Boston beat Philly in 7 games during the ECF’s and beat Houston in 6 games in the NBA finals.
He had done it; he was an NBA champion.
In the 1981-82 season, Boston went 63-19, but lost to Philly in the ECF’s. In 1982-83, he played only 66 games and Boston was swept by Milwaukee.
In 1983-84, Archibald signed with Milwaukee, but would retire after 46 games.
Archibald proved that size wasn’t indicative if skill level or mental toughness, but rather proved with drawing from the inspirations from home – the same home he did everything to rise out of – was indicative of thrusting himself forward when it would have been all too easy to give in.
“Some of us will never be big, but it’s how hard you play and sometimes it’s the opportunity that you get” – Tiny
Nathaniel “Tiny” Archibald ushered in an era of intelligent, speedy, small point guards.
Nathaniel “Tiny” Archibald.
The first of many; but forgotten by many more.