It seems like just about every 50 years or so the West Virginia Legislature is doing something to recognize Rod Thorn.
Back in the late 1950s, when Thorn was one of the nation’s most coveted basketball players at Princeton High, the Legislature proclaimed Thorn one of the state’s “natural resources” in recognition of his great talents on the hardwood. It was a clear attempt to pressure him into remaining at home to attend West Virginia University where the Mountaineers had become a college basketball power under legendary coach Fred Schaus.
At the time, West Virginia was battling Duke for Thorn’s services and the guard eventually picked WVU where he became one of the school’s greatest players.
Now, after a nearly 50-year career in the NBA as a player, coach and successful executive - including his current stint as President of the Philadelphia 76ers - Thorn is once again being honored by the Legislature, although this time it’s for the things he has accomplished in his life and not for what people hoped he would accomplish for the state.
Later this month, the U.S. Route 460 interchange on the West Virginia Turnpike leading into Princeton will be named “All-American Rod Thorn Interchange”
in honor of Thorn’s successful athletic career.
Thorn was a two-time All-American player at WVU who went on to become a successful pro player and executive. It was during Thorn’s stint as general manager with the Chicago Bulls in 1984 that he famously drafted Michael Jordan, considered the greatest player in NBA history. Thorn also spent 14 years working in the NBA’s league office in New York City where he served as executive vice president of operations.
An official dedication ceremony for Thorn will take place at the Chuck Mathena Center in Princeton on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 1:30 p.m., and the public is invited to attend.
“Over the months we talked about doing something for Rod recognizing his great career, and for being such an outstanding representative of West Virginia,” said West Virginia Delegate John Frazier. “I introduced a resolution honoring him and to name the big interchange here on the turnpike after him, and was able to get that passed.”
Frazier said the idea to recognize Thorn came about after some discussions he had with other community leaders at the local fitness center.
“We would meet at the fitness center from time to time and the idea grew out of those conversations we had about Rod,” Frazier explained. “This is a ceremony to carry that out, and to generally honor his life.”
For Thorn, the gesture is once again overwhelming, although in a much, much different way than the first time he was honored during his senior year of high school.
“I’m very flattered by this and I certainly appreciate it,” Thorn said.
The first time he was recognized in 1959, Thorn was extremely uncomfortable with all of the attention he was receiving and it nearly pushed him toward attending Duke. At the time, Thorn was also interested in becoming a doctor and the state proclamation actually made reference to West Virginia’s brand new medical school located on the Evansdale campus.
“I wasn’t aware of [the initial proclamation] and when I did the research to write this resolution there was some mention of [the WVU medical school], and then just recently, within the last month or so, I talked to the clerk down there who has been there forever and he didn’t remember it either,” said Frazier. “But he did some research and he found it.
“I’ve got the resolution.”
Despite the overwhelming pressure Thorn received from that first proclamation, he said he has nothing but fond memories of his years growing up in Princeton and then playing at West Virginia University.
“It was a very idyllic type childhood back in those days,” he said. “We had a lot of kids who lived on my street and we played sports all of the time. Princeton was a great place to grow up in, and I have nothing but good memories about Princeton. We had some real good teams during that time that I was there and it was a lot of fun.”
“Rod is still well known here in the community,” added Frazier. “He’s been away for a while now but he still comes in from time to time so we’re excited about it.”
What makes this particular resolution so special to Thorn is that his name is being attached to something that has meant a great deal to the entire region through the years.
Prior to the construction of the West Virginia Turnpike, access to the southern part of the state was severely restricted. West Virginia coaches recruiting Thorn at the time often remarked that it was much easier for them to get from Morgantown to Canada than it was for them to travel down to Princeton where Thorn played.
“There were a lot of two-lane roads back in those days,” Thorn chuckled. “A lot of turns and curves, and going from Princeton to Morgantown was a very long drive back in those days. Now it’s not nearly as long.”
Of course today many West Virginians take the turnpike for granted, but when it was first opened and later became a four-lane highway it was a major, major deal for that part of the state.
“Obviously the turnpike has been there a long time, but it really served as a conduit for anybody who was traveling to that area, particularly from the middle of the state down that way or down that way back up toward the middle of the state,” Thorn said. “It was a great thing for southern West Virginia.”
And Rod Thorn has certainly been a great thing for the entire state of West Virginia.