Hot Rod Hundley
Written by John Antonik
For all that he was as an All-American basketball player at West Virginia University, there are many who believed "Hot" Rod Hundley could have been so much more.
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Hundley was a self-made basketball player who played the game the way he wanted - which was completely different than the way it was being played by everyone else in the 1950s.
Hundley was "Pistol Pete" Maravich when Maravich was still in diapers. Instead of a bounce pass, Hundley tossed the ball between his legs. He often shot hook shots at the free throw line or would hang on the rim waiting for a teammate to throw him a pass. He used to dribble behind his back before it was fashionable or spin the ball on his finger, roll it down his arm, and then around his back - all while a defender usually stood watching with his hands on his hips because no one ever dreamed of doing that in a game.
Sometimes he took his clowning to extremes such as lining his teammates up in the T formation or sitting on the opposing team's bench - much to the delight of college basketball fans who packed the old Field House like never before to see him play. The old timers recall his showmanship, but hidden beneath that was a remarkable skill probably more suited for today's game.
Hundley averaged 24.5 points per game over three seasons. His 2,180 career points second only to All-American Jerry West's 2,309 points.
During his three years as a regular, West Virginia posted an outstanding 72-16 (.818) record, including three Southern Conference titles and three NCAA tournament appearances.
During his first season at WVU in 1954, Hundley established the freshman scoring record with 62 points against Ohio University and averaged almost 35 points per game that year.
Later with the varsity, "Hot" Rod (a nickname he received from Fairmont Times sports editor Bill Evans) set the WVU single-game scoring record with 54 points against Furman, and still holds seven other school marks.
In the 1954 Southern Conference tournament championship game, Hundley had an opportunity to set the tournament scoring record with two free throws in the waning seconds of the championship game against George Washington.
With the outcome already decided, Hundley shot two air balls. The first one was a hook shot. The second one he tried behind his back.
Named to five All-America teams in 1957, he was the first player taken in NBA draft and played with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers from 1958-63. He made one appearance in the NBA all-star game in 1961.
Bad knees and Hot Rod's refusal to take the game seriously limited his NBA career to only five years. Hundley summed up his five years in the NBA this way, "I partied all night, slept all day, and fit basketball games in between."
Some fast talking by Hundley kept him and his Minneapolis teammate Bob Leonard from receiving the biggest fine in NBA history at the time when the two missed the team flight back home from a game in New York. The party they went to that night had eventually moved down to Philadelphia.
“We had to pay our way back to Minneapolis and when we got to the airport there was a message for both of us to get down to the Laker office immediately," Hundley recalled.
“So Bob and I went down to the office, Bob Short owned the Lakers then, and he called me into his office first. We didn’t know if he was going to fine us or what – we had no idea. So I go in there and he sees right through all of my lies and he said, ‘I have no choice but to fine you $1,000.’ I said, ‘A thousand dollars? Oh my God, I only make 10 (thousand)!”
When Hundley walked out of the office, his face three different shades of white, Leonard asked if he got fined. “Yeah, a thousand dollars!”
Leonard couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Short said he would give the players the money back if they behaved themselves.
“We were on probation for the rest of the year and we were sneaking around thinking, ‘If they catch us again it’s going to cost us $2,000,’” Hundley said. “Could you imagine LeBron (James) or Kobe (Bryant) giving up 10% of their salary?”
Hundley said one of the biggest thrills of his pro player came in 1960 when he teamed with Elgin Baylor to score 73 points in a single basketball game. “Yeah, he scored 71 and I scored two,” Hot Rod joked.
By 1963, Hundley’s pro career was finished.
For years basketball fans could listen to Hot Rod's gravelly voice announcing Utah Jazz basketball games - a job he held for more than three decades.
Once while announcing a game for the Jazz, Hundley had to do some quick thinking on the air when forward Truck Robinson failed to show up for his post-game television interview. So Hundley did the interview anyway, playing both parts – Hundley and Robinson. Hot Rod even presented himself with a gift certificate for doing the post-game show and ended it by saying, “Thanks for joining us, Truck.”
In 1994, he won the NBA's Distinguished Broadcaster Award, an honor bestowed only twice previously and in 2003, Hundley was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a broadcaster.
West Virginia University retired his jersey number 33 on Jan. 23, 2010 before the Ohio State game. After the halftime ceremony, Hundley grabbed a basketball and made a hook shot to a standing ovation.
Now retired, Hundley lives in Peoria, Ariz.