Written by John Antonik
Rod Thorn was one of the nation's premier backcourt players as a West Virginia University senior in 1963. Thorn led the Mountaineers in scoring, rebounding, shooting percentage and assists for two seasons, and established six records during his playing days. He scored 1,785 points for his career.
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Born in Weirton, Thorn grew up in Princeton and became one of the state’s most prized basketball prospects. His high school reputation was so great that the State Legislature declared him a natural resource. Also an A student, Thorn had plans of going to medical school at Duke before deciding to remain in West Virginia.
Though he didn't play with Jerry West, Thorn was often compared to him, and that burden took its toll. At one point during his sophomore year he left school for a short time, but soon returned to lead WVU to another top 20 ranking and NCAA berth in 1962.
His three-year varsity career showed a 21.8-points-per-game average including a 23.7 scoring mark in 1962. He also averaged 11.1 rebounds per game for his career.
The 1963 Southern Conference Athlete of the Year, he was a member of two NCAA basketball and three NCAA baseball clubs at West Virginia. During Thorn's three years as a regular, WVU posted a 70-18 record in basketball and a 66-21 mark on the baseball diamond. At one point, Thorn seriously considered a career in professional baseball (his father was a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system) before being hit in the head with a ball thrown from the outfield during a WVU game.
He earned All-America basketball honors by the Helms Foundation, Look, Coach & Athlete and Converse on the hardwood. Thorn scored a career-high 44 points in an NCAA tournament consolation game against St. Joseph's in 1963, and could have challenged Hot Rod Hundley's school record of 54 points if not for coach George King's decision to slow down the game and run clock.
"It was a consolation game," said an incredulous Thorn.
In 1964, Thorn was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets and went on to play with Detroit, St. Louis and Seattle during a professional playing career that spanned eight years.
His finest NBA season came in 1967 with the Supersonics when he averaged 15.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
After retiring from basketball, Thorn first coached and then moved up to the front office as general manager of the Chicago Bulls in 1978. He spent a total of seven years with the Bulls and was responsible for selecting Michael Jordan with the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft.
In 1986, Thorn joined the NBA's league office in Manhattan and for years was responsible for handing out fines as the executive vice president of basketball operations. In 2000, Thorn became president of the New Jersey Nets where he helped them to four Atlantic Division titles and two Eastern Conference championships.
In 2002, Thorn was named NBA executive of the year. In August, 2011, Thorn was hired as president of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Thorn and his wife, Peggy, have a son, Jonathan, and twin daughters, Amanda and Jessica.