Howie Jolliff was sitting alone on his front porch one crisp
October evening in rural Sissonville, Ohio when he got the phone call. His
niece, who lives in LA, had read a piece in the sports section of the Times which
had made mention of the now seventy four year old former Laker. Howie was
surprised and delighted.
“Really?” he asked his niece, his aged voice quivering
slightly in anticipation. “What’d it say?”
There was an awkward silence on the other end of the line.
“It’s not good uncle Howie. Jerry West just held a press
conference to declare you the worst teammate he ever had.”
The news hit the emaciated elder like a sledgehammer.
He hadn’t seen or spoken with his former teammate in nearly
half a century. Although they were never terribly close, Howie had no reason to
believe that the Hall of Famer harbored any kind of grudge against him, or for
that matter ever thought of him at all.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I just thought you should hear it
The press conference had come as a shock to many. As the
reporters waited for West to arrive, many speculated that they were there to
hear about the Warriors, with whom West is a consultant, or perhaps as part of
further publicity for his book. Instead, they were met with a surprisingly
bitter forty minute diatribe about a player most of them were hearing about for
the first time. When it came time for
questions, one reporter summoned the guts to ask what many of his colleagues
“Isn’t this a little beneath you Mr. West? I mean, you’re the NBA logo for chrissakes.”
The living legend seemed somewhat amused as he considered
“Well, I wouldn’t have said anything, but with this Smush thing in the news lately I thought to myself—you know what? Fuck Howie
A stunned silence fell over the room. Though occasionally
moody, West had always been perceived as an exemplary teammate and a paragon of
professionalism. Nobody in attendance had even heard him curse before.
“One thing I can say about Howie, he actually managed to
shoot a touch over fifty percent…from the foul line. I shouldn’t be too tough on
him though, he did almost average three points a game over the
hundred and thirty eight games I carried his sorry ass. Yeah, good job big
At this point Mr. West paused and lifted his hands from the
podium to do some mock clapping before continuing.
“Did you know Elgin and I came within a game of the title in '62 with him sopping up almost twenty minutes of valuable playing time a
night? I honestly believe that Russ would only have enough rings for both hands
if those minutes had been given to someone even vaguely competent or athletic.”
Even though he was only 6’7, Jolliff would often play at center, something West
disparagingly highlighted. “So we got this schlub and the other team has who?
Bill Russell. Those were the only moments I actually wanted that clod to shoot.
It was worth the turnover just to see Russ rob him of his manhood.”
West sat silently for a moment before adding, “And his
sister was pretty ugly.”
Howie Jolliff played all three years of his pro career for the
Lakers. Life after the NBA wasn’t always easy for him, but he liked to think
that he conducted himself with a certain quiet dignity and grace. He took pride
in his achievements on the hardwood and liked to tell the few who would listen
about the time he walked amongst giants. Now all of that is shattered. However,
for the first time in his life he’s actually getting calls from sportswriters,
and he’s taken the opportunity to paint a darker picture of Mr. Clutch.
“One time, we were on the road and I got up to go to the
bathroom. When I came back Jerry was in my seat. He looked like he was asleep
but now that I think about it he might have just been pretending. I thought it
was odd. There were plenty of seats on the bus and Jerry had already been
seated comfortably. It kind of ticked me off but I didn’t say anything at the
In the wake of these events several other venerable players
have come forth to throw dirt on former forgotten teammates. Bob Petit has gone
on record to say amusingly named Win Wilfong “couldn’t shoot for shit”, and a
personage of no less regard than William Russell recently accused Lou Tsioropoulos
of “sucking ass”. Oscar Robertson, on
the other hand, isn’t naming names.
“To be honest, all my teammates
suffered from the same deplorable condition of not being Oscar Robertson. I
could single somebody out, but really they were all failures—except for Kareem
maybe. For a guy who wasn’t Oscar Robertson he was almost half decent.”
Back in Sissonville the leaves are
changing, the nights are getting longer, and the town is gearing up for
Halloween. Howie’s block especially is renowned for its elaborate decorations,
and his are traditionally among the best. Even kids from surrounding towns will
make the journey out to Mr. Jolliff’s house. Those who come this year will find a
dark yard and a house with the lights turned off.
“I gave up this year,” the
septuagenarian admitted, “I thought it’d be great, and that I could lose myself
in the holiday a bit and forget about this nonsense. Boy was I wrong. Damn kids
stole the mummy off my porch. Somebody popped my blow up Frankenstein. I had
these novelty tombstones that were really a hoot, but someone spray-painted
some very vulgar suggestions on them for me.
I guess I’m kind of a celebrity now. Life can be pretty strange
sometimes. As a younger man, I used to spend a lot of time daydreaming about
becoming famous by playing basketball; I just never dreamed it would be for being
so bad at it.”