Mrs. Cooty Brown could contain herself no longer. Last week, in letters home to Philadelphia, she added after each signature: "Wife of a Shooting Star." Cooty Brown himself was embarrassed. He could not sleep and he could not eat. He lost so much weight that his wife sent him out for a new pair of trousers, because "I just love him best in those nice, tapered pants, and the ones he has now have gotten so big on him that they look funny."
Cooty's coach watched him play with astonishment. "I thought I was beginning to see things," Alex Hannum said. "So finally, when he did one more fantastic thing, I turned to Gary Phillips next to me on the bench and I said, 'Gary, am I wrong? Has he ever done that before?' And Gary just shook his head, and said, 'No, Alex. I'm sure he's never done that before. I've played with him and I've guarded him, and I've never seen him do that before.' And then he did something else, so we just sat there and shook our heads some more."
The opposition was at least as amazed. "Those were unbelievable shots," St. Louis Coach Richie Guerin said after Cooty scored 37 against the Hawks. "Those were the kind of shots we want opposing players to take. But they just kept going in. Unbelievable."
Cooty did splurge on a new convertible, but that was mere coincidence—the old family car had 76,000 miles on it. Then he kept turning the air conditioning on when he meant the defroster, and after one game he drove off absentmindedly into the left-hand lane. And he talked—in spurts, rat-a-tat-tat, the way he always has done when he is most nervous. He talked little, however, about his own feats. "He really doesn't enjoy talking about them," his wife said. "He doesn't like people to make a fuss over him any time, and now he just won't let himself be indulged by it all. But I love to talk about it. I'm just gloating. I knew all along he could do this."
He had by now brought his average up to 24.7, sixth best in the league, good for anyone but amazing because this was little Cooty Brown. Little Cooty is really little Guy Rodgers of the NBA's San Francisco Warriors and Guy Rodgers has been a passer—good field, no hit—ever since he grew up in North Philadelphia together with, among other celebrities-to-be, Comedian Bill Cosby. Rodgers, Cosby and their friends used to toss off singsong nonsense rhymes about the fictitious Mr. Brown, e.g., "Cooty Brown/Put on his hat/And headed down."
Eventually Cosby decided that Rodgers was Cooty Brown. He even had him paged in a hotel that way once. Rodgers did not take the page. He enjoys a gag, but underneath, always, he has been an intensely dedicated man. He is so caught up in basketball competition that sleepless nights and skipped meals are routine with him. There have just been more of them since he went on his scoring spree three weeks ago. Once, years ago, he scored 33 points. And now, suddenly, he was averaging 36 over an eight-game bust-out. In his seven previous NBA seasons—time spent almost exclusively as a willing caddie for Wilt Chamberlain—Rodgers averaged 11.9. He had never been a good shot; his .380 career shooting percentage is third worst in the league among regular backcourtmen.
But Rodgers could always pass. The night his Temple teammate Hal Lear scored 48 points, then a record, in the NCAA tournament, Rodgers, a sophomore, had 20 assists. Even then he was frequently compared to Bob Cousy. He went on to lead the NBA in assists one year, and most other times was second only to Oscar Robertson. He is neck and neck for the assist lead with Robertson this year; ignored in all this scoring whoopdedo is the fact that his whole game has never been better. "Guy is the best dribbler, the best playmaker and the best passer in the game," Hannum says. "And this includes Oscar." "He's the toughest guy in the league to take the ball away from," adds Boston's K. C. Jones, who has made a career of taking the ball away.
More than anything, though, Rodgers—who resembles Soupy Sales—is just plain fun to watch, scooting all over the court, weaving in and out of the big men. At least half a dozen times a game he throws over-the-shoulder or behind-the-back passes, and in every game there is some new spontaneous move that is even more exciting. He is always a crowd favorite anyway, for besides everything else he is the smallest or next to the smallest player in the NBA. Both he and John Egan are generously listed at 6 feet, but each swears that the other is taller.
The Amazing, Never-to-be-forgotten, True-to-life Scoring Spree of Guy William Rodgers came without warning. There it was, like a butterfly, suddenly out and winging. First came 39, then 21, 47, 23, 39, 46 and back-to-back 37s before he finally cooled off with 16, 21 and 24. During the binge Rodgers hit at .473 and took 30 shots a game—more than double what he had allowed himself in the previous seven years. But the kind of shots were even more interesting.
For example, just examine the second quarter of the game against New York when he hit for 46. The play-by-play summary of Guy's array of baskets was forced to go far beyond the usual prosaic account: "Rodgers jumper from left corner from the tap...Rodgers backhand two-hand shot from just left of bucket banked in...Rodgers jumper from the circle...Rodgers 3 ft. floater from mid-air from mid-lane...Rodgers jumper from the circle...Rodgers 6 ft. jumper from left lane though closely guarded...Rodgers lay-in of a rebound from the middle...Rodgers underhand flip layup from the right side...Rodgers jumper from the circle."
He was, of course, just plain hot during all this, but there are other factors in his success, some of which also account for the increased scoring by back-courtmen throughout the NBA. Never have guards so dominated the game. Chamberlain is the only center or forward among the league's top eight scorers, and even Wilt is averaging his lowest ever (32.8). A partial explanation of this startling turnabout is that almost all of the fine cornermen of the last decade have left at the same time. Bob Pettit, Dolph Schayes and Tom Heinsohn are retired, Elgin Baylor is injured and Cliff Hagan and Jack Twyman are fading. But the game itself has also changed in favor of the little man since the lane was widened again last year.
Suddenly, too, it is fashionable to run. The press and the fast break have never been so much in evidence in the NBA, and guards are controlling the play from one end of the court to the other. Nowhere has this change been so marked as in San Francisco's post-Chamberlain era. Only now, with Wilt gone, has Rodgers had a chance to follow his instincts. He and Wilt are very close friends—Wilt called up last week with the news that his Great Dane had had puppies and that he was saving one for Rodgers—and Guy's only regret about his new playing freedom is the fear that in the process of explanation Wilt will be criticized unfairly. "Certainly it wasn't as natural playing with Wilt," Rodgers begins. "We were all more like specialists. But don't make it sound like this was his fault. When Wilt Chamberlain is on your team, you have to play to him. He is just so good.
"But things are more flexible now with Nate [Thurmond] underneath. It is more spread out with him, and more things just seem to happen when the lane is opened up. When Wilt was in there, even if they gave me the lane, when I got there, there he was and there was his man. This is more natural now. It's easier, and you can do more things."
Rodgers himself has had to do even more since Paul Neumann, the San Francisco guard who can shoot, broke a finger at Los Angeles the night Rodgers got 47. In Neumann's absence Rodgers is the shooter. That, perhaps, is the largest single reason, if the most transitory, for his increased scoring.
San Francisco will miss Neumann for a few more weeks, but even with him and the new Rodgers the happy Warriors would still be quite happy with a .500 season. It would be a considerable accomplishment, for this is the team that last year set an NBA record with 63 losses. In the city where topless is a way of life now, the Warriors had the bottomless concession to themselves. Before Rodgers started leading the club back, San Francisco looked like a city that could kill basketball and sex all in the same year, which is quite a parlay.
Last year the Warriors averaged only 2,800 spectators desperate enough to wander in out of the fog. But the fans are starting to come back now, and not just because the Warriors are a novelty, almost the only entertainers in town with their clothes on. Rodgers, despite big Thurmond and some bright rookies, is the draw. Says Warrior Owner Franklin Mieuli, "I've lived here all my life, and I know how provincial this town can be. When the Giants came out, they wouldn't accept Willie Mays. He was New York. Orlando Cepeda was just getting started, so they made him the hero. It is the same way with Guy. Maybe he came from Philadelphia with the franchise, but the new Guy Rodgers happened right here, so he is ours."
The new Guy Rodgers is the same old happy but fretful Guy, according to Gladys Rodgers. Devoted to children—he has taught retarded youngsters, is the athletic director at one summer camp, a basketball instructor at another—he is a willing baby-sitter for Tony Rodgers, 4, and Marc, 2. "And there are always other kids hanging around, here or back in Philadelphia," Mrs. Rodgers says. "If Guy isn't home they will just come in and talk to me about him." Rodgers does not smoke or drink alcohol. His favorite drink is a Shirley Temple.
Rodgers' alter ego is another Warrior guard, Al Attles. A bachelor, Attles lives with the Rodgers family in San Francisco, and he and Guy are inseparable. The whole Warrior team is extremely close, though Rodgers, at 30—now he worries about his age, Mrs. Rodgers says—is something of an elder statesman.
Thurmond, out of Wilt's shadow, is really a rookie center; baby-faced Mo McLemore is in his second season; and there are three good rookies—Rick Barry of Miami, Fred Hetzel of Davidson and Keith Erickson of UCLA. Hetzel is known as "Stoney," because he was so awed when he came to camp that he had a stunned expression frozen on his face for a week. Barry, unperturbed, moved right into a starting forward role opposite Tom Meschery and is the team's second leading scorer. He is given to $6 razor haircuts, a fact that impresses his teammates as much as his play. They call Barry "Super Rookie."
Erickson, a third-round draft choice, has been a big surprise and is learning to play a swing-man role. He is, as ever, completely unflappable. When Rodgers, kidding around before the Cincinnati game last week, could not smooth down some unruly hair on Keith's head, Guy yanked out the uncooperative strands. "Keith just looked up with no change of expression at all," Rodgers relates incredulously, "and all he finally said was, Thanks, man.'" They call Erickson "Super Flake."
In the game against Cincinnati, San Francisco used a new, settled offense, with less reliance on the fast break. Rodgers would come down and set up a play, keying on one of the four positions that Thurmond would take. This might seem a bit odd, because it cuts down directly on Rodgers' wild-card scoring opportunities, but Hannum, a great believer in balance, had come to feel that the Warriors were running too much. "Guy saved us," he says. "If he hadn't been so fabulous we wouldn't have won any of those games after Neumann was hurt. But as much as I wish that he could keep it up, I just cannot believe that we can win with Guy doing all the scoring. He does so many other things too well, things that no one else can do. And we were just getting too helter-skelter."
The new wrinkle got the ball inside to the big men, but there was still plenty of running, too. In fact, the Warriors blew the game open in the fourth quarter with a burst of helter-skelter. In a flurry lasting about two minutes Rodgers led a combination of Erickson, McLemore, Barry and Thurmond from behind into a safe lead. He had three gorgeous assists, one steal, one basket. For the game, five Warriors had at least 15 points each, with Rodgers making 21 points, 16 assists and six rebounds.
Henceforth such relatively subdued scoring totals probably can be expected from Guy. With the knowledge that he can score big and with, as Hannum calls it, "that great freedom of confidence," Rodgers may still come up with a 35-pointer occasionally. As long as the lanes are open and the Warriors are running—no matter how many he scores—he is a thrilling player to watch just passing and dribbling.
"It's been real great that I've done all this scoring," Rodgers says, "but I have to be realistic. For the team to depend on me—well, I just don't believe that we could win with just me doing that."
Gladys and Guy Rodgers and Attles headed out after the game to relax at Don Barksdale's Showcase in Oakland. They ordered Shirley Temples, and Rodgers leaned back in his new, tighter-fitting pants to watch the amateur night show. He talked about Cooty Brown and growing up in North Philadelphia. "It was a pretty tough neighborhood," he said, "but I never had any trouble. I always had a guy 6 feet 7 and a guy 6 feet 11 with me." Gladys Rodgers pooh-poohs such talk. She believes that her husband can get by without any protection, no matter what, on the court or off. "He's amazing," she says. "I've never even seen a dog bark at Guy."