A History of New York City Point Guards

There are several reasons why New York City is often referred to as “The Mecca of Basketball”, one of them being the rich history of point guards bred by The Big Apple. Before the NBA, there’s streetball. Perhaps the most famous outdoor basketball court in the world, Rucker Park in Harlem is “home” to many of the game’s greats. Before they were superstars, legends such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Julius Erving developed their game playing at Rucker. Over the years, other courts such as Dyckman Park and The Cage at West 4th Street have developed reputations for great basketball and frequently host pickup games featuring NBA talent.

            In 1950, Manhattan native Bob Cousy was drafted into the NBA. Already known for his streetball style featuring behind the back dribble moves and other “antics”, Cousy was often criticized by scouts that claimed his flashy play would not work at the professional level. Cousy silenced out the critics and averaged 16.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in his rookie season with the Boston Celtics. Cousy quickly earned his nickname, “The Houdini of the Hardwood” and went on to lead the league in assists 8 times. Cousy retired as a 6-time NBA Champion and won an MVP award. He left his influence on the league for several players, especially those at the point guard position.

A contemporary of Bob Cousy, Lenny Wilkens also hailed from New York City. Raised in Brooklyn, Wilkens entered the NBA in 1960. With exceptional playmaking and defensive abilities, Lenny found success early on in the NBA. He was a standout player on a successful St. Louis Hawks squad led by Hall of Fame center Bob Pettit as well as Wilkens himself. In the 1967-68 season, he finished 2nd in MVP voting only behind Wilt Chamberlain. The next season, he was traded to Seattle, where he averaged a career high 22.4 points per game. Wilkens played 15 seasons in the NBA and appeared in 13 All-Star Games. After his playing career, Lenny found even more success on the sidelines, in 1979 he coached the Seattle SuperSonics to their only championship in franchise history. 

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Wilkens coaching the SuperSonics
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in 1970, Nate “Tiny” Archibald was from the Bronx. Despite a small frame, his exceptional speed and agility combined with a very accurate mid-range jumpshot made Archibald an incredibly difficult player to guard. In just his third season Tiny averaged 34 points and 11.4 assists each night, becoming the first player in NBA History to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season. Throughout his 6 seasons with the Royals/Kings (the team relocated/rebranded) Archibald averaged 24.5 points and 8 assists in each game and earned his spot on the All-NBA First Team on three different occasions. After a series of trades and injuries including a torn Achilles tendon, Archibald found himself on the Boston Celtics. In 1981, he was a veteran presence on a championship team featuring Larry Bird in his sophomore season. Nate retired from the NBA in 1984 as a 6-time All-Star. 

The 1987 Draft brought two great point guards from New York City. There was Mark Jackson from Brooklyn, and there was Kenny “The Jet” Smith from Queens. Both players made the All-Rookie first team in 1988. After five seasons in the NBA, The Jet found a home with the Houston Rockets. Known for being an accurate free throw shooter and a talented playmaker, Smith was an essential member of the Rockets. In the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Smith won the NBA Finals alongside teammates Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Cassell, they were joined by Clyde Drexler for their second championship. Despite not winning the NBA Finals, Mark Jackson also had a successful career in the NBA. Jackson averaged over 10 assists per game as a rookie and led the league in assists during the 1997 season. With his remarkable passing and an excellent teardrop layup, Jackson had a long tenure in the NBA spanning across 17 years with 8 teams. Mark Jackson’s 10,334 assists are currently the 4th most in an NBA career.

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Kenny “The Jet” Smith playing for the Rockets
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Brooklyn native Stephon Marbury was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996 and made an impact right away by averaging 16 points and 8 assists per game. Marbury made the All-Rookie first team and became an All-Star later in his career. Marbury found success in New Jersey and in Phoenix, where he averaged over 20 points and 8 assists per game in several seasons. In 2004, Marbury was traded to the Knicks where everything seemed to come “full circle” considering his roots in Brooklyn. Marbury went to China to play after a 13-year tenure in the NBA. In the Chinese Basketball Association, he became a 3-time champion and is revered as a legend; there is even a statue of him.

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Stephon Marbury playing for the New York Knicks
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

To see the influence New York City has had on point guards in today’s game, look no further than Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. Kyrie Irving is actually from Elizabeth, NJ, which is not far from New York. However, his game is as “New York” as it gets. Everything from his crafty layups and virtuoso dribbling to the deadly accurate mid-range shot. Kemba Walker plays a high-speed game and with a certain level of toughness only found by playing pickup basketball. For those of us who love the point guard position, we owe our respects to New York City.

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Irving and Walker playing against one another at a USA Basketball showcase
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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