Monday, March 11, 2013

Kareem Calls Nate Thurmond Best Defender He Ever Faced

Nate Thurmond wasn't pushed around often. (Manny Rubio/USA TODAY Sports)

Recently on Twitter, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was asked who was the greatest defender he ever faced. Kareem, who played from 1970 to 1989, didn’t respond with Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon or Robert Parish. His answer was Nate Thurmond, a player that seems to be lost in modern NBA discussion, his legacy overshadowed by Wilt, Russell and Kareem. So who exactly was this man that defended the all-time leading scorer better than anyone else, and what made him special?

Nate Thurmond’s work ethic was tremendous. He never wanted to be outworked by his opponent.

"When I score on Nate, I know I've done something. He sweats and he wants you to sweat, too," said Kareem in an interview with Sport.

Thurmond used his long arms and quick speed to become one of the most feared shot blockers in the game. During his high school days, Nate’s coach preached the importance of defense. Instead of keeping statistics in the usual method, his coach had a different philosophy: points scored against you counted against you. So if you had 10 points but your opponent scored 15, you scored negative five. This system stuck with Thurmond throughout his NBA career as he made defense his priority.

Defense was so important to Thurmond that the night before he played Kareem for the first time he flew down to Los Angeles where the Bucks were taking on the Lakers. He spent the entire game studying Kareem’s footwork. He wanted to know exactly where Kareem planted his foot before going for his sky-hook. The method worked as Thurmond held Kareem to 16 points in their first matchup. Kareem’s average for the season was 29.

Though heralded for his defense, Thurmond was not a one-dimensional player. He spent the first season and a half with Wilt Chamberlain on the San Francisco Warriors. As he was forced to play power forward more often than he was used to, Thurmond developed a decent mid-range shot. Through his prime he hovered around 20 points per game and one season averaged 4.2 assists per game. In the 1974-75, the second season blocks were recorded as an official statistic, Thurmond had a game with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocked shots. Thurmond was 33 years old in his 12th season at the time of the quadruple double, so who knows if he had any more non-official ones?

For a chance to see Thurmond do what he did best, check out the following video and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


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