By Neil Beldock
He was listed at 6 feet 1 inches tall, but he might have been 5 feet 11.
He was listed at 160 pounds, but he might have been closer to 150 pounds.
Although his nickname was “Tiny”, Nate Archibald was and is anything but “Tiny”. In fact, when considering his accomplishments on the basketball court and his contributions off the court, the word “Giant” is much more apropos.
Nate “Tiny” Archibald was a giant of a basketball player and is a giant of a man. His life’s focus these days is on convincing the youth playing basketball throughout New York City that education, even more than basketball, is their salvation.
Said Johnny Mathis, long time basketball coach at John F. Kennedy High School in the South Bronx: “Tiny loves kids and he’s always involved. He’s always there to help my players out. He’s very high on academics and getting your education”.
Archibald always makes himself available to speak to and help kids growing up in and around New York City. Said legendary NYC/Cardozo High School basketball coach Ron Naclerio: “To have a true legend, top 50 greatest, being so easy to go over and speak to, I hope that the kids are smart enough to listen to what he has to say. I’m sure Tiny had people in his life who mentored him and pushed him and I’m sure he just wants to give back”.
Indeed Tiny did have people in his life who mentored him, mentoring which was desperately needed.
Nate “Tiny” Archibald was born and raised in the South Bronx of New York City, and the Patterson Housing Projects.
At the time he was growing up, the early to mid-1960’s, his neighborhood was considered one of the worst and most ravaged neighborhoods in all of New York City. It was a neighborhood dominated by drugs, crime and violence.
Said Archibald about the neighborhood and environment he grew up in: “I lived on Morris Avenue and 144th Street. It’s the kind of place you’re never safe. Guys are into drugs and are always looking to get other guys involved, as if they want company when they go under”.
Perhaps shaping his desires and efforts to now help kids throughout the rough neighborhoods of New York City, Archibald has said: “When I was growing up, there were people who helped me”.
One of the key people who helped Archibald was Floyd Lane, a community sports director in the South Bronx. Lane was well associated with how wrong decisions could negatively impact ones life at an early age.
Lane had been a player, a star player, on the City College of New York (CCNY) team in 1950 before he and many teammates were associated with a massive point shaving scandal which resulted in indictments and the fall and destruction of college basketball in New York City.
When Lane met Archibald, Tiny was beginning to head down the wrong roads. His school attendance was bordering on truancy.
Archibald had tried-out for the DeWitt Clinton High School basketball team as a sophomore, but failed to make the team.
Though he showed good skills as a basketball player, Archibald was small, extremely shy, and lacked the personal confidence to compete within the ultra-competitive and aggressive environment which existed in the South Bronx.
After failing to make the high school team, Archibald seemed on his way to dropping out of school.
Floyd Lane and others convinced Archibald to stay in school. A year later, with a recommendation from Lane, Archibald, now a junior in high school, made the DeWitt Clinton basketball team.
Stardom on the basketball court did not come quickly or easily for Archibald. He played very little during his junior year, and although he went to class, he did just enough to get by and stay eligible to be on the team.
By his senior year however, he began to blossom as both a player and a person. He was named captain of the basketball team and would be an All-City selection at seasons end. He also began to apply himself academically as colleges began to show an interest. But he could not do enough to qualify academically to attend a 4-year college.
Archibald did do enough academically to graduate from high school and be able to enroll and play basketball at Arizona Western Community College.
The 4-year colleges did not forget about him and, after one year at Arizona Western, Archibald improved his grades enough to accept a basketball scholarship to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
At UTEP, Archibald would become a star averaging 20 points per game over his 3-year career.
His basketball prowess was on full display when, after his senior year at UTEP, he participated in a number of post-season collegiate All-Star games. He scored 51 points in the Aloha Classic, and averaged nearly 40 points per game in the five All-Star games in which he participated. The NBA took notice.
The Cincinnati Royals, coached by the legendary Bob Cousy, made Archibald their 2nd round pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, a particularly strong draft with other players such as Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, Bob Lanier, Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich also being drafted in 1970.
Nate Archibald would proceed to have an exceptional 13-year NBA career. His career would see him average 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game over the 13 years he played.
Archibald would be a 6-time NBA All-Star, a 3-Time NBA All-First Team selection, and a 2-Time NBA All-Second Team selection. He would be selected as a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. And he would be inducted into both the Naismith Memorial and College Basketball Halls of Fame.
During the 1980-81 season he proved to be the missing piece needed for the Boston Celtics as he “quarterbacked” the Celtics to the 1981 NBA Championship.
But it was in the 1972-73 season that Tiny had one of the greatest seasons any player has ever had. He led the NBA in both scoring (34.0 points) and assists (11.4) per game. He is the only player in the history of the NBA to ever lead the league in both scoring and assists in the same season.
Nate “Tiny” Archibald had a professional career which others can only dream about. For many, that would have been enough. For Tiny, there was more work to do, more important work indeed.
Having left college before earning his degree, he attended classes at UTEP every summer over the last 3 years of his NBA career in order to receive his college degree. Upon retiring as a player, he then enrolled in night school at Fordham University in the Bronx, and in 1990 received a Masters Degree from Fordham.
As he looked towards his post basketball-playing life, mentoring underprivileged kids would be high on Tiny’s agenda. The fact was that mentoring problem kids was something that he had been doing since he entered the NBA.
Every summer, Tiny would return to the South Bronx after the NBA season concluded in order to work with under-privileged kids in need of guidance and direction. He would coach teams, run clinics, and always stress the importance of education.
Being a role model and providing guidance for kids in rough environments would always be of supreme importance to Archibald. He knew, and would never forget, how the right direction from the right people had helped him. He recognized the importance of returning to his roots to give back and provide a positive influence for those in need, just as others had done for him years earlier.
Nowadays, aside from offering help to young athletes throughout New York City, Archibald also helps run community programs, homeless shelters and counsels numerous kids on the street. In 1993 New York City Mayor David Dinkins officially honored Archibald for his work with youth throughout New York City.
His message to young athletes and other youth has never veered from the message he would deliver while playing professional basketball and returning to the South Bronx every summer to work with underprivileged kids:
“The message I try to give is that not everyone can be a professional basketball player. Go to school. Get an education. Prepare yourself for the rest of your life.”
Nate “Tiny” Archibald. A true “Giant” of a man.