HATTIESBURG – Basketball legend Purvis Short, 61-year-old grandfather of two and a considerate, soft-spoken gentleman, final month got here house to a hero’s welcome in Hattiesburg.
Short, who lives in Houston, was inducted into the inaugural class of the Hattiesburg Corridor of Fame, a slam dunk for the top notch. After main Hattiesburg Excessive to a state championship in 1974, he went on to develop into Jackson State’s all-time main scorer and a primary spherical NBA draft selection. In 12 years in “The League,” he scored almost 15,000 factors and as soon as scored 59 factors in a single NBA recreation. His high-arching leap photographs, launched with good type, have been nothing brief of pretty.
But, right here in Hattiesburg, Purvis typically is remembered as Eugene Short’s child brother. Eugene Short, who died two years in the past at age 62 after a prolonged battle with diabetes, was the basketball celebrity who got here alongside first and burned the brightest whereas the two brothers have been right here of their hometown.
Theirs is a story value telling, particularly since a lot of the story has by no means been informed.
We start the place all of it started – on Carpenter Road, a number of blocks from downtown Hattiesburg in a small, humble residence, the place Eugene, Purvis and their sister, Eva, have been raised. Their father labored as a plumber, their mom as a prepare dinner in close by Eureka Faculty, the place all the Short youngsters went to elementary faculty.
“Eugene and I were really close growing up,” Purvis says. “He was my huge brother . . . I all the time appeared as much as him.
“How could I not look up to him?” Purvis continues. “Eugene was so good at everything he tried: basketball, football, baseball, you name it. He started at quarterback at Rowan in the 10th grade. Man, he could throw it. And basketball just came so natural to him. He did everything so well, and he just made it look so easy.”
It’s no nice stretch to say that Eugene Short introduced the two sides of Hattiesburg – black and white – collectively. When he transferred to beforehand all-white Hattiesburg Excessive from cross-town, all-black Rowan and led Hattiesburg to a 1972 state basketball championship, many Hattiesburg people noticed for the first time black individuals and white individuals working and enjoying collectively – and being all the higher for it. Younger white individuals, who had by no means had a black good friend, out of the blue had not solely black associates however a black hero.
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Off the flooring, Eugene Short was quiet and reserved. He not often confirmed emotion or, for that matter, not often modified facial features. He was unfailingly well mannered.
On the flooring, Eugene was the present.
Says Jud Vance, a guard on the 1971-72 group who now lives in Tupelo: “Eugene was just so talented. He was point man on our full-court press and he had those unbelievably long arms. I can’t tell you how many times he stole the ball or forced a bad pass. And, man, he could jump. I remember when he hit his head on the backboard at the state tournament and had to play the rest of the game with stitches and bandages.”
Eugene Short was listed at 6 ft, 6 inches. He performed 6-9 or 6-10 as a result of of his these lengthy arms and his exceptional leaping means. And, oh my, how he might shoot the basketball.
Hattiesburg native Tim Floyd, a veteran school and NBA coach, has spent a lifetime recruiting highschool gamers round the nation to colleges corresponding to UTEP, Idaho, New Orleans, Iowa State and Southern Cal. He says he has by no means seen a greater highschool participant than Eugene Short.
“If I’ve got one game to win and one player to win it, give me Eugene Short … Eugene could do it all,” Floyd says.
Two years behind Eugene, Purvis Short was a starkly totally different story. Seemingly nothing got here straightforward for Purvis, who didn’t begin for his seventh grade group, didn’t even play in the eighth grade, got here off the bench in the ninth and didn’t even begin for the Hattiesburg Excessive B group in the 10th grade. It’s arduous now to think about how embarrassing that was in case you have been the nice Eugene Short’s brother.
“I just wasn’t good enough,” Purvis says. “It’s that simple. What came so easy for Eugene was not easy for me.”
Eugene’s bounce shot was clean, virtually silky. Purvis’s leap brief, two-handed from behind his head was as awkward because it was inaccurate. And that’s the place Johnny Hurtt, the basketball coach at Hattiesburg Excessive at the time, entered the image.
Says Purvis Short, “Coach Hurtt made me into a basketball player. He taught me how to shoot. He taught me the fundamentals, how to place your hands on the ball, finger placement, shooting form. The things he taught me, I used the rest of my career.”
In the starting, Purvis shot a line-drive, not a lot arc in any respect. Hurtt introduced out a brush to practices and used it to protect Purvis.
“He made me shoot the ball over that broom,” Purvis says. “That’s where the high arc of my shot came from. Coach Hurtt strongly believed that the higher shot was a softer shot and had a better chance of going in the basket. Plus, it was harder to block. As I got better, I got hungrier and Coach Hurtt was always there. He told me I should never waste a day of working on my game. I can honestly say I didn’t. I didn’st waste a day. Coach Hurtt made me a player.”
Purvis’s work ethic would serve him properly. By his senior yr, he led the Hattiesburg Tigers to a different state championship, after which he joined Eugene at Jackson State the place they performed collectively for one unforgettable season, Eugene’s junior season and Purvis’s freshman season. Eugene averaged 26 factors per recreation, Purvis 15 a recreation. JSU completed 25-Four and gained the 1975 SWAC Championship.
Eugene Short went professional following his junior season, his second straight as SWAC Participant of the Yr, and was drafted as the ninth decide of the first spherical by the New York Knicks.
However Eugene’s NBA profession was temporary and disappointing. He performed in simply 34 video games over two seasons with the Knicks and Seattle Supersonics, scoring a not-so-grand complete of 84 NBA factors. Examine that to the 14,647 factors scored by his his youthful brother, who had all the time performed in his shadow.
It’s all conjecture now.
Clearly, there have been points outdoors of basketball. With out query, Eugene Short, with new-found wealth, was not prepared for the 82-game-per-season bodily and psychological grind of the NBA. He performed 27 video games for the Knicks earlier than being traded to Seattle and performed in seven video games for the Sonics.
The temporary NBA profession of the greatest highschool participant he ever noticed all the time mystified Tim Floyd, the former highschool teammate of Short’s. A number of years in the past, Floyd had an opportunity assembly with Invoice Russell, the NBA Corridor of Famer who coached Short throughout his temporary Sonics stint. Floyd requested Russell about Eugene Short.
Russell, Floyd says, stated Eugene was one of the most gifted gamers he had ever been round. “But he said Eugene was going through what he now thinks were bouts with severe depression and that there were days Eugene wouldn’t even get out of bed or leave his hotel room. Back then, they really didn’t know what to do,” Floyd stated.
Essential to notice: Russell’s just isn’t a medical analysis. For Eugene Short, at the moment of his life, there isn’t one, definitely no psychological analysis.
“Eugene came back to Jackson after he was let go and I was still at Jackson State,” Purvis says. “I remember trying to tell him that there were other teams out there, that he could get on with another team or go overseas. He just didn’t seem interested. He said, ‘Man, I’m through.’”
And he was. Eugene by no means performed once more, whereas his youthful brother turned the fifth general decide in the draft and went on to an extended, profitable profession.
That is conjecture on the author’s half: Every little thing had come so simply for Eugene Short. He was the pure, so gifted and fluid that he had by no means actually skilled failure. He wasn’t in any respect prepared for it. Purvis Short had labored so onerous for the whole lot, together with turning into a starter on his highschool basketball staff. If one thing wasn’t going proper, Purvis’s expertise advised him to work that a lot more durable. Eugene had so such expertise.
“Eugene just sort of withdrew from everything,” Purvis says. “I attempted – lots of individuals tried – to assist him, however he simply turned increasingly more remoted.
“Most people don’t understand what a professional athlete goes through transitioning away from the game,” Purvis says. “And it affects different people in different ways. You’ve done something all your life. It’s what you are known for, who you are, and then suddenly you are told you can’t do it any more. It can be like losing a loved one, like death.”
Not conjecture: Eugene started to drink closely – maybe self-medicating melancholy – and his well being issues, notably with diabetes, worsened with age. His alcoholism, simply as the diabetes and probably melancholy, was an sickness.
Purvis Short performed 13 seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and New Jersey Nets. He was a mannequin professional, extremely revered by coaches and his friends. He was vice-president of the gamers’ union his final 4 years in the league. Throughout all that point, Purvis was a social drinker, would have a couple of beers with teammates after video games. When he retired, he says, he start to drink extra.
One morning, in 1993, Purvis Short woke up and drove himself to a remedy middle. Thirty-five years later, he has not had a drink.
He did all he might for his huge brother, financially and in any other case, even checked him right into a remedy middle, went by way of counseling with him. Eugene resisted.
In the meantime, the NBA Gamers Union was creating a program to assist gamers cope with some of the inherent issues of the NBA way of life. Charles Grantham, the director, sought Purvis Short to work in what turned referred to as the Division of Participant Packages. The thought was to counsel NBA gamers in 4 key areas: medicine and alcohol, monetary administration, profession improvement and well being points.
“When Charlie asked me if I was interested, I said, ‘Man, yes,’” Purvis says. “Because of my experience and what had happened with Eugene, I wanted to help in some way. I thought, honestly, that God was moving me in this direction. I jumped at it.”
It has turn into Purvis Short’s life work. Now, he heads up the division.
“We have helped a lot of young players deal with a lot of different issues,” Purvis Short says. “If someone has an issue, we make sure they get expert help.”
And, sure, he says, he typically wonders what may need been had there been such a program again in 1975 and ’76 when his brother was a rookie.
“I’ve dedicated my life to this,” Purvis Short says. “This is my life’s work and when you get right down to it, it’s because of Eugene and all he went through. I loved my brother.”