Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Nate Thurmond: Dominating Defender

Posted on February 14, 2015 by Dean Hybl

The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month was a seven-time NBA All-Star and is still recognized as one of the best defensive centers in NBA history.

During a time when Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell were the dominant centers, Thurmond joined them as an elite scorer, defender and rebounder from the center position.

After earning All-American honors at Bowling Green University in Ohio, the 6-foot-11 Thurmond was drafted by the San Francisco Warriors and during his first year in the NBA split his time between power forward and backing up Chamberlain at center. He average 7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game to earn NBA All-Rookie team honors.

After Chamberlain was traded the following season, Thurmond moved permanently to his natural center position and quickly became an All-Star averaging 14.4 points and 15.8 rebounds during his second season.

During the 1966-67 season he finished second to Chamberlain in the MVP voting while averaging 18.7 points and 21.3 rebounds per contest. The Warriors reached the NBA Finals where they lost to Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.

Beginning with the 1967-68 campaign, Thurmond had five straight seasons where he averaged at least 20 points and in four of those seasons also averaged more than 16 rebounds per game. His high marks were 22 rebounds per contest in 1967-68 and 21.9 points per game in 1969-70.

Despite his consistent greatness, the Warriors were never able to get over the hump as they often fell to the Los Angeles Lakers (now with Chamberlain on the squad) in the Western Conference playoffs.

After Thurmond’s production dropped to 13 points and 14.2 rebounds per game as the Warriors failed to reach the playoffs during the 1973-74 campaign, he was traded to the Chicago Bulls.

In his first game for the Bulls, Thurmond became the first player in NBA history to record an official quadruple double (blocks were first kept as an official stat in 1973-74) as he registered 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks against the Atlanta Hawks.

Though his statistics continued to decline (7.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in 1974-75), Thurmond helped the Bulls reach the Western Conference Finals in his only full season in Chicago. Ironically, they met the Warriors and fell in seven games as Golden State went on to win the NBA Championship for the only time since the franchise moved from Philadelphia in 1962.

Thurmond finished his career with two seasons in Cleveland. He played a valuable role as the team reached the Eastern Conference Finals during the 1975-76 season.

A five-time All-Defensive team selection, Thurmond also finished in the top five in the league in rebounding seven times. He completed his career with averages of 15 points and 15 rebounds per game. He still ranks 10th in NBA history with 14,464 rebounds.

Thurmond was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985 and was recognized as one of the 50 Greatest Players during the NBA’s 50th Anniversary Season.

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