11.16.2012

Dave Twardzik: A Closer Look (Bill Walton & the 76-77 Blazers)



As we take a stroll down memory lane and revisit one of Bill Walton's more memorable seasons as a basketball player, we will occasionally introduce you to a few of his teammates on that World Championship team. Today's installment focuses on Dave Twardzik, a point guard and sometimes starter on that team.

1995

WHEN DAVE Twardzik was playing for the Virginia Squires of the ABA, one of his teammates walked up to his wife, Kathe, and offered a scouting report.

``Playing against your husband,'' he told her, ``is like playing against an annoying little gnat.''

Today, 20 years after his playing days, Twardzik doesn't mind the description.

``I take that as a compliment,'' says Twardzik, who this week is beginning to work full time as the Warriors' general manager.

Technically, it is a compliment. Blessed with a spectacular lack of physical gifts, Twardzik took another path. He buzzed around the floor, slapped away passes, disrupted plays and always, always hit the floor.

A height-challenged point guard -- he always claimed that his program height of 6-foot-1 was valid because he was 6-1 ``on occasion'' -- Twardzik could have been the national poster boy for floor burns. He took more charges and drew more fouls on foolhardy excursions down that lane than most of the rest of the league put together.

Twardzik crashed and burned so often that when he began to suffer the back problems that would end his career after four years in the ABA and four with Portland in the NBA, teammate Bob Gross told author David Halberstam that ``it's an allergy. The body is beginning to reject the wood after all those years. Bound to happen.''

You could say that, in the long run, all it really proved was that a little guy like Twardzik had no business in the arena with the behemoths. So what was the point? Well, besides a somewhat cranky back, Twardzik got something out of his days as a splinter collector. In 1977, with that annoying little gnat running the show, the Blazers won an NBA title.

There's a pattern to be studied there, one that carries over to this day. On the court Twardzik was always working the angles, figuring his edge. As Halberstam wrote of Twardzik in ``The Breaks of the Game,'' his book on the Blazers, ``There was nothing happenstance in his game.''

That's your new Warrior general manager, a genial, easygoing, quotable fellow whose mental wheels are spinning every minute. Virtually unrecruited out of high school, the little guard was introduced to Sonny Allen, who told him he was head coach at Old Dominion, a school Twardzik didn't even know existed.

``Coach Allen, I've heard a lot of good things about Old Dominion,'' Twardzik said promptly. He accepted a scholarship soon afterward.

Twardzik has that knack for saying the right thing, for charming those running the operation. In his four years with Charlotte, he adroitly managed to avoid clashes with the Hornets' oddball owner, George Shinn. Down there they are so accustomed to seeing the Charlotte owner stick his foot in his mouth that when his name comes up, they shrug their shoulders and paraphrase the popular bumper sticker: ``Shinn happens.''

Shinn ran head coach Allen Bristow through hoops this year, saying in January, ``If the players had given me the word, Allen might be selling hamburgers right now.'' Bristow is one of Twardzik's closest friends, but Twardzik insists he never had a problem with Shinn.

There's that pattern: See the big picture, plan ahead. Twardzik may have taken a few Shinn charges head-on, but in the end he got what he wanted, a top job with a quality organization.

The definitive example is the godfather of Portland hoops, Jack Ramsey. Although he was a brilliant coach, Ramsey had a reputation for driving his point guards right out of the game. Yet he and Twardzik not only worked beautifully together, eventually Ramsey regarded him as a friend.

``Maybe I just take criticism well,'' Twardzik says when asked why he didn't fall victim to Ramsey's point-guard perfectionism. ``I never thought Jack Ramsey said anything that wasn't justified. To me he was the perfect coach. He treated everybody like men, but not everybody the same. And that was important with our team, because off the floor it's not like we were one big, happy family.''

In case you're missing the point, that's at least a partial reference to Bill Walton. Before he had his hair coiffed and put on a blazer as a TV commentator, Walton was an incredibly talented center with a major attitude. Twardzik, Mr. Perfect, and Walton, the Grateful Dead's favorite player, clashed immediately. Privately, Walton was said to think that Twardzik, who wore the last remaining crew cut in American sports in the '70s, was simply on the team to appeal to mostly white Portland fans.

Twardzik thought Walton was demanding, and getting, special treatment. The outcome? Well, like they say about Twardzik, if you're looking for people to say something bad about him, better pack a lunch.

``I love that guy,'' Walton gushes today. ``My dad wears an NBA ring because of Dave Twardzik.''

Apparently, the moral of the story is that it is possible to out-nice, out-hustle and out-think nearly everyone if you set your mind to it. Twardzik recalls that Harry Glickman, in his last year as Portland general manager, asked Twardzik what he was going to do when he retired.

``I'd like to be a general manager,'' said Twardzik, whose job experience at that point consisted of wearing short pants and getting knocked over. ``I'd like to have your job.''

It is not recorded whether Glickman took that as a warning. But he should have.

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