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George Yardley, 75; NBA Star Set Scoring Record With 2,001 Points

August 14, 2004|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

George Yardley, the first NBA player to score more than 2,000 points in a season, died Thursday at his Newport Beach home of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 75.

Yardley was diagnosed with ALS in April of last year, his son, Rob Yardley, said Friday.

"He knew it was a death sentence," Rob Yardley said. "But he always pointed out that Lou Gehrig wasn't half his age when he got the disease. So Dad had a chance to live a longer life."

The 6-foot-5 Yardley began his NBA career in 1953 and played forward for seven seasons with the Fort Wayne Pistons, Detroit Pistons and Syracuse Nationals.

Before the 1957-58 season with Detroit, Yardley signed a $25,000 contract that made him the NBA's highest-paid player. That season, he scored 2001 points in 72 games, breaking the league record of 1,932 points held by George Mikan.

He was one of the first players in the league to consistently shoot a jump shot.

"I don't know if people today could truly understand how good he was," former Laker coach Bill Sharman, who played against Yardley in college and in the NBA, told The Times some years ago. "He had probably the quickest release of anybody in the NBA. He was a deadly shooter and one of the only ones dunking the ball back then."

Along with his shooting touch, Yardley had a reputation of being a hard-nosed player.

"Elgin Baylor always said my dad was the toughest guy he ever had to guard," Rob said. "He wasn't as strong as Elgin, but on defense, when Baylor came into the key, Dad would just belt him, stand back and give Elgin this crazy look. Elgin soon settled for jump shots, which my father wanted. Dad knew when Elgin went to the basket, he had no chance to stop him."

He was an all-star every year but his rookie season, yet Yardley ended his NBA career in 1960, keeping a promise to his wife to stop playing when his children were of school age. He finished his NBA career with 9,998 points.

George Harry Yardley III was born in Hollywood on Nov. 3, 1928. His family -- father, George II; mother, Dorothy; and younger brother Robert -- moved to Balboa Island, near Newport Beach, in 1942. Yardley starred in basketball for Newport Harbor High School, graduating in 1946 and moving on to Stanford.

By the time he enrolled at Stanford, Yardley had reached his adult height. His basketball skills, especially scoring, also soared.

A third-team All-CIF selection in high school, Yardley averaged 12.3 points for Stanford as a junior and 16.9 points as a senior, when he was chosen an AAU All-American and a Helms Foundation second-team All-American.

In 1950, he scored 237 points to break Hank Luisetti's single-season conference scoring record of 232 points. He was also the second player in Stanford history to score 400 points in a season.

Yardley, who was also an excellent volleyball player, graduated from Stanford that same year with a degree in civil engineering. He enlisted in the Navy in 1951 but was too tall to fit into Navy jets. So he spent much of his two-year tour at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station. Accordingly, Los Alamitos won the All-Services basketball championship.

Returning to civilian life in 1953, Yardley toured South America with an amateur U.S. basketball team. (He missed trying out for the 1952 Summer Olympics because of a broken wrist.) He cut the tour short to return home and marry schoolteacher Diana Gibson. The couple had four children: Marilyn, Rob and twins Rich and Anne.

After retiring from the NBA, Yardley established a business in Santa Ana, selling mechanical engineering equipment. The George Yardley Co., now located in Fountain Valley, has been in business for 45 years. Rob is its president.

While concentrating on his business, Yardley worked out an arrangement to play for Sharman, who was coaching the Los Angeles Jets of the American Basketball League. His deal paid him $500 a game, with the stipulation that he had to play only in home games.

He retired for good after the 1961-62 season and was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in May 1996.

Yardley is survived by his children; brother Rob; and 14 grandchildren.

A memorial was being planned.

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