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He missed a shot at changing NBA history

The Lakers' Frank Selvy couldn't beat the Celtics in the final seconds of Game 7 in 1962, and Boston went on to dominate the decade.

June 16, 2010|By Sam Farmer

The jabs, unlike that heartbreaking jump shot, come from long distance.

Former Lakers guard Frank Selvy lives in South Carolina, and occasionally, as the story goes, he answers his phone only to hear, "Nice shot, Frank!" a click and a dial tone.

An old teammate, Rod "Hot Rod" Hundley, tells people he makes the crank calls from his home in Arizona.

His message: Clanks for the memories.

It was Selvy, you see, who missed an 18-foot baseline jumper in Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics that, had it gone in, would have broken a 100-100 tie and lifted Los Angeles to its first championship.

Instead, the Celtics went on to win in overtime, 110-107, and clinch the series -- their second of seven titles taken over the Lakers in 11 years, a span that established Boston as the NBA's dominant franchise and the Lakers as a perennial bridesmaid.

It wasn't until 1985 that the Lakers finally beat the Celtics for a championship. The teams are now meeting in the NBA Finals for the 12th time, with Boston winning nine of the first 11. Game 7 of this year's Finals is Thursday night at Staples Center.

Time has done little to soften Selvy's disappointment about the missed opportunity in 1962. To him, Hundley's joke has gotten older than the grainy film footage of his fateful miss that's posted on YouTube.

"For almost 50 years that's been his pet thing, because I was playing in that game and he wasn't playing," Selvy said. "He talks like he played the whole game."

Forgive Selvy if he doesn't crack wise about his dubious place in history. He's a friendly and genial fellow, but he's also very competitive, even 48 years later.

"We were four points behind, and I made two baskets in 20 seconds to tie the game up. I never hear about that," Selvy said. "I'm very proud of those shots, and if I had made the last one that really would have been something."

Selvy, a two-time NBA All-Star, is "a very good person, good guy," said former Lakers teammate Elgin Baylor, who was positioning himself for the rebound when Selvy launched his shot. "But Frank is very sensitive about things, and he's not the type of person that likes to be teased about anything."

It all happened so fast. Five seconds left at the Boston Garden. Selvy inbounded the pass at midcourt to Hundley, who dribbled to the top of the key. He pump-faked a pass to Jerry West, who was covered, then passed back to an open Selvy in the left corner.

Selvy, a good shooter who once scored 100 points in a game for Furman University, fired a 12-footer that was on line but just a bit long, kicking high off the back rim. Boston's Bill Russell grabbed the rebound to force overtime.

Hundley said the thought crossed his mind to take the shot himself, but instead he passed to Selvy.

"I had one thought in my mind when the ball came to me: 'Do I take the shot?' I was wide open," Hundley recalled. "I thought, 'If I make it, I'll be the mayor of L.A. But if I miss, they'll be riding me out of town on a rail.' So I elected to pass it to Frank."

Selvy thought he was fouled on his last shot, but he didn't get a whistle.

"That shot was dead straight," he said. "But if you look real close and look at my follow-through, you can see where Bob Cousy hits my arm as I released the ball. My arm is pointed dead left instead of at the basket.… I went back to the game and told Coach [Fred] Schaus that he fouled me. But I understand that. It's part of the game."

Selvy, who played six of his nine NBA seasons with the Lakers, also knows that no one shot makes or breaks an entire series. He thinks the Lakers should have won the championship in Game 6, when they took an early lead before Boston roared back in the third quarter and blew them out, 119-105. He's still mystified as to why he spent much of that game on the bench, watching Hundley play in his place.

"We were up 3-2 in the series and it was back in L.A.," Selvy recalled of Game 6. "I was five for five from the field and was guarding Sam Jones and he hadn't scored a point. We had a 17-point lead. Then I get put on the bench, and by the time I come back in we're down by 10. Maybe Hot Rod can explain that."

Baylor said he has thought about the "what if" -- as in, if the Lakers had won that series, would it have had a wider effect on more than a decade of Boston dominance. The Celtics won 11 titles between 1957 and 1969.

"It could possibly have changed things," Baylor said. "We always thought that we could win. We never thought we were going to lose. We just felt that we were good enough to win."

Selvy felt the same way and has watched this year's Lakers-Celtics series with predictable rooting interest. He concedes that, despite the teasing, he owes Hundley a small debt of gratitude.

Said Selvy: "He's kept my name in print, I guess."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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