Forgotten Player of the Moment: KELLY TRIPUCKA
by PHIL RIPPA (originally appeared on Veteran Presence)
This there NBA that the kids watch today is not the NBA that I watched. The difference is that while both have truckloads of ugly guys, the ugly guys in my NBA could actually shoot or at least block a shot or hustle back on defense.
Today, it is nothing but high schoolers who won’t know Rolando Blackman or World B. Free or Bernard King if they punched them in the face, dropped 45 points on them and then smacked them around with their err… never mind. Then there are the goofy 7’5” stiff internationals with 43 consonants in their name from France who actually never stepped foot on American soil to play a regular season game.
Where are the hairy, sweaty, homely looking white guys? The ones that I might run into at the ShopRite screaming at the greasy 15-year-old cashier that they gave them a $20 not a $10. Where are Chris Mullin and Tom Chambers and Dan Majerle and Jeff Hornacek and Mark Price and Scott Skiles and Mark Eaton and Craig Ehlo and Chris Dudley and Jack Skima and Mike Giminski and Danny Schayes and Jon Koncak and Mike Iuzzolino and Matt Bullard and…. okay, I have probably stepped off the reservation here.
And then there was Kelly Tripucka. Tripucka is the great forgotten white player. Of course, he went to Notre Dame because if you are going to be ugly and white in the 80s, you were going to either Kansas or Notre Dame or St. John’s if you were an Italian kid afraid of leaving the city.
The Pistons made him 12th pick in the ’81 draft (of course, Detroit had selected a fella named Isiah Thomas with the 2nd pick) and Tripucka decided to have a career year in his rookie year – putting up over 1700 points (21.6 ppg) along with the daily handful of rebounds and assists. He made the all-star team, yet somehow Buck Williams won Rookie of the Year.
He had some silly seasons with the Pistons (and games – including the night he put up 56 on the Bulls) and then with the Jazz. (Tripucka was sent West when the Pistons got Adrian Dantley) He did hang around long enough to score the first points in Charlotte Hornets history and even lead them in scoring that first season.
This wouldn’t be a story if it didn’t include the part were we mention that he was fragile as he missed large chunks of time in three seasons due to injury. For his career, Tripucka scored over 12,000 points (the crippled seasons really torched his ppg average as it is only 17.2, which while isn’t shabby, it should have probably been over 20).
Let’s not kid ourselves though. What Tripucka really is going to be known for is:
1) Being in the Polish Sports Hall of Fame.
2) Being the white equivalent of Patrick Ewing in the sweating department. No pair of sneakers was safe. Poor little NBA towel boys.
3) Having an absurd permed mullet look. Maybe that is what drove the Detroit ladies wild
4) Along with Rex Chapman, unleashing the horrible “White man with really long spandex underneath the shorts” look.
Of course, Larry Bird went and stole my thunder and stepped all over this concept. Stupid white basketball players.