In a long list of books about basketball some stands taller than others. “Breaks of the Game” by David Halberstam is classical piece today. It tells us about Portland Trailblazers season 1979-80, and attempts to give a detailed history of the NBA, but also puts basketball into a social context, discussing and portraying things such as education, background or race. Pretty discussed nowdays.
One of the depicted persons was troubled, colorful fella named Billy Ray Bates, 6-4 guard born in rural Kosciusko, Mississipi. Book exposes his childhood and poverty in which he was raised, humble basketball beginnings, his intellectual limitations, fears and struggles. Drafted by Houston Rockets 47th overall in 1978, after solid four years at Kentucky State college, Billy Ray than spent some time in Maine Lumberjacks of CBA, winning ROY award and became known for shattering more backboards during the season.
Acquired by Portland late in the ’80 season, Billy Ray immediately won Portland fans praise with his freaky array of dunks, circus shots and flamboyant personal style and was a great bench addition in a late season playoff-push. He even won Player of the Week award by the end of the season and was awesome in playoffs and first round exit vs Seattle.
Bates than played two full seasons for Trailblazers team, scoring in double digits from the bench, but exited NBA for good after ’83 campaign in which he played 19 games for Washington Bullets and L.A. Lakers before entering rehab facility. In his short and inconsistent career, boy nicknamed “Dunk”played in 187 regular games and left behind 11.7 ppg scoring average, but he was brilliant in six playoff outings with Portland (both first –round exits), averaging 26.7 ppg on 54.5% from the field and never scoring less than 20 points.
However, Billy Ray is perhaps best remembered by the fans of Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) where he played after his NBA days. Many fans of PBA consider Bates the best import ever for his feats in uniforms of Crispa Redmanizers and Ginebra San Miguel that earned him all-time league-high scoring average of 46.2 points in 98 career games.
His above-the-rim plays and long-range bombs inspired the birth of a nickname „Black Superman“. Bates was the first import in PBA history to have a line of signature sneakers as local shoemaker Grosby gave him an endorsement coming out with a line of “Black Superman” shoes that became a smash hit among the country’s basketball-crazy populace.
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