This page, as well as my 2015 book, Confessions of a Basketball Junkie, was made possible by my Mom, who collected and archived almost all of the articles and audio and video clips found here. Some of the book–which is filled with poems, pictures, and philosophy as well as basketball exploits–is cited here verbatim, including the following paragraph.
I started playing basketball before I consciously remember doing so. With help from my older brother Gary, I learned the fundamentals on a five-foot-high basket in our basement. I could dribble equally well with either hand and shoot lay-ups and lay-backs on a regulation basket by the time I entered kindergarten. At the YMCA, on the court in our backyard, and in school gyms all over town, I spent countless hours pretending to be or playing against Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, or some other NBA guard. I knew they made a lot of money; I saw what kind of role they played in society; it wasn’t hard to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. School was something I had to go through in order to play in the NBA. It may sound strange, but any time anyone asked me the proverbial submit-to-the-system question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”—they knew I meant my answer. Basketball merged both dreams and day-to-day reality.
While Gary certainly got me into basketball, no one played in more pickup games with me than my younger brother Dave. Both of them were excellent players and had good high school, college, intramural, and/or city league careers. My Dad built us a court in our yard and thousands of intense games took place there–as a friend and longstanding participant, Harold Falan, can attest.
I am not the only one who believes that I would have starred in the NBA if not for a series of knee operations. I know how that sounds. But hear me out. I have played with and against many NBA players who agree. Gus Ganakas, the head coach at Michigan State, said after my freshman year, “In Dirk Dunbar, we feel they have one of the best guards in the nation.” I outscored, out-rebounded, and out-assisted Illinois State senior Doug Collins in a game my freshman year, and hit four free throws in the last two minutes to win it. Reporters compared me to Dave Bing (who I played against and befriended at St. Cecelia’s the week of the high-school Roundball Classic) and to Nate “Tiny” Archibald after he led the NBA in scoring and assists two years in a row. A former Central Michigan teammate, George Kubiak, recently stated that whenever he was asked he said I played a lot like Steve Nash, “only better.” More than anyone else, however, I’ve been compared to Pete Maravich–that includes James McElroy, one of Pistol’s ex-teammates with the Jazz. I could go on but you get the point and this all sounds pretentious enough.
My formal competitive basketball career began when I was 10 in the Cadillac Summer Basketball League. Coach Stan Levanduski ran the program and made me a captain of the sixth-grade team when I was going into fifth. Our team won the championship and I led the league in scoring, which I did every summer. Because I missed a lot of games my senior season due to all-star games and working at the Wolverine and Milwaukee Bucks basketball camps, I’d play with the last-place team when I was there. I averaged 60 points a game, had 98 in one in which I sat the entire fourth quarter, and my team never lost. My eighth- and ninth-grade junior high teams went undefeated and I still hold all the scoring records (including 47 points in one game and 27 points per game as a ninth-grader).
A starting guard for three years at Cadillac High School, I was first-team All-State twice and a two-time All-American. My career scoring average was over 30 points a game and I led the U.S. with 38.5 my senior year. I set the Viking game, season, and career assists as well as eight scoring records. We were rated number one in the State Class B for six weeks my sophomore year and won 16 games. We lost four of our starters the next year and were small and out-matched in most games, but went 14 and 5 my junior season, and 14 and 4 my senior season. We were scrappy. Rock Baty and Gary Johnson had good all-around games and Tom Gilbert, though only 6’1″, was a solid rebounder. The comradery was great and helped immensely. Everywhere we played gyms were packed and, more often than not, people were turned away. A Senate Concurrent Resolution highlighting my 12 school records, academics, and character was unanimously signed by the Michigan Legislature. I was a featured player in the Roundball Classic in Detroit’s Olympia Stadium which included future NBA players such as Bubbles Hawkins, Larry Fogle, Eric Money, Butch Feher, Coniel Norman, and others. My game was lauded by players, coaches, and reporters from opposing teams, as the following two articles from the Petosky paper testify.
‘Round the Bay
with Jerry Roseyear
Unfortunately, of all the games I played from junior high to professional, only clips from three high school games are–as far as I know–extant. Here are some highlights from one of those games:
Choosing a college was not easy. I had over two-hundred scholarship offers. My coach, mentor, and friend, Don Johnson, screened them for me, especially the phone calls and visits. School administrators roped off a small section before games just for scouts. I got to know some of them and had a number of head coaches in our living room. The recruiting trips were nice but I had my heart set on Michigan State (though South Florida also looked good). Then, shortly after watching the team in a summer scrimmage, I chose Central Michigan because they had Ben Kelso and Dan Roundfield, were going D1 and playing in the Mid-American Conference, building a new arena, and I liked Coach Parfitt and was pretty sure I could start as a freshman. 1972 was the first year freshmen were allowed to play varsity sports since 1962 and I made the most of it. I got mononucleosis and had to sit out most of the preseason but in the last game, I led in scoring, assists, and rebounds against the Chilean National Team.
Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed early in the season, especially against weaker, non-conference opponents, because I sat too much. We lost to Calvin College (a small D2 school) and I played eight minutes but scored eight points. I had to physically stop my Dad from storming the locker room and throwing his season tickets at Coach. We also lost to Ferris State and would have lost to Wayne State had I not scored eight points in the last few minutes after sitting most of the game. But I played a lot in the Mid-American Conference games. We played Ohio U. first and I outplayed their star, Walter Luckett, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated only days before the game. I scored 22 and had 10 assists and 8 rebounds against Illinois State, and against Eastern Illinois, I scored 12 points in limited first-half minutes but in the second half hit 9 shots in a row en route to scoring 39 for the game (including the last four that won the game). I scored 34 in a close win over Buffalo State on 12 of 19 shooting and 10 for 10 free throws while adding 6 rebounds and 6 assists. I scored 20 and dribbled out the last two minutes in a two-point win against Toledo and hit some late clutch shots and scored 21 in a one-point win against Kent State. In our last conference game, I snapped my fourth metacarpal in my left hand in the first half against Western Michigan, got taped up, and was instrumental in our two-point win. The following two games, the last of the season, I played with a cast wrapped with foam padding and scored 30 points (16 in the last four minutes) against Northern Illinois, 25 versus Akron, and was named MAC player of the week.
I set game and season CMU and MAC freshman scoring, assist, and free throw records, ending up third in scoring in the conference. Along with the accolades, awards, and interviews, I was contacted by two NBA agents who wanted to represent me. Needless to say, everything was on track and the expectations for my sophomore year were sky-high. We picked up junior-college transfer, James McElroy, and, along with Russ Davis and Pat Bock, had a great team. However, I don’t know how else to say this, our coaches installed a no-dribble wheel offense that hid our talent. One of the lowest points was a loss to Steubenville in their tournament opener. They stalled the whole game and despite my pleas to go man-to-man, we stayed in a zone. We beat a very tough American U. team (with Kermit Washington) the next night and I scored 29 and was named to the all-tournament team. We lost our opener in the University of Detroit Christmas tournament and, though I led the team in scoring and assists, sat most of the game. I had enough. I did not go to the team dinner and was packing my bags when Coach Parfitt came to my room and, in a very heartfelt moment, promised things would change. He said Denny Alexander, an assistant coach, insisted on it. We went to a simple stack offense the next night and, in our tenth and best game of the young season, blew out a tough Montana State team and I scored 27.
Just when it felt like things were falling in place, disaster struck. While playing in my hometown gym during Christmas I twisted my planted leg reaching for a pass and tore my ligaments and tendons, ripped the cartilages, detached my patella, and suffered multiple bone fragments. Following my first two of seven operations, I changed my major from religion to philosophy and spent the majority of the next two seasons rehabilitating and reinjuring my knee and sitting on the bench watching (including a run to the NCAA regional finals). I will never forget the love and support of my teammates, especially Danny, Mac, Russ, Pat, and Denny Parks, my roommate and close friend who was pulled up from the JV team and played excellently in my stead. However, I transferred to Eckerd College with the intent to focus on my studies. But, being a basketball junkie, as soon as I get there I went to the gym and got “talked into” playing with the JV team (there were no transfer rules regarding JV teams). As fate would have it, I landed on someone’s foot and tore up my ankle. Before I went to Michigan had ankle surgery and minor knee surgery that summer, I played with an AAU team in the Florida championships with a so-called soft cast on the ankle (which I couldn’t remove during the tournament). We won a tight game in the finals against a team that had a lot of former Florida State players, including Reggie Royals and Ronnie King, who lost to UCLA in the 1972 national championship. I was the tourney MVP and scored 37, 33, and 41.
I wasn’t supposed to be able to play with the Tritons that fall because of transfer rules, but Coach Harley wrote the NCAA transfer committee and asked them, considering all my hardships, if they could make an exception. They said they had no problem unless an opponent filed a complaint. So Coach let me play but restricted my minutes whenever he could that semester. I ended up averaging just over 25 points a game that season (ninth-most in D2), but like a St. Petersburg Times reporter wrote, had I played more, I could have averaged “34 or 35.” We were picked for last place by coaches and press in the tough Sunshine Conference as the previous year the team went 5 and 19 and had no conference wins. I knew we would surprise a lot of people. Tim Brosekar was a power forward and could score (I played on his Tallahassee city league team 12 years later while working on my Ph.D.). Tony O’Brien was a rebounding force, Jerry Jones added defensive and offensive talent, and we had a great bench (a shout-out to Bill Perkins and Carlos Singleton). Coach Harley knew what we had, did a great job with the chemistry, and pointed out often to reporters that my tenacity and ability helped give “class” and “new hope” to the Tritons and that I “contributed immensely to our team attitude” by “instilling leadership and confidence.”
We won our first eight games (still a school record) and Coach played me as many minutes as necessary. For instance, in our third game against U. of Illinois at Chicago Circle (the first team we played my freshman year at Central), I scored 14 points in a two-minute surge late in the second half. After our fifth straight win, a page-and-a-half St. Petersburg Times article, “Dunbar is Knee High in Class,” covered my career and put the Tritons and me on the radar. I played a lot of minutes in our Christmas tournament, which we won. I scored 25 and 41 points (still the school record) and was MVP. I was having immense fun.
The day before our first conference game at Rollins, the Orlando Sentinel Star ran a huge article, “Dunbar’s Day: Hermeneutics, Theology, Basketball,” which started with the line, “Dirk Dunbar is trying to find meaning in his life.” After discussing my senior thesis and basketball career, the writer, Don Archer, explained how I’ve helped turn it around for Eckerd. The game was sold-out. Rollins won by 14, but we had our chances. I scored 35 and Archer started the next-day article with, “If there was any doubt before Tuesday night, there is none now, Dirk Dunbar is for real.” He quoted the Rollins and former NBA Coach, Ed Jucker, who claimed I was “sensational” and that “we tried everything on him but nothing worked (including a triple-team). He shoots anywhere—outside, inside, falling down. He must have hit ten shots while his body was parallel to the floor.” We played defending champs, Florida Tech., three nights later. We jumped out to a 16-6 lead and I had 10 points in the first two minutes, ended up with 26, but fouled out and we lost in a well-played game.
We played D1 South Florida in the Bayfront Center and lost again in admirable fashion. I scored 31 and literally had the fans from both teams chanting my first name every time I touched the ball in the second half. I was headlined by two writers who claimed they’d never before heard both sides cheering for the same player. USF Coach Chip Conner said he couldn’t imagine me with two healthy knees and called me “an unbelievable shooter… I’ve never seen so many off-balance shots go in.” We beat the two top teams, Rollins and Florida Southern, in the last two games of the season and I had 30 and 28 points respectively, plus a bunch of assists. We went 16 and 9 and ended up third in the conference. I was first-team all-conference and had a number of post-season interviews and articles, but none nicer than “Rebuilding a Career: They Told Him to Quit, but He Wouldn’t,” by Bob Chick, the St. Petersburg Times reporter who had been kind to me all season long. He talked about my career, the joys, the sorrows, and ended with his conviction that I would end up playing professional basketball, if not in the NBA, then certainly in Europe. Still to this day, my teammates/friends call me “Magic,” a nickname they graciously gave me before they ever heard of Earvin Johnson.
My year-and-a-half at Eckerd was transformative. My studies became increasingly important and my classes and dissertation helped set the course of my academic interests and career. With an open mind and ready for new adventures, I headed to Europe to continue soul-searching and playing basketball. Before I left for Europe, I tried out with the San Antonio Spurs (and reminisced about the MAC with George Gervin), played with the Jazz (who had contacted Coach Harley near the end of the season) in the Summer Pro League, and also played in the Chicago Internation Basketball Camp, where I received a lucrative offer from a team in Iceland. So to Iceland, I went.
Here are two short clips of the first half of two high school games accompanied by a radio broadcast:
With the motto, “have jump shot will travel,” I played and coached in Europe for eight seasons. My time in Iceland was unforgettable because of the unique beauty, stunning landscapes, amazing waterfalls, winter darkness and midnight sun, and pagan heritage, but mostly because of the people. I still have very close friends in Iceland. Three of those friends, Steinn, Bjarni, and Ingi were our starting 2-guard, center, and small forward, respectively. They were nearing their mid-thirties as were a couple of other long-standing players for the Happdraetti Hauskolans–so our team was often referred to as “the Old Guys.”
I was surprised by the warm welcome from the press as well as the instantaneous parties thrown by my teammates. It didn’t take long to get used to the European style of play. We beat Fram, the biggest team in the league, and I scored a record 58 points. Long jumpers, bankers, running one-handers, and even finger rolls–they all went in one of my best games ever. We lost our third game badly to Nyardvik, and I knew that we would have a lot of tough contests. We won our next five by 4, 5, 3, 1, and 2 points respectively; and I had 36, 35, 38, 42, and 37 points (yes, I have the articles). Unquestionably, I was playing the best basketball of my life. We lost the next game to KR, our biggest nemesis, by three, despite my 40 points and 10 assists. Then we lost to Valur, our second biggest rival, by 12 and fell into fourth place. Valur had a couple of excellent players, including my friend Rick Hockenos, a former St. Francis star who had a short stint with the Chicago Bulls. We hit Christmas break in fourth place but started the New Year in high fashion. We got revenge on Valur, beating them by 1 (I had 37) and then on KR (I had 45 and 8 assists). I’ll never forget the ever-quiet Kristen, the national team player and longtime center for KR, telling me after the game I had just played the best basketball game that anyone ever played in Iceland. I was humbled and flabbergasted. We might not have been the best team, but we were certainly fun to watch. Ours was the only team that was on every television broadcast.
After an eighteen and six regular-season record, we went into the eight-team playoffs as the third seed and pulled out two tight wins in which I scored 33 and 35 points. In the championship game against Valur, I was double-teamed and the defense collapsed on me every time I drove. I only took 16 shots (the least in any game I played in Iceland), but made 12 of them and ended up with 27 points, but more importantly had a career-high 22 assists. An editor of Dagbladid gave me a translated article of the game, which began by describing “the duel” between Rick and me, and quickly added, “But it was Dunbar who could not miss, no matter where he was on the court. His technical prowess with the ball, weaving his way through the defense to score or, even more often, dropping off spectacular passes to teammates he helped get open. The crowd [the biggest in Icelandic basketball history] enjoyed it tremendously.” After specifying why I “won the duel and IS won the cup,” the writer describes how each time Valur took the lead I would hit a couple baskets to regain the lead, and that after getting my fourth foul and having to sit, our team “fell to pieces” and Valur took a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Then I got back in and “just like that” made six points, two steals, two assists, and assured the four-point win. It was the first championship ever for Happdraetti Hauskolans, and the Old Guys sure knew how to celebrate.
Before I ever played a game, however, I coached the women’s team in the Scandinavian Cup Games in Denmark. It was my first head coaching job. I only had a week to get the team ready, but we had already integrated multiple offenses and defenses, including full- and half-court presses. The girls, some college students, some mothers, and some businesswomen, were smart, talented, and executed to perfection. The best thing about the team was the lack of egos. It didn’t matter who scored or even who was in the game, we performed as a single unit. I knew we were good but didn’t realize right how good. We had two tall, strong post players, Ranka and Kola, who could score inside. Kola could also dribble and drive, hit jump shots, and was complemented perfectly by our awesome point guard, Guthni (the best player in the league, in my opinion). No Icelandic women’s team had ever won a single game in the Cup Games, so everyone was shocked when we came back with the championship trophy. There was also a men’s tournament, but no Icelandic team qualified, so a shorthanded team from Norway asked if I would play with them. You can guess my answer. We lost badly in the championship game but I was still voted tourney MVP. To top it off, our women’s team won the regular season and playoff championships.
My second year in Iceland wasn’t so magical. It started fine and there were memorable moments, but I had another knee injury that cut short my season. We lost to a highly improved Armann team by four as I broke my own scoring record by dropping in 61 (I would have taken the win over the record any day). We barely beat Njardvik and I scored 55. Another highlight was the All-Star game that was played over Christmas, where I scored 31 in a tight win. I remember the last conference game I played; I had 35 points and hit three shots in the last minute that I took after literally pulling up a dribble or two past half-court. I wasn’t very mobile and they were doubling me immediately, so I let ‘em fly and was the most shocked person there when all three swished. I also remember waking up the next morning, taking a pain killer, dragging myself to the bathtub, soaking then icing my knee. Despite the pain, my career did end on a high note. Only days after the last game I flew to Dr. Lanny Johnson in Michigan and had microscopic surgery then flew back to Iceland in time to play in the European Cup. We had qualified for the games after our amazing season the year before–the first Iceland team to do so. We played FC Barcelona, the eventual champions, home and away, and lost both. However, though I could hardly move I scored 27 in both and we played better than anyone expected. We celebrated with so much more vigor than our Spanish opponents that you would have thought we won the games.
Following that last game in Barcelona, I went back to Dr. Johnson and had a knee reconstruction surgery, and, while I healed, finished A Matter of Perspective, which I started in Reykjavik. Published in 1978, the book is written in a diary format and contains poetry, drawings and paintings, philosophical meanderings, and general ravings about “finding meaning in the cosmic configuration called consciousness.” I have been back to Iceland multiple times and I can assure you that I am still remembered (as far as I know I am still on their Trivial Pursuit game). Besides the championship, the scoring (38.5 ppg.) and assist records, I also shot 94% and 92.9% from the free-throw line. Little did I know, a year later I would be playing and coaching in Germany. In John Lennon’s words, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Here are radio highlights of the first half of the game I scored 65 points (it includes newspaper articles).
I coached Ober-Ramstadt’s Regionalliga team (Germany’s third-highest league at the time), taught basketball at Darmstadt University, and studied German during my first year in Germany. I did play in a few Cup games, some of our club’s Bezirksliga games, and a couple of tournaments (including one in France), but I was paid to coach. We were not considered contenders but didn’t care: our goal was to get to the second league. Most players were in their early twenties. We picked up a 6’6” post player, Hansel Banks, who worked at a local U.S. army base. He could leap, score, block shots, and rebound against anybody. Gunter Ackermann was our small forward and second-leading scorer. He could drive, finish, and had a nice jump shot. His brother Volker, who taught me more German than anyone on the team, got some minutes but played mostly with the Bezirksliga team. Our two-guard, Matthias, was one of our best players. He had a great shot, a high basketball IQ, rarely turned the ball over, and was the silent team leader. Rainer or “Joker” played point and ran the offense while Klaus played power forward and did all the dirty work, such as setting picks, rebounding, and guarding the opposing team’s leading scorer. Michael and Werner came off the bench and gave us a lift.
After a slow start, we climbed from eighth place at Christmas to third by the end of the regular season, and lost to Rossdorf in the playoff semifinals! I’d like to tell you about the games but didn’t keep any articles and can’t remember much, except that we were in every game and won many that we shouldn’t have. The comradery was phenomenal, and parties and pubs were a major reason. I do remember playing in a Regional Cup game against a Frankfurt team (two Americans could play in Cup games) when we were down by 19 with two minutes left. I switched our man-to-man to a 2-1-2 full-court zone press and I was the interceptor. I had four steals, dished out three assists, hit a couple of jumpers, and finished two three-point plays; and when it was over, we were up by two. We scored twenty-one straight points! I remember going over the Spielbogen (the play-by-play sheet tournament officials keep for Cup games) with Matthias at breakfast the next day. I’ve never been part of a more amazing comeback. I also remember Ulli, my future wife who I was just starting to get to know, watching a Bezirksliga game in which I scored 55. It was the first basketball game she ever attended but was too busy talking to friends and an admirer to acknowledge the show I put on.
The German University tournament starts after the pro season is over. Some good players from our league studied at Darmstadt University, where I taught basketball, and they wanted me to coach and play. Once again, you can guess my answer. We had a lot of talent for a small school facing huge university teams (some of which had multiple first-league pro players). Short and outmatched, I counted heavily on Matthias as opponents couldn’t double-team me because he could flat-out shoot, and Thomas Hartwig, a post player who could leap, rebound, get me the ball, and fill the lane and finish. Somehow we made it to the final four of the university championships, which, unfortunately, were played on the same day! I took a knee in the thigh in our semifinal game, which we won by four. I don’t know if I ever saw the stats, but I can assure you I had at least 10 assists and 35 points. We played Göttingen in the finals, and they were big, quick, and loaded—including two national team players and the “Black Pearl,” Wilbert Olinde, who played on UCLA’s 1975 national championship team. My thigh was knotted and I could hardly move, but Matthias talked me into playing. One of the craziest things I ever did on a basketball court was at the tip-off of that game. The ball was contested and bounced straight to me. I grabbed it and took a dribble and a 40-foot shot. It swished. Consequently, it didn’t take too many times up and down the court for my leg to loosen up. We lost by four, but it sure felt like a win.
I had a number of offers that summer after our team did so well. It was very hard for me to leave my friends, but Aschaffenburg was going up to the second league, had a number of sponsors, and offered me a hefty contract, car, bonuses, and benefits. I did help the Ober-Ramstadters by getting them players and coaches over the next couple of years, including Pat Bock and John Cvengros (who’s a great coach); and they did eventually make it to the second league. As luck would have it, my friend Rusty Smith played for Aschaffenburg, a great post-player that was on a team I put together auspiciously called the US All-Stars while in Iceland. That team (which included my brother, Dave) toured through Europe for a month one summer and didn’t lose a game. Counting Rusty, Aschaffenburg had four post players, including national-team player Werner Spann. I switched our double-stack offense to a one-three-one early in the season to take advantage of Werner’s soft touch at the high post. I moved our high-scoring point guard, Wolfgang Tatzel, to the 2-guard, and put Hubert Jantzen at the point. Hubert hardly ever shot the ball and hardly ever turned it over. I also made the big and talented Rainer Groll our sixth man and had Gerhard Maidhof start at small forward. Gerhard, like Wolfgang, was fast and could finish, and we became a fast-breaking force that could turn games around in a heartbeat.
Thanks to some loyal fans, I have a complete copy of a scrapbook of the season. We beat Munich 87-70 in our first game. We started slow and were down by 14 at the half, at which time I rocked the locker room with anger (which a couple reporters overheard), and then calmed it with strategy. The writers agreed it worked. We came out a different team. After discussing the effectiveness of “the system” and how the players were buying into it, one article stated, “Director Dunbar steered the action with a remarkable touch from the bench. Like a marionette master, he pulled the right strings all night.” The press, local and regional, remained kind to me all season. We were down by 20 at Hanau in our second game before going on a second-half rampage and winning by 2. To the surprise of the press, I was upset after the game. I did praise but concluded that we would lose a lot of games if we didn’t learn how to come out ready to play. We beat Walblingen by 18 and Rosenheim by 2, and then, surprised everyone by beating FC Bamberg, the league’s powerhouse, by 3. Suddenly, after winning 13 straight, A’burg was in the grips of a basketball frenzy, and my wife’s family, the Meiers, and friends got hooked on the vibe. They added two stands to fit two stands to accommodate the growing crowds. After a home game when people were turned away, the rest of the season’s games were sold out. I was having a great time, and unlike when I was playing, I never got nervous.
When we finally lost our first game by three to BG Bamberg at their place, I surprised the press again. Instead of my usual critical analysis, I humbly gave all the credit to our opponents and praised our guys for displaying such incredible heart and effort. Then we really went on another roll, winning 10 straight, a few by one or two points but some by over 20. Originally, the goal of the administration and the hope of the fans was that we would stay in the league, and suddenly everyone was talking about winning the championship and going up to the first league—which was my aim from the beginning. We were 14 and 1 when my friend German and I flew to Florida for the Christmas break. I returned just two days before the game against second-place Ludwigsburg, which we lost. We were out of shape and I kept good on my post-game promise for extra practices until we were ready. In what is still an A’burg record, we beat Kronach 122 to 69 in the next game.
We had some close games but lost only one the rest of the way. What a year it was—only three losses by a team that had just joined the Bundesliga! We played three first-league teams in “friendship” games before the playoffs to get ready and, because we rested a couple of players with minor injuries, I was wrangled into playing in the third game against Bayreuth. Though we lost, I electrified the crowd and the press confirmed it: despite having not played or practiced, Dunbar’s shooting, “magical moves,” and “spectacular tricks” attested to why he was once one of Europe’s leading scorers. Then I played in an American-versus-German All-Star game featuring the best players in our league (including Rusty and Werner) and stole the headlines again. Titled, “Basketball from a Picture Book,” the writer stated that right from the beginning it was easy to see that the MVP award belonged to “the fan favorite” Dunbar. The only other American mentioned was Ken Sweet (who I coached two years later), the major recipient of my “unbelievable passes.” After briefly discussing my hard luck career, the writer concluded that I played like I’d never been injured—which was far from the truth. Needless to say, those two games iced the cake of my A’burg experience and fueled that old, familiar fire.
I turned down a raise from Aschaffenburg and offers from a few other teams to play and coach for Sportbund Munich the following season. Their offer included a powder-blue, four-door Turbo diesel Peugeot with my initials and jersey number on the license plates. Ulli had just accepted a job dancing ballet in Nurnberg and Munich was closer. The Munich Frogs (yes, Frogs) was in the same league as Aschaffenburg but, after a dreadful regular season, disbanded before the playoffs. So the team basically started from scratch and was composed of young players from the youth teams. Though picked for last place, we ended up third by beating the top two teams (Wurzburg and Schwabing) in the last games of the season. I scored 41 and 43, respectively. We also surprised a couple of teams early in the season and the press nicknamed our team “the Dunbar Express.” Regrettably, as in Ober-Ramstadt, I didn’t keep a scrapbook of my season in Munich, but I do have a few articles and pictures, letters I sent my parents, and memories shared by teammates with whom I still have contact. I had at least two games over 50 points and average around 38 a game.
Though I don’t recall much from the games, I certainly remember my teammates, such as Dirk D’Arcy, a 6’8” post player. A good rebounder with a great turn-around jump shot that we could go to in our set offense, Dirk was–except for me–the oldest player on the team and we have kept in contact. Horst Wester played the point and two-guard (so we would switch depending on who had the ball), had a nice shot, good handles, and was an excellent passer. While loosening up for our first practice, I noticed this young, 7’ post player shooting smooth right and left-hand hook shots. The second I found out that he was the starting center on our youth team, I said, “Not anymore.” The younger brother of NBA center Uwe Blab, Olaf started a few and played in all games. I would play Robby and Jost interchangeably. Robby was taller, faster, and could rebound a bit better, but Jost could jump and wasn’t afraid to mix it up. He could also shoot and drive better than Robby. Kristian was a good shooting guard who would give Horst or me a break. As with all German teams, we hung out at our favorite pubs after practices and games.
Anyway, Dirk recently reminded me of a game against Wurzburg to which our now-deceased team president, Helmut Handwerker, had us take the train. As Dirk tells it, “For some reason the train was late and we had still to walk for about 20 minutes to the gym. So we were in a hurry. We entered the gym about 20 minutes before the game. Würzburg already warming up and we dressed up in about 5 minutes. We were down most of a well-played game, the crowd, and a lot of fun. I remember in the second half I was sitting on the bench and Helmut was on a chair next to me and he said something like ‘Well, no matter how this ends, anything is better than an overtime, because we have to catch the train back to Munich, and it is the last one.’ So guess what happened… you got stronger and stronger in the second half and finally, we ran into overtime! Of course! We outscored Wurzburg 14 to 5 in the overtime and you scored 12 of them and assisted on the other 2. I remember this very well.” Dirk added, “You laid the foundation for our club and no other team from thereafter was ever so successful. And we were fully amateurs. We all loved the way you held practice and you motivated everybody just through your presence.” Dirk also reminded me, as did Matthias from Ober-Ramstadt, that I did do a little trash-talking. He said if I got open with the ball I would look at my opponent, wait for him to jump at me, release my shot, and say, “Zu spät ” (“too late”). He said, “We laughed about that for years.” He ended by saying, “Nobody ever was cooler on the court than you.”
The following collage is from Confessions of a Basketball Junkie. The top pictures are from my season in Munich (including a photo of the Monopteros in the Englischer Garten and one from a trip to Greece and the Parthenon with John Cvengros); the bottom left is the Ober-Ramstadt team and to the right is the Aschaffenburg team.
Following my year in Munich, I signed with Bamberg to coach their Bundesliga team. When games and practices didn’t conflict, I also coached and played for their third league team. My first year there was a blast. Ulli had just signed a contract to dance in Nurnberg and because it wasn’t that far from Bamberg, I moved in with her. Add to that the team’s comradery was great and part of the reason we won the league championship and five Cup games before losing to Göttingen in the finals—a remarkable feat for a second division team playing in a tournament comprised mostly of first division teams. As was the case for many years, only one American was allowed per team and ours was Ken Sweet, but we did pick up Mike Boyle, an American point guard with a German passport. We would fast break whenever possible and Mike knew who to hit, when to get his own shot, or pull back and set up the offense. Wolfgang Goppert was our small forward, and though he was only 6’5” he had long arms, was strong and fast, and could finish. He’s also one of the nicest guys I know and we still exchange Christmas cards. Two of our post players, Stephan Baierlain and Bernd Kimpel, both 6’9,” were terrific national-team players and good friends and have visited us in Florida a couple of times. Holger Geschwinder, a 38-year-old veteran and personal coach of Dirk Nowitzki, came off the bench and gave us solid minutes. In short, we had tons of talent, size, and experience as well as characters that molded into a championship team. The remarkable thing is that we cruised through the regular season and playoffs with very little resistance. Moreover, the fun we had on the court was matched by what we had off the court. Add to that, our regional league team finished in fourth place and I averaged 35 a game.
Here are some highlights of the second half of a high school game accompanied by newspaper articles.
My second year in Bamberg was tough. By winning the championship the year before, we moved into the first league. We lost Mike Boyle but added Armin Andres, a talented point guard. Though we shocked everyone by winning our first game against league champion Leverkusen, we lost the next five. Armin had to finish his tour with the army and missed all five of those games, as did Holger, who was suspended because he got cut above his eye in the first game, was called for a foul, and wiped his blood on the ref. Stefan, who shattered a bone and tore a tendon in his index finger, missed those games and many more. Besides bad luck in close games and all of the pressure, I was being undermined by our assistant coach. Bernd and Ulli warned me what was happening, but I didn’t take the threat seriously because the assistant (who never played competitively) knew so little about the game. My relationship with the club’s CEO was strained and really turned south when the team was at his mountain chalet for a vacation and he suddenly insisted that I travel to play and coach a game for the second team (which was not part of my contract). I refused because I’d had a few beers and hadn’t slept much the night before, the game was hours away, and I didn’t have my tennis shoes or knee brace. The animosity climaxed a week later during an overtime game. We were down by six and had a string of bad calls that seemed to dishearten our players, so I was prepared to take a technical foul when he snuck up behind me and tried to forcibly pull me back down on the bench. I shrugged him off and turned to see fury flash from his eyes. It didn’t matter that we won the game and four others in December, thereby assuring our goal of staying in the first league. Shortly after our public Christmas party, where I played piano and sang “Let It Be” with the team, I was told I was no longer the head coach. The CEO still wanted me to come to games and help out, but I insisted on a settlement (i.e., the rest of my salary), which we agreed on one dark and ice-cold January morning. After the meeting, I returned to the gym one last time. The team was practicing and the new coach had the players running around the out-of-bounds lines carrying benches, then laying down and rolling over while passing the benches, then getting up to continue the drill. I drove home relieved.
After that season, I knew I had to play again. Following negotiations with a couple different teams, I signed with Nurnberg and was glad I did. The guys on the team were awesome. Our two post players, Lothar Dimke and Peter Wagner were older than me and the rest of the guys were young, including our youth-national-team forward, Rolf Koch (who I helped get a scholarship at Eckerd College a couple years later). He was 6’6″ and an all-around player who could score. Michi was a starting point guard and his brother Holger–who could play multiple positions–was the first player off the bench. Rolf’s brother, Rainer, was our second-string point guard. I relished playing the two-guard because of the having the 3-point line. It was the only season of my career that I played with one, and I took advantage of it–using picks, creating step-back moves, faking long-range jumpers, and then driving inside. Once again, I was playing for a team that had just gone up a league and, though some writers warned what I could do as a player and a coach, we were picked for dead last in our 12-team league. I couldn’t believe it. Thank goodness Ulli kept a scrapbook as we finished in third place by beating the league’s premier teams in the last two games of the season.
We had a great preseason, both on and off the court, but when Augsburg nailed us by 16 in the first game, writers welcomed us to the real world. I pointed out that the refs took away five baskets on three-second calls and said it would be a different story next time. I didn’t mention that I should have had ten more free throws. Instead, I ended up with two tic-tac technical fouls and was kicked out in the second half after scoring 35. Everyone knew, especially my teammates, that we would never go down without a fight. “Dunbar Shoots down Breitengussbach” was the Bayern headlines after I scored 43 in the next game, which we won by four. I had three of my six steals in the game’s last minute! We lost the next game by 3 but then won back-to-back games the next weekend, in which I scored 43 and 45. The headlines of a South-German press release covering all Regionalliga games stated, “The Dunbar-Express Rolls” (a nickname that stuck). I scored 45 again in the next game, a big road win, and the Nurnberger News headlines suggested that I “Played the Tall Guys Dizzy,” and the first sentence said I left our fans screaming and the hometown fans shaking their heads. We beat Gersthofen (the other team that advanced into our league) by 25 the next game and I had 42 despite sitting most of the second half.
I caught an elbow early in the next game, went to the hospital and had eight stitches under my left eye, and returned to the game ready to play (against my doctor’s orders), only to see it wasn’t necessary. We won by nine; then lost a heartbreaker and though I had 37, I blamed myself. We played too much zone, should have pressed more, and I switched players too often. I made up for it the next game by exploding for 53 points and making all the right coaching moves against a very talented and physical Wurzburg team that we beat 103 to 98. It was one of the best games of my career, as a local reporter attested: “the record-making, acrobat-shooting player-coach made the best defensive team in the league look silly, especially with astonishing shots from absolutely impossible positions around the basket.” We finished the first round with three more wins and had already assured our place in the league for the next season.
We came back from Christmas break and lost three straight, including one by over 30 to league-leading Anspach. I tore an abdominal muscle in that game but we managed to win the next two, then lost four and fell to seventh place. We beat Baunach handily and, finally healthy, I had 38 despite sitting the last quarter. We won the next game by two and I went for 48, hitting all five three-pointers and all 22 free-throw attempts. According to the last stat sheet I have, I averaged 36.5 points a game and shot 96% from the line (I shot over 93% from the line during my two years in Iceland and would really like to know what percentage I shot in Munich). After winning back-to-back games against good teams, in which I scored 34 and 42, we ended the year shocking second-place Schwabing 104-85 in what the press release called, “Dunbar’s Shooting Show.” Rolf played great, scored 30, and I had 40 points and 12 assists. We finished in third place, but if you would have been in our locker room or at Seeleinsbuler hof (our favorite post-game hangout), you’d thought we won the championship. Our goal, as I told reporters, was to play in the Bundesliga after winning the championship next season. I didn’t know at the time that was my last professional game. What a way to go out!
Here are some more high school radio highlights versus Reed City accompanied by newspaper articles:
The Dao of Hoops!
My love of basketball is shared by my son, Jeremy. I coached him at many levels on many teams while he was growing up. I was hard on him, but almost always let him beat me one-on-one... until he was old enough to beat me straight up. Jeremy had a great high school, college, and nine-year pro career in Germany. I cover many of his proclivities in my book. He was a joy to coach and watch develop. I am sure the following clips that I made for pro teams in Europe that cover his final year in college attest to his abilities.
Obviously, I am a basketball junkie. I enjoy watching college and pro and still like to shoot. The sport is a living meditation. As I wrote in “The Dao of Hoops,” “… to play it well requires teamwork, instantaneous decision making, spontaneous hand-eye-foot coordination, patience, intensity, dedication, concentration, and selﬂessness. All these elements are emphasized in ancient China’s earth-wisdom traditions, particularly Daoism. Key Daoist concepts such as wuwei, qi, and ziran not only integrate the most signiﬁcant qualities of the sport but also demonstrate how basketball can serve as a microcosm of a balanced, meaningful life” (Basketball and Philosophy, Lexington, Ky, U. of Kentucky Press, 2007). While offering me the opportunity to study and experience foreign languages, cultures, and philosophies, basketball has helped engender in me a cross-cultural awareness that, like the sport itself, transcends race and nationalities. I truly believe the game helped teach me discipline, self-mastery through constant mental and physical practice, and a viable approach to living life—one nicely captured by a fellow student of Eastern thought, coach Phil Jackson: “Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable. It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it. The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game—and life—will take care of itself.”12 As the Daode jing avers, “When the supreme Dao is present, action ignites from the heart” (v. 18).