As much as Marty Blake’s legacy will be the profound, pioneering impact he had on NBA scouting, Blake also will be remembered fondly as one of the league’s great characters – starting during his tenure as general manager of the St. Louis Hawks during their eventful 13 years here before moving to Atlanta.
When Ben Kerner moved the franchise from Milwaukee to St. Louis in 1955, former Hawk Cheap Al Ferrari Jersey recalled Monday, “They didn’t have a nickel. I mean, zero. They were really down and out.”
A vital part of the team’s stock in trade became promotions, including along the way postgame entertainment at Kiel Auditorium with the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
But the team’s economic challenges led to some catches here and there.
For instance, if a ticket indicated a fan had won an expensive watch, Ferrari recalled, laughing, “Marty would track them down to use it for the next promotion, because they didn’t want to buy another watch.”
Such wheeling and dealing also extended to the product on the court, and two years after arriving here the Hawks reached the NBA finals.
A year after that, with Cheap Bob Pettit Jersey scoring 50 points in the decisive 110-109 victory over Boston in Game 6, the Hawks were NBA champions.
It was all in no small part because of the efforts of Blake, who died of undisclosed causes Sunday at age 86 in Alpharetta, Ga..
Blake literally ran that team out of “the pocket inside his sportcoat,” as former Post-Dispatch writer Dave Dorr once put it.
Evidence of that quirk never was more tangible than in an episode in 1957.
After the Hawks beat the Minneapolis Lakers at the Washington University Field House to earn a berth in the finals, team members hoisted Blake up, carried him toward an adjacent swimming pool and tossed him in.
“There were no credit cards in those days, and money (from the gate receipts) was floating all over the pool,” said Greg Marecek, founder and president of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame and author of “Full Court: The Untold Stories of the St. Louis Hawks.”
Never mind that Blake purportedly couldn’t swim. When Kerner saw what was happening, Marecek said, laughing, he was said to have yelled, “Forget Marty – get the money out of the pool!”
Or as Jack Levitt, Blake’s colleague and longtime friend, recalled: “We had to go in and get him, and (Kerner) made us dive to get the money out of the pool.”
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Perhaps influenced by his early work under promotional genius Bill Veeck when they were in the Cleveland Indians’ system, Blake’s persona and tendency to spin yarns was such that it could be hard to separate color from fact in stories about and from him.
For instance, in a 2008 interview with the Post-Dispatch about former Hawk Cleo Hill, Blake took issue with insinuations that Hill’s career here was sabotaged by racism.
“I think somebody’s trying to rake the coals over a fire that’s not burning,” he said.
Then he casually said that his own acting career had never materialized after he played a dead body in the 1945 war movie, “They Were Expendable” and added, “We all have disappointments.”
Levitt, who characterized his own work with the Hawks as being a “jack-of-all-trades,” laughed at the mention of that Monday.
“That’s not a true story,” Levitt said, “but he used to use the line quite a bit.”
But Ferrari said, “I think that’s right,” and Blake once told Sports Illustrated he had performed in his fatigues while on leave from a military base near Miami.
There is no room for interpretation, though, in the meaning of Blake’s keen eye for talent and ability to harness that into practice first for the Hawks, then into his own business and finally for the league itself.
Before it was easy or trendy, Blake was known to scour the landscape for talent.
Marecek recalled him telling of an excursion into small-town Texas, where Blake was left riding in the back of a truck filled with chicken coops to check out a player with the help of a local farmer.
The trip led to the discovery of Cheap Zelmo Beaty Jersey, later the third overall pick in the 1962 NBA draft and an All-Star with the Hawks.
“I can not recall Marty being wrong on a player,” Levitt said. “And that’s a remarkable thing to say (considering) all the players who have passed by.”
That knack would be apparent on a national — and enduring — scale as Blake’s scouting work became a cornerstone of the NBA in the 1970s.
“Marty began his lifetime of service to basketball at a time when the league was still in its infancy,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement issued Sunday. “His work as a general manager and then as director of scouting for the NBA first helped the teams to understand the value of scouting.
“Marty’s dedication not just to the NBA but to basketball was extraordinary, and we will forever be indebted to him.”
Ferrari, who played five seasons with the Hawks, added: “In a crowd, he’d always have a line, he’d be dominating the conversation. But when you got him just one-on-one, he was a very gentle guy with a big, big heart.”