Oct. 19, 2012
#15 Slater Martin
Oct. 22, 1925 - Oct. 18, 2012
Hometown: El Mina, Texas
News: Hall of Famer passes at 86
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame '82
Longhorn Hall of Honor '62
Texas Sports Hall of Fame '64
led Texas to 1947 Final Four
By Bill Little, Texas Media Relations -
A strong core of the corps returned for the 1948 season, but it was hard to recapture the magic of the 1947 run. Texas returned to New York early in the season, beating CCNY in a rematch of the third place game the year before. Langdon, Madsen and Hamilton all were back, but the kid who was making the most noise in Austin and the Southwest was Martin. An agile athlete who was a gifted shooter, Martin was a picture of consistency.
"Some of those guys would be two for twenty one night and nineteen of twenty-three the next," recalled Bill Sansing, UT's first Media Relations Director. "Slater was always the same. We called him 5-foot, 10-inches, but he always maintained that he was five-ten-and-a-half. He could do incredible things with a basketball. We used to have a backboard on the stage at Gregory Gym that was against the wall. There was a protective mat just under the goal. Slater would run up the mat and dunk the ball. He was a great athlete."
In a game against league champion Baylor, Martin held Bear all-American Jackie Robinson to just two points. While his offensive skills were superb, it would be his defensive prowess which would keep him playing the game of basketball for a very long time.
As Gray and his Longhorns had upgraded the game of basketball in the Southwest Conference, so had their opponents. The NCAA Tournament was young, and the 64-team fields of the next century were years away. Only eight teams got to play then, only one from a conference. When Baylor edged Texas for the SWC title, the Bears advanced. Texas did get an invitation to play in the NIT, and returned to Madison Square Garden one more time.
New York University was the opening round opponent, and the Violets were led by tall Dolph Schayes, who would go on to star in the NBA. Martin and Madsen led a late comeback, but again a last second basket would haunt the 'Horns, as NYU scored with six seconds left to win, 45-43. The team finished with a 20-5 record, with three of the losses coming in SWC play.
By the 1949 season, Martin was becoming an established star. Gray's annual trips to New York had given him and his teammates a showcase in which to exhibit their talents.
Martin had been reared in Houston by his grandmother, Mrs. J. H. Sheppard, who bought him a basketball, put up baskets, and even installed lighting in the backyard when Slater was only eight years old.
He spent hours dribbling, shooting, faking and practicing defense. He led his high school team to the state championship in 1942. His grandmother, who had by then learned all the basketball rules and the fine points of the game, would conduct review sessions with Martin after every game. Then, she was responsible for sending him to The University of Texas.
But while his college career was highlighted by a school and league record 49-point game against TCU as the Longhorns defeated the Horned Frogs, 81-60 en route to a 17-7 mark in 1949, it was his ability to play defense which would dictate his future.
In one of his seasons at Texas, he held the players he was assigned to guard scoreless in five games, and to just a single field goal in five other cases. He was, as one New York writer described him, "omnipresent." Martin was named all-American following the 1949 season, In the three seasons Martin played at Texas after World War II, the Longhorns posted a record of 63 wins and 14 losses.
It would be seven more years until Raymond Downs, who had equaled Martin's school record of 49 points, would become the first Longhorn drafted by an NBA team. But by the time Downs was selected, Martin was already an established star.
The medium of television was just becoming a factor in sports coverage, but one of the images of winter and early spring of the mid-1950s was an old black and white TV, perhaps a high class "Capehart" or other model, bringing the NBA version of the game of basketball into America's homes.
In the summer of 1949, Martin and his wife had packed their car and headed for Minneapolis, where he had signed a professional basketball contract with the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers for $3,500. He was one of sixteen players who reported preseason camp, and he was the only one shorter than six-feet-three-inches. But on the first day of practice, he reported to the downtown athletic club in Minneapolis carrying a basketball under his arm.
As the story goes, the doors to the elevator opened, and out-stepped George Mikan, at that time the biggest (at six-feet-ten-inches) and most famous player in the league.
"Hey, boy," said Mikan to the diminutive Martin, "throw me the ball."
Later, when Martin retrieved a missed shot by Mikan and took a shot of his own, the super star told him, "just pass the ball to Big George."
It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Mikan was the tallest player in the league, Martin was the shortest, and together they combined to lead the Lakers to four NBA championships in seven years. Martin then moved to St. Louis, where he helped the St. Louis Hawks to another championship. In all, he played in 745 games, sixth best in NBA history when he officially retired in 1960. He had scored 7,337 points, an average of 9.8 points per game, which was 22nd best in the league then.
He had passed the ball well, accumulating 3,160 assists, fourth best in league history at the time, and he had misses only four games during his seven years in Minnesota. He was named an NBA all-star seven times, and in 1982 received the ultimate honor of becoming the only Texas Longhorn player ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
"Considered one of the smallest "super players" in NBA history," reads the inscription on Martin's space in the Hall of Fame. "A forerunner of the modern point guard and a steadying influence on five NBA Championship teams as an excellent playmaker."
Martin competed in an interesting time in the evolution of basketball in America. In his college time, he was one of a legion of mature World War II veterans who were trying to start their lives all over again. In the NBA, he was playing in a league which was just beginning to see the coming of some of the great African American players.
Sixty years after he first began his time at Texas in earnest, he remained one of greatest players in school history....