The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Former De La Salle and Tulane two-sport athlete Johnny Arthurs' storied career would fill multiple scrapbooks

When the topic of best overall athletes in New Orleans sports history is brought up, many remember Johnny Arthurs from the 1960s. Like countless kids, he began playing organized sports at early age. He was eight years old when started baseball and ten years old in basketball. But unlike many kids who quit playing around 12 years of age, Arthurs went on to play in practically every level of organized sports in New Orleans, including NORD, Biddy, Babe Ruth, American Legion, high school, AAABA, and college. His sports career concluded with a brief stint in the NBA.

Throughout his sports journey, Arthurs was a member of several championship teams and was named to numerous all-star teams. The accomplishments of Arthurs and his teams would fill lots of scrapbook pages.

His first taste for playing on a championship team occurred in 1957 with a Wisner Playground 10-and-under baseball team that won the New Orleans Recreational Department (NORD) city championship. Two years later, Arthur’s team won the title again. He credits coach Ronnie Aucoin for teaching him the fundamentals.

In his second season in the NORD-Security Biddy Basketball League in 1960, he won his first scoring crown. He was selected for an all-star team that won the Southeastern United States Biddy Basketball tournament. The team advanced to Bridgeport, Connecticut, for the International Biddy tournament, where they finished third out of 14 teams. Arthurs was named to the All-America second team.

Later that summer Arthurs’ 13-year-old Ramelli’s baseball team won the NORD-Bunny Friend League.

At this point in his young career, Arthurs recalls that he favored baseball over basketball, because it was a more sociable sport. He said, “Baseball practices allowed for a lot of banter among teammates while taking batting practice or shagging balls. I liked that.” He added, “Since I played first base, I was able to talk to the opposing team’s runners and the first-base umpire during the games.” But his preference would soon change after he entered high school.

Arthurs began an illustrious career at De La Salle High School by playing on the junior varsity basketball team that won the Catholic League championship for the 1961-62 season with a 28-3 record. As a freshman, he also played on the Cavaliers’ JV baseball team.

De La Salle sponsored a team in the Babe Ruth private school baseball league in the summer of 1962, and Arthur’s team advanced to the South Louisiana regional tournament.

As a sophomore, Arthurs was a starting forward on the De La Salle basketball team for the 1962-63 season.

However, it wasn’t until his junior year in 1963-1964 that he had a breakout season in Cavaliers basketball. De La Salle was runner-up for the Catholic league district title with a 21-5 record, as Arthurs led the district in scoring. The Cavaliers lost to Baton Rouge’s Istrouma High in the state quarterfinals. Arthurs was named De La Salle’s most valuable player and his performance earned him selections to the all-Catholic district, all-city, and all-state teams.

De La Salle got revenge against Istrouma in the spring by defeating them for the 1964 state baseball title.

Arthurs continued with baseball in the summer when he played for the Lakeside Ramblers American Legion team. The Ramblers were First District champions. They defeated Ruston for the state title and overcame Memphis in a 14-inning of the regionals championship game in Little Rock. Arthurs led the Ramblers in hitting during the regionals. They advanced to the Legion World Series in Waterloo, Iowa, where they were ultimately knocked out by Charlotte, North Carolina.

De La Salle basketball coach Johnny Altobello predicted Arthurs would have a productive senior year in 1964-65. A Times-Picayune reporter posed the following question to Altobello, “How good is Arthurs?” The De La Salle mentor, who had a 426-67 coaching record at the time, said, “Why, he’s the best schoolboy player in the city and I’d say Johnny is one of the best I’ve ever coached.” He added, “He’s got everything you want in a basketball player—strength, speed, size (6-3, 180), stamina, and can play any position. He’s got a tremendous jump shot.”

Altobello was correct. Arthurs led the district in scoring average for the second consecutive year with 23.9 points per game. He was named to all-district, all-city and all-state teams again. Coach and Athlete magazine named him to their All-American team.

In April 1965, Arthurs signed a grant-in-aid scholarship with Tulane University after reportedly receiving “24 or 25” offers. Tulane head basketball coach Ralph Pedersen pulled off a recruitment coup on the same day by signing all-state performer Billy Fitzgerald from Jesuit High School. Arthurs’ and Fitzgerald’s baseball and basketball careers had paralleled each other during their prep days and would continue as teammates at Tulane. Fitzgerald would eventually play professional baseball in the Oakland A’s organization.

Arthurs averaged 18.8 points per game for Tulane’s freshman team during the 1965-66 season, while the team averaged a healthy 102.6 points per game. The team finished 19-0 that season under Coach Tom Nissalke, who later became a successful coach in the professional ranks. Nissalke observed about Arthurs, “Johnny came here as a great shooter, but developed into a fine defensive player and rebounder.” His freshman performance foretold what was to come in his next three varsity seasons.

After playing on the Tulane freshman baseball team in the spring of 1966, Arthurs played summer ball for Hecker Oilers in the NORD Mid-City Kiwanis All-American Baseball League. He was selected by coach “Rags” Scheuermann for the all-star team that competed in the AAABA national tournament in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The team fought its way to the finals, only to be defeated by Detroit, who was led by future major leaguer Tom Paciorek.

Arthurs returned to basketball gym in the fall, where he started as a sophomore forward for Tulane during the 1966-67 season. One of his highlight games was a 33-point performance in a come-from-behind win against the University of Detroit in the Motor City Tournament. He averaged 15.4 points per game for the season, as Tulane compiled a 14-10 record. He finished second on the team in points and rebounds.

He lettered as a sophomore first-baseman for the 1967 Tulane baseball team that finished 8-12. One of his highpoints was a two-homer game against Florida State.

Arthurs began the 1967-68 basketball season where he left off the previous year. The junior forward was a scoring machine for the Green Wave, leading the team with an average of 19.4 points per game. He also tied with Dan Moeser for the team’s highest rebound average. LSU’s scoring sensation Pete Maravich emerged on the college basketball scene that season. In LSU’s win against the Green Wave, Maravich ripped the nets with 52 points. Lost in the flurry of attention for Maravich, Arthurs put on his own show with 31 points.

Arthurs lettered in baseball again in 1968 for the Green Wave who finished 10-10 under coach Milt Retif. Over the summer, he attended a basketball camp conducted by legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach. Playing guard, he worked hard on the defensive and playmaking aspects of his game.

He approached the 1968-69 basketball season nearing the 1,000 career points milestone. It didn’t take long for him to eclipse the mark, and soon after he was being closely followed by the sportswriters in his pursuit to break Jim Kerwin’s all-time Green Wave scoring mark of 1,462 points set in 1961-63.

The Green Wave participated in the holiday season All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City. Arthurs scored a career-high 41 points in a loss to Wyoming, followed by 29 points against Pacific. Arthurs was named to the all-tournament team that also featured tournament MVP Maravich and future Hall of Famer Bob Lanier.

Arthurs recalls a Green Wave game against national powerhouse UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. He believes the match-up originated as a result of Tulane and UCLA having undefeated freshmen teams during 1965-1966. Two-time All-American Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was in his senior season and led the Bruins to a runaway victory, while Arthurs scored only 10 points. A few months later Arthurs found out he would have a future connection with Alcindor.

Tulane defeated LSU at the Wave gym in February, even though Maravich scored 66 points to break Bob Petit’s record of 60. Arthurs was high scorer for Tulane with 29. Years later, Arthurs recalled that it was an impossible task to guard Maravich who would take 40 to 50 shots a game. He told the Times-Picayune, “He [Maravich] played for the love of basketball. In a way, he was a purist who lived for the bounce of the ball, the way it swishes when it goes through the net, the patterns of a fast break…” Arthurs recently recalled memories of the LSU sharpshooter, “He was ahead of his time. People said he shot a lot, but it takes skill to get off a good shot.”

Arthurs ended his senior season breaking the Tulane career scoring record with 1,501 points. He averaged 25.6 points per game for his career. He was named to the Helm Foundation All-American team.

While Arthurs was gaining his third letter in baseball on the 1969 squad that posted a 15-3 record, he was drafted by the New Orleans Buccaneers of the American Basketball Association (ABA), the rival league of the more established NBA. Arthurs says he seriously considered signing with the Bucs because they offered him a no-cut contract with a guaranteed minimum salary of $14,500 per year. A month later, the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA drafted him in the sixth round. Alcindor, the national college player of the year, was picked by the Bucks in the first round. Arthurs said he decided to sign with Milwaukee because of the greater challenge of playing in the NBA.

Over 10,000 fans attended the Bucks’ first intrasquad game in late June. They were primarily there to see Alcindor make his debut, although Arthurs played well with 18 points. Bucks coach Larry Costello’s post-game assessment of Arthurs was encouraging. “John Arthurs played very well, especially when you realize he’s changing from forward to guard. He really hustled and can shoot.”

Arthurs roomed with Alcindor during training camp and also on road games during the regular season. He recalls Alcindor’s athleticism for the 7-foot-1 giant. “He looked like a giraffe, but he would be the winner in wind sprints during practice.”

Arthurs started the season with the Bucks in 1969 and played in 11 games before he was called to serve six months of active duty training with the National Guard in early December. He had to miss the rest of the season, finishing with 35 points, 17 assists, and 14 rebounds in 86 minutes played.

Before the next NBA season started in 1970, Arthurs was traded to Detroit as the “player to be named later” in a 1968 trade in which Dick Cunningham was obtained by Milwaukee. Arthurs went to training camp with the Pistons but hurt his back and was cut right before the season started.

Arthurs says he went back to Milwaukee to play the for Bucks’ team in a developmental league. But after a year, he decided it was time to move on from basketball.

As one would expect with a noteworthy career like Arthurs, he got his share of post-career honors, adding even more pages to the scrapbook. He is a member of the De La Salle Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Tulane T-Club Hall of Fame in 1980. His basketball game jersey was retired by Tulane in 1993. The Louisiana Basketball Hall of Fame inducted him in 2001, and he was honored by the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 for his basketball and baseball contributions. Arthurs still holds Tulane basketball single-season records for average points per game, total points, and most field goals.

Now 74, Arthurs remains active with different sports nowadays. He enjoys tennis, golf, and fishing, especially fly-fishing. He still follows basketball by attending Green Wave and New Orleans Pelicans games.

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