On this day 72 years ago, Nate Archibald was born in New York City.
Also known by his nickname “Tiny,” Nate Archibald played 14 years in the NBA from 1970 to 1984, suiting up for the Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City-Omaha Kings/Kansas City Kings franchise, New York Nets, Buffalo Braves, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks. He appeared in six NBA All-Star Games (1973, 1975-76, 1980-82), was the league’s scoring champion and assist leader in 1973, the first time a player led the league in both categories, and won an NBA championship with the Celtics in 1981. In total, Archibald played in 876 NBA games and averaged 18.8 points, 7.4 assists and 1.1 steals per contest while shooting 46.7 percent from the field.
In 1991, Nate Archibald was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Before becoming an NBA legend, Nate Archibald grew up in The Bronx. He was born and raised in the Patterson housing projects, and at 14, his father, known as “Big Tiny,” left the family, making Archibald, the oldest of seven kids, the head of the household. The boy used basketball as a means of escape from the bleak environment around him.
“It’s interesting how guys who are into drugs are always looking to get other guys involved, as if they want company when they go under,” Archibald said to Sport magazine in 1980. “Me? I was always into basketball.”
It was a long climb for him, though. Nate Archibald was undersized and didn’t even make the team at DeWitt Clinton High School as a sophomore. With some help from Floyd Lane, a community sports director at the time who served a a surrogate father for the boy, he was given another chance as a junior, and by the time Archibald was a senior, he was an All-City player.
“Mr. Layne kept me off the streets,” Nate Archibald told The New York Times in 1972. “He got me going in basketball.”
His grades didn’t allow for a major college scholarship, so the player settled on Arizona Western College, a community college in Yuma, Arizona, to start his collegiate career. He spent the 1966-67 campaign at AWC before transferring to UTEP to finish his time in school.
With the Miners, Archibald took off. He posted 20.0 points per game in his three seasons in El Paso, all under Don Haskins, who led the program to one of the most famous national championships ever in 1966 when the school was known as Texas Western. Archibald helped get the team back into the NCAA Tournament in his senior year, putting up 36 points in a first round loss to Utah State.
Nate Archibald was selected No. 19 overall in the second round of the 1970 NBA Draft by the Royals. The team moved and became the Kansas City-Omaha Royals in 1972, and Archibald came with it. It was in that first season in a new location that he accomplished the first and only time a player has won the scoring and assist crowns in the same NBA campaign.
Already by 1973, he was hailed as changing the way the league operated.
“Archibald’s style has altered the order of the NBA,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Barry McDermott in 1973. “Once the behemoths were the intimidators; now they find themselves helpless as Archibald bears in on them.”
Despite his popularity, Nate Archibald was traded from the Kansas City Kings to the New York Nets in 1976. Injuries became to heavily plague the player, with his next couple of seasons cut short by ailments. He was traded again in 1977 to the Buffalo Braves after missing most of the previous season with the Nets due to injury, then tore his Achilles tendon before the 1977-78 campaign and never played a game for the Braves. He was dealt again in 1978, this time to the Boston Celtics.
That’s where things turned around for Archibald, but not without a tough slog to start. The injuries had him out of shape, and he didn’t gel well with the team. The team went 29-53 as Archibald and player-coach Dave Cowens publicly fought over court time.
“The sad part is that I’m not sure anyone would have taken Tiny,” an NBA general manager told Sport magazine in 1980. “Heck, he was 30 years old, had a bad reputation and a huge contract. He seemed to have lost his game.”
The Celtics retooled, namely with the addition of Larry Bird, and Archibald found new inspiration from troubled youth in the South Bronx, whom he always spent time with every offseason.
“Here I was, coming off the most frustrating year of my career, and it was the kids who were counseling me,” Archibald said to NBA.com. “They kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, Tiny. Don’t get down. You can do it. The Celtics need you.’ I’ll never forget them for that.”
Boston changed Archibald’s role, allowing the veteran to serve as a playmaker and floor general rather than main scorer. As he regained his footing, so too did the Celtics, and by the 1980-81 campaign, the team had completed the turnaround, finishing the regular season at 62-20.
In the 1981 NBA Playoffs, Nate Archibald put up 15.6 points and 6.3 assists per outing as he helped lead the Celtics to their first title in five years. First, Boston swept the Chicago Bulls, 4-0, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, then battled in a hard-fought Eastern Conference Finals versus Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. Archibald averaged a series-high 7.4 dimes per game, and his distribution aided the Celtics to a 4-3 series win.
In the NBA Finals, Boston met Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets. The series was tied, 2-2, after four games before the Celtics ran away with Game 5, 109-80, and Archibald’s 13 points and 12 assists in Game 6 helped hold off the Rockets, 102-91, to clinch the championship.
Nate Archibald continued with the Celtics until 1983 when he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks as a free agent. He only played 46 games in the 1983-84 campaign, retiring at its conclusion and putting an end to one of the all-time great basketball careers.
Since leaving the NBA, Archibald has seemingly done it all. He taught in the New York City school system and received his master’s degree from Fordham in 1990 through night school. He’s coached, serving as an assistant at Georgia and UTEP and as head coach of the New Jersey Jammers of the United States Basketball League (USBL), the revived ABA’s Long Beach Jam and in the National Basketball Developmental League with the Fayetteville Patriots. In 2002, he joined the NBA’s community relations department, where he stayed for a stint before returning to coaching by 2004.
Nate Archibald has been lauded for his work in the community over several decades dating back to his NBA days. He is one of the best point guards to ever play, and his life’s story is an inspiration of what humans can accomplish. Happy 72nd birthday, Tiny!