Andrew Polaniecki’s exclusive interview with Rory Sparrow of the 80’s Knicks continues below. Read part one here.
Playing against Dr. J
Andrew Polaniecki: Do you remember your first game against your idol Dr. J?
Rory Sparrow: Yes I do! I was with the New Jersey Nets. I got cut by the Nets and they sent me to the CBA. I played in there and then they called me back up, and then got a chance to play, and then they cut me again. And then they called me back up for the third time and who do we play? The 76ers! I ended up getting a chance to play against Julius Erving. We were warming up and watching (the Sixers) at the same time and I remember looking to my right and saying to myself, that’s Dr. J. I‘m like, whoa, that’s so cool I’m on the court with Dr. J.!.
It was a jump ball and Caldwell Jones tapped it out to Bobby Jones. I look over to my right, I’m playing back, and I got Mo Cheeks coming at me. I’m looking and I’m like whoa okay, I gotta get ready to play defense. But I look over in the corner of my eye and I see Dr. J. running full sprint on the right-hand side and all I could think to myself was THAT’S DR. J.! THAT’S JULIUS! WHOA!!
I’m back pedaling playing defense getting ready to defend this guy. Behind me is Edgar Jones, another NJ native who I know very well, because every day in practice he’s blocking my shots on a continuous basis, so I know he’s a great shot blocker. So, I’m running and trying to get into position. Cheeks throws a bounce pass to Julius. Julius grabs it with one hand, and he’s gone! He just picks it up and goes up in the air. Edgar is there by the rim, and I remember thinking to myself, man this is going to be something special because I know Edgar can block shots, BUT THATS DR. J…. THAT’S JULIUS ERVING! That guy goes up, swoops the ball around Edgar’s hand, flies by him, and dunks it. BOOM! And just keeps on running.
I’m still going to myself, MAN THAT’S DR. J. THAT’S INCREDIBLE. THAT’S JULIUS ERVING! They were trying to take the ball out and I’m still watching the play, coach calls timeout and I get pulled. He said to me what’s going on, what are you doing? I say, MAN, THAT WAS JULIUS ERVING!! He was like, okay, alright, let’s get back to the game, let’s get focused on the game. Later in the game I get the chance to guard Dr. J and our competitive juices take over. I was no longer in awe or overwhelmed by the situation. I didn’t guard him as well as other people guarded him, but I was competitive. It was good to get that initial awe out of the way and play basketball against one of the best players and my idol.
AP: That’s an amazing story, did you ever get to share it with him?
RS: Yes I told him. He and I are intertwined in some crazy places. I had this car wreck in Italy one year and they had to helicopter some of the people out of my truck that were with me. We were stranded on the side of the road waiting for another SUV to pick us up. We were in a very desolate part in Italy on the roadside, and out of nowhere comes this Mercedes SUV. It pulls over and who jumps out of the car but Julius Erving! I was like “Yooo, what are you doing out here?” He had just given a clinic and we just happened to be in the same place at the same time.
Playing for the CBA
AP: After you were drafted, you went on to play in the CBA for a short period before being signed by the New Jersey Nets.
RS: I played in the CBA for about 30 games, then the New Jersey Nets signed me for the rest of the year. They said they’d give me an opportunity to play, to show them exactly what I could do. At the end of that signing, they also signed Bob McAdoo. Afterwards (management) says to me “Well we want to see if maybe Bob McAdoo has something left in the tank. Rory, act like your back is hurt. You’re not going to play for the rest of the year, and we are just going to see what we could do with Bob McAdoo.”
So they put me on injured reserve and I finished out the year as a New Jersey Net. Then Larry Brown came in to coach. They brought us out to LA to play in the Summer League. Then after that I played in the Jersey Shore League as a member of the New Jersey Nets summer League team. At halftime they traded me to one of the other teams in the summer league. Two weeks later I was traded again to the Atlanta Hawks, which is where I ended up playing from 1981-83.
AP: Then you joined the Knicks in 1983.
RS: Yes, after All Star break.
AP: And you experienced some of the best team successes of your career that season. What do you remember about the 83-84 season when you and Bernard led the team to the second round of the playoffs?
RS: That was an interesting year. We also had Paul Westphal, Marvin Webster, Bill Cartwright, Truck Robinson, Sly Williams, Louis Orr, we had a pretty good team. Like I said, one of things in the ‘80s was that if you played your role and did your job you could compete.
Hubie Brown had a two-team system back during that time. We had one team that played regular man to man defense. Then the second unit was a pressing, half and full court trapping team. Coming from Atlanta where we only played man to man, we didn’t play that many different traps, it was a surprise that we played that much trapping defense at that level, and just becoming acclimated to that system and understanding Hubie, his demands, his wants, trying to fit in with Williams, Westphal, and those players. Trying to understand where they liked the ball. It was all a challenge, but we did well.
We got past the first round. In the second round we got beat. We got a chance to play the next year against the Celtics seven games. That was a very fun back and forth series. It was incredible seeing Bernard Kind and Larry Bird night after night going against each other. We won all our home games, they won all their home games. In the end they were just a little too strong for us in the inside and they beat us.
AP: Do you and Bernard still reminisce?
RS: Every now and then Bernard and I have a conversation about basketball. His contributions, and my contributions to his contributions. We laugh, and we talk about the team, the coach, and New York City- one of the greatest places to play and one of the toughest places to play. We talk about how every night we were given certain circumstances and situations for what the level of exceptions were, and how we responded to that. Looking back now and realizing how much fun it was to be a Knick for how long we were.
AP: Describe what it was like starring in Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of Basketball?
RS: The Garden will always be the Mecca of basketball because of the playground legends that are associated with New York City basketball. In terms of the lighting, the floor, the crowd, and the ambiance, it’s just incredible for a player. The old Chicago Stadium was good. The L.A. Forum was a great place to play, but all those places paled in comparison to playing in Madison Square Garden. From a technical standpoint as well as from crowd participation.
To be concluded in Part 3.