Speaking of Sports: Bubba's NBA stay long enough to set record
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

When Bubba Wells' resume as a basketball player was read during his induction ceremonies into the Russellville High School Athletic Hall of Fame recently, the stats were impressive. He's one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball history. What wasn't mentioned is the NBA record he holds. Although his NBA career lasted only one season and two preseasons, he holds a mark that could last forever.
Bubba Wells fouled out from an NBA game quicker than anyone ever had before or since. On Dec. 29, 1997 against the Chicago Bulls, Mavericks coach Don Nelson inserted the rookie from Austin Peay into the game to try to slow down the offense of the powerful Bulls, who were on their way to their fifth of six NBA championships, led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Nelson, who was a rugged, tough-nosed player on six NBA championship teams himself as a member of the Boston Celtics, was in his first year as general manager and coach of the Mavericks. He had already been head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks. It was his decision to make Bubba his first number two pick as the Mavs' head man. Currently the coach of the Warriors again, Nelson is the second winningest coach in NBA history.
Wikipedia also credits Nelson for the the introduction of the "Hack-a-Shaq" defense to the NBA. The idea is to foul poor free throw shooters before they have a chance to hit an easy field goal. Shaq, of course, is Shaquille O'Neal, currently the center for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He follows in the long line of talented big men like Wilt Chamberlain, who are out of their range 15 feet from the basket at the foul line.So when Coach Nelson sent Bubba into the game, he told the Russellvillian to foul another notoriously poor free throw shooter, Dennis Rodman, before the power forward could put up a shot from the field.
In fact, he had permission to foul Rodman away from the ball before Jordan or Pippen could shoot. Wells-- doing as instructed-- fouled out late in the third quarter after registering his sixth personal foul in a total of three minutes' playing time.
The previous record-holder was Dock Farley of the old Syracuse Nationals, who was disqualified in five minutes on March 12, 1956.
Nelson's plan failed, however, when Rodman-- who hit just 56.8 percent of his free throws that year and 58.4 percent at the line for his career-- hit 75 percent (9 of 12) of his foul shots that night, and Chicago went on to win the game 111-105.
That summer Nelson made a multi-player trade with the Phoenix Suns that included Bubba going West and Steve Nash coming to Dallas. Before the next season, Bubba was traded again, ironically to the Bulls, who cut him before their sixth championship season began, and his NBA career never resumed.
Bubba later played for the LaCrosse Bobcats of the CBA, the Oklahoma Storm of the USBL, the Memphis Houn'Dawgs of the ABA, and overseas in Greece and the Philippines. He played for the Harlem Globetrotters as part of their competitive team in 2004-05. Now he is an assistant coach at APSU where his jersey hangs in tribute to the Governors' most popular player ever.
Many who attended that induction ceremony were impressed with how big Bubba is now, but he is actually smaller than he was a few years ago when I saw him on the recruiting trail all across the nation during summer all-star tournaments. He said he's been trying to get back in playing shape, at least enough to work with the Governors' big men.
Those who weren't talking about Wells' bulk were impressed with the beauty of his wife, the former Tracee Jones, head women's basketball coach at Tennessee State University.
Bubba was inducted by his first coach, Korlin 'Corky' Harrison. "People talk about Bubba having a broken leg twice, but I remember a third one, his first. He broke it at school playing up on the Rhea Stadium field," Harrison remembers of the Russellville Middle School student. "He was heart-broken that he was going to miss his seventh grade season."
When he was playing so well with two metal rods in his legs following surgeries for broken bones during his APSU career, Wells caught the attention of “The Los Angeles Times” in a front-page story about “The Man of Steel” and segments on both CBS NCAA College Basketball “at the Half” and a seven-minute feature-the “Real Rod Man”-on NBC’s “Today” show. That "Rod Man" could have been foreshadowing of his record-setting encounter with Dennis Rodman the followng year. Bubba was named InfoSport: Basketball’s 1996-97 National Comeback Player of the Year. Prior to the season, he was featured in The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and the Dick Vitale College Basketball Yearbook.
Harrison remembers the first three-pointer Wells ever hit, that coming in his final game at Russellville Middle School. He was a three-point master in college, averaging 26.3 points per game his junior year and 31.7 his senior year. He was called the “best offensive player” among draft-eligible seniors by NBA draft guru Marty Blake.
Corky feels fortunate to have coached Wells, major league baseball player Mark Thompson and Olympic Trials sprinter Andre Morris during his days at RMS.
Back to Rodman, his niece, Jasmine Johnson, is a member of the Western Kentucky University women's basketbal team. She was in a communications class I was teaching last year, and I jokingly encouraged her to bring Uncle Dennis to class for Show and Tell. After a little thought, however, I remembered that Rodman was briefly married to the beautiful Carmen Electra and suggested that Jazzy bring her to class instead. I learned in a hurry that Ms. Johnson doesn't count her as Aunt Carmen.
The LoJo
In attendance for the Hall of Fame ceremony was County Attorney Tom Noe. Johnny Guion, who was judge/executive most of the time Tom has been county attorney, was one of those inducted. They were also RHS basketball teammates. Tom's brother-in-law, Ike Duncan, was one of those inducting Johnny. The other was Ike's brother, Dan Duncan, who was a starting guard for the Panthers while Tom was a starting forward.
Tom was a senior forward on the 1961 RHS team which reached the regional finals. The next time a Russellville team achieved that level, Bubba Wells was a senior forward.
Four players from that 1961 team are already in the Hall of Fame. They are George Hill, Wayne Mullen, Larry Johnson and the late Dickie Bagby. Although he started many games over his last three years of high school, Tom has no illusions that he will join them in the Hall.
Russellville played great basketball the night of the inductions in beating Franklin-Simpson soundly. It may have been the best I've seen a Panther team play since the state's second straight appearance in the state Final Four in 2001. "They are so quick. Even with the good players we had then (Bagby, Mullen and Hill all played college basketball and Johnson college football), we were not close to being as quick as this team," Noe said.
Despite having good teams throughout the last decade, only two Panthers who graduated in the 2000's have gone on to four-year college basketball careers-- current pro Squeaky Hampton at APSU and T.C. Thomason at Centre. So there are no guarantees.
And, in my opinion, Tom Noe should be in the Logan County Elected Officials Hall of Fame, if one is ever created.

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