Friday, May 27, 2011

Washington Generals Top Players: William "Bill" Spivey

William "Bill" Spivey is probably one of the tallest players to ever play for the Washington Generals, if not the tallest. At 7ft tall and pre-dating Wilt Chamberlain, Spivey seemed destined for greatness. Unfortunately, Spivey's basketball career instead ended up serving as a cautionary tale of how even the innocent can sometimes pay for the sins of others.

A center at 7ft tall, Spivey was one of college basketball's first big men and still considered to be one of the best. A former All American, Spivey starred in the University of Kentucky beginning in 1949, and went on to win the NCAA tournament in the 1950-51 season. Spivey was also named player of the year by the Helms Foundation.

Spivey seemed destined for NBA greatness and surely had things been different he would have become one of basketball's biggest superstars. Unfortunately, fate dealt Spivey a blow he would never recover from.

In 1951 Spivey, along with three of his fellow players, was indited in a points shaving scheme. While his fellow players plead guilty, Spivey insisted he had nothing to do with it and refused to testify. Spivey was indited for perjury in the case but held fast that he was innocent and several witness, including his former coach and the Govenor of Kentucky all testifying to his good character. The man who was accused of paying off the players also refused to testify against Spivey, even when the D.A.'s offered to release him.

Bill's charges were dismissed when the jury stalled at 9-5 for acquittal and the university re-admitted him allowing Spivey to get his degree to a standing ovation at his graduation. Unfortunately, the black cloud that hung over him after the trial left him barred from the NBA for life. Spivey, a man once looked primed to dominate the NBA, was no longer allowed to play for them.

After graduation, unable to play for the "big boys" Spivey spent the following years playing for many barnstorming teams of the time including the Washington Generals, also playing under their sometimes alias of the era the Boston Whirlwinds, along with several other Barnstorming teams that regularly played the Globetrotters in the day including The House of David.

in 1958 Spivey found a reprieve of sorts when he was able to sign with the Wilkes Barre Barons of the Eastern Professional Baskteball League. While definitley not the NBA it had credibility and gave Spivey the chance to play pro-ball for a professional basktball league. Spivey played for several teams in the EBL, taking a brief leave from the league when he played for Abe Saperstein's  short lived American Basketball League playing for the Los Angeles-Hawaii-Long Beach squad. When the league collapsed he returned to the Eastern League until he retired from basketball in 1968.

Bill eventually sued the NBA and settled out of court for $10,000 dollars and even passed a lie-detector test proving once and for all his innocence.

After his retirement Spivey held many jobs including running a bar in Lexington, as well as selling insurance and real estate. Spivey passed away of natural causes in 1995 at the age of 66.

People close to Spivey said he never got over the scandal, his success in basketball outside the NBA making it clear of the opportunity he missed out on through no fault of his own. But despite the bad hand fate dealt him Spivey made the most of it, never giving up on the game he loved despite playing for many teams that experts would consider "beneath him".

I don't know how Spivey felt about his time with the Washington Generals. For all the good they do helping make people laugh and entertain, I have little doubt that playing the foil to the Globetrotters was not the career he had envisioned during his promising high school and college careers. But Spivey was by all accounts a good man who got dealt a bad hand due to other peoples mistakes. For that character and that ability to endure even in the face of adversity, I think he exemplifies the best of the Washington Generals. And the best of any team who had the honor of playing with one of the greatest big men of his or any other day.


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