Saturday, July 2, 2011

Washington Generals Top Players: Charlie Criss

Charlie Criss' basketball card. 
Several Washington Generals have been involved with the NBA, both before and after their stints with the Generals. But the most recent, and arguably the most successful was Charles "Charlie" Criss. But the fact he played for the NBA at all, much less had a long 8 year career is one of the most inspiring stories in pro-basketball.

Much like the Washington Generals themselves, Criss' basketball career was an exercise in perseverance, although he proved fortunate enough to have the happy ending the Generals will likely never have.

A graduate of New Mexico State in 1970 where he played basketball, Charlie always felt he belonged in the NBA. Unfortunately, only standing at 5'8" at a time when no players in the NBA were under six feet tall, Charlie was overlooked for the draft.

Not one to give up on his dream of a career in basketball, Charlie took his considerable talents to the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). But it seemed just like with the NBA, the CBA was reluctant to give him a chance.

Charlie started with the Hartford Capitols but was relegated to the taxi squad and only played four games in his first season. But he once more proved to be someone who never gave up and was sixth man for Hartford the following season, averaging 20 points a game. He continued to improve and quickly became the star of league.

He went on to play for the Cherry Hill Rookies the following season then played his final two seasons in the with the Scranton Apollos. While with the Apollos he earned MVP honors in his final season.

Despite being the star of the league, Criss still didn't make enough to make ends meat, having to work a succession of odd jobs to get by. But it seemed his hard work had paid off in 1976 when he was invited to the New York Knicks' trainging camp. Unfortunately, he was quickly cut before the first exhibition game.

Charlie decided no to return to the CBA and instead made a play to try and get a spot with the Harlem Globetrotters, which unlike the CBA would pay him enough to make a good living.

He didn't make the Globetrotters but was picked up by the Washington Generals. Charlie played for the New Jersey Reds (the team name the Washington Generals were using overseas at the time) for a two month tour of Europe.

Charlie would have no doubt played beyond the European tour, and seemed a likely candidate to become one of the players to make a jump to the Globetrotters. But for Charlie, another option came along.

Near the end of their tour Criss was approached by Hubie Brown, coach of the Atlanta Hawks. Brown had seen Criss play in a charity game shortly before joining the Generals and asked Charlie to come to the Atlanta Hawks training camp.

At the time, the Hawks were at the bottom of the NBA totem pole. They had a low budget, were suffering from the loss of their best offensive player and had finished last in their division the previous season. But the Hawks offered Charlie Criss something the NBA had denied him thus far, a fair shot.

Charlie made good on it and in 1977, seven years after finishing his college career, Charlie Criss joined the Hawks. It was a move that made him both the shortest player in the NBA at the oldest rookie ever up to that point.

Finally seeing his dream come true Criss went on to enjoy an 8 year career in the NBA, eventually moving to the San Diego Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks before once more joining the Hawks until he retired in 1985.

Since leaving the NBA Charlie has worn many hats, working as a television commentator for the Hawks, a minor league basketball coach and cordinating basketball Summer camps where he helped train the next generation of players.

Charlie Criss career was a testament to never giving up and always chasing your dreams. His time with the Generals was short because Charlie was always destined for bigger and better things. Faced with adversity that would have made most of give up, Criss never stopped chasing his dreams.

A shining example to underdogs everywhere.

Charlie Criss at the Hawks Shooting Clinic

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