Nathaniel Archibald, nicknamed “Tiny” after his dad “Big Tiny", was born on September 2, 1948 to an impoverished family in the Bronx. Archibald grew up in the South Bronx’s Patterson housing projects, one of the country’s most destitute neighborhoods, in a two-bedroom apartment with his six younger brothers and sisters. Due to understandably stressful conditions, Big Tiny left the house when Nate was only fourteen years old, leaving him the man of the house. In such a neighborhood, temptations of drug and alcohol were ever present in his daily life. Two of his brothers would later be arrested for drug use, and one would be imprisoned for armed robbery. However, Archibald had only one addiction since his childhood: basketball.
Nate told Sport Magazine in 1980, “how guys who are into drugs are always looking to get other guys involved, as if they want company when they go under. Me? I was always into basketball.” Between managing the family and just trying to survive, Archibald had little time for basketball. In addition, playing at local courts could sometimes be a life-threatening activity. His inability to practice affected him; in his sophomore year at DeWitt Clinton High School, he was cut from the basketball team.
Tiny Becomes a Giant
One of the greatest players in NBA history may not have even played high school basketball if it weren’t for the effort of community sports director, and later coach for City College in Manhattan, of Floyd Layne. Archibald had all but dropped out of high school when Layne convinced the DeWitt Clinton coach to take another look at him. The next year Nate made the high school basketball team and from that point on has been coveted by teams across the country, not rejected. During his senior year of high school, Nate had made the All-City basketball team.
Although many colleges took a look at Archibald due to his abilities on the court, a scholarship was impossible due to his below-average grades. He left New York for the first time in his life in order to attend Arizona Western Community College. The University of Texas at El Paso recognized his skills soon afterwards, and Archibald accepted a scholarship after one year at Arizona Western. It was one of the best moves the school could have made, since Archibald went on to become the best player in the school’s history.
Archibald averaged 20 points a game over the course of three seasons. He shone through especially in clutch situations. In the 1970 Aloha Classic, Tiny scored an amazing 51 points. He averaged 40 points during his five post-season experiences in college.
David Versus the Goliaths
The 1970 NBA draft had one of the strongest fields of talent in years. NBA gods Pete Maravich, Bill Cowens, and Bill Lanier were among the top picks. Fortunately for Archibald, some of the greatest coaches were also present for the draft. Although it would have been easy to go unnoticed in such a strong field, numerous coaches had found Archibald as a potential draft pick. The one who got to Archibald first, in the second pick of the second round, was the great Bob Cousy of NBA fame, then coach of the Cincinnati Royals. Cousy, who had first found Archibald in a Memphis hotel during a tournament, mistook Nate for a bellboy due to his boyish features. At 6 foot 1 and 150 pounds, the mistake was understandable.
During the time Archibald had started playing basketball, new strategies and theories towards the game were being followed. More then ever, the NBA had begun to follow the motto “bigger is better.” By 1970, the game was almost exclusive to overly tall players. Coaches were looking for giants, no matter how talented they actually were. Archibald would be the primary player who would break this idea, and give the league the ideas of balance in a lineup. He would eventually flourish the environment, zipping around the slow, ungainly monsters that saturated the NBA.
Archibald started out modestly. He earned his starting position only because the former guard had held out on in a contract dispute. He scored ended up averaging a very respectable 16 points a game on a far below average team. Despite his capable scoring abilities, Archibald had a fairly weak defense and, more importantly, tended to turn the ball over through overhandling the ball.
After an even more mediocre year, Archibald’s moment to shine had come. Tom Van Arsdale, the team captain, had become injured. As a result, Archibald took over. As a very proud person, the role of leadership was exactly what Nate needed. After an impressive first half of the year, Archibald was left off the NBA All-Star Team. He was so upset that during the second half of the year, he made sure that they would never make the mistake of leaving him out again. He scored an average of 34 points a game, leaving his season scoring average at 28.2, a Jordan-like number. He still only made the All-NBA Second Team at the end of the season, after the Royals finished with a losing record. Regardless, Archibald had taken his place as the smallest powerhouse in NBA history up to that point.
Earning His Place in History
It took a change in cities (during the off-season, the Royals moved from Cincinnati to Kansas City/Omaha) to solidify Archibald’s place among the greatest players in the history of the game and change the ideas of basketball theorists everywhere. He was finally part of the All-Star Team, and named All-NBA First Team at the end of the season. The most impressive part of the season, however, was his 34 points per game, which still stands as one of the highest in the league’s history along with Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, and 11.4 assists per game. Archibald led the league in both categories and became the first and still the only player to ever do so. Still, the pitiful Royals had somehow managed to acquire another losing season.
Unfortunately, Archibald injured his Achilles' tendon and, as a result, played in only a few games over the course of the 1973-1974 season. The next season, a fully recovered Tiny led the team to its first winning record in years and even gained them a playoff berth (they would lose in the semifinals to the Chicago Bulls). He earned another spot on the NBA First Team with an average of 26.5 points and 6.8 assists.
Finding a Place to Win
The following season showed the continuation of Tiny Archibald’s dominance among the giants. It seemed as though Archibald had a spot reserved on the All-NBA First Team by this point, as he was again a league leader in both points and assists. However, the team suffered through yet another miserable record, despite Archibald’s outstanding performance. Thinking he might never have another winning season, Archibald requested to be traded. The New York Nets answered his prayers
The trade was not the career-saver Archibald thought it would be. He quickly injured his foot and sat out for the entire season. He was traded again, while injured, to the Buffalo Sabres. Before the start of the 1977-1978 season, Archibald injured his Achilles' tendon a second time, and would never even play a game for Buffalo. An unhappy Buffalo shipped Archibald to the Boston Celtics, where he finally found a home among an all-star cast that he was proud to play with including Jo Jo White and Bill Cowens. He would not return to glory just yet, though, as he had continued arguments with both players all throughout the season. The Celtics dynasty had also just ended, and they had their first losing season in many years.
The Celtics new coach, Bill Fitch, was a godsend to the team that was in danger of slipping into the basement. He picked up rookie Larry Bird and helped to train both Cowens and Archibald back to the peak of their game. In addition, Archibald had a newfound confidence after a trip back to his hometown. On the playgrounds he was treated like a god by hundreds of kids who expressed their belief in him. The stage seemed set for Archibald to make his return to greatness.
Archibald returned in a different manner than before. Unlike of the often ball-hogging, high scoring Tiny of the past, Archibald had become a quick, controlled playmaker, setting up teammates Bird and Cowens for big points. He averaged only 14.1 points a game but had 671 assists, the most since his record-breaking season in 1973. More importantly, Archibald had regained his All-Star status and the confidence he needed to play well. With the chemistry between teammates improved, the Celtics had a dramatic turnaround with a 61-21 record. The made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to a fiery Philadelphia 76ers team.
During the 1980-1981 season, Archibald became recognized as the ground leader of the Celtics. His play making and discipline helped lead Boston to an excellent 62-20 record. He averaged 35 minutes of playing time a game. During the All-Star game, he earned the MVP Award, and made All-NBA Second Team at the season’s end after averaging 7.7 assists a game. These honors were nothing compared to the thrill that waited for Tiny at the end of the season. After a remarkable seven game series against Philadelphia, the Celtics went on to defeat the Houston Rockets in six games to win Archibald’s first NBA championship.
After another solid season ending in a loss in the conference finals to the New York Knicks, Archibald’s numbers began to drop. Before the start of 1983-1984 season, he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Tiny would play only 46 games for the bucks before announcing his retirement.
Archibald was not a man to forget his roots. Shortly after becoming a professional basketball player, Nate would fly back to the Bronx every off-season in order to help the underprivileged there. He ran community programs and constructed at least two homeless shelters with his salary. He spent his spare time counseling troubled youths on the street and teaching kids about drugs. These actions were uncommon at the time for a highly paid athlete, especially one from such a ravaged area. After his retirement, he started and ran free basketball schools for local kids and even worked as the athletic director at the massive Harlem Armory homeless shelter for free. In 1993, he was honored by New York City Mayor David Dinkins for his constant community service and his active part in helping kids who otherwise may not have had a future.
Awards and Honors:
Three Time All-NBA First Team
Two Time All-NBA Second Team
Six Time NBA All-Star
NBA All Star Game MVP
with Boston Celtics
Elected into Hall of Fame
NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
Points per game: 18.8
Assists per game: 7.4
Free throw percentage: .810
Field goal percentage: .467