Now that he is a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight
Howard wants to make people forget that purple and gold was not his first
choice while he was orchestrating his exit from the Orlando Magic. The All-Star
center made a significant gesture toward that end Sunday when he posted a
drawing of himself in a Lakers jersey, surrounded by the jerseys of other
The image, which was posted on Howard's Facebook page and
can be viewed below, was intended to pay homage to the long line of great
Lakers centers, of which Howard is the latest member. Reproductions of jerseys worn
by George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal
outline a genuflecting Howard.
The question is, where is Clyde Lovellette?
Since the blockbuster four-team trade that sent Howard to
Los Angeles, much has been made of Howard's inclusion in the exclusive club of
Lakers big men. News stories have listed Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal,
and some of the more historically aware writers have made note of Mikan as well.
Mentions of Lovellette, who joined the Lakers in Mikan's last season in
Minneapolis (before a brief comeback in 1955), are scarce.
Still, Lovellette's omission was understandable in those
cases, because the writers were merely relaying anecdotal lists and because
Lovellette is not remembered as an all-time legend like the other four. But the
absence of a Lovellette jersey from a piece of art, into which someone
obviously put a lot of thought, time and effort, is glaring.
When he came along in 1953, Lovellete continued to elbow his
way out of the mold Mikan cracked in the late 1940s, continuing the trend of
dominant, high-scoring centers that was started by Mikan. Lovellete, a
6-foot-10 Kansas Jayhawk, backed up Mikan on the 1954 championship team and
within two seasons assumed Mikan's former mantel of putting up 20 points and 10
rebounds every game. In addition to ruling the post like Mikan, however,
Lovellette possessed a one-handed set shot that allowed him to play small
forward when necessary.
In 1957, coming off a loss to the St. Louis Hawks in the
Western Conference Finals, the Lakers traded Lovellette to the Royals. The move
solidified the Lakers' position in the cellar for the next few years, as they
won only 19 games the following season and did not finish with a record above
.500 until 1961-62. Lovellette averaged 23.4 points and 12.1 rebounds for the
Royals before he was traded again, this time to St. Louis, where he averaged
more than 20 points per game three times in the next four years. He eventually
won two more titles as a role player with the Celtics, who put to use
Lovellette's rare combination of rebounding tenacity and outside shooting
In fairness, Lovellette does not belong among those four legends. Mikan essentially invented the center position. Chamberlain demolished records. Abdul-Jabbar scored more points than anybody in history. O'Neal was more dominant than any big man since Chamberlain.
But if Lovellette is somewhat out of place on that list, so is Howard. At this point, for all his many awards, Howard's career most closely resembles Ed Macauley, Walt Bellamy, Dan Issel and Zelmo Beaty — great players just short of legendary status. Lovellette not only belongs on any list of Lakers centers that includes Howard, he is the one who is probably most comparable to Howard so far. Howard is the best center in the game solely because of his era — had he come around 20 years earlier, he would be a distant fourth to David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Lovellette, by contrast, managed to be an elite player in an era that included Neil Johnston, Bill Russell and Chamberlain.
This is the man who was not fit to be included in Howard's
drawing. Perhaps it only was an oversight, and not a flat-out snub. Regardless,
Lovellette is a major omission from an otherwise charming nod of respect to the
players of the past.