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KANGZ, A-Z: Tiny Archibald, the first great King

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In the franchise’s first season as the Kings, Nate “Tiny” Archibald put up a statistical season that has yet to be replicated by any NBA player.

Kansas City Kings vs. Boston Celtics Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: As the NBA shutdown continues (though there are signs of progress!), we’ll be taking a look back at Kings history through the Cincinnati Royals and Kansas City days to identify the best players for each letter of the alphabet. We hope you enjoy KANGZ, A-Z.

There is only one player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring and assists simultaneously: Nate “Tiny” Archibald in 1972-73 as a member of the then-Kansas City-Omaha Kings. In the franchise’s first season since being renamed as the Kings, Archibald led the NBA in minutes (46.0), points (34.0), and assists (11.4) per game, a feat that has yet to be replicated nearly 50 years later.

Archibald grew up in The Bronx in New York, and got the nickname “Tiny” because his father was known as “Big Tiny”. He almost dropped out of school as a high school sophomore when he failed to make the basketball team. A community sports director named Floyd Layne, who became one of Archibald’s mentors, helped him get on the team as a junior, and Archibald turned into a star and All-City selection as a senior in 1966. He still didn’t have the grades to earn a college scholarship, so he attended community college at Arizona Western College — the first time he ever left New York was to go to school — before transferring to UTEP one year later.

At El Paso, Archibald was a gifted scorer, averaging 20.0 points per game over his three seasons (assists weren’t tracked while he was in college). That was good enough to make him the 19th pick in the 1970 NBA Draft by the Cincinnati Royals, even though head coach Bob Cousy and GM Joe Axelson hilariously thought the diminutive Archibald was a bellboy when they first met at a hotel in Memphis.

Archibald averaged 16.0 points and 5.5 assists per game in his rookie season in Cincinnati. Those numbers spiked to 28.2 points and 9.2 assists per game in his second year, when he was named to the all-NBA second team. That season, Archibald was so disappointed to be left off the All-Star team that he averaged 34 points per game to finish the season after being snubbed.

Despite his size (he was 6-foot-1 and his playing weight was generously listed at 160 lbs), Archibald had an incredible free-throw rate. He earned 10.8 foul shots per game in the 1971-72 season, the first of two seasons when he would lead the league in free-throw attempts.

Nevertheless, the Royals only won 33 and 30 games those first two seasons before the move to Kansas City and the rebrand to become the Kings.

The 1972-73 season was Archibald’s finest, but the Kings once again failed to make the playoffs, winning 36 games in their new home. Archibald continued to collect individual accolades, making his first All-Star team and earning first-team all-NBA. A year after the team considered trading him because he was too careless with the ball (this is anecdotal, because turnovers weren’t a stat yet), Archibald was the franchise centerpiece.

Archibald’s next season was cut short with an Achilles injury, but he came back with a vengeance in 1974-75, averaging 26.5 points and 6.8 assists per game while once again earning an All-Star berth and first-team all-NBA. More importantly, the Kings won 44 games and made the playoffs for the first time in his career. Sam Lacey, the team’s first-round pick in Archibald’s draft, led the league in rebounding, and the team had four other double-digit scorers in Jimmy Walker, Scott Wedman, Ron Behagen, and Nate Williams.

That one year proved to be an aberration, as the Kings were back down to 31 wins in 1975-76. Archibald was his usual spectacular self, producing at an All-Star and all-NBA first team level for yet another season, but the team around him wasn’t quite good enough. That led the Kings to trade him to New York in the offseason.

Archibald got a chance to experience some team success later in his career as a member of the Boston Celtics, winning a title in 1981. Still, his statistical achievements in his six years with the Kings caused the franchise to retire his no. 1 jersey. His unique ability to dominate with a smaller stature leads many to believe that Archibald would have thrived in the modern game, where the floor is less crowded and size is less of an advantage.

In retirement, Archibald has become a strong advocate for the NBA players association, which helped save his life a couple of years ago. He also went back to UTEP to finish his degree and taught at public schools in New York, a significant accomplishment for a student whose grades were too poor for an athletic scholarship.

Even though the franchise failed to maximize his prime, there is no doubt that Archibald is among the greatest players to ever don a King jersey.