Don Buse

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Don Buse

Postby rlee » Thu Nov 18, 2010 12:00 am

by Matt Ribaudo’s-mojo-“he’s-no-don-buse”/

So there I am, at Whiskey Priest in South Boston watching the Celtics put the finishing touches on the Memphis Grizzlies this past Saturday night (only in Southie can you find a bar that is called the “Whiskey Priest”), striking up random basketball dialect with the elderly gentleman sitting beside me.

We shift from topic to topic chiming in on how proud we are of the C’s for already toppling the Heat twice; to the noticeable bounce that is back in KG’s step; to wondering if the O’Neal brothers can play 82 games combined this year; to concerns of how well the C’s will defend their basket with Tom Thibodeau now in Chicago.

Eventually –and naturally- the conversation turns to Rajon Rondo. We both marvel at his staggering early season assist numbers and half-heartedly make our assessments in the on-going “best point guard in the game” debate.

I make, what I presume, is a smooth transition from Rondo’s 15.1 apg talk to his almost three steals per game average commenting on how I feel he is the best in the game (perhaps ever) at anticipating passes, picking pockets, and causing havoc at his position for opposing offenses.

The old man smiled at me, and shook his head. “You’re not even close,” he said.

“I’m not?” I thought to myself, the old man’s credibility taking a severe turn south in my eyes.
“Well, who’s better?” I ask with a tinge of annoyance now in my voice. “Stockton? CP3? Gary Payton? Alvin Robertson?”

The old man just shook his head again. “No, none of those guys,” he replied. “You’ve never heard of Don Buse, have you?”

“Who the hell is that?” I asked with a half confused, half look of disbelief (maybe even horror) on my face.


Don Buse could easily have been mistaken for the legendary Jimmy Chitwood, glorified in the 1986 cult classic hoops film “Hoosiers”.

Buse was born and grew up in Huntingburg, Indiana, a mid-west town most known for the motion pictures “A League of Their Own”, “Hard Rain”, and “Soul of the Game” all being shot there.

He was an Indiana state All Star in 1968, following a remarkable school boy career at Holland HS. He led his school to the sectional championships in both 1967 and ’68, even advancing all the way to the regional championships following an undefeated campaign in ’68. These accolades earned him membership in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, as well as a spot on the Indiana Basketball Silver Anniversary team in 1993.
As a 6’4 combination guard, he went on to play at the University of Evansville, where in 1971 he led the Purple Aces to the Division II national championship. In 2005, Buse was selected as a member of the all-time Evansville basketball team.

He was a member of the 1971 USA Pan-American basketball team, and was invited to the Olympic Trials in 1972 before instead declining to turn professional.

He was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the third round of the 1972 Draft. Over the course of a 13 year career that included stints in both the NBA and ABA, Buse earned a reputation as a dependable ball handler who was a clutch shooter and played tight defense.

“But it was his defense that separated him from all of his peers,” the old man at the bar emphasized to me on Saturday night.

Much like Rondo today, Buse could disrupt and dictate the flow and even outcomes of games with both his on-ball pressure, and abilities to force turnovers.

He made 1st team all defense every year from 1974-1980, and is the only basketball player ever to lead both the ABA (1976) and NBA (1977) in both steals and assists in a single season.

The single-season steal totals that Buse accumulated in ’76 and ‘77 are nothing short of mind-boggling. In 1976, he averaged 4.1 swipes per game and tallied 346 for the season. Both are records that will most likely never be touched.

In 1977, Buse registered 281 steals and averaged 3.5 per game. For his career, Buse ranks 16th all-time with 1,818 total steals. (Note: Buse would be closer or even over 2,000 steals for his career, but in his rookie season, 1973, the steal was not recorded as an official statistic. Let’s say in the 77 games he played in ’73 he matched the 146 steals he had in the 77 games he played in’74. That would put him at 1,964 total, good for 13th all time.)

“You see how Rondo seems to always be able to anticipate and takes risks on the floor?” the old man asked me after reciting Buse’s history.

“Yeah, what about it?” I ask. “He’s the best in the game at that.”

“Maybe he is,” the old man replied. “But he has the luxury of knowing Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins has his back in the paint every time he tries that. That’s one of the reasons he is able to recover so quickly if he misses on a gamble.”

At that point I knew where this one was going…

“Don Buse never had such leisure. When he would take a risk on a steal, his timing had to be perfect.”

And then the old man hit me with one of those old-school/folk lore/stuff of legends statements:

“If Buse ever would have played with someone like KG, he would have averaged over five steals per game for that season. If you don’t believe me, go home and do your research.”


And I did. I can’t say I totally agree with the old man at the bar from Whiskey Priest on Saturday night, but he did shed some historical light on my Christopher Langan-type basketball IQ (that’s a reference for all my fellow Outliers out there)
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