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BEYOND THE PRESS BOX

Looking back on some Aggie greats who won rings as pros

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Back when I was a kid, I remember my mother once asking: “Are the basketball playoffs still going on? Seems like they’ve been on TV for a couple of months now.”

Well, that’s the beauty of it, if you love basketball.

I, for one, know exactly what I will be doing for the next six weeks, each night, up until the NBA Finals wrap up in late July.

I will be parked in a comfortable chair, a Dr Pepper and bag of chips nearby, watching the NBA playoffs.

It’s that time of year when high-school and New Mexico State University sports are dying down and it’s time to look elsewhere for some sports action.

And it’s not a hard decision on what to watch, especially if you are a basketball junkie, like I am.

Of course, the past year has been tough on all of us, with the pandemic. So not being able to see the Aggies or any college basketball in person may not have been the worst thing in the world, but it felt like a big void.

This year, the NBA playoffs have been great entertainment and have featured the return of real-live fans to arenas around the country.

It also features probably the most wide-open field we have seen in years.

All four remaining teams in the West have never won an NBA title, and in the East, it has been decades since three of the four teams have won it all. And the prohibitive favorite to win it all, the Brooklyn Nets, have never won a championship since joining the NBA in 1976-77.

Of course, this all got me thinking about the rich history of NMSU basketball.

Several Aggie players have won championship rings as professionals.

The Nets, back when they called Long Island, New York, home, did win two ABA titles before joining the more established NBA.

Everyone, of course, remembers the high-flying, game-changing Julius “Dr. J” Erving, but one of Erving’s talented Nets teammates had a strong NMSU connection.

John Williamson played for the Aggies in 1971-73 and was known as Super John. He was a key part of both of the Nets’ title teams. In an eight-year ABA and NBA career, Super John averaged 17.5 points.

Williamson had such a big impact on the Nets franchise, he is one of just seven players to have their uniform number retired by the team.

Tragically, Williamson died young at age 45 after suffering an illness related to diabetes. Those who saw him play during his time at NMSU say he is certainly one of the greatest players to ever lace them up here in Las Cruces.

Randy Brown, who played for the Aggies in 1989-91, also tasted the ultimate in team success.

Brown was an important player off the bench during the second of the Chicago Bulls’ three-peats during the Michael Jordan era and was a fan favorite for his high energy and enthusiastic play.

And more recently, Pascal Siakam, who played for NMSU in 2014-16, was a standout on the Toronto Raptors’ title team that ended the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty in 2019.

Of course, the first time I ever heard of NMSU was in reference to the great Sam Lacey, who  played 13 years in the NBA, mostly with the Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City Kings, who are now the Sacramento Kings.

Lacey, a prized early Lou Henson recruit and an integral cog in the Aggies’ 1970 Final Four team, never won an NBA title. But he was a fearsome big man who played well enough to have his No. 44 jersey retired by the Kings franchise.

He always made a big impression on this native Californian, when I was a youngster.

Williamson, Brown, Siakam and Lacey all remain prominent in the Aggie record book.

So while it may seem to some that the NBA playoffs have been going on seemingly forever, I plan to savor every moment and enjoy some incredible basketball action.

Of course, I can’t wait for things to get back to “normal” and we can jam-pack the Pan Am again to the rafters and see the Aggies take on the likes of UTEP, UNM and Grand Canyon.

Dave Burge