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  • Budd Bailey

Braves New World: Scott Lloyd

(Budd Bailey and Greg D. Tranter have written a book called "Buffalo Braves From A to Z," published by St. Johann Press. Early in the writing process, they wrote good-sized biographies of all 71 men who played a regular-season game for the Braves during their time in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978. Publishers weren't so enthusiastic about all of that material, so most (59) of the biographies were shortened to about 500 words. However, the authors hated to waste all of that material ... so they are presenting it here. It will appear three times a week. A bibliography is available upon request.)

Scott Lloyd’s stay in Buffalo as a Brave was a short one, lasting less than a season. Oddly, it led to another basketball job in Dallas – one that set the rest of his life on its present course.

Scott G. Lloyd was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 19, 1952. While there’s no public record of his height at birth, it didn’t take long for him to look down on his schoolmates, literally. “I was always the tallest kid in the class,” he said on a podcast about his basketball beginnings. “You were funneled into that sport. In the playground of the school that I went to, they didn’t even want me to play because they felt like it was unfair because the team I was on would win. It wasn’t until sixth grade that I played a lot.”

In seventh grade, Scott and his family moved from Arlington Heights, Ill., to Phoenix, Arizona, when Motorola transferred Scott’s father to the West. Scott landed at East High School in Phoenix. That institution was known for two qualities during its existence. One was diversity. It was that rare school that had demographics featuring almost equal portions of white, Latino and black students. The second was basketball – great basketball. From 1969 to 1982, the team went 301-56 and won five state championships.

Lloyd’s basketball highlight of that era took place in the spring of 1971. The team went 26-3 and went on to win its first state title. "He had a great shooting touch inside and outside," coach Royce Youree said to the Arizona Republic. "He could really shoot the ball deep." Someone who was approaching his adult height of 6-foot-10 and who could score in different ways must have been a difficult matchup for almost any high school opponent. Besides, he was quick enough to block shots at the other end for what was labeled “The Purple Gang.” Lloyd ended up averaging about 21 points per game as a senior, and was picked as the best player to ever come out of Phoenix East by the Arizona Republic.

Lloyd graduated from East in 1971. He opted to stay relatively close to home to play college basketball, picking Arizona State in Tempe. “I was recruited by a lot of people, and took a lot of recruiting trips,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t decide I was going to Arizona State until August.” The Sun Devils were coached by Ned Welk, who had a long run there. He started coaching ASU in 1957, and stayed through 1982. After his freshman season, Lloyd redshirted and sat out the season. He watched the Sun Devils go 19-9 and reach the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Then it was time to move to the varsity. Lloyd averaged almost 10 points a game in about 20 minutes of playing time as a sophomore, which ranked third on the team. Future pro Lionel Hollins was the star of that roster. Arizona State finished 18-9 and second in the Western Athletic Conference. In that era, that wasn’t good enough to reach the NCAA tournament. The Sun Devils played in a consolation event known as the NCIT, and lost to Toledo in the first round.

Lloyd claimed a regular starting job in 1974-75, as he was in the opening lineup for all 29 games. It was a great year for ASU, which went 25-4 and won the WAC title. Lloyd averaged 12 points per game, behind Hollins and Rudy White (who had faced Lloyd in the state championship game in high school). The Sun Devils started the season with eight straight wins, and finished the season as conference champions at 25-4. Arizona State won two games in the NCAA tournament, only to fall to UCLA in the Elite Eight. Lloyd had 20 points to lead ASU in scoring in the game against the eventual national champions. However, the Bruins’ Marques Johnson turned in a dominant performance with 35 points. Arizona State was ranked eighth in the country at the end of the season.

“Arizona State wasn’t known at that time as a great basketball school,” Lloyd said. “Lionel came in as a junior college transfer. But it was great. They had a very good program, and it was great to be part of it.”

Hollins and White were gone in 1975-76, forcing Lloyd to take a bigger share of the responsibility of leading the team. He responded with his best college season, averaging 18 points and almost eight rebounds per game. ASU finished 16-11 – a record that for some reason was adjusted to 17-10 later. The team closed with six losses in its last eight games, and that finished off their postseason hopes.

Lloyd was done with college ball, and it was time to test his luck in the pros. The NBA and ABA had merged into one big league in the summer of 1976. That was good for the game but bad for Lloyd’s bargaining position entering the new-look NBA. He went in the second round to the Milwaukee Bucks. By the way, the next pick was Alex English, who went on to become one of the best scorers in NBA history.

The Bucks had something of a crowd at center that year. Milwaukee already had Elmore Smith at the position. He was acquired from the Lakers in the deal featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and had played well. However, Smith had knee problems throughout his career, and they weren’t showing any signs of going away. The Bucks had picked Swen Nater in the 1974 draft and still had his rights when his ABA team in Virginia folded. He joined Milwaukee, so Lloyd didn’t have much space to thrive. Then in January 1977, the Bucks traded Smith to Cleveland for a package that included a couple of first-round draft picks. It opened up a little playing time for Scott, who averaged 5.8 points in 14.9 minutes. “The head coach then was Larry Costello, and he really liked me because I was always fighting and hustling.” Scott said. “I got to play quite a bit at the start, but then Larry got fired. Don Nelson, who was an assistant, moved up to the head coaching job. His philosophy was - you don’t play rookies.”

The Bucks traded Nater to the Buffalo Braves when they had the chance to pick up a draft choice to take UCLA’s Johnson. They had taken Kent Benson first overall in the NBA draft. In addition, Milwaukee added center John Gianelli in training camp in another swap with Buffalo. Lloyd only played eight minutes a game for the Bucks, and he must have known by then he was a spare part on the roster. On December 2, 1977, Milwaukee cut him.

Happily for him, the Braves signed him as a free agent less than a week later. A lot of bodies passed through Buffalo that season, and playing time was still an issue. Nater was the starting center, but Lloyd (56 games) and Jim McDaniels received some minutes as backups. Scott’s best game statistically came on March 2, when he scored 10 points in a loss to San Antonio. Buffalo finished 27-55 under Cotton Fitzsimmons.

“Buffalo was a hockey town, and they had an arena known as the Aud,” Lloyd said later. “Hardly anybody came to the games. There would be a place that held 18,000 people, and sometimes only 2,000 showed up.”

Not all was lost for Lloyd during his partial season in Buffalo. For the first time, he had his own fan club. Some area high schoolers decided Scott needed some support, and formed the “Scott Lloyd Fan Club.” Members even had a secret handshake. However, their most public work was the creation of large banners with phrases like, “Great Scott – It’s Lloyd,” “This is the Year of Our Lloyd,” “Llong Llive Lloyd,” and – Scott’s favorite - “May the Lloyd Be With You.” Founder Steve Simmons told Sports Illustrated later, “It was a special feeling being the only people out of 15,000 screaming our lungs out for Scott Lloyd - especially when he was on the bench.”

“These high school kids took a liking to me for some reason, and they started following me and putting up these banners,” Lloyd said on a 2018 podcast. “They had a little cheering section for me and stuff, and it was pretty funny. It’s actually kind of embarrassing, but they kind of followed me around, and it was fun.”

Simmons must have been disappointed when Lloyd and the rest of the Braves moved to San Diego in the summer of 1978. Lloyd wasn’t there long; he was traded to Chicago for a third-round draft choice on October 26. Scott played in 67 games for the Bulls that season, most of them designed to give starting center Artis Gilmore a little rest. “That team was horrible,” Lloyd remembered later. “The Chicago fans – we got a better reception when we were on the road. When we started warming up for a home game, the fans would boo us.”

He failed to make the team the following year, and had to go to Italy in order to play professionally that year – and he even received a raise from his Chicago salary. It certainly looked as if Lloyd’s days in American basketball were about over … and then the Milwaukee Bucks returned to the picture. Lloyd signed with the Bucks again … only to be cut by the team on October 20 before playing a game there.

Then the Dallas Mavericks came into Lloyd’s life. The Mavs were an expansion team that came into the league in 1980-81. They looked for help anywhere they could get it. Lloyd was available and certainly wasn’t expensive. The team’s front office leader was Norm Sonju, who had run the team in Buffalo when Lloyd was there in 1977-78.

Lloyd caught one huge break around that time. Dallas had drafted center Roosevelt Bouie in the second round of the NBA draft in 1980. If he had signed, he probably would have been the team’s starting center. But Bouie went to Italy. When the Mavericks needed a center early in the season when Ralph Drollinger was hurt, Lloyd was signed to a contract. As it turned out, Scott became the Mavericks’ starting center for most of their initial season.

Dallas had an odd mixture of players that season, including Tom LaGarde, Brad Davis, Jim Spanarkel and Bill Robinzine, among others. The mix only produced 15 wins, but Lloyd got his chance to be a regular starter for the first time. He averaged about 9 points and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. “I came from just being cut, so I was excited to go anywhere,” Lloyd said later. “I was happy to go there, happy to show up, happy to have a uniform to put on. … I think the guys that were there and ended up on the final roster were all happy to be here.”

The Mavericks had three of the first 24 picks in the 1981 NBA draft, and loaded up with Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackmun and Jay Vincent. They were the team’s three top scorers by average that season. Predictably, Lloyd’s minutes dropped off in 1981-82, but he did appear in 74 games. The center did make a bit of NBA history that year, although it’s probably not something he mentions often. Lloyd became the first player to foul out of an NBA game by collecting six personal fouls in a single quarter.

Scott’s decline in playing time continued in the fall of 1982, as he only played in 15 games. He was released on December 21, 1982. “We were in San Diego when I got cut, and San Diego talked to me about a 10-day contract,” Lloyd said. “I said I’d be interested to sign for the rest of the year, but I didn’t want a 10-day contract. I also got an offer from San Antonio with a 10-day contract. I thought, I’m starting to move on.”

Lloyd’s final totals were 372 games, 1,694 points, and 1,114 rebounds. It was crushing news to the Fan Club, which had stayed in business even after Lloyd left Buffalo. Lloyd worked as a television analyst for two seasons on the Mavericks’ broadcasts, when cable was in its infancy. “As it got bigger, more professional broadcasters became interested in the job, and I kind of got weeded out,” Lloyd said.

So he turned his attention into sales full-time. He worked in the furniture business, and while traveling he visited his brother in Houston – who was in the t-shirt business. Scott decided to team up with his brother after a while, working in the production side of it. He bought some equipment, and became the owner of the Ham Hula T-Shirt Company in Dallas. The name of the firm came from its phone number – 426-4852.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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