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The Forgotten Baller: Chris Harris (Part 2)

Mark Woods

Steve Bucknall had always been assumed as the first player from the United Kingdom to reach the fabled pastures of the National Basketball Association. It turned out he had been beaten to the honour by over three decades by someone of whom little was known - as we continue the story of Chris Harris.

Money is probably the root of much of the evils surrounding the NBA. Currently, the highest paid player in the NBA is Kevin Garnett who earns a staggering £11 million salary per year from the Minnesota Timberwolves. 

That’s the equivalent of $5000 every three hours - the same amount as Chris Harris picked up for the whole of his single season in the big time.

“I thought it was more money than I’d ever seen in my life. The highest player in the league, Bob Cousy, only made $25,000. But it was fun.  I’ve never regretted or forgotten any of it and the enjoyable part is meeting up with the old-timers again every summer.

“I played golf recently with Sam Mitchell who retired just last summer and who is now an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He said ‘Chris, may I ask how much did you make in the NBA?’ I told him and he went ‘what!!’ 

“Then he asked: ‘what would a beautiful luxury home have cost you then?’ The answer was around $35,000. He thought I was kidding him. My gym shoes cost $2.50. They used to give us three bucks when we got to New York to buy food for the day and we still had enough to drink beer on it.

“It’s really strange. We had our last meeting of the Retired Players Association at Nassau in Bermuda and I watched the current players gamble. I won’t mention who it was but one of them lost $300,000 in one evening. Holy cow! 

"It’s just like play money to them now. It’s a shame in a sense because a lot of guys in the Association who retired before 1965 really had to fight to get a pension. 

“Some of these current ones were so selfish to turn that request down initially. Now the older ones get something. But most of the young guys are really nice when you get to know them. They might look like prima donnas but they are great people.”

Regrets - I've had a few

41 games is all Harris’ NBA odyssey lasted. An average of 2.5 points per game is just a foot-note in the league’s encyclopaedia of statistics. 

At the end of that season, the offer to set up in business came along and with a young wife to support and a child on the way, he felt the right move was to move on.

Regrets? He’s had a few about quitting so soon. 

The following summer, a team of Dayton’s past greats played a friendly against the Hawks and Harris performed so well, their new coach Alex Hannum begged him to come back. 

“I asked him what my role would be. ‘You’ll be the fourth choice guard,” he told me and I decided to pass on it.”

Hannen then called up Med Park, who was then on tour with the Harlem Globetrotters. 

“He ends up playing seven years in the league and the following season, he even won a Championship. That could have been me but that’s how things go,” Harris adds.

“I have no complaints. I had a family. I had a real good TV and appliance business that grew and which I ran for 25 years. Then I became vice-president of marketing for a huge insurance company. 

"Then I retired four years ago, got utterly bored, so I went and bought two of these packaging and shipping stores in Clearwater, Florida. I enjoy it. I was going nuts just playing golf but I like the challenge again.”

Home again

His handicap of 16 is slipping back as arthritis kicks in. However he has other distractions to fill his un-retirement. Married for 48 years, he and his wife had ten children. 

“We were kind of busy,” he laughs. There are 18 grand children to adore. “And one great-grandchild too,” he proudly proclaims. 

His ties to the land of his birth are all but severed. He returned to Southampton for the first time in 1997 to see where he started out. 

“We had a nice time. We spent most of our time in London and I saw my uncle before he passed away.”

He does, though, maintain an interest in the latest two of his compatriots to follow him all the way into the NBA. 

“I’ve been wanting to meet this guy John Amaechi. I go to the Retired Players Association meetings every year and I was hoping to run into him or the other one, the young Scottish kid Archibald. That would be splendid.” 

The honour, you reckon, should be all theirs.


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