Dukes' career highlights
Thursday, April 5, 2001
Dukes remembered as Seton Hall's best
ESPN.com news services
DETROIT --- Walter Dukes, once acclaimed as the most athletic of all 7-footers and now hardly remembered by even the most ardent basketball aficionados, died here recently in poverty and alone in his unheated home.
He had apparently been dead for several weeks when his body was found Tuesday by police at the behest of his sister, who had not heard from him for some time. He was 70.
Dukes was Wilt Chamberlain when Chamberlain was still a schoolboy, running track and running the floor, averaging more than 20 points and 20 rebounds a game for Seton Hall, leaving school early, in 1953, to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, and later playing in the NBA.
There the resemblance faded. Whereas Chamberlain averaged as many as 50 points a game and shattered rebound records in 14 NBA seasons, Dukes became a journeyman, averaging 10.4 points a game for eight seasons, though he did play in two NBA All-Star games. Dukes had been the first draft choice of the Knicks, but played only one season in New York, then a year with the Minneapolis Lakers before finishing his career with the Detroit Pistons for six seasons.
Dukes and his misfortunes were the subjects of a lengthy article March 12 in the Newark Star-Ledger in which he recounted how he had made millions in real estate and business after his playing career, and had been a successful civil rights lawyer before an auto accident in 1971 left him with brain damage and started him on a long slide.
In fact, Dukes had been convicted in New York in 1975 for practicing law without a license, presenting himself for six years as an attorney specializing in negligence cases.
At the time of the Star-Ledger interview with Dukes and his sister Feb. 8, the heat in the large house he had bought when he was with the Pistons had been turned off.
Life was so much more promising half a century ago when Dukes arrived at Seton Hall from Rochester, N.Y., pausing for a year at Seton Hall Prep in South Orange, N.J. Heretofore, big men were big. Bob Kurland and George Mikan had moves but were not particularly mobile by current standards. Dukes was tall, mobile and fast, and like Chamberlain spent off-seasons running track.
In the first of his two seasons at Seton Hall, playing with stellar guard Richie Regan and for Hall of Fame coach Honey Russell, Dukes led Seton Hall into the NIT, then considered on par in prestige with the NCAA tournament, but the Pirates lost to eventual champion LaSalle and Tom Gola.
The next year, 1952-53, Seton Hall won the NIT and Dukes was the tournament's most valuable player. His accomplishments in just two seasons were so overwhelming that he is still considered Seton Hall's greatest basketball player ever if Hall of Fame guard Bobby Davies, the first player to dribble behind his back, isn't. Dukes set a one-season NCAA rebound record that stood for almost four decades
But, he grew bored, and like Chamberlain five years later, Dukes left college early to barnstorm with the Globetrotters. Like Chamberlain, he spent two years on the road and then, like Chamberlain, he joined the NBA to great expectations.
Unlike Chamberlain, however, that was the high point.
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