Maybe it’s a not-so-tall tale, but the story still sums up what Spud Webb had to overcome to carve out a career and life in basketball.
Supposedly, the first time legendary former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano saw the 5-foot-7 (with his shoes on) point guard was when he joined assistant coach Tom Abatemarco to pick Webb up from the airport during his recruiting visit. Abatemarco was the one who had evaluated Webb and insisted that the Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse should recruit him.
“If that’s Spud Webb,” Valvano supposedly said to his assistant as the little guy approached the coaches in the airport, “you’re fired.”
By the end of the weekend, Valvano was so impressed with Webb that he offered him a scholarship.
It definitely wasn’t the first time Webb was doubted. It had taken him a heck of a lot longer to convince the coaches at Wilmer-Hutchins High School, just south of Dallas, to give him a shot.
Webb, considered too small by the coaches, played primarily for the junior varsity team until his senior year of high school. All he did that season was average 26 points per game, while leading Wilmer-Hutchins to the playoffs and earning all-state honors.
And that got him a grand total of zero Division I scholarship offers, with Webb settling to play for Midland Junior College.
Webb played well enough in junior college to get to North Carolina State and well enough for the Wolfpack for him to be selected by the Detroit Pistons in the fourth round of the 1985 NBA draft. Cut at the end of training camp, he caught on with the Atlanta Hawks, where he spent the bulk of his dozen-year NBA career.
Webb, who was the shortest player in NBA history when he broke into the league, averaged 9.9 points and 5.3 assists throughout the course of his career. But Webb will always be best remembered for winning the slam dunk contest during All-Star weekend in his hometown as a rookie, thrilling the Reunion Arena crowd with a variety of dunks that displayed his 42-inch vertical leap.
“You just want to be known as a basketball player,” said Webb, who is now the director of player development for the NBA Developmental League’s Texas Legends. “You just don’t play 12 years in the NBA just being about sideshow slam dunks.
“You can’t go a day without someone wanting to talk to you about it. It had to grow on me, because I just wanted to play basketball.”