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Original Issue

Seeing Red

In a basketball career spanning five decades, the ever-upbeat Johnny Kerr has done almost everything--except gain induction into the Hall of Fame

Every year the basketball hall of fame ballot includes a nebulous category for Contributors, which this year includes Johnny (Red) Kerr, a forgotten pioneer. Kerr has been on the ballot since 2003, but he's never received enough votes. Memo to voters: If anyone has contributed to the NBA, it's this man.

Voted one of the top 20 players in the history of the University of Illinois, the 6'9" Kerr was a classic back-to-the-basket center who played most of his 12-year career, which began in 1954--55, for the Syracuse Nationals. He also played the high post at a time when guards made scissor cuts and looked for precise return passes from the big man--a skill at which Kerr may have been the best in history. He averaged 13.8 points and 11.2 rebounds against opponents such as Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Of the 17 retired players who have averaged more points and rebounds than Kerr, 15 are in the Hall, and another, Charles Barkley, will be when he becomes eligible in 2006. (This year's inductees will be announced April 4.)

Kerr was the league's first iron man, too: His 844 consecutive games rank third behind A.C. Green (1,192) and Randy Smith (906). The streak came to an end early in his final season, 1965--66, when as a member of the Baltimore Bullets he was inexplicably kept on the bench. On the train after the game coach Paul Seymour asked to be dealt into Kerr's card game. "You don't let me in your games," Kerr said, "so I'm not letting you in mine."

After retiring, Kerr coached for four seasons in Chicago and Phoenix--he was named Coach of the Year in '67 for leading the expansion Bulls into the playoffs--and after front office stints with the Virginia Squires and the Bulls he moved into the Chicago broadcast booth in '75 and never left. Over the last three decades he has been not only the voice of the franchise but also its face, the man who makes the hospital visits and shows up at the charity events and drumbeating luncheons. Most old-timers find reasons to rip today's players, but Kerr, 72, is a towering evangelist for his sport, unfailingly sunny and positive. He says he's already written his epitaph: "I told you my feet were killing me." He deserves something else on that tombstone: Hall of Famer. --Jack McCallum




Also a gifted passer, Syracuse's Kerr (10) was a 6'9" handful down low.