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NEW YORK — Contrary to conventional conviction, George Yardley’s induction into Springfield’s Hall of Fame in ’96, leading the NBA in scoring (27.8) and becoming the league’s first player to amass 2,000 points in a (72-game) season (Wilt doubled that output four years later) did not compare with his greatest basketball achievement.

No, his crowning honor occurred in ’53-’54. “Dad was the first guy to finish rookie year with all his teeth,” wryly bragged Rob Yardley via telephone from California earlier this week.

The 42-year-old son (as well as his twin brother, two sisters and mother) does a lot of his father’s talking these days. Especially to inquiring outsiders wishing to pay their respects to one of the game’s most valued treasures and Earth’s all-time cherished characters.

Two years ago, ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, invaded George Yardley’s body. It is now greatly affecting his speech, focusing ability and capacity to eat. This past Thursday family and friends, including former teammates (Dolph Schayes) and opponents (Bill Sharman, At Attles) gathered at New Port Country Club to pay tribute to the man they called “Yardbird” later abbreviated to “Bird” decades before Larry became Legend.

“Obviously, we’re all devastated by what dad is going through. At the same time, we all know his life could’ve turned out a lot worse,” Rob recognized. “My father was diagnosed at 74, Lou Gehrig was 37.”

Hank Luisetti was California’s first big leather-bound star. The 196-cm Yardley and Sharman were next to gain national attention some ten years later, George at Stanford, Bill at USC. On the last day of their senior season, both were on target to break Luisetti’s Pacific Coast Conference scoring record. USC was still in progress when word came down that Yardley had accomplished the feat. Though the outcome already was decided, Sharman was re-inserted and the record soon belonged to him.

“Mom was angry at (coach) Sam Barry then for putting Bill Sharman back in that game,” said Rob. “And she’s still angry at him.”

Definitely my kind of woman! I have no use for those who let go of long-standing grudges and feuds. George Yardley, in fact, still harbors a vat of venom for the Celtics for sullying so many of his dreams. One of the most distressing things that ever happened to him was getting to know Tommy Heinsohn, Bill Russell and Bob Cousy as human beings. It disturbed him to discover they were good guys, yet he continues to despise them as Celtics.

Nonetheless, Yardley actually spent one summer barnstorming throughout the west coast with Jungle Jim Loscutoff, perhaps the most dreaded enforcer in Celtic history; they were on opposite sides. The games were meant to be competitive except when visiting home towns; naturally the local hero was met with empty pockets of resistance.

Loscutoff went to Oregon, starting point on the tour. Nobody’s sure exactly where the opener was played but Yardley, of course, did the right thing by flawlessly impersonating a matador on defense; Jungle Jim notched a glaringly atypical 50 or so. Shortly thereafter an exhibition was staged in Santa Ana, Calif. It was Yardley’s turn to show off in front of his fans. On his first baseline flight to the basket Loscutoff beat the snot out of him.

“George,” Jungle Jim menaced, “you set an NBA record for scoring last year, this is not going to be fun for you!”

Following college in 1950, George did two years in the service, played some AAU ball (three-time MVP) and then spent seven seasons representing the Pistons (Fort Wayne and Detroit) and Syracuse Nationals. He made the All-Star team in all but the first. He then abruptly retired though still being capable of averaging double figures.

“Dad promised mom when my big sister got to be school age he’d give up the traveling,” explained Rob who says he inherited his dad’s manners and his mom’s athletic ability. “When she reached kindergarten we moved to California.”

Trained to be a mechanical engineer, the 32-year-old established a very successful company named after him.

“Dad was very creative in some respects but not when it came to that. He preferred to emphasize his products and not advertise his NBA accomplishments. We kept telling him, “Hey, you’re the only person in the family who made the Hall of Fame, let’s take advantage of it.”

Looking back on his life, George is extremely proud of his triumphs on the basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, in business and in marriage. Yet he still feels the pain of loss for having never won an NBA championship. “It’s all about championships,” he often says. In his mind there’s no greater accomplishment than the Celtics winning 11 in 13 years.

“Maybe so,” counters Oklahoma City’s Bob Kurland, the first of the agile 7-footers who’s also a Hall of Famer (’61) and a mechanical engineer. “But, George, guaranteed, you and I can run a hydraulic flow equation better than Bill Russell and Tommy Heinsohn.”

Danny Ainge already must be in big trouble with ownership. I suspect tea has a longer shelf life in Boston Harbor.

Other than being swept away by the prestige of coaching the celestial Celtics why would Doc Rivers accept such a sorry job? Had he waited another week or two, a month at the most, the consummate communicator would’ve had all sorts of options (Dallas, Atlanta, New Orleans?) at comparable money and some of them would’ve included full power to renovate the roster. In Boston the Futile Lord is in charge, or at least on the books for the next two years.

I understand why the Celtics wanted Rivers’ barely bruised credibility. I just don’t understand why Rivers would want to coach another team with a single superstar, no other assets worth boasting about and minimal salary cap flexibility after being entrenched in Orlando’s muck.

I guess Rivers must have found out Mark Cuban’s plans to replace Don Nelson if/when the Mavericks are rubbed out in the first round didn’t include him.

Let’s give it up for Kobe Bryant for that rarest of rare “doubles” (points, rebounds and venues) Wednesday night. After leading the Lakers in their five-game win over the Rockettes, he refused to assess the upcoming conference semifinals with the Spurs, victorious in 15 straight. “I’ll enter a plea at the appropriate time,” Kobe declared.

One may wonder how Bryant was able to adroitly make it from the airport to the office supply center by game time in Kareem Rush-hour traffic. If you looked very closely, you could see Jim Gray in the back seat of a white Bronco, holding a gun to the head of Rodney King.

Nice touch by Kobe to parade his toddler up to the interview podium a la Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd. I’m guessing that was his kid, or he had another surprise for Vanessa.

The argument against free speech and free time took a decidedly totalitarian turn Monday when Gregg Popovich, apparently lifting some of Charles Barkley’s material, ripped the selection of Ron Artest as Defensive Player of the Year. By suggesting a one-on-one game with Bruce Bowen for the award Pop proved he cannot be taken seriously. He also blasted Rick Carlisle for campaigning to get Artest the award.

Imagine that, a coach going out of his way to say something positive to the media about a player not named Tim Duncan! What a foreign concept! No wonder Popovich has a problem with it.

David Stern can’t be too happy about the NFL Draft whipping the NBA playoffs nearly four-fold in the ratings. To his credit, the commish immediately reminded all interested parties that the NBA Draft annually holds its own vs. the Punt, Pass and Kick tryouts.

By the time the Nets play again, they figure to have already left Brooklyn.

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