|
|
Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • NBA Champion: Med Park once called Hannibal home

  • To his friends, he was Med Park, a former athlete.

    In public, he was just another face amongst the people.

    But what some may not know is Med Park spent a lot of time in the basketball limelight playing for the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks.


    • email print
  • To his friends, he was Med Park, a former athlete.
    In public, he was just another face amongst the people.
    But what some may not know is Med Park spent a lot of time in the basketball limelight playing for the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks.
    “He played his whole career in Missouri and he always said that that’s probably the best thing he ever did, was being blessed enough to have his whole career from high school to college to professional career in Missouri,” Randy Park, Med’s son, said. “He was able to benefit or take advantage of — whatever you want to say — in his business career and in his connections and everything he had because people got to watch him his whole life.”
    Med grew up in Lexington, Mo., an athletic stand-out at Wentworth Military Academy. When it came to local sports, Med was the local hero.
    “He still has records over there for baseball, football, basketball,” Randy said. “He was competitive, he just didn’t talk about himself very much.”
    Standing tall at 6-feet-2-inches with a thin, yet thick physique, Med had several offers in athletics as he got older. He could have played baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but basketball ended up being the better fit. So to the University of Missouri he went.
    After averaging 4.2 points and 8.6 points per game his freshman and sophomore years with the Tigers, he quickly improved to average 9.5 points per game his junior year and 15.4 points per game his senior year. He was named all-Big Seven his final year and MU was 53-34 over the four years he played.
    Onto St. Louis
    In the mid-’50s, St. Louis’ only major professional sports team was the St. Louis Cardinals. That changed though during the 1955-56 basketball season when the NBA’s Milwaukee Hawks moved.
    Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Pettit, who became Med’s good friend and roommate, played his rookie season in Milwaukee and moved with the franchise.
    “The truth of the matter was there was not a lot of interest in our team in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Braves (now playing in Atlanta) were there at that time with the great baseball teams they had at that time with Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews ... you just go on and on and the town was really geared to baseball, that was their main focus so the Hawks were kind of an afterthought in Milwaukee,” Pettit recalled. “We weren’t drawing well, we didn’t have a real good team, and (owner) Ben Kerner realized he had to do something, and we had played an exhibition game during that first season of mine in St. Louis and drew a very nice crowd. Ben then decided that he had to get out of Milwaukee, had to leave and he was interested in maybe selling the team, and he couldn’t get what he wanted for it, so he moved to St. Louis.”
    Page 2 of 4 - Moving proved big. The Hawks made the playoffs, played in the Western Division Championship but lost to the Fort Wayne Pistons.
    Increasing the team’s talent was Med Park. It came down to him and future MU basketball coach Norm Stewart for a spot on the team.
    “He and Norm competed against each other hard all summer long battling it out. And from what I understand, my dad was just a better defensive fit,” Randy said he heard from one of Med’s former Hawks. “I think Norm was the No. 1 shooter in college, but the Hawks were loaded with offensive players, and Norm was certainly a great player, but my dad was a better fit because the were looking for a defensive guy. Somebody to come off the bench.”
    In his rookie year, Med appeared in 40 games and collected 3.8 points and with a field goal percentage of .349 per game.
    It was obvious St. Louis was a great place for the NBA and for Med, nicknamed “The Bulldozer from Missouri.”
    Despite the city’s popularity with baseball, the Cardinals hadn’t won a pennant or World Series since 1946, so being the winning team in town worked in the Hawks’ favor.
    “Baseball here went up and down with the success levels and in that part of the ’50s you look back, when (the Hawks) moved here, the Cardinals weren’t very good. The timing was good because there was no other sport to compete,” Greg Marecek, who’s written books on the Hawks, said. “It was the thing to do on a Saturday night in the winter time. Remember, the baseball season also ended early. Basketball didn’t start until baseball was all the way over and basketball ended before baseball started in the spring. There were no overlaps, (the Hawks) were the front page headline every day and that sold them.”
    Champions of the NBA
    The following year was huge.
    St. Louis made it to the NBA finals to face the Boston Celtics.
    Med improved from his rookie year averaging 5.2 points a game appearing in 66 games with a field goal percentage of .364. In the postseason, his defensive skills kept St. Louis alive while Pettit, averaged 29.8 per game.
    “Med came with a reputation from Missouri, so people knew who he was,” Marecek said. “I think that certainly helped him along and he became a hometown favorite, but he earned it because of his aggressive style of play. Med could bang bodies.”
    “He was a very good defensive player, played hard and gave it every second he could,” Pettit added. “He was a lot of fun to be around. We roomed together and ran around together a lot, and we both were single in those days. I probably ran around with Med more than anyone else on the team at that time.”
    Page 3 of 4 - The Hawks forced the finals to go the distance, but after double overtime in game seven, Boston defeated St. Louis 125-123.
    St. Louis rebounded and got revenge a year later in 1958.
    Med collected 384 points in 71 games with a .366 field goal percentage. Pettit finished with 1,755 points on the year with a .415 field goal percentage.
    St. Louis hosted the NBA All-Star Game that year and instead of the Hawks home court — the Kiel Auditorium — the larger St. Louis Arena was the site of the big game.
    Hawks Head Coach Alex Hannum went up against Boston’s Head Coach Red Auerbach just as he did in the finals. Auerbach led the East to a 130-118 victory over the West, beating Hannum again. Pettit was the game’s MVP with 28 points and 26 rebounds.
    The Hawks had the last laugh when they faced Boston in the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.
    This time it only took six games.
    Med appeared in 10 postseason games, scored 47 points in 42 field goal attempts. Pettit scored 266 points that postseason in 230 field goal attempts.
    A mere point separated the Celtics and the Hawks in the final game, St. Louis won it all 110-109 to bring the NBA trophy home.
    “I probably brag about it more now than when I was a little kid. It’s cool,” Randy said of his father’s championship success. “It’s probably cooler for me now than it was for me as a little kid growing up. I didn’t pay any attention to it, and being older and all that is certainly something I’m proud of.”
    Pettit often refers to Med as a “vital part of that team.”
    “Med started some, he came off the bench a lot and whenever he got in there,” Pettit said. “He gave it 110 percent diving on the floor after balls and really hustled every second.”
    Traded away
    Med’s time with his championship teammates didn’t last long into the 1958-59 season. After 29 games with a .405 field goal percentage per game, he was traded to the Cincinnati Royals.
    Med finished out the season with 405 points in 62 games with 1,126 minutes played and 188 rebounds. He played one more season with the Royals achieving 641 points in 74 games with 301 rebounds in 1,849 minutes played. When the 1959-60 season ended, he called it a career with five seasons played, 1,924 points in 313 games with 5,632 minutes and 967 rebounds.
    “From what I understand, mainly from my mom, it just crushed him to be traded. He just left St. Louis and that hurt him. His buddies were there, Pettit was his roommate, all those guys were good friends and getting traded to Cincinnati probably hurt his feelings,” Randy said. “He left the NBA and went to work for his father-in-law. My grandfather had a trucking company and so he managed truck terminals, things like that, made a lot more money doing that. And then, when (the company) sold out he moved us out to California. He was trying to buy a beer distributorship around that time, wasn’t anything here.”
    Page 4 of 4 - The Parks eventually came back to Missouri and settled in Hannibal. Med became the first director of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, a post he held for five years. His celebrity followed him to some places he went, but as Randy remembers, Med was very humble about his reputation.
    “My dad never really talked about himself, never talked about high school or sports or anything like that. He always said don’t talk about yourself. If you’re that good, people will do it for you. That really was his attitude,” Randy recalled. “The (Missouri) Hall of Fame thing was his biggest thing he was most excited about. He really had a good time.”
    Med went back to work at Wentworth Military Academy, not long after that, in 1998, he lost his battle with cancer. He was 65.  
    The Hawks left St. Louis for Atlanta in 1968, the Cincinnati Royals became the Kings and finally settled in Sacramento.
    Atlanta has since retired Pettit’s No. 9. In 1970, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
    Today, Pettit resides in Louisiana. Randy Park and his family remain in Hannibal, he owns and operates Printex, Inc. a screen printing and embroidery company.
    Med Park was laid to rest at his family plot in Highland Cemetery in Hamilton, Mo.

        calendar