BACK PEDAL: TERRY FURLOW
While browsing through a copy of Basketball Digest from the late 70’s, arguably the greatest magazine dedicated to basketball, I came across a name of an NBA player from Flint, Michigan.
The city of Flint has produced dynamite basketball players over the years. Guys like Trent Tucker, Glen Rice, Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith, Morris Peterson, Kelvin Torbert and Charlie Bell just to name a few.
Terry Furlow, one of the top players out of Flint Northern High School, known for his scoring ability is a player who doesn’t get talked about too much when discussing the top basketball players from that city.
On May 23, 1980, Furlow died in a car accident. He was 25 years old.
While at Northern Furlow helped lead his team to an undefeated season and the State title. MSU head coach Gus Ganakas was recruiting Furlow’s teammate Wayman Britt at the time but decided to attend the University of Michigan instead; so Ganakas offered Furlow.
Playing four seasons for the Spartans, Furlow led the Big Ten in scoring in his junior and senior years. In his 4th campaign in East Lansing Furlow scored 31 PPG during Big Ten play; on January 5, 1976, Furlow dropped a 50 spot on Iowa.
Right before the awful crash just outside of Cleveland, Furlow had just completed his best season in his short career while playing for the Utah Jazz scoring 16 PPG. Days later they found traces of cocaine in his system.
“My best friend free-based,” Johnson says. “He did a lot of things I didn’t want him to do. I tried to get him to change, but Terry felt like he could conquer anything. When he died it was a blow to me. He was like the big brother I had never had.”
Furlow was taken in the first round (12th overall) of the 1976 Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers where he became roommates with Julius Erving. The first and only year with the Sixers he played in 32 games but he caught a glimpse of what it was like to win; Philadelphia went to the NBA championship before losing to the Portland Trailblazers 4-2. Furlow got a chance to play with George McGinnis, World B. Free, Darryl Dawkins and Doug Collins. Furlow appeared in three games during the finals.
The next season Furlow was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he played for Bill Fitch. During his second season with the Cavs he was traded to Atlanta. After helping the Hawks in the playoffs he found himself moving once again early the following season to the Utah.
While a member of the Hawks in 1978-79 Furlow played with John Drew, Eddie Johnson, Tree Rollins, Dan Roundfield and Charlie Criss. Furlow came off the bench in the playoffs and pumped in 15 PPG (including 21 points in one game) against the Washington Bullets in the Eastern Conference Finals. During the series Furlow had a few words for his opponents.
“They’ve got nobody who can stop me. I am going to dominate their guards physically and psychologically.”
During Game 6 of the series, there was a loose-ball; Bullets center Wes Unseld and Furlow got tangled up. Furlow tore away, fists balled, and the two men had to be separated.
“Lucky for one of us,” the 6’7″, 260-pound Unseld said.
I would not have sold Furlow short in that one.
“There were nights when we would (work out) late into the evening and I would get a little worried because I was staying in the dormitory, so they stopped serving dinner at a certain time, and I also had to get to study hall four nights a week,” Kelser says. “I was worried that I wasn’t gonna eat dinner and Terry would say, ‘Don’t worry about dinner, you can come and eat with me.’ He had an apartment and he obviously had plenty of food in that apartment and he would say, ‘Hey! You’ll just come and eat with me!’ That to me was just the epitome of leadership, because here’s a senior taking massive interest in a freshman and showing him the ropes, and I wanted very much to be just as good as Terry Furlow. He was tremendous”
Furlow will be remembered by some as a player who worked tirelessly to perfect his basketball skills in order to become an NBA star. “I envision that he might never have been an All-Star, but I think Terry could have been a very solid NBA player for at least 10 years,” Kelser says. But for others, he will be remembered as a brash kid who was taught a very important lesson about driving under the influence. Terry Furlow may not have become a household name, but to so many who knew him, Terry Furlow was a man they will never forget.
My guy Patrick Hayes at Ballin Michigan interviewed Woodyard about what he learned in researching Furlow.
First, I know you are a Flint guy, but what specifically got you interested in telling Furlow’s story again?
Honestly, I was bugging SLAM magazine pretty much every chance I got to get a feature-length story in the mag. I had been hearing about Furlow ever since I was a kid and a lot of people knew about him somewhat but they didn’t know just how great he actually was so that is what got me started. From then I did all my research and took the time to look at all old clips in the Flint Journal’s archive and over the internet and I wanted to tell his story the right way without letting the way he died influence his basketball legacy.
I reached out to George Hamo a Flint native and asked him his thoughts on Furlow:
Shit, I played against him, they had him and Wayman Britt. They played for Bill Frieder at Flint Northern. One of best teams in Flint history, I believe they were undefeated their senior year. Britt and I guarded each other. Then we all played together on Flint’s USA-Canada team. We kicked Canada’s ass every game. Terry was a pure shooter-one of the all time best.
During his days as a Spartan, Furlow took a liking to a young high school standout from around the way.
In his autobiography, “My Life”, Magic Johnson writes about how Furlow took him under his wing while he was at Everett High School. Johnson would play in pickup games and team up with Furlow.
“Young fella, you’re gonna hang out with me.” Furlow said to Magic one night after a game.
The two young men formed a friendship and could often be seen playing one-on-one after pickup games where Magic said that Furlow “destroyed me every single time we played.”
One-on-One is a lost art. Kids don’t play anymore and I’m sure those games against Furlow helped Magic progress.
“It was always 15-0.” Magic said.
Guys like Furlow would not let younger guys get off. It was their way of getting the young players tough.
“It was a couple of months before I finally scored my first points against him.”
It wasn’t until two years later that Magic finally beat Furlow.
“Finally, after two years of these games, I actually beat him.”
Furlow would visit Magic at Everett on occasion and take in a Viking high school game. After a pretty good performance, Johnson checked in with his ‘big brother’ and was surprised at what he said.
“You played all right young fella,” he said. “But when you went in for that left-handed lay-up, you took it with your right hand!”
Playing in 55 games with the Jazz during the 79-80 season Furlow was their 3rd leading scorer behind Adrian Dantley and Pete Maravich. His career high of 37 vs the Nuggets that season was the highlight of his short stint.
To this day Furlow still holds the record for most points scored in a single game for the Spartans and still holds the record for single season scoring average 29.4
In a one-week stretch Furlow scored 50, 48 and 42 points for Michigan State. Unheard of today in big time basketball.
Who knows what might have happened with Furlow’s playing career if he had not crashed his car in the Spring of 1980?
Jack Ebling, author of “Magic Moments: A Century of Spartan Basketball” said of Furlow: “He wanted the ball. He wanted it all. And when Terry “The Trigger” Furlow was right, there was nobody better.”