Arizin, Paul Joseph

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

ARIZIN, Paul Joseph

(b. 9 April 1928 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), basketball player who excelled at both the college and professional levels and was one of the pioneers of the jump shot.

Arizin was one of two children of Roger Arizin, a mechanic for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Anna Galen, a homemaker. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and his parish was Saint Monica's in South Philadelphia. Arizin received a half scholarship to attend LaSalle, a Catholic preparatory school. He was a good student and played intramural baseball, football, and basketball. When he tried out for the varsity basketball team in his senior year, he played sparingly for about five games and then he and the other senior nonstarters were cut from the team. Arizin graduated from high school in 1946.

Arizin decided to attend college at Villanova University, west of Philadelphia, living at home and commuting by train and bus. He had tried for one of three available academic scholarships, but finished thirteenth out of 275 applicants. Arizin played in several intramural, church, and independent basketball leagues, and in his freshman year one of the teams he was on, Hastings Club, made it to the finals of the Fraternal Order of Eagles citywide tournament. His team lost to the Main Liners (Villanova's team in the off-season), but Arizin was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player (MVP) and caught the eye of the Villanova coach Al Severance, who offered him a scholarship. Before the next season, Arizin also played summer basketball and was the athletic coordinator at the Nevele Country Club hotel in the Catskills.

In the next three years Arizin proved to be an outstanding collegiate player. Although he mostly had a deadly one-hand set shot from about twenty-five feet and drove forcefully to the basket for a fluid hook shot, his claim to fame was the jump shot—a rarity in those days. Although he did not invent it, he became its craftsman. He later explained that the shot came to him almost by accident. Because the floors at the Philadelphia gyms where he played were often waxed for dances, his foot often slipped while taking the hook shot. Therefore, he decided to use the jump shot. He could jump high and stay in the air a bit longer than most, so he used it when he wanted to force his way to the basket. His shots also had a low trajectory, because some of those gyms had low ceilings.

Arizin eventually moved on-campus, and did well in his studies, graduating in 1950 with a B.S. degree in accounting. Although bothered by a sinus condition plus nearsightedness (he did not wear glasses while playing), Arizin led Villanova in scoring and was its MVP during his three varsity seasons, scoring a then-record 1,648 points for a 20.1 points per game average. In his junior year (1948–1949) he made honorable mention for the Associated Press All-America team and was chosen as the MVP in the Philadelphia district by the city's basketball writers. That was also the season he scored eighty-five points in one game, including thirty-five field goals, both of which were records at that time for major colleges. Ironically, the high school coach who cut him refereed that game. Villanova finished third in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament that year.

Arizin's senior year of 1950 was a standout. He won the national scoring title with his 735 points, five short of the record. His 25.3 points per game scoring average was the second all-time highest average, and his 49.3 field goal percentage was fourth in the nation. (Villanova led the nation in team offense.) He was a unanimous All-American on teams of the Associated Press, United Press International, Catholic All-America, Sporting News, and Helms Foundation, and the latter two each named him the player of the year. He was again voted the MVP in the Philadelphia district and was voted the MVP of the Globetrotters Tour. He sent a telegram of thanks to the Sporting News, and received a letter back saying that in its nine years of selecting All-Americans in football and basketball, he was only the third person ever to thank them.

When Sport magazine named its all-time, All-America team, Arizin was selected for the third team. His 1,648 career points were a record at that time for Villanova, and when the school became the thirty-second program to record 1,000 victories in 1984, the three living coaches were asked to select their all-era teams. Needless to say, Severance put Arizin on his. Arizin's "11" jersey was retired.

In 1950 Arizin was the territorial draft pick of the Philadelphia Warriors of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and signed with them for $9,000. After averaging 17.2 points per game in his first season, he averaged twenty or more points per game thereafter, leading the league in scoring in 1952 and 1957. He was selected to ten All-Star games and played in nine (he was injured for one), and was selected as the MVP in the 1952 game, in which he scored twenty-six points (he also led his East team in scoring in the 1958 and 1959 games). After the brilliant 1952 season, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for the next two years and earned the rank of sergeant. He married Maureen McAdams on 18 October 1952; they had five children.

After completing his military service in 1954, Pitchin' Paul resumed his NBA career without missing a beat. He averaged 22.8 points per game in his career, was named to the NBA first team three times and the second team twice, and was the third-leading scorer in league history with 16,266 points when he retired. When the league picked its Silver Anniversary Team in 1970 (1946–1971), Arizin was one of the four forwards selected. Despite these individual accomplishments, he most cherished the 1956 NBA championship won by the Warriors. That year he averaged 24.2 points per game during the regular season and 28.9 for the playoffs.

Arizin chose to retire in 1962 when the Warriors relocated to San Francisco. He played three seasons with the Camden Bullets of the Eastern League; they won the regular season title his first two years and the championship his third year, and he was voted the league's MVP in 1963. He was selected for the National Basketball Hall of Fame (1978), Helms Foundation Hall of Fame, Villanova's Athletic Hall of Fame, and Pennsylvania's Hall of Fame. He was among the first seven inductees in the Philadelphia Basketball Hall of Fame and in 1988 was named a Philadelphia Living Sports Legend by the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association.

When Arizin left basketball in 1965 he became a senior account manager for the IBM Corporation; he retired in 1985. He and his wife reside in Springfield, Pennsylvania. He has coached Catholic Youth Organization teams, has been involved with the Lions Club, and was the chairman of the Multiple Sclerosis Liberty Bell Classic in 1973. He enjoys reading, gardening, and spending time with his many grandchildren.

Above all, Arizin was a team player in his basketball career. He exhibited skills in all areas of the game, exemplified sportsmanship, was unselfish, and thoroughly deserved all the honors that came his way.

The bulk of the material about Arizin may be found in the Villanova University Sports Information Office. In addition, see Phil Pepe, Greatest Stars of the NBA (1970). For a review of Arizin's career after his selection to the National Basketball Hall of Fame, see the Philadelphia Inquirer (4 Apr. 1978 and 2 May 1978); Boston Evening Globe (28 Apr. 1978); and Christian Science Monitor (5 May 1978).

Robert W. Langran