- Bill Spivey
- Hometown (Last School)
- Warner Robins, GA (Macon Jordan)
- 1949-50, 1950-51, 1951-52
- March 19, 1929
Obituary – UK ALL-AMERICAN CARRIED LIFELONG SCAR OF ’50S SCANDAL, Lexington Herald-Leader (May 9, 1995) by Jennifer Hewlett
Bill Spivey, a former University of Kentucky basketball All-American and one of the first 7-footers to play the sport in college, was found dead yesterday at his apartment in Quepos, Costa Rica. He was 66.
He died of natural causes and was thought to have been dead several hours when acquaintances found him, according to the Quepos Police Department. Friends and family said he had been in ill health for several years.
Mr. Spivey, UK’s first 7-foot-tall player, had dreams of playing for the National Basketball Association, but those dreams were dashed after he was implicated in a point-shaving scandal in the early 1950s. Several current and former UK Wildcats of the era admitted they accepted money to shave points.
But Mr. Spivey, who was indicted for perjury in the case, was adamant to the end of his life that he never had any part in attempts to fix college games. A New York trial jury voted 9-3 for acquittal, and the district attorney’s office said it saw no use in trying the case again.
But the damage was done. Although Mr. Spivey was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, he was barred from the NBA for life before he had a chance to play his first pro game. He went on to play for some minor professional teams, including a stint with a team opposing the Harlem Globetrotters.
‘He just loved life’
In later years he had a number of occupations, including running Bill Spivey’s Restaurant & Lounge on South Broadway in Lexington and periods when he sold insurance and real estate. He also had been a deputy state insurance commissioner, and he announced for Kentucky lieutenant governor in 1983.
“I think the thing about Bill, first of all, was he was the first great big basketball player — and I don’t mean good, I mean great,” said UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton, who played on the 1951 NCAA championship team with Mr. Spivey. Mr. Spivey, Newton said, could do things on the court that other men his size could not do.
“He was the first big man that could just fly up and down the court. He had extremely good agility as a big man.”
Newton, who roomed with Mr. Spivey in college, said an extra-long bed had to be made for Mr. Spivey, and the bed took up most of their dormitory room.
“He was one of those guys that loved to live. He played hard. He worked hard. He lived hard. He just loved life.”
Mr. Spivey liked to play practical jokes on people, but he also could laugh at himself, Newton said.
As a 6-8 high school sophomore in Georgia, Mr. Spivey had to play the whole year wearing three pairs of socks because there were no sneakers big enough to fit him.
“The next season I got a pair of sneakers, size 12, and cut the toes out with a razor blade,” he said in an interview several years ago.
“I got blisters on my toes, but at least I stopped the walking violations.”
He had shoes by his senior year, had raised his game average 10 points to 29 and began attracting attention regionally, if not nationally.
Mr. Spivey was a spindly 6-foot-10 1/2 and 174 pounds when he drew the attention of UK Coach Adolph Rupp.
Rupp got him a job at a drugstore, where he took fluorescent lights down from the ceiling and cleaned them. He did not need a ladder.
‘He never got over it’
Mr. Spivey, selected as top player in the nation by the Helms Foundation, was UK’s 29th all-time scorer with 1,213 points although he did not complete his final season. He had 22 points and 21 rebounds in UK’s 1951 NCAA championship game.
But the point-shaving scandal left him a broken man, his former wife Audrey Spivey said.
“He never got over it. Bill could not let that go. He was just devastated. He was probably the best basketball player in the country at that time,” she said.
“Everybody thought he would have been a great big man in the NBA, had he gotten the opportunity to play,” said Cliff Hagan, a former teammate and past athletics director at UK. “I’m sure he was very disappointed that he didn’t get an opportunity to play in the NBA.”
“I really felt bad about him, because I think since the scandal that he really had hard times,” said former UK teammate Bobby Watson.
“I always felt like he should have been given the opportunity to play. . . . I don’t remember that they ever really proved that he did anything wrong.”
Said former teammate Frank Ramsey: “He was a tremendous basketball player . . . he was a 7-footer that could run . . . he had a good hook shot . . . good rebounder.”
“It was very unfortunate he did not play pro basketball to prove just how good he was. I think it (the scandal) had a very definite effect on his life emotionally.”
After his trial, Mr. Spivey sued the NBA. The suit was settled out of court for $10,000. He passed a lie-detector test that cleared him of wrongdoing, a news report said at the time.
Mr. Spivey is survived by a son, Dr. Cashton B. Spivey of Isle of Palms, S.C.
A memorial service will be held later. His wish was that his ashes be scattered in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Kerr Brothers Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
1950S WILDCAT BASKETBALL STAR SPIVEY RECEIVES FINAL TRIBUTE, Lexington Herald-Leader (May 21, 1995), by Brenda Rios
Bill Spivey’s memory was laid to rest yesterday just blocks from where he first stormed into the consciousness of Kentuckians.
As a University of Kentucky basketball player almost half a century ago, Spivey packed thousands of fans into Memorial Coliseum, just south of downtown Lexington. Yesterday, long after the cheering had stopped, about 55 people attended a 30-minute memorial service at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Main Street.
Several former UK basketball legends, including Wallace “Wah-Wah” Jones, Kenny Rollins and Ralph Beard, were among those who paid their last respects. A photo of Spivey lay next to a silver-and-gold urn containing his remains.
Though only a few blocks separate old Alumni Gym on the UK campus and the funeral home in the heart of Lexington’s business district, the road between them was long and hard. Glory was a long time over for Spivey, one of the first 7-footers to play college basketball, when he was found dead May 8 at his apartment in Quepos, Costa Rica.
Spivey’s dreams of playing for the National Basketball Association were dashed after he was implicated in a point-shaving plot in the early 1950s. Several UK Wildcats of the era admitted they accepted money to shave points.
But Spivey, who was indicted for perjury in the case, was adamant to the end that he never had any part in attempts to fix college games. A New York trial jury voted 9-3 for acquittal, and the district attorney’s office said it did not have enough evidence to try him again.
He was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, but he was barred from the NBA for life before he had a chance to play his first game. Spivey spent his basketball career on minor professional teams, including a stint with the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ foil.
“The gambling scandal of the early ’50s scarred Bill very deeply,” UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton said yesterday.
Newton, who was Spivey’s roommate at UK, eulogized the former All-American as a gentle, quiet man who grew into a spectacular basketball player.
Spivey moved on after his basketball career ended. For a while, he ran a bar in Lexington. He sold insurance for a time. He sold real estate. He was a deputy state insurance commissioner.
In 1983, he announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor in Kentucky.
But in later years, Spivey began to withdraw and only reluctantly returned to Kentucky in 1991 for a reunion of the 1951 championship team.
“Those of us in this area saw less and less of him,” Newton said. “It took a number of phone calls from different ones of us to get him to come back.”
Spivey was haunted all his life by the point-shaving incident, former teammates said yesterday.
“He never did stop talking about it,” Kenny Rollins said after the service.
Jones, who played with Spivey at UK, said Spivey thought that his inability to pay legal fees had cost him a professional career.
“He was very hurt by it,” Jones said. “In today’s world, it would have been a lot easier for him to get into the league.”
Athletics’ Victim by Jim Murray, Oakland Tribune, November 2, 1961, pg. 49.
You wouldn’t have to look twice to guess what William Edwin Spivey’s line was. I mean, the general questioning would never even get to Dorothy Kilgallen.
William Edwin is 7 feet 1 inch tall. He has to stoop to go through a door jamb any other man could cross under with a stovepipe hat on. If he had an “Eat at Joe’s” sign on his back, you’d swear he was on stilts.
He’s 32 years old and has spent so many of them galloping up and down a hardwood floor his feet kill him and he takes every opportunity he can to put them up and rest them. They look substantial enough to land troops in. But when you consider what they have to hold up – 250 lb. of raw-boned Georgia country boy – you know a building inspector would never have OK’d the plans for them in the first place and that, sooner or later, that foundation would start to cave under the pressure. Like that tower of Pisa, William Edwin leans slightly.
Athletics’ Inhumanity to Athletes
Bill is a basketball player, a pivot man. He’s one of his generation’s best. But what makes Bill unique is that he has become a kind of monument of athletics’ inhumanity to athletes. His story is, in a way, in the classic mold of Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean or Emil Zola’s real-life Captain Dreyfus.
It all began in 1950 when Bill was a star center for Adolph Rupp’s University of Kentucky basketball team. Adolph used to get his varsity players jobs in the Catskill Mountains of New York as waiters (and basketball players) in the summer.
Bill was trying not to drop a tray of borscht one night when a character in a snap brim hat and shoulder pads so wide he looked like he was carrying water, offered him a large tip – $500 in fact. All he had to do was agree to throw a few basketball games.
Bill, to his credit, indignantly refused. That winter, on campus, Padded Shoulders tried again. Bill threw him out of the dormitory. But a few weeks later, when Kentucky lost the Sugar Bowl tournament to an inferior St. Louis U. team, it was clear someone had picked Padded Shoulders up on the first bounce and taken the money.
Days of Basketball Bribes
Those were the days when basketball players took more bribes than Chicago cops and Bill was indicted when two teammates testified he got his share. Bill denied it, insisted they lied, and that the only points he ever shaved were the ends of his whiskers.
He was tried for perjury, Adolph Rupp, the Governor of Kentucky and the state’s foremost attorneys all testified to his good character. The man who was supposed to have supplied him the money refused to testify even to get out of jail, but the university kicked Bill out and the headlines made him guilty even before the court – and Bill Spivey – had a chance.
Bill’s charges were dismissed when the jury stalled at 9-5 for acquittal. The university re-admitted him; he was given an ovation when he got his degree – but organized basketball in the person of Czar Maurice Podoloff banned him for life.
Too broke to fight, Bill turned to the leaky-roof circuit of basketball. He joined the meat squad as fodder for the Harlem Globetrotters, a straight man for Goose Tatum and other assorted comedians in short pants. He learned trick shots and slow burns and forgot about basketball. But when he had saved enough money, he quit the circus, sued the NBA and joined the tank-town minor league basketball.
Drafted by Cincinnati Royals
He was so good, two years ago, the Cincinnati Royals drafted him from the Baltimore Bullets. They offered him $20,000 – $7,000 to drop charges against the league, $3000 to buy off Baltimore and $10,000 to play pivot for rookie Oscar Robertson.
Podoloff again blocked the shot, stepped in and threatened to boycott the Royals if they played Spivey. They had to bow, but offered him a job taking tickets. Spivey sued Podoloff for $820,000, later withdrew it and substituted a federal suit charging the NBA with violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
When Podoloff read that complaint he called a foul on himself, offered Spivey $10,000 if he would drop the suit and agree never to start another. Bill was torn. He wanted to hold out for re-instatement but the court docket was such that even if successful he would be too old to play by the time he got it. Reluctantly, he took the money. “I don’t mind when it was only me. But when it began to hurt my wife and child, it hurt me. It was at least some vindication.”
Strange Cast of Characters
Bill Spivey is now with the Los Angeles Jets, a rather strange cast of characters who play a game that would make Dr. Naismith’s eyes pop. It beats crawling under George Tatum’s legs looking for the ball and a few laughs but it is still trick basketball. It has a three-point basket for long shots outside the perimeter of the key. Presumably a shot from the Harbor Freeway will get you 100 pts and a ticker tape parade but for Spivey, it’s respectability at last.
His punishment and public oblogquy has been such that even if he did take the money it would be inhumane. Whether he’s Jean Valjean who took the bishop’s candlesticks or Captain Dreyfus whose only crime was he wouldn’t admit doing something he didn’t do, Bill Spivey is a tragic figure and a shame on sport.
7-Foot Spivey, Barred by N.B.A. During Scandals, Retires at 38 by Neil Amdur, New York Times, Feb 13, 1968 pg. 58
Ex-Kentucky Star, Whose Case Was Dismissed, Bows Out in Old-Timers’ Game
Bill Spivey made his National Basketball Association debut Sunday night in Baltimore. His team lost, 38-37, but Spivey, as usual, was top scorer with 12 points.
Yesterday the 7-footer announced his retirement from professional basketball.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” said Spivey, who is 38 years old and a former Kentucky All-American, at his home in King of Prussia, Pa. “This is an opportune time for me to retire. It really meant something for me to finish off my career with a game like that.”
He played for the Baltimore Bullets Veterans in a 20-minute al-star game preceding the regular N.B.A. contest between San Diego and Baltimore. The occasion was only an old-timers’ get-together, but for Spivey it meant a measure of satisfaction after years of frustration.
Compliment by Davies
“I’d always wanted to play with a good big man,” Bob Davies told Spivey after the game. “Too bad it was 20 years too late.” Davies was long a star with the old Rochester Royals.
A technicality gave Spivey the privilege of participating. He had played for the Bullets of the Eastern Basketball League when Baltimore was between N.B.A. franchises.
He never played in a regular N.B.A. game. After having left Kentucky in 1951, he was indicted for perjury in the 1953 college basketball scandals. Through a mistrial was declared and the case later dismissed, the N.B.A. refused to admit Spivey.
He sued the N.B.A. and later said he had settled out of court for $10,000. He had been playing recently for the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Barons of the Eastern League for $200 a game. He sprained an ankle several weeks ago and was released, club officials said. Spivey said the club had asked him to rest the ankle without pay.
“I don’t have any regrets about retiring,” he said. “My wife and I had talked about it. The main reason I was playing was to keep my weight down.”
He weighs 240 pounds, but has been as high as 280. He is now in the building material business.
During his career Spivey toured with the Harlem Globetrotters and the Detroit Vagabonds, played with a half-dozen Eastern league teams and was a leading scorer with the Los Angeles-Hawaii team of the ill-fated American Basketball League. In several Eastern seasons, he averaged 30 points a game. But he could not play in the top league, the N.B.A.
“I owe an awful lot to the Eastern League,” he said. “And especially to Harry Rudolph [league president]. He evaluated all the findings and allowed me to play when every else wouldn’t.”
Spivey’s farewell brought a reunion with his basketball buddies, including his former coach, Buddy Jeanette, now general manager of the N.B.A. Bullets.
“There was a comment by one of the owners,” Spivey said. “He said that I probably would have won the most-valuable-player award in the old-timers’ game.
“I thought that ironic. It’s probably the first time any N.B.A. owner ever voted for me in his life.”
Spivey: The Giant Who Was Ravaged by New York (and Others) by D.G. FitzMaurice Lexington Herald-Leader, September 4, 1977.
Any litany of the leading big men to ever play ball in the National Basketball Association would have to include George Mikan, Easy Ed Macauley, Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
There is one notable, very large omission – Kentucky’s 7-foot-1 Bill Spivey, who stained by suspicion in the basketball scandals that jolted the sports world in the early 1950s, was denied the opportunity to play in the NBA.
The 48-year old Spivey is about to unfold his own story in a book entitled, “Till Proven Innocent,” which should hit the book stores sometime during the basketball season.
Authored by Dixon Green of Nashville, the work will span Spivey’s career, covering the life of an awkward Georgia farm boy who worked countless hours until he became the finest collegiate player in the land.
It will also recall Spivey’s indictment by a New York grand jury on a perjury charge and his subsequent basketball blacklisting by the moguls of the NBA.
“I figure that cost me from two to three million dollars,” commented Spivey in a recent interview.
“When I was eligible to play pro ball, they weren’t paying the big money, but that came a few years later, I would’ve been in the big money.”
Spivey’s rags-to-rags ordeal began in a small high school in Warner-Robbins, Ga.
“I didn’t like basketball at first,” confided Spivey. “I thought it was a sissy game and just coldn’t understand how guys could run around in front of people with short pants on.”
Putting a premium on acquiring an education – “I was determined to be the first member of the Spivey clan to go to college” – big Bill learned that some of his friends were going to college on something called an athletic scholarship.
As a 6-8 and still growing sophomore, Spivey joined the squad and was handed a uniform, sans shoes.
“I had a size 14 foot, and they didn’t have any sneakers to fit me, so I played the whole year playing in three pairs of socks.”
“I got so tired of sliding and getting called for traveling,” smiled Spivey, “that the next season, I got a pair of sneakers, size 12, and cut the toes out with a razor blade.
“I got blisters on my toes, but at least I stopped the walking violations.”
Spivey added shoes and 10 points to his average his senior year, and his 29-point production per game began attracting regional, if not national, notoriety.
Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, alerted by an Atlanta alumnus, invited the gangling youth to a tryout in Lexington.
“I had heard about the All-Americans on the Kentucky bench,” recalled Spivey, “and so I thought even if I didn’t get to play, I’d be an All-American on the bench.”
Armed with a $12 bus ticket and a million dollars worth of desire, Spivey arrived in Lexington in the summer of 1948.
“I walked to the old gym, and sat with a bunch of other guys who were waiting. They told me they had flown in and taken limousines to the tryouts.”
Although he was a spindly 6-10 1/2 and 174 pounds, Spivey grabbed Der Baron’s attention when he successfully negotiated the length of the floor on the dribble before ramming home what’s now known as the slam-dunk.
Because he wanted his pencil-thin pivotman on a regular diet, Rupp had the boy enroll in summer school.
“I had two trays of food every meal,” remembered Spivey, “and four quarts of milk a day. I also had a pass to a local movie house, but before I could get in, I had to prove I had a milkshake, at one of the drug stores. The druggist had to initial my pass.”
As Spivey grew by leaps and pounds, assistant coach Harry Lancaster would dash off telegrams to Rupp, who was in Europe coaching our Olympic squad.
“Hary would send one after the other, saying I was up to 184 pounds or 196 pounds. He finally got a wire back from Adolph saying ‘Hell, I know he can eat, but can he play basketball?'”
Spivey proved he could dish it out as well as the slender sophomore led the Wildcats to a 25-5 record while scoring at a team-leading 19.3 clip.
But it was after his second year in school that Spivey’s life took a dramatic turn that tragically changed his career in sports.
“Rupp sent a bunch of us to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, and that’s when I first met a gambler by the name of George, alias Eli Kay.”
After telling Spivey that a number of former and current Wildcats were on the take for shaving points, Kay offered the youngster $500 just to miss an occasional free throw.
“I said I didn’t believe him, and told him to leave me alone.”
Because he didn’t want to do anything that might ruin his teammates careers, Spivey mentioned the incident to no one but his girlfriend, who happened to be the singer at his hotel resort.
“She told me these guys play rough, and I’d be better off forgetting it.”
But the gambler wouldn’t be put off so easily, and Kay stunned Spivey by showing up in Lexington prior to the 1950-51 season.
“He came into the room C.M. Newton and I were sharing and I again told him to get out and I took out after him. He took off down the stairs, and that was the last I saw of him.”
“But I did ask (teammate) Walt Hirsch whether he knew Kay, and his face flushed.”
Forgetting the two brief brushes with the underworld, Spivey led a balanced Wildcat attack that saw the Cats capture the 1951 NCAA crown.
For his 19.2 average and his mauling of the Kansas giant Clyde Lovellette (he outscored big Clyde 21-10), Spivey was acclaimed an All-American and the College Player of the Year by the Helms Foundation.
But even as the rapidly-maturing youngster was getting ready for his senior campaign at Kentucky, forces were working which deprived Spivey of his last hurrah and a lucrative career in the pros.
For Kay had told New York authorities that Spivey was among those involved in shaving points.
“I had missed the first five games of my senior year with a torn cartilage in my right knee.”
“That’s when the New York authorities came down to question me and UK forced me to withdraw myself from the team and from school.”
“Instead of treating me as one of the UK family, they wanted to pacify the NCAA and the New York authorities because they knew they were guilty of paying players and illegal recruiting.”
Spivey still carries the mental scars of those days.
“Kentucky said I couldn’t come back until I proved my innocence. They took my grant away, and I went hungry for three days. I remember the local headlines said, ‘Spivey May Get Five Years.'”
“I was guilty right in my own town before I ever went to trial.”
After borrowing $2,500 for his defense, Spivey found himself indicted by a New York grand jury, not for fixing games, but for perjury.
“In order to beat the perjury charge, naturally I had to prove I was innocent of fixing games,” explained Spivey.
Although the jury voted 9-3 for Spivey, and the judge threw his case out of court for lack of sufficient evidence, the damage was done.
One of the prosecuting attorneys, Vincent O’Connor, was quoted as saying “even if you beat me in court, you’ll never play in the NBA.”
O’Connor’s threat rang true when NBA Commissioner Maurice Podoloff denied Spivey’s entrance into the league, commenting unctuously “there’s a cloud of suspicion over Spivey’s head.”
But Bill, who returned to the Bluegrass State five years ago to become its Deputy Commissioner of Insurance, has one satisfaction.
“I came back and got my degree, and even though the UK authorities told me they didn’t want me to loiter with the ballplayers, I got a standing ovation from 5,000 people when I went up to the stage to get my diploma.”
“That’s when I knew I had come back to Lexington and Kentucky. The majority of the people were still for me.”