For years, I would go to Net games and have the same question: who is Melchionni? Five jerseys were in the rafters, and I was familiar with four of them. Dr. J., Drazen, Buck Williams? Obvious. John Williamson? Before my time, but still a name I knew. But Melchionni? I figured there probably weren’t too many Melchionni families who excelled at basketball, and thus he was probably related to recent Dukie Lee Melchionni, but that was it. So who was this “Melchionni,” and what exactly did he do to merit such an honor?
The first thing I learned was that Bill Melchionni is, in fact, Lee’s uncle. More significantly though, he was a star PG for the ABA Nets,a key reserve on the 1974 ABA Championship team, and until Jason Kidd came to East Rutherford, he was the franchise’s all-time assist leader.
Melchionni was a three-time All Star, a two-time assists leader, named first team all-ABA in 1972, and will forever own the ABA’s second highest career APG mark.
Injuries took a serious toll on Bill Melchionni’s career, but despite retiring in 1976 at only 31 years of age, he left quite a mark in the Nets’ annals. Thirty-five years after he last took the court, Melchionni is still in the Nets’ top 10 in games, minutes, free throws, field goal attempts, and assists.
I’ll be honest, I really didn’t want to just list stats and accomplishments, but sadly, without having seen Bill Melchionni play, I just didn’t have that much to go on. There are no highlight videos to be found on YouTube, no Bill Melchionni blogs devoted to retelling the story of a scrawny kid from Pennsauken, NJ who won titles in both the NBA (with the Sixers in 1967) and ABA.
I used to wonder why Melchionni’s jersey hung from the ContinIzod rafters, but now I know. Bill Melchionni was a great point guard whose achievements need to be memorialized lest they be forgotten altogether. In that way, he’s more than just an all-time Net; he’s a metaphor for the ABA Nets, and he’s a metaphor for the ABA itself.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DrgNEZ8VR8] (since I couldn’t find any video of Bill, here’s his nephew’s most famous moment on the court).