George Yardley... "The Bird"

6-5, long-armed, 195-pound George Yardley was one of the greatest NBA stars of the 1950s - the first to top the 2,000 mark for single-season points. A gifted scoring machine during his seven-year career (1953-1960), he played for the Fort Wayne (later Detroit) Pistons and made it to six consecutive All-Star Games. "The Bird" averaged an impressive 27.8 points per game during the 1957-58 season!

Editor's Note: As we debate the recently released Men's Basketball All-Decade Team, The Bootleg is proud to present this fine vintage article by famed sports columnist and commentator (and 1949 Stanford Daily Sports Editor) John Hall as it originally appeared in Editor Peter Grothe's outstanding, but long-out-of-print 1952 compilation of essays, Great Moments in Stanford Sports. The Bootleg is profoundly grateful to our longtime friend Mr. Grothe (and Mr. Hall) for having given us specific permission to re-publish these wonderful, long-forgotten articles, refresh the memories of our cagey veteran followers, and open the stories up to a new generation of Cardinal fans.

George Yardley: "The Bird"


By John Hall [one-time Assistant Sports Editor of the Hollywood Citizen-News and former Stanford basketball player]


The story of George Yardley is one of the finest rags to riches tales in Stanford athletics. From an awkward, gangling youngster he developed into the scourge of the league. John Hall, who has seen "The Bird" in almost all his games, describes the amazing athletic career of George Yardley.


This one's about "The Bird.
" That's what his team-mates called him and that's how those who saw him flying his highest on the final night of his career will remember him.


It was the final game of the season, March 5, 1950, and Stanford's basketball pavilion was crammed to the last corner for just one reason
.


It had been a dreary season with few cheers, but all that changed when "The Bird,
' 'alias "The Beanpole," alias the "Balboa Blond," alias George Yardley, set out to put the final smash on "Hank" Luisetti's favorite record.


Luisetti's record? Nobody would have connected the two when the gangling blond boy from the Bay came to the Farm to heat up the hardwoods and study engineering.


Luisetti was a giant from the start. He led the Conference in scoring as a sophomore and sparked three straight PCC championships. He scored over 200 points in Coast Conference Southern Division pla
y for the first time as a junior, then smashed all standards as a senior.


There was never a moment "Hank" wasn't in charge.


Yardley started on the goof squad. As a soph he sat on the sidelines and watche
d Babe Higgins, Bill Stephenson, and Dave Davidson carry the load. Oh, he had promise. It was there. But even as a junior there was little excitement when he scored 117 points to finish eighth in the Southern Division.


Again,
starting his final year as co-captain and big gun of Everett Dean's attack, George was still considered little more than a good ball-player. Little happened in the first five games that year to change the impression.


Then the switch, and it came like a 90-yard run in the Big Game.


A "second Luisetti" down at USC, name of Bill Sharman - and don't ev
er mention the sound in the presence of the Yardley family - had been having the adding machines all to himself. But in the final seven games, every cage fiend on the Coast forgot all about ‘Bullseye Bill' and gaped in disbelief at the big noise coming out of Palo Alto.


The record of Yardley's scoring is in the books, and it goes like this:


USC .................... 26

UCLA .................. 18


USC ……………...21

UCLA …………….22

CAL ………………23


USC .................... 25

UCLA .................. 22

Yardley outscored Sharman in every one of those games, even at the Pan Pacific and Bruin Gym, jinx spots before the Big Seven.


And there he was. Over 200 points with a game to go. Out of nowhere. So they stampeded the Pa
vilion to see what would happen.

Ushers were hanging out of the skylight. Luisetti was in the stands, and the rest came equipped with extra fingers to add and re-add the totals.


George didn't disappoint ..


There were 12 minutes still on the clock when he sent the crowd into a hush with his 21st point to tie the mark.


Here it was - Luisetti's 12-year-old record of 232 points in a single season-all knotted up. It was a long way back to that goof squad.


Another minute and it was bedlam. George scored five more times for 26 points and a final, stunning 237. It didn't matter that Cal stubbornly
insisted on winning the ball game, 64-55.


Actually, it really
didn't matter too much that a few minutes later down in the Pan Pacific, Bill Sharman, parlaying his tremendous early-season advantage, held on to ruin the perfect ending with 24 points and the one-point championship with 238.

 

For the records, George played ball for Everett Dean's Indians during the dreary winters of ' 48, '49 and' 50, which saw the Redskins playing footsie with the cellar most of the time.


George served his sentence at Encina,
washed a few dishes, took a few rides to Rossotti's, migrated to the Phi Psi house, sweated out his engineering degree, and went on to even bigger things in basketball.

 

In 1951 he was named a unanimous AAU All-American after 57 points in the final two games against Phillips Oilers and Denver Chevrolet to lead Stewart's Chevrolet to the national championship.


During '52 he went into the Navy, where he played for Los Alamitos, although a broken hand h
eld him down in the Nationals. When George gets out in September, 1953, he plans to answer one of several offers to play pro basketball-"with anybody except the Minneapolis Lakers."


And there's little doubt his name will get bigger. His
point-making in college really didn't mean too much. There'll be Ridgways, and Sharmans, and such coming along every couple of years.


But those last seven games in 1950, and that final record-
snapping night shoved the "Blond Bird" in among Stanford's athletic all-timers.

 

With those who saw him, there he stays.

 

Luisetti - Pollard - Dallmar - Cowden - Yardley.

 

The name fits.

About the Author John Hall: One of Southern California's most popular sports columnists, John Hall covered the local sports scene in Los Angeles for more than 40 years. After beginning his sportswriting career with the Hollywood Citizen-News in 1950, he then wrote for the Los Angeles Mirror in 1953 and moved over to its sister paper, the Los Angeles Times, in 1962. Not only did he write a widely-read and snappy column, but he covered USC and the Angels as a beat writer. He then moved his column to the Orange County Register in 1981 until retiring in 1993. He was named "California Sportswriter of the Year" six times. Although retired, he became a contributor to USC Report and still writes for the San Clemente Sun Post News. A product of nearby Manual Arts High, he attended Stanford on a basketball scholarship. He is a member of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted as a media member in 2003. (Bio from the USC official site: www.USCTrojans.com)



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