Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Princeton's Geoff Petrie

November 15th, 2010
In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Geoff Petrie, one of the best players in Princeton history. After a collegiate career that included helping lead the Tigers to their first-ever 14-0 run through conference play Petrie played six seasons in the NBA for the Portland Trail Blazers. He is now the president of basketball operations for the Sacramento Kings, where he's won two NBA Executive of the Year awards (1999, 2001).

Jon Teitel: After high school you were drafted by the Washington Senators as a pitcher. How close did you come to becoming a pro baseball player?
Geoff Petrie:
Not very. I played for a couple of years in college, but always liked basketball/football more.

JT: You were recruited to Princeton by the legendary Bill Bradley. What sort of relationship did you have with him?
I met him a couple of times before he went to Oxford, and continued to correspond with him while I was still in high school.

JT: In 1969 you helped legendary coach Pete Carril (who was later an assistant coach for you in Sacramento) reach his first-ever NCAA Tournament and complete the first 14-0 conference season in school history before losing to St. John's by nine points. What impact has Carril had on your life, and what are your memories of the St. John's game?
I have had a lifelong relationship with Pete, as coach, mentor, friend, confidante, etc. Our 40-year relationship is still going strong and I still cherish it. He helped develop me as a player and also developed my philosophy of the game. I remember that we played really well against St. John's but not well enough to win.

JT: In 1970 you scored a career-high 39 points against Fordham. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
I guess, but I do not remember a lot about that game. They might have played a lot of zone defense. I was a good shooter in high school and became even better in college. Sometimes you get going and the basket starts to look real big.

JT: In the summer of 1970 you were drafted eighth overall by Portland (five spots behind Pete Maravich) while your college teammate John Hummer was also drafted in the first round. Did you see that as a validation of what a great team you had at Princeton?
I always wanted to be an NBA player, which had been a real dream of mine for a long time. Being drafted that high was definitely a validation of the program. It was a special time at Princeton, from Bradley in the early 1960s all the way to Brian Taylor in the early 1970s. It was a time when the Ivy League was still capable of attracting NBA talent.

JT: In your first pro season you scored 24.8 PPG and were named NBA Co-Rookie of the Year (along with Dave Cowens). How were you able to record such amazing numbers as a rookie, and why was it so easy for you to make the transition from college to the pros?
It was easy because Pete had really prepared me. I was a forward in high school but he turned me into a 6'4" guard, which was pretty big for a guard at that time. There was generally more scoring in the NBA back then because we ran a lot. We averaged about 117 points per game...but unfortunately we gave up about 127 points per game! Even though we were picked to be the worst of the three expansion teams (behind Buffalo/Cleveland), we turned out to be the best.

JT: In January 1973 you set a franchise record by scoring 51 points against Houston/defensive ace Mike Newlin (who allegedly said after the game, "He'll never do that again"), then you scored another 51 against Houston two months later. Did you just match up well with Newlin, and were you out to get respect the second time around?
Mike disputes that, by the way. I think it is a coincidental story that has just grown over time. The first game was on the road and the second one was at home. Mike was a fine defender but I just got rolling in both games. The better part is that we won both of the games.

JT: In the 1974 season opener you played a franchise-record 61 minutes in a two-point win over Cleveland that lasted four overtime periods. What are your memories of that game, and how were you able to keep from collapsing?
That was Lenny Wilkens' very first game as player-coach in Portland. I just remember that gamed never seemed to want to end.

JT: In the summer of 1976 you were traded to Atlanta, but had to retire due to chronic knee problems. Did you feel frustrated that you could not go out on your own terms, or satisfied that you had a great career?
I was frustrated and was not prepared to stop playing at age 28. It was a difficult time, but the flip side is that I got to start for six years and play a lot when I was healthy. I wish we could have had a little more team success, but I had some individual success. Some of my knee injuries probably went all the way back to 9th grade football. I moved on but would not trade those six years for anything.

JT: Portland never made the playoffs during your time there, then won the NBA title the year after trading you. Were you happy that the franchise won it all, or sad that you were not there to help them do so?
I still have a great fondness for helping start the pro basketball era in Portland, and the trade obviously worked out well for them. We had a chance to go the playoffs the year before, but Bill Walton got hurt. It was a great experience for the city when they finally won the title.

JT: Your career average of 37.6 minutes/game is in the Top 20 in NBA history. How were you able to handle the workload, and do you think the high number of minutes you played contributed to your injury?
It is hard to say, but I always thought that I kept myself in good condition. Like the mentality of most players at that time, I never wanted to come out of the game because I loved to play.

JT: You career average of 21.8 ppg ranks in the Top 40 in NBA history, ahead of such legends as Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett, and Isiah Thomas. Do you feel that you belong in the Hall of Fame, and if so, do you think you will ever get inducted?
It is not my decision to make, and I do not think about it a lot. With all my injuries, I never found out where I was going to go as a player. I just take comfort in the fact that I had a lot of fun and accomplished a lot.

JT: You were the 1st-ever draft pick by the expansion Portland franchise, played your entire career there, then worked in several positions for the team (including radio color commentator). What place does the city/franchise hold in your heart, and why did you go back there to work after they traded you away?
I was basically there for 25 years starting from the time I was drafted. I still have children and friends up there, and it was a huge part of my adult life. I returned because I was invited back to do some things by executives John Spoelstra and Harry Glickman, who were always very helpful and supportive.

JT: In 1994 you left Portland to join Sacramento as president of basketball operations, and you were named NBA Executive of the Year in 1999 and 2001. Was it hard to leave Portland, and how have you been able to have so much success as an executive in Sacramento?
Anytime you make a change there is always some apprehension. I did not know exactly what I would do when I resigned in Portland, but the opportunity arose in Sacramento. I have worked with a lot of terrific people here, and we have put in a lot of hard work to find the right combination of players/coaches: fortunately it worked for almost a decade. We are now in a rebuilding mode, but we are getting better through the draft.

JT: Two of your most notable foreign draft picks in Sacramento have been Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu. What made your organization so good at evaluating talent from outside the US, and what kind of impact do you expect foreign players to have in the future?
I think they will continue to have an impact because the game continues to improve and grow around the world. About 30% of the players currently in the league are from outside the US. Even in Portland we were doing more scouting than most other teams, as we got the rights to Arvydas Sabonis back in the 1980s. Now everyone is out there doing it. Scouting is a lot like economics, as there are a lot of statistics. You just have to try to find the guys who will help your team win.

Petrie is on Jon's list of best pro players in Ivy history.

Brown: Woody Grimshaw (1947)

Columbia: Jim McMillian (1971)

Cornell: Ed Peterson (1950)

Dartmouth: Rudy LaRusso (1960)

Harvard: Saul Mariaschin (1948)

Pennsylvania: Matt Maloney (1997)

Princeton: Geoff Petrie (1971)

Yale: Chris Dudley (1988)