Lebron 'King' James Has Nothing on ASU Great 'Jumpin' Joe Caldwell

This year's edition of the ASU Sun Devils men's basketball team snuck past a decent University of Alabama-Birmingham squad 69-66 on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

 

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Nice win that just may help the Devils when March Madness comes around, sooner than later.

But the highlight of the day wasn't the huge three-pointer by Ty Abbott that gave the locals the last-secondvictory.

No, it came courtesy of the dude in that old-school photo, one Joe Caldwell, a.k.a. "Pogo Joe" or "Jumpin' Joe."

 

  

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Caldwell became the first ex-Sun Devils player to have his jersey -- number 32 -- hung from the rafters at the school arena, a belated honor that head coach Herb Sendek deserves credit for pushing.

 

You should know this:

The dude was Lebron James before Lebron's parents were born, much less had a twinkle in their eyes for the other. He was Julius "Dr. J" Erving before the Great One first laced up his sneakers.

We wrote about Caldwell at length many moons ago -- check out the cautionary tale right here.

Not many folks recall that the guy was one of the college and professional game's most innovative players,

He described his style (and that's what it was) perfectly in our story:

"Twisting, turning sideways, backwards, lots of angles. Nobody was doing angles. Jumping. I could jump then."

Caldwell never made it to the NBA Hall of Fame. He didn't score enough points, wasn't in the league long enough (that's a book in itself -- and he wrote and self-published it), and never played on a championship team.

But his free-form way of playing -- rare in his day -- has become the norm.

Sadly, his life has been exceedingly difficult life in many ways.

Years ago, 60 Minutes documented Caldwell's fruitless attempt to get the money coming to him from various team owners, especially those in the renegade American Basketball Association, where he jumped in 1970 with visions of the big bucks (some of the ABA teams later merged into the NBA).

The TV story aired in 1978, when the bankrupt ex-player was working in a warehouse for $3 an hour, It concluded with moving out of his foreclosed Greensboro, North Carolina, home.

Caldwell has continued to struggle with life over the years, financially and otherwise, though he has remained a very decent man who always takes the time to speak with everyone about the "old days" (the good ones, not the others).

Admirably, Caldwell earned his college degree at ASU in 1997, almost a quarter-century after his last game as a Sun Devil.

No one who ever has donned the Tempe school's maroon-and-gold uniform was better than Jumpin' Joe, and no one has had more impact on the court.

We congratulate him.

 


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