Only in the National Basketball Association can a man slightly taller than six feet be called Tiny and not stir ripples of laughter. At that height everything in the NBA is more difficult -- like getting your shot off, playing the tough defense, or making the rainbow pass against opposing centers who can change most ceiling lights standing on their tiptoes.
Nevertheless this is the working world of guard Nate (Tiny) Archibald of the Boston Celtics, who doesn't come to play every night as much as he comes to blend his skills with those of his teammates.
Whether it's the regular season, in which Boston posted a 62-20 record, or the playoffs, in which the Celtics are set to begin play tonight against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals, Tiny provides leadership from the backcourt.
The point is that Boston, with one of the tallest front lines in the league, doesn't need a lot of scoring from its guards to win. Of far more importance is the take-charge job Archibald does for Celtic Coach Bill Fitch.
So it is frequently Tiny who makes the pass that leads to a score inside for center Robert Parish or forwards Larry Bird or Cedric Maxwell, triggers Boston's fastbreak offense, and brings the ball up court against the press.
Of course there were times in his early years with the old Cincinnati Royals and the Kansas City-Omaha teams when Archibald was the whole show on offense. For example, back in 1972-73, Tiny became the only player ever to lead the NBA in scoring (34-point average) and assists (11.4 per game) in the same season.
Tiny's role, because neither Cincinnati, nor Kansas City-Omaha had the depth to be a winner in those days, was different from what it is now. Then he was expected to shoot at least 20 times a game, create scoring opportunities with his speed, and let his teammates provide whatever help they could on defense.
But although Tiny starred in most pro basketball film clips on the 11 p.m. news, his team made the playoffs just once, in 1974-75, and then didn't get past the first round.