Sunday, November 24, 2013

Who is Gene Conley?

Courtesy of gabepress.files.wordpress.com


Do you know who Gene Conley is? If you don't...you should.

Conley was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma but his family moved to Washington when he was young. Gene was a world-class athlete in high school; he played basketball, baseball, and ran track. Conley was all-state in baseball and basketball and he was the state champion in the high jump. While scoring over 20 points per game in the winter, Conley was an honorable mention for the All-American team twice.

After high school he became a  6 foot 8 pitcher for the Boston Braves, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Braves, and Philadelphia Phillies. He was an amazing player on the mound, being a four-time all star and winning a World Series with Boston. Conley played in the MLB for 11 years and retained an ERA of 3.82. But Gene didn't only play baseball.

Conley was drafted in 1957 by the Boston Celtics. He played power forward and center for the C's and he won 3 NBA Championships. In the NBA, Gene Conley assumed the role of backup big man as he was a very strong rebounder. He averaged 6.3 rebounds per game in 4 seasons with Boston and 2 with the New York Knicks. In the middle of his career, Gene agreed to sign with the Hartford Capitols, the ABA team. Gene Conley continued to play on the Capitols and ended his career in 1968 after 16 seasons of basketball.

Gene Conley juggled two careers for 11 years, playing both professional baseball and professional basketball at the same time from 1952-1963. He then proceeded to continue playing only basketball for 5 more years! How did he do it?
"When I look back, I don't know how I did it, I really don't," Conley said. "I think I was having so much fun that it kept me going. I can't remember a teammate I didn't enjoy."
When you think of the greatest multi-sport athletes, names that come to mind include Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, and Michael Jordan. But Gene Conley was arguably the greatest and most successful athlete that played multiple sports professionally.

Bo Jackson played football and baseball for a total of just 8 years because of a devastating hip injury. ESPN named Bo the greatest athlete of all time, and I agree. But Bo didn't necessarily have a full career because it was cut short by his injury. The Heisman trophy winner left a lot of potential on the table when he retired from the MLB and the NFL. Gene Conley didn't. Conley played for double the years that Bo did, but not at as high of a level.

Gene Conley was not a better athlete than Bo Jackson. But I could argue that he had an overall better career than him. Bo never won any championships in either sport, when Conley won 4 in total. In a time when winning is everything, I'm surprised that not many people know who Gene Conley is. Conley won the team awards, when Bo won the individual ones. They were both elite athletes, but I believe that it's possible that Conley was more successful overall.

After Gene Conley retired from basketball, he started working for a duct tape company in Boston, Massachusetts, where the owner eventually passed away. Conley later opened up his own paper company in Boston. He owned that company for 36 years until he retired. Today, Gene Conley is 83 years old and he lives in New Hampshire with his family.

This autographed picture displaying Gene Conley as a baseball and basketball player is sitting in my room over a basketball signed by Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, and Robert Parish