Hall of Fame guard Slater Martin dies suddenly

Published 9:02 am Friday, October 19, 2012

HOUSTON  — Slater Martin, the defensive-minded Hall of Fame guard who won four NBA titles with the Minneapolis Lakers and one with the St. Louis Hawks, died Thursday. He was 86.

Martin died Thursday at a skilled nursing facility in Houston after a sudden illness, daughter-in-law Becky Martin said. She said he was admitted to the nursing home Monday.

Martin was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. He went into the University of Texas’ Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1962, entered the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1964, and the school retired his No. 15 in 2009.

Email newsletter signup

“I think he’s the best defensive guard that ever lived. That includes all the ones right now,” said Sid Hartman, the 92-year-old sports columnist for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis who served as the de-facto general manager of the Lakers.

Hartman recalled Martin’s battles against Boston’s Bob Cousy, marveling at how Martin was able to keep Cousy under wraps.

“He drove Cousy crazy,” Hartman said Thursday night. “He was quick as a cat. He wasn’t a great shooter or a great scorer, but he was a fantastic point guard.”

The 5-foot-10 Martin averaged 9.8 points and 4.2 assists in 745 NBA regular-season game with Minneapolis, New York and St. Louis from 1949-50 to 1959-60. He averaged 10.0 points and 3.2 assists in 92 playoff games, winning titles with Minneapolis in 1950, ‘52, ‘53 and ‘54 and St. Louis in 1958.

“He was a tremendous ballhandler, a great competitor, and had a tremendous sense of humor,” former Hawks radio announcer Skip Erwin said Thursday night at the Giants-Cardinals baseball playoff game. “He was 5-10. When he would play against Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics, it would look like you were watching two ballet dancers, because they both were so smooth.

“Also, he could have been a welterweight boxing champion, because he was a tough guy.”

Martin played in seven All-Star games and was a five-time, second-team All-NBA selection.

Martin enrolled at Texas in the fall of 1943 and played four varsity games as a freshman. He went into military service in January 1944, and rejoined the Longhorns for the 1946-47 Final Four run that ended with a third-place finish. In his next-to-last game at Texas, he set a school record with 49 points in an 81-60 victory over TCU on Feb. 26, 1949.

He is survived by sons Jim and Slater Jr.