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Bill Melchionni

Sport: Basketball

Born: October 19. 1944

Town: Pennsauken

William P. Melchionni was born October 19, 1944 in Philadelphia and grew up with his three brothers across the river in Pennsauken Township. Their father encouraged the boys to play basketball, eventually paving much of their backyard and installing lights. It didn’t make the Melchionnis neighborhood favorites, but all four kids ended up earning college scholarships.

Quick, smart and coordinated, Bill was the best of the bunch—a standout in basketball as a boy despite being small for his age. Eventually, he became the star of the Bishop Eustace Prep team. He led the Crusaders to a pair of state private school titles and sprouted to six feet as a senior, earning a scholarship to Villanova. The level of competition among the Philadelphia schools was fierce, which appealed to Bill. He especially looked forward to sharing backcourt duties with Wali Jones, who nicknamed him Cyclops because of his fine shooting eye.

At Villanova, Bill ran coach Jack Kraft’s offense from 1963–64 to 1965–66. In Bill’s sophomore year, the Wildcats went 24–4 and reached the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament , falling to Duke. Bill’s younger brother, Gary, would go on to captain the Duke team in the early 70s. In 1964–65, the Wildcats reached the finals of the NIT, losing to St. John’s 55–51. Villanova returned to the NIT in Bill’s senior year. He was named the tournament’s outstanding player even though the Wildcats lost to NYU in the semis. He’d averaged over 30 points and was the first player to earn MVP honors from a non-winning school. For his varsity career, Bill averaged just under 20 points a game.

Bill was selected with the #19 pick in the draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, who used their first pick on Matt Guokas of St. Joe’s. Bill wasn’t sure he would find regular playing time in the NBA, so he spent that summer honing his skills in AAU competition for the Phillips 66ers. He also participated in a world tour sponsored by the State Department. He planned to stay abroad and play for a team in Italy if he was cut by the ’Sixers.

Bill made the club as a reserve and the 76ers went on to enjoy a record-setting 68-win championship season. He played in 73 games and averaged about 10 minutes a contest behind Hal Greer and his former college teammate, Wali Jones. Shortly before the playoffs, Bill was called into military service. He was in basic training when the team won the NBA Finals. The following season, an arm injury to Bill’s roommate, Billy Cunningham, killed any chance for a repeat. The 76ers released Bill after that and he played for a year in the Eastern League with the Trenton Colonials.

The ABA New York Nets signed Bill for the 1969–70 campaign. He won the starting point guard role, led the club in assists and was third in scoring with 15.2 points per game. Bill was an ABA All-Star in each of the next three seasons, leading the league in assists in 1970–71 and 1971–72. Bill averaged 21 points a game in 71–72, his only season over 20, and made the postseason All-ABA squad. The Nets reached the ABA Finals that year, but fell to the powerhouse Indiana Pacers.

New York won it all in 1973–74 after Julius Erving joined the club. Bill became just the second player to win NBA and ABA championship rings. At that point, he was part of a backcourt quartet that included Brian Taylor, John Roche and John Williamson. Bill was the best set-up man of the four, but they were better scorers, so he only played 20 minutes a game. He continued in this role for two more seasons, and was a member of the 1976 championship team.

The ABA folded after the 1976 Finals and Bill decided to call it a career. He immediately joined the team’s front office and was responsible for engineering the deal that sent Dr. J to the 76ers after the Nets joined the NBA. After serving as the team’s GM for several seasons, Bill turned down a job to run the Chicago Bulls and took a job on Wall Street, becoming a managing director in Credit Suisse’s bond department. He was enshrined in both the Villanova and Big 5 Hall of Fame and his #25 was retired by the Nets. Bill himself retired with his wife, Alicia, to Naples, Florida. Their son, Keith, was a three-time lacrosse All-American at Duke.

 

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