Try 3 months for $3

Journal Times

Let us take you back to a period that has come to be chronicled with newspaper clippings that are yellowed and brittle and film footage you laugh at because of hairstyles and fashions.

The year was 1977 and it was a time when telephones were still dialed, the haze of cigarette smoke commonly lingered in work places and the average major league baseball salary was $74,000. Carrie Underwood and Beyoncé had yet to be born - just as about 80 million people now living in the United States had yet to be - and Elvis Presley and Charlie Chaplin had yet to die.

From a local standpoint, Racine was gripped in the first of what turned out to be three consecutive historically brutal winters during the first three months of 1977. And when Journal Times newspapers were tossed onto porches every afternoon by shivering delivery boys in those days, chances were good that there was something written about Harvey Knuckles within those pages.

He was the youngest of 16 children, a kid with a ready smile and infectious personality. And he was a kid with rare athletic ability.

It was during the Bicentennial summer of 1976 when the 6-foot-7 Knuckles dedicated himself to developing a deadly jump shot after a decent junior season for the St. Catherine's High School boys' basketball team. And when he perfected that shot, Knuckles made a rapid ascent into superstardom.

When all was said and done after the 1976-77 season, Knuckles had led St. Catherine's to the private schools state championship, was named the Associated Press Player of the Year in Wisconsin and received a scholarship to play for the University of Toledo (with 1,488 points, he ranked third on the program's all-time scoring list when his college career ended in 1981 and he still ranks eighth).

Thirty years have passed and guess what? Knuckles is still playing organized basketball.

He will turn 49 Oct. 3. His eldest brother, Sam, is 73. His eldest sister, Jonnie, is 68. His knees are creaky. His back sometimes acts up playing on hard surfaces that he likens to playing in a street.

But after all these years, Harvey Knuckles is still sprinting up and down basketball courts in Braincon, France, situated in the mountainous province of Les Alpes de Haute. Playing for the Braincon Basketball Club, Knuckles has averaged about 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds this season as the grand old man of European basketball.

Why is Knuckles, a middle-aged adult, still playing a kids' game?

"The first reason is I love the game," Knuckles wrote in an e-mail interview. "I always said it would be real cool to do something you love and make a living doing it, as well.

"I am also just lucky because I don't put on weight very easily and I can still play at a high level. Healthwise, I think it's helped me stay in real good shape for my age."

It's not that Knuckles never tried to put basketball behind him and move on with his life. It's just that the game seems to have a way of drawing him back.

Within a year after being the last cut by the Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul Jabbar Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie in 1981 - he was the 39th pick in the NBA Draft that year - Knuckles moved on to Europe, where he played for several different countries until 1992.

After suffering a knee injury, Knuckles returned to Toledo as an assistant coach for three years, lived briefly in Hawaii and California and then returned to Racine in 1998 and '99 to work as a loan officer for U.S. Bank (formerly known as Firstar Bank).

But when Knuckles' wife, Fabianne, died of cancer Jan. 3, 2000, he returned as an active player for Club de Plouarzel in France as a form of therapy.

"That's kind of a pain that never completely goes away," said Knuckles, who lives with his son, Clyde. "Yes, time is really the only cure and basketball did help me pass the time."

And now it's seven years later and Knuckles is as surprised as anyone else.

"I try to play every game like it's the last one, because when I started playing again, I didn't see myself playing more than two years," Knuckles wrote. "Now it's seven years later and here I am.

"But if I find the right team to coach, this would be my last year. I think I can help a team more with my coaching than playing now. But I know this team would like me to play next year."

Why not? Occasional knee and back pain aside, Knuckles still has vestiges of the same game that catapulted him to the top in the first place, with loads more playing experience that help him compensate for his advanced age.

Even as he closes in on his 49th birthday, Knuckles is undeniably a force - not to mention a drawing card for obvious reasons.

"Yeah, I get a lot of attention when people find out my age," Knuckles wrote. "There's a sports magazine called BasketNews which covers basketball not only here in France but all over the world and I've had a few stories because of my age - and the fact that I'm still playing at a high level."

Just how would Knuckles have responded if anyone could have suggested to him way back in 1977 that he would still be playing at a high level 30 years later?

"You mean when I stopped laughing?" Knuckles wrote. "You have to remember that that was just my fourth year of competitive basketball (when he was a senior in high school). I was just hoping to play in college at that time.

"I really don't know. I probably would have looked at you like you were crazy."

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments