Baltimore, Maryland is the 24th largest city in the United States of America and the birthplace of one of the best players who never made it to the nba. A true street ball legend and forever remembered in this city.
Whenever you start making a list of the best basketball players out of Baltimore there’s one name that is at the top of everyone’s list as Baltimore’s best basketball player ever, “Skip Wise” (Allan Harper Wise)
«Every time he walked on the court, he knew he was the best player in the gym,» said Stacey Fowlkes, a longtime Baltimore hoops historian. «He had unbelievable confidence in his game.»
And what a game he had. At 6-foot-2, Wise was big, strong and quick with endless range on a jump shot that was unblockable and unstoppable.
DeMatha high school found that out at the Baltimore Civic Center in a very cold day back in February 1973. Dunbar HS with the likes of Billy Snowden, Larry Gibson, Timmy Green, Duke Richardson and Wise outplayed Morgan Wootten’s nationally-ranked Stags, led by Adrian Dantley and Billy Langloh.
«That game put Baltimore basketball on the map,» said Baltimore director of athletics Bob Wade.
«Skip was really something that day, he alone took over the game in the second half.»
It all started when Skip Wise scored 39 points, including 22 in the fourth quarter, to beat the undefeated and holding a record of 43 straight wins and ranked number one in the country school of DeMatha lead by the future nba star Adrian Dantley. That season 1972-73, the Poets team finished 19-0 and was in the midst of a 48-game winning streak. Unfortunately they never had the chance to contend for the national title as they were still officially banned due to some incidents a few years back (a brawl led to a fight and some players and fans ended up in hospital).
This game was specially arranged against DeMatha and the only one they could play in Baltimore (at home) the entire season, also being the only one game they played against non local competition.
Dunbar, led by Skip wise shot 74 percent in the second half and the Poets pulled off the stunner against DeMatha (85-71). Some of the chronicles and articles I’ve read say different things about Wise and his stats and therefore I’m not sure whether to believe he shot an incredible 15/16 on FG or like others stated he was unstoppable on the last quarter.
At the end of the season Skip Wise was selected as a first team High school All-American at Dunbar high school finishing their second unbeaten season in a row.
To give you an idea of his level, here it is the 1974 McDonald’s High school All-American First Team featuring: Moses Malone, Phil Ford, Butch Lee and Bill Cartwright. NCAA championships, MVP’s at college, Rookie of the Year, MVP’s, all-star, nba rings, one way or the other they all made it and had good college or pro careers.
High school glory wasn’t the end for Skip.
In 1974, he took his game to Clemson to join the Tigers managed by Tates Locke featuring a future nba like Tree Rollins (18 year career) and also Stan Rome who was playing both basketball and football.
Skip Wise became the first freshman ever to make first-team All-ACC after averaging 18.9 points a game also being selected for the 3rd team All-American which at the time (70’s) was unheard of. Again, a familiar name, Phil Ford, would be the MVP of the ACC Tournament that year.
According to people who saw him play at Clemson he was the purest shooter ever. When he made a move, fans will call him Skip or Honey Dip.
But this 6-foot-4 combo guard with NBA game was already fooling around with drugs, and drugs would lead to his downfall.
He was already a dope fiend shooting 40s to 60s of dope at Clemson. And he wasn’t the only one, despite the acknowledgment of Coach Tate Locke, himself a drug user, alcoholic and with suicide tendencies some other players like Howell or Rome were also involved with drugs. Coach Locke had gone off the rails during his tenure at Clemson, recruiting illegally and violating more than 40 college regulations in order to win, willing to do anything to achieve his goal. Tony Brown, a standout in the early 1970s, was stabbed to death. James «Box» Owens served time. Others settled for menial jobs. Locke’s legacy at Clemson saw the college itself being banned by the NCAA.
Skip Wise started to get high on a daily basis. He was involved in the street life, there was no way back.
And like so many other talents from the hood, he wasted his opportunities.
«I got down on my hands and knees and begged Skip to stay in school in 1977,» said Cain (Clemson Tigers). «I told him he was making the biggest mistake of his life. I didn’t think he was ready for the pros. You want to sit down and cry, it makes you so sad.»
Strangely, Wise decided not to go back to Clemson after his freshman year, instead he signed a two-year, $300,000 no-cut contract with the Baltimore Claws. On paper, he had made a brilliant move, just turned 20, money coming his way and the future looking bright. But the city didn’t have enough money to finance the team and they folded after only three exhibition games.
The Claws roster included: Chuck Williams, Robisch, Hamilton, Stew Johnson (eight year ABA veteran), Mel Daniels (a former ABA all-star center), Claude Terry (a three-year veteran guard from the Denver Nuggets), Scott English and Paul Ruffner (a 6-11 who had previous ABA experience with the Pittsburgh Condors). The Claws had also five rookies in their roster: Van Blommesteyn,Tony Styles, Bob Rhodes, Mike Rozenski and Skip Wise.
The Claws actually played three exhibition games.
On October 9th, 1975 in Salisbury, Maryland the Claws played the Virginia Squires (Dr.J and George Gervin famously played for this franchise) at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. In front of 1,150 spectators, the Squires beat the Claws 131-121. Stew Johnson led the Claws in scoring with 21 points. Joe Hamilton scored 17 points for Baltimore, and Mel Daniels had 10 rebounds. Skip Wise had only a couple of minutes.
Two days later, on October 11th, Baltimore played the NBA Philadelphia 76ers at Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The Sixers beat the Claws 103-82, behind 28 points from Doug Collins. Skip Wise scored 6 points.
Finally, on October 17th, the Claws played the Virginia Squires again in Emmitsburg, Maryland, at Knott Arena (on the campus of Mt. St. Mary’s College). A crowd estimated at 500 fans watched the Claws trail by as many as 20 points in the second half before Virginia coasted to victory 100-88. Skip Wise led the Claws in scoring with 12 points. Just when it looked he was getting settled on the team, the dream finished before even begun. This was to be the last game ever for the franchise.
Skip had already signed as a pro so he couldn’t go back to school. He then signed with the Golden State Warriors of the nba but coach Al Attles caught him in preseason shooting dope in the locker room and cut him off the roster. We all know Golden State went on to win the championship that year with Butch Beard and Charles Dudley as point guards. A lot of people said that if he just had gone back to the hotel after practice, he could have had a nice career in the nba.
Skip could have been feeding the ball to Rick Barry, Jamal Wilkes and Clifford Ray. He fell off the radar instead.
A year later, 1975-76 season, Wise played briefly for the San Antonio Spurs in the defunct ABA. It was only two games with 10 minutes of action where he scored 4 points. James Silas and George Karl were the PG’s in that team.
A few years later, 28th January of 1978 the press published his arrest for heroin traffic a month before (December 8th) while on parole after being incarcerated for the same reason in 1977.
Only a couple of months after his release in 1983 he was in trouble with the law again and finally on November 23rd he surrendered to Baltimore authorities after being indicted on charges of distributing heroin. The 28-year-old Wise, had served 5 years of a 12-year sentence after a conviction on a previous drug charge.
The 80’s he spend back in Baltimore and was in jail for most of the 80’s and the 90’s. Back and forth. State cases, fed cases,. There are penitentiary legends that say he was outdoing Pee Wee Kirkland in USP Lewisburg, dropping 50 on him. I mean, these are big words.
In 1988 he had shown at the Jessup House of Correction playing ball. It was a prison-wide tournament that featured some tremendous talent and Wise’s team was from the Maryland Correctional Center. According to various sources he scored more than sixty a game without even breaking a sweat. And if you think street ball was tough, imagine penitentiary ball.
But even after jail, Skip Wise was still in the streets.
Skip hung out with dudes like Marty Gross, Peanut King and Melvin Merideth – all big-time ballers. For all you guys who have watched “The Wire” these cats were the real deal. In 1983 when Peanut King was finally arrested and sentenced to 50 years in prison he was earning more than 25 million dollars a year. We are talking in 1983. They were the dudes he hung around. The biggest drug dealers in East Baltimore. They used to hang out at the HighHat, a bar on Wolf Street in the heart of East Baltimore, the type of place where not everyone can just go hang there. Skip was The Man there.
Skip still loved basketball, though. He resurfaced in the local street ball tournaments. He shot a lot. He probably shot 60 percent from the floor. The ball cocked behind his head. As soon as he would shoot he’d holla, ‘Get back, get back.’ They said he wasn’t serious because he’d be laughing and having fun on the court. He was like a George Gervin that played defense. They called him Honey Dip because when he dipped the ball on the finger roll it looked real sweet. In the mid nineties, just fresh out of Lewisburg (prison) you could have found him playing in the Dome (similar to the NY Rucker). In one particular occasion he went head to head with Sam Cassell when he had just won the Nba championship with the Houston Rockets. Gunshots stopped the game in the third quarter, by then Skip had almost 40. Nobody on the court could check him and he was forty something at the time. He was a bad mother*** in 1994 so imagine him in 1974. He was in the caliber of Jordan. Of Magic. But it all went to waste.
Skip wasn’t just some hood legend. The dude had pedigree. The Street Basketball Association lists him as one of the 50 greatest streetballers of all time – next to legends like Doctor J, AI, Pee Wee Kirkland, The Goat, Sweet Pea, Curt Smith, Sleepy Floyd, AO, Future, Rafer Alston and Connie Hawkins.
He lives in East B-More still. He stopped getting high.
Still the legend lives on.
The hero who could have been but never was.
Still in the neighbourhoods of Baltimore, he is a legend. One of the greatest to ever come out of Baltimore. Or as many will put it, «The greatest who never made it.»
«He was one of the best dudes to come out of East Lafayette projects,»
Skip Wise’s story is mad tragic, along with being a prime example for anyone who feels that they are good enough to go pro early without the discipline in life to progress.
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