Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
Curiously, there was a direct link from the NBA to the University of Redlands basketball program.
He came in the form of a role player in the late 1979s, early 1980s. His name was Rob Yardley, an outgoing, intelligent and seemingly Christian-living soul. Basketball historians, incidentally, might recognize the name of Yardley.
It was George Yardley who was the first player in history to score 2,000 points in a season. Newport Harbor High School. Stanford. Seventh pick, NBA draft, 1950.
In 1958, Yardley, then of the Detroit Pistons, scored 2,001 points. At 6-5, Yardley was a good-sized forward in 1950’s basketball, and was “an offensive-minded player with a knack for scoring,” he said in his basketball Hall of Fame biography.
Described as a “flamboyant” and “gregarious” player who “never did anything without flair,” Yardley had a stellar seven-year career, making the NBA All-Star team every year except for his rookie season.
He led the Fort Wayne Pistons to two NBA Finals before the team moved to Detroit in 1957.
In 1957-58, the Pistons’ first year in Detroit, Yardley led the league in scoring, averaging 27.8 points, thus surpassing George Mikan’s previous record of 1,932 points in 1958.
That year, Yardley also set NBA records for most free throws attempted (808), most free throws made (655), and was named All-NBA First Team for the first and only time in his career.
Following a sixth all-star season in 1959-60, averaging 20.2 points, George Yardley retired from basketball at the age of 31. He was the first player in NBA history to retire after averaging at least 20 points in his final year.
Although Alex Groza had a 21.7 scoring average in his final NBA season in 1951, his career ended as a result of a lifelong ban for point shaving, instead of a voluntary retirement like that of Yardley’s.
A year later, 1959, St. Louis Hawks’ center Bob Pettitt broke Yardley’s mark. By 1962, Chamberlain’s single-season total in 1962 eclipsed that of Yardley and Pettitt combined. Chamberlain wiped every scoring record off the books, averaging a shade over 50 points a game.
Who was this Yardley guy again?
George Yardley, incidentally, was Rob’s dad.
“No,” said the younger Yardley, who stood 6-foot-6, “he never did (pressure me) to play basketball. I thought I was going to be a tennis star, and he introduced me to tennis. I think he likes tennis more than basketball, anyway.”
One night, Yardley came off the bench to score eight points – hardly in Chamberlain’s class, or that of Pettitt, or even his dad – in a 63-52 win at Occidental College, a campus located just outside Pasadena.
But he did hit all four of his shots, eventually fouling out. He said, “I was a butcher out there. I kept leaning. Coach (Gary) Smith has told me a thousand times to keep my hands off the guy on the baseline.”
George was in Eagle Rock, Occidental’s home city, to watch his son play that night. In fact, the former NBA star was often seen at Currier Gym.
Think about it: George Yardley played against the likes of Chamberlain, Pettitt, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Elgin Baylor. There were wire service photos of George Yardley going up against Russell and Cousy. At 31, he retired. He played a little in 1961-62 with the Los Angeles Jets, a much-forgotten team from the old American Basketball League.
By contrast, Rob Yardley was neither an NBA player or even an All-Conference player at Redlands. Like his dad, it was Newport Harbor High. Then it was off to Orange County Junior College, then a two-year stint at Redlands.
For locals, it was an interesting Redlands Connection.