Bird-Magic. Chamberlain-Russell. Kleine-Koncak.
OK, so maybe the last pair doesn’t belong on the list of all-time great player rivalries. But in the mid-1980s, few of college basketball’s individual rivalries were more prominent or more heated than the one between Joe Kleine of Arkansas and Jon Koncak of SMU.
For those of you who weren’t around then or who know the two only as the quintessential NBA journeymen, we know that statement sounds kind of crazy. But, it’s true. That was the Era of the Shaggy-Haired Hulking White Center, and Kleine and Koncak were considered the crème de la crème of the breed. (Other notable examples include Bill Wennington of St. John’s and Uwe Blab of Indiana, both of whom, incredibly, were drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 1985 NBA draft.)
We were reminded of the Kleine-Koncack battles recently while digging through the SI Vault, Sports Illustrated’s online archive of all of its issues. (To see the articles we found on Alvin Robertson, click here.) “A Double Helping of Very Special K”appeared in the Jan. 14, 1985, edition of Sports Illustrated and was written just after SMU’s 63-60 overtime victory over the Hogs nine days earlier. The article notes that the win was Koncak’s first in five tries against Kleine. “Arkansas is like that mosquito in my bedroom,” Koncak told the writer, Jack McCallum, before the game. “The one I could never swat dead.”
(Arkansas would defeat SMU in the regular season rematch and then again in the conference tournament, meaning that Smokin’ Joe from Slater, Mo., finished his Razorback career with a 6-1 record against Koncak and the Ponies. Take that, Jon.)
Some items of interest from the article:
* At the 1984 Olympic trials, Michigan State Jud Heathcote, apparently confused by the various similarities between the two, introduced Koncak to a group of fellow hopefuls by saying, “Fellas, I’d like you to meet Joe Kleine of Arkansas.”
* McCallum writes, Kleine and Koncack “are likely to be high first-round picks who may not ‘make’ an NBA franchise but who will get one back on its feet.” Well, at least he got the part about the high first-round pick right.
* Like all good rivals, they didn’t much like each other. Koncak on Kleine’s demonstrative on-court persona: “Why does he have to do that stuff?” Kleine on Koncak: “Early in his career he said some really ignorant things.” Trash talk like that is truly not for the faint of heart.
* Eddie Sutton recruited both Koncak and Kleine out of high school, meaning that, had things turned out differently, the 1981-82 Hogs could have featured Koncak, Kleine and Scott Hastings. Wow. That team would have been the Traveling Wilburys of slow white centers.
Alas, that didn’t happen … and the rest is mid-1980s college basketball history.
(more at www.razorbackexpats.com)