The Washington Times-Herald

Columns

December 13, 2013

Still ready to cut the nets down at 90

The world was a different place on Dec. 14, 1923. It was before television, internet, trans-Atlantic flight, moon-walking, computers, the horrors of WWII or the social change that has essentially moved us from the end of the Victorian era to cyber-driven virual world we live in today.

And there was an other thing that wasn’t here — Jim Riffey.

However, not too very long after Big Jim arrived that December, he made a big impact of Washington Hatchet basketball.

Jim Riffey is one of two remaining members of the Hatchet championship teams of 1941 and 1942, a member of three basketball Hall of Fames, and in his day, he was the “big man on campus at WHS.”

He will also turn 90 on Saturday.

I have known Jim for the last decade or so. He began to call from his home in Battle Creek, Mich., at the start of the Hatchets “decade of dominance” in the early 2000s and we have continued to correspond several times a year ever since.

He has been invaluable as resource as we looked back on those early championships, and has given me several first-person narratives about his experiences in the South Pacific. However, mostly what he has given me was his friendship. His booming voice and infectious laugh always leaves me with a smile after one of our phone calls.

Washington fans should know that he has his son Mike helps him keep an eye on the internet with the Hatchets and follows the Zeller brothers as well. As he enters his ninth decade of life, Jim is always good for a laugh — and never afraid to share his opinion.

Jim is a living, walking history of the early years of the NBA. When he was selected 19th in the 1950 NBA draft. Do you know who was drafted just a head of him? Bob Cousy, Paul Arizin, Bill Sharman and George Yardley — four NBA Hall of Famers. In the fourth round of that same draft, Hall of Fame Minnesota Viking football coach Bud Grant was selected by the Lakers. Not bad company for a guy from the West End (something he is still proud to say).

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