The image is telling of the basketball career achieved by Ed Nealy – the guy wanted by only one major college out of Bonner Springs High.
A smiling Nealy has his left hand raised high, ready to high-five Chicago Bulls teammate Michael Jordan after a basket against the Detroit Pistons in the 1990 NBA Eastern Conference finals. Teammate Scottie Pippen is close by.
Nealy worked with some good company during his standout Kansas State career (1978-82) and 10-year trek through the NBA.
Being a star at Bonner Springs High, outside Kansas City, didn’t seem to bring much attention to Nealy in 1978. Though he grew up a fan of the Kansas Jayhawks, it was K-State coach Jack Hartman who wanted him to be a Wildcat.
“Nealy was a 6-7 kid who couldn’t jump and he became one of the outstanding rebounders in the country,” Hartman told The Eagle in 1989. “I saw some things in Ed Nealy that were fairly obvious that were going to allow him to be a top college player. Obviously nobody else did because nobody else recruited him.”
Nealy was remarkably consistent at K-State, though never flashy. He was a four-year starter with rebound averages of 8.2, 8.7, 9.1 and 8.7. He averaged between 9.8 and 11.3 points all four seasons, which included an All-Big Eight nod as a senior.
More importantly, K-State finished second in the Big Eight all four years and reached the NCAA Tournament three times. That included the 1981 upset of top-ranked Oregon State in the second round.
What made him a success at K-State is what made him dependable and durable in the NBA. He fought for rebounds. He positioned himself in the right spot for boards and passes from teammates for easy baskets.
Drafted by the Kansas City Kings in 1982, Nealy was on an NBA roster for 10 seasons (Kings, Spurs, Bulls, Suns and Warriors). He started 61 games as a rookie, 17 games after that, but earned a ring as a member of the 1993 Bulls championship team.
“I come out of my office usually at 9:30 a.m. or so to take a little break and usually will go over in the weight room, and Ed Nealy is there,” former Bulls coach Phil Jackson once told the Chicago Tribune. “He’s the first one there and works as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen in basketball.
“And when I’m down in my crouch on the bench, I’ll look up and say, ‘Ed, what`s the other team doing?’ and he gives me a response of what he thinks they’ll be coming back with and what to watch for. He`s like another coach for us. He’s a great example for our bench. It’s guys like that who make coaching really a pleasure.”
2014 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductees
Features on the 2014 class: