Joe 'Pogo Joe' Caldwell talks Olympics, career

9:52 PM, Aug 1, 2012   |    comments
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By Art Holliday

St. Louis (KSDK) - During his professional basketball days in St. Louis, Joe Caldwell's nickname was "Pogo Joe" because of his jumping ability.

Julius Erving, Jerry West, and Walt Frazier are among the basketball superstars who say Joe Caldwell gave them fits on defense.

Next time you want to win a trivia bet, try this question: who's the only man to play for both the St. Louis Hawks and St. Louis Spirits basketball franchises?

Before he was an All-Star in two professional basketball leagues, the NBA and the ABA, Joe Caldwell was a proud member of the 1964 Olympic basketball team.

Mention his Olympic gold medal, and his face lights up.

"It represents so much, Art. It's 48 years since I won this, and I'm still gleaming with pride," said Caldwell.

He scored 14 points in the gold medal game.

"And to go to the games in Tokyo, and to be standing there after beating Russia during the Cold War," said Caldwell. "Every time the Olympics roll around, I get all excited again."

After the Olympics, Caldwell turned pro, and was drafted by Detroit and traded to the NBA St. Louis Hawks.

"I played with guys like Lenny Wilkens, Zelmo Beatty, Bill Bridges," said Caldwell.

The 6'5" Caldwell was an All-Star with the Hawks, standing next to Wilt Chamberlain during the 1970 All-Star Game introductions.

"I played the game with integrity. I love the game to this day," he said.

Caldwell was with the Hawks for five seasons, including the move from St. Louis to Atlanta.

After averaging a career-high 21 points in the 1969-1070 season he left the NBA to join the rival American Basketball Association, playing for the Carolina Cougars.

But in an unusual twist to Caldwell's career, the Cougars got new owners and relocated to St. Louis as The Spirits.

"I think I'm the only man in the league that was sold out of St. Louis with one team, and brought back to St. Louis on another team. To me, it's kind of a weird situation," he said.

It got a lot weirder for Joe Caldwell and his rookie teammate Marvin Barnes.

Without permission, Marvin "Bad News" Barnes left The Spirits during the 1974-1975 season.

St. Louis Spirit management blamed Caldwell for influencing Barnes to leave the team.

Caldwell denies that, but the Spirit's owner, Donald Shupak, suspended him indefinitely.

"Donald Shupak just came right out and said, 'You'll never play basketball again.' And I said, 'Wait a minute. How are you going to do that?' I thought he was kidding, because I didn't think anybody could be suspended for no reason," he said.

Joe Caldwell never played another professional basketball game, and the Spirit's suspension set in motion Caldwell's divorce, Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and decades of court battles about pensions, back pay, and his allegation that he was blacklisted from basketball.

He scored more than 12,600 points during his 12 year professional career.

Decades later he's attempting to tell his complicated story in a documentary called "Pogo Joe: Fighting the Game," produced by Thunderball Films.

Seventy-year-old Caldwell now lives in Arizona, where he's trying to raise the money to finish his film.



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