Roland “Fatty” Taylor was a native Washingtonian. He grew up in NE DC and was a product of the DC Public School system. Fatty transferred from Spingarn High School and graduated from Fairmont Heights High School in Prince Georges County, Maryland. He died in Denver, Colorado on Thursday December 7, 2017, he was 71.
On Thursday December 21, 2017 Roland Fatty Taylor will return to his roots of Washington, DC for a home going celebration of his life with family and friends.
When I first met Fatty on the Kelly Miller playground in the late 50s he was just a little chubby guy hanging out with two skinny little guys, Dave Bing, and Donald Hicks. They would usually arrive early and shoot around until the bigger and older guys got ready to play. I would walk from my NE Parkside housing project a couple miles away on the weekends to Kelly Miller. This was where the best competition could be found. Fatty and his crew would become regulars among the spectators and often witness playground basketball played at its highest level. Kelly Miller was not a basketball court for the weak of heart or for cry babies.
Even though our athletic foundations were laid on NE playgrounds and at Spingarn, Fatty and I both graduated from Fairmont Heights. After graduation in 1959 I headed south to Winston-Salem State University to chase my dreams of playing in the NFL. During the summer breaks I would return home and find the chubby and skinny little guys had grown up and were now playing on the same courts with me (Kelly Miller, and Brown). During the Christmas break Spingarn would hold a annual varsity verse alumni basketball game and it was there I would encounter Hicks and Bing, but no Fatty Taylor. I later learn he had followed my lead and enrolled at Fairmont Heights. He would later tell me I had recommended the school, but I didn’t remember the conversation. I did remember telling him the basketball coach Kenny Freeman was a great coach who refused to let me play. My Spingarn football coach Dave Brown told Coach Freeman I was there to graduate and I was to play one sport only. I guess he took that conversation as a recommendation.
Fatty, Bing, Donald and I became good friends (I was more like a Big Brother). Sometimes I would arrive late and the games had already started. There was always a back-up for “Next” but if one or the other was on the winning team they would let me take their place in the second game and I would do the same for them. Fatty was a real aggressive player even back then. Donald held his own as a ball handler, but Dave was the best all around player of the three, but he was a “Cry baby.” He didn’t like contact. When we were on opposite teams, I played him one on one all over the court. I liked the challenge and he didn’t. I remember the summer at Kelly Miller like it was yesterday when he said, “Enough was enough” without opening his mouth. As usual I decided I was going to guard him. On that particular day I discovered he was much stronger then I remembered. He was only a sophomore at Syracuse, but he took me to school anyway. He no longer allowed me to push him around. He ran by me so fast and jumped so high I thought he was on a pogo stick. The message was loud and clear, ‘There was a new sheriff in town and his name was Dave Bing.’ The next summer I switched to tennis.
This encounter with Dave takes me back to a similar experience with Earl Monroe. He was making a visit to Winston-Salem to check out the school and he took a break to play in a pick-up game on a local playground one block from campus. I was sitting out in front of the dining hall after dinner shooting the breeze when my homeboy Richard “Jelly” Hansberry excitingly brought the news of this little black skinny guy was shooting the lights out at the playground. Barney Hood my roommate was a great jump shooter from Chicago he was sitting with me and decided we needed to go and check this basketball phenom out.
When we arrived at the court there were several ooh’s and aah’s taking place by the spectators and then we saw the skinny little black guy ‘Jelly’ was talking about. We had to wait our turn, we were second in line for the “Next” three. Luther Wiley was another roommate and basketball guard from Lynchburg, Virginia was our third player. Watching Earl trick and destroy the opposition made me very apprehensive about the task ahead. He did not let us down he tricked and destroyed us also. The best way I described the experience to Bighouse Gaines when he stopped by our dorm room later that night. I said, “It was like I had just come out of a Maytag washing machine that had been on spin dry.
Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Bighouse Gaines attend a KIT Celebrity Fashion show
In 1966 Dave was selected in the 2nd round of the NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He averaged 20 points a game. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year. I remember sitting in Frank’s Restaurant a popular in-crowd eatery on 8th U streets, NW, I was having lunch that summer day when Dave and my childhood friend Arnold George walked into the restaurant. We waved to each other and the two came over to my table. I got up to greet them. I shook hands with Arnold first and then Dave. We exchanged small talk and I told Dave how proud I was of him and jokingly said, “I taught you everything you know!” His response surprised me when he said, ‘Harold you help prepare me for the wars of the NBA’ and we both broke out laughing. He made a lot of player-haters mad because I would use hisown words to describe our relationship over the airwaves and in print media. It was not my fault I was the only one of his mentors that had a sports talk radio show and had a non-profit organization that he supported–unbelievable that kind of envy and jealousy still exist in our community today.
Dave Bing returns to the ghetto to say “Job well done” Harold Bell
When Fatty graduated from Fairmont Heights I remember him asking me about Winston-Salem State and Bighouse Gaines and what was it like to play for him? I told him “Bighouse would kick your ass (not really)if you stepped out of line, but he saved my life when he gave me a chance to get a college education”. I called Coach Gaines and recommended Fatty sight unseen. Bighouse had former athletes like me all over the east coast as recruiters. He took my word and Fatty was all set to go to Winston-Salem, but he disappeared without a trace. I found out later through the grapevine, he had decided to attend Dodge City Community College in Kansas and the rest is basketball history.
HBell and Bighouse Gaines during his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame
Fatty and I had a lot in common, we were similar in size when it came to sports and neither one of us like to lose. I never saw a shot I could not make and a football I could not catch and Fatty never saw a shooter he thought he could not stop. Plus, he had street sense and common sense.
He and Bing hung out with my younger brother Earl (known as The Bull) and they became a group of petty thieves. They could be found hanging out on weekends on the busy NE H Street corridor robbing businesses’ who left their cash registers unguarded. Thanks to his Coach William Roundtree, Bing avoided jail time for one of his petty crimes.
Sgt. Earl ‘Bull’ Bell from crook to Military MP to DC cop
I was a hard nose basketball defender at Spingarn under the tutelage of Coach Roundtree. He use my athleticism, competitiveness and installed something called a box-in-one defense. It was designed for me to guard the opposing team’s top scorer while everyone else played zone. It was great until I discovered my name was never mention in the newspapers after holding the team’s top scorer below his average. My senior year I spend the summer on the playgrounds developing a jump-shot and all held broke loose the following school year. My new role as a scorer didn’t sit too well with my coach or my teammates. I was kicked off the team for selfish behavior. I immediatrly transferred to Eastern High School where I was going to hell in a hurry. Coach Brown stepped in and recommended me to the coaching staff at Fairmont Heights, saving me from the mean streets of DC.
My Spingarn teammate Spotswood Bolling was the lead petitioner for the DC public school system in the historical 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs Board of Education.
Years later I discovered Fatty had tried out for the Spingarn basketball team, but for some reason he and Coach Roundtree didn’t see eye to eye and he followed my lead and transferred to Fairmont Heights. The rest is basketball history.
Against all odds despite all the naysayers and player haters, he went the distance, all the way from Dodge City Community College, to LaSalle University, to the Sonny Hill Basketball League, and to the Philadelphia 76ers. All of these institutions led him to a stella eight-year pro career in the ABA/NBA.
Fatty joined the American Basketball Association in 1969. After one year playing for the Washington Capitals, he moved on to the Virginia Squires, with whom he spent the prime of his career, scoring 3,495 points, handing out 1,737 assists, and grabbing 1,715 rebounds in five seasons.
He became known as one of the few outstanding defensive players in a league known primarily as a “run-and-gun” operation. On the Squires Fatty played with former NBA stars Adrian Smith, ‘Jumbo’ Jim Eakins and Julius ‘Doctor J’ Erving. For one-and-a-half seasons he was a teammate of George Gervin. He has been credited with coining Gervin’s nickname “The Iceman” (he first called Gervin Iceberg Slim, but Iceberg Slim got lost somewhere in the shuffle and ‘The Iceman’ stuck. George flew in from San Antonio, Texas and was at Fatty’s bedside the night before he passed away. I was not surprised, because that is what friends are for and George Gervin has always been a class act.
Fatty retired in 1977 with combined ABA/NBA totals of 5,098 points, 2,563 assists, and 2,524 rebounds. He was named to the ABA’s All-Defensive first team in 1973 and in 1974. Fatty, never developed a decent jump shot, but the jump shooters respected and feared his “In Your Jockey Strap” mentality defensive skills.. He was known as a defensive stalwart.
In a recent conversation I had with our Philly mentor playground and NBA legend Sonny Hill, he said, “Fatty Taylor is on my all-time list as a great player, but he was a better human being. Philadelphia will be heart broken when they hear the news of his death, because this city loves him like he was one of their very own.”
Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode tours city playgrounds with Sonny Hill and HBell
He never forgot who he was and where he came from. He loved his hometown of Washington, DC and his homies. During his pro career he often reached out to me and would call and say, “Harold who you got on Inside Sports tonight—you want Dr. J? We are going to be hanging out together at a concert. Give me a time to call and I will make it happen.” He kept his word, as he did with ‘The Ice Man’ George Gervin, David Thompson and George McGinnis all NBA Hall of Fame players and all made guest appearences on Inside Sports—thanks to Fatty Taylor.
NBA Hall of Famer Big George McGinnis (Philadelphia 76ers)
Fatty was like a little brother to me and sometimes he would make a mistake like most human beings, because we are all flawed. What I liked about him he never made excuses and would always say, “Harold I have to do better.” Sometimes he did and some times he didn’t, but I still loved him.
He sometimes traveled in the “Fast Lane” but I always told him, “If you got a problem you can always call and we can talk.” He and Dave Bing were really close and I knew he had mixed emotions, because I had to remind Dave who he was and where he came from on several ocassions. It was tuff love with me in every sense of word when it came to Dave. He was the first pro athlete to join my non-profit organization Kids In Trouble (1965). He led the way when it came to pro athletes reaching back into the community to enhance the growth and development of inner-city children. He cared long before the NBA. Dave’s problem, he was surrounded by too many homeboy cheerleaders.
Kids In Trouble visit the Dave Bing Basketball camp in the Poconos Mountains
Fatty, finally called me several years ago while he was home to check on some family members . I picked him up and we rode around DC for about 30 minutes and then stopped at Denny’s Restaurant on Benning Road in our old neighborhood to get something to eat. Benning Road and East Capitol Streets brought back memories of The Hood (the neighborhood), especially, when he saw the landmark Shrimp Boat still standing tall. He said, “Seeing the Shrimp Boat is like seeing the Washington Monument flying into National Airport, I know I am home.”
We talked about life and how far we both had come against all odds. He then broke the news that I had never expected to hear from a man, “I had breast cancer!” I sit there in silence for what seem like two or three minutes and he finally said ‘I am okay.’
He wanted to talk about his work with at-risk kids in the Colorado high school system. It was there he realized the need to form his own program, which resulted in the development of his non-profit organization “Taylor Made Playaz.” I jokingly said, “Sounds like Kids In Trouble to me.” He looked up and said, ‘Man, we have always followed your lead since we were little guys on the playground.’
He was especially proud of having to work with his son Kobe. Fatty had failed as an entrepreneur with several businesses that included restaurants and night clubs in Denver and one here in Washington, DC. He had finally found his calling, “Kids In Trouble.”
And then there was the work he was doing with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for Breast Cancer. It started out being an uphill battle because men are only one/percent of the victims. After being cancer-free for several years, Fatty’s fight began all over again in 2009. He said, “I began having breathing problems following a busy summer traveling with my AAU basketball team. Doctors found blood clots in my lungs and I was diagnosed with cancer in my left breast. Man, I was all shook-up and I could not believe this was happening to me all over again. It was a wake-up call as far as a person thinking that they’re healthy and then one day they tell you its cancer again.”
Just as he had passed along his basketball knowledge to young players, he now wanted to help educate fellow breast-cancer patients, particularly men who might have felt confused and isolated. He wanted them to know they were not alone. Fatty was thankful that the cancer in his left breast was not as severe as it was in his right breast in 2000. I left Denny’s Restaurant that day thinking “Fatty is going to beat this cancer,” but his one on one up-close and personal fight with this deadly desease there would be no OT.
The Lord reached down on Thursday December 7, 2017 and said, “Come home my son and run the point guard and play defense for my team of All-Star coaches, Red Auerbach, Bighouse Gaines, Johnny McLendon, Dave Brown, William Roundtree, and players, Wilt Chamberlain, Connie Hawkins, Bad News Barnes, Earl Lloyd and Sid Catlett. Here you will never have to worry about fouling out.” As always Fatty Taylor went down fighting.
TRAIL BLAZERS: HBell–Red Auerbach and Earl Lloyd
L-R Fatty, HBell, Larry Brown and Petey Greene–Community Reach Back!
Note Worthy: Sonny Hill was recently honored by the NBA Philadelphia 76ers for his life long contributions to the community and the NBA. There will be a Community Service Award presented every year in his name to a worthy individual.
Sonny Hill participates in Kids In Trouble DC Police Community Relations Forum.