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Gene Conley




The list of men who have won both the World Series and an NBA championship is short. Very short. But in the annals of great athletic achievements, Gene Conley is one of only two men to win both in baseball and basketball, enjoying a thrilling World Series triumph with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and a trifecta of good fortune with the Boston Celtics. This is his story.


The Early Years


Gene Conley was born on November 10, 1930 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. After his family moved to Richland, Washington, Conley starred on the local high school team. By the time he graduated from Richland High School, Gene Conley was all-state in baseball and basketball while winning the state championship in the high jump.


From there he went to Washington State University where he would focus on both baseball and basketball, finding success in both. While he was twice earning honorable mention All-America in basketball, Gene Conley led the Cougars to the 1950 College World Series where they lost to Texas 3-0 in the final.



While pitching semi-pro ball in Walla Walla, Conley was discovered by numerous major league scouts before being lured to Boston. At the same time, the NBA was showing some serious interest with offers flooding the prospect's mailbox daily. As he entered the workforce, it was clear that Gene Conley's life would soon be filled with athletics.


The Pro's



1952 was a busy year for Gene Conley. He was sent to the Braves' top farm team in Milwaukee in June and won 11 games for the pennant winners, instantly drawing the attention of the major league club. But alas, his brief call-up to the major league club late in the year was a complete disaster as the young pitcher went 0-3 with a paltry 7.82 ERA. While his baseball career was in turmoil, he did have a respite: the Celtics drafted him 90th overall.


However, his first stint in the NBA was brief, averaging just 2.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. He didn't play in Boston's loss to the Knicks in the Divisional Finals and went back to baseball. Conley didn't return to the court for the next five seasons.


After spending most of 1953 in the minors, Gene Conley returned to the newly christened Boston Braves in 1954. He returned to the majors in style, winning 14, losing nine and posting a 2.97 ERA while being invited to his first All-Star Game. He followed that up with an 11-7, 4.16 ERA performance the following year while returning to the All-Star Game.


Two years later, the Braves were in the World Series. By then Conley had established himself as a pitcher who won as much as he lost while consistently posting an ERA just a notch higher than .300. But in Game 3 of the World Series, he faltered. In 1.2 innings of work against the mighty New York Yankees, Gene Conley gave up two runs and a walk against eight batters. While the Braves would lose that game 12-3, they would pull together to pull off the upset, beating the Yankees in seven games.


After the Braves lost to the Yankees in the following year's World Series, Gene Conley returned to the basketball court just in time for the Celtics to begin one of the greatest championship runs in sports history. From 1959 through 1966 the Celtics won the NBA championship. No other sports franchise in the world has come close to winning as many consecutive titles.



While he had been effective on the baseball diamond, his skills on the basketball court paled in comparison with teammates such as Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Sam Jones. With so many Hall of Famers flying all around him, Gene Conley averaged just 5.7 points and seven rebounds in his three years with the team.


Still, he had his moments. In the clincher over the Lakers in the 1959 Finals, Conley scored 10 and rebounded eight. In Game 5 of the Eastern Division Finals the following year, he scored 15 and rebounded 20 in Boston's win. The Celtics beat the Philadelphia Warriors the next game. The last playoff game of his professional career was an abysmal four point, single rebound performance in the Celtics' triumph over the Hawks in the 1961 NBA Finals.


Conley signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959 and rewarded the team with an All-Star effort, going 12-7 with a 3.00 ERA. It was his redemption for an 0-6 record and 4.88 ERA the year before, his last with the Braves. Two years later he signed with the Red Sox. While he went had a losing record (11-14) in his first year back in Boston, he came back with vigor in 1962 with a 15-14 record. He retired after a 3-4 1963 season.



Later Years


While his basketball career wound down in New York with the Knicks and with the Hartford Capitols, Gene Conley began to look for work beyond the athletic arena. After working for a year in a duct tape company, the owner died, forcing Conley to use his intuition. He ended up starting his own company, running the Foxboro Paper Company for 36 years before retiring from the industry. Gene Conley died on July 4, 2017 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.





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