Tom Meschery lived a great life in basketball, playing with and against some of the most dominant forces in NBA history. Though he was not considered one of his era’s greatest players, he contributed in ways that helped his teams win games. As a result, his jersey number was retired by the Golden State Warriors. Though he spent the better part of four decades away from the game, he later became an accomplished poet and author who wrote some of his best work while drawing from his experience on the hardwood. This is his story.
Thomas Nicholas “Tom” Meschery was born Tomislav Nikolayevich Meshcheryakov on October 26, 1938 in Marbin, Manchukuo. His parents were Russian immigrants who had fled from the October Revolution in 1917 to Manchukuo which, at the time, was a puppet state of the Empire of Japan. Before the second World War, his father immigrated to America, leaving his family behind for what he thought would be a brief time.
When the war began, Tom, his mother and sister all were relocated to a Japanese internment camp near Tokyo. The war was tough on the Meshcheryakov family as they dealt with bombing raids on a nightly basis and had to endure the harsh conditions of bomb shelters regularly. At the end of the war, they immigrated to America where they changed their name to “Meschery”. Their name change was due to the anti-Communist/Red Scare led by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The newly named Meschery family settled in San Francisco, California where Tom Meschery attended Lowell High School. At Lowell, he yearned to be accepted by his peers and began to learn the game of basketball. By the time he graduated, he had a scholarship in hand for Saint Mary’s College and was a 1957 First-team Parade All-American. As a sophomore in 1958-1959, he averaged 11.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per game while leading the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament where they lost to Cal Berkley in the second round.
The following year, he recorded 16 points and 14.2 rebounds per game while the Gaels finished fourth in the WCAC, missing out on the NCAA Tournament. He was sensational as a senior, averaging 20.8 points and 13 rebounds per game while the Gaels finished second in the WCAC and again missing the postseason. As a result of his accomplishments, Tom Meschery was named the WCC Player of the Year in 1961 and his jersey number 31 was retired by the Gaels. The NBA took notice of his accomplishments and soon, Tom Meschery would embark on a journey as a professional athlete that he couldn’t fathom.
A Memorable Rookie Year
In 1961, Tom Meschery was drafted seventh overall by the Philadelphia Warriors. At the time, the Warriors were led by legendary center Wilt Chamberlain. During his rookie year, Meschery witnessed some of the most legendary offensive feats in NBA history. During that year, Chamberlain led the league with 50.4 points per game and on March 2, 1962 scored 100 points in a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks at Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania. At the time, the NBA was not nearly as popular as it is today and only slightly more than 4,000 were in attendance to witness the legendary feat.
While Wilt Chamberlain was dominating the NBA, Tom Meschery quietly contributed 12.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for the Warrior’s cause. The Warriors ended their year as well as their time in Philadelphia with a loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals. They moved to San Francisco after their heartbreaking loss and Tom Meschery was headed home.
Tom Meschery enjoyed his best year in his return home, averaging 16 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while being named an All-Star for the only time in his career. Throughout his time in San Francisco, he proved to be a reliable rebounder, never dipping below 7.6 per game. He was also a reliable scorer, never dipping below 12.7 points per game in the next three years.
In 1964, the Warriors made the NBA Finals where they faced off against the Celtics. While Wilt Chamberlain averaged 29.2 points and 27.6 rebounds per game, Tom Meschery averaged 16.4 points and 4.8 rebounds. Despite their best efforts, the Warriors lost in five games. Three years later they faced off against Wilt Chamberlain’s new team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Chamberlain was a man on a mission in that series and despite scoring just 17.7 points per game, he averaged 28.5 rebounds while the 76ers won the NBA championship in six games. In Tom Meschery’s final series as a Warrior, he averaged 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. After that heartbreaking defeat, Tom Meschery was selected by the Seattle Supersonics in the 1967 NBA Expansion Draft. However, before he left San Francisco, his jersey number 14 was retired, making him the lone Warrior with such an honor to not be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Seattle and Other Ventures
In Seattle’s inaugural season, Tom Meschery averaged 14.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. The following year, he nearly duplicated those numbers with 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. The Supersonics totaled a paltry 53 wins between those two years.
At the relatively old age of 31, Tom Meschery was still playing strong, still playing all but two games of the 1969-1970 season while averaging 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Supersonics were starting to figure things out and increased their wins to 36 from 30 the year before. In Meschery’s final season in 1970-1971, he averaged 9.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game while playing 79 games. After the Supersonics defeated the Warriors 119-106, Tom Meschery called it a career and stepped away from the game for the next four decades.
Shortly after his retirement, Meschery became a coach for the Carolina Cougars and the Portland Trail Blazers, lasting until 1976 when he started a new venture. Throughout his playing career, Tom Meschery was an avid reader of poetry and when he retired he wrote several books of poetry including Nothing We Lose Can Be Replaced and Some Men and Sweat: New and Selected Poems about Sports. He also entered the world of education, studying under the tutelage of Mark Strand, the US poet laureate at the University of Washington. After earning his teaching credentials at the University of Nevada-Reno, Tom Meschery taught high school English at Reno High School until his retirement in 2005.
Throughout his second career, Tom Meschery stayed away from basketball, rarely taking in an NBA game. That changed when the Warriors began to reconnect with their alumni and today, Tom Meschery is a proud former player of the Golden State Warriors.