By Harold Bell (Updated December 17, 2017)
Roland “Fatty” Taylor was a native Washingtonian. He grew up in NE DC and was a product of the DC Public Schools. Fatty transferred from Spingarn High School and graduated from Fairmont Heights High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland. He died in Denver, Colorado on Thursday December 7, 2017, he was 71.
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 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 crybabies.
Even though our athletic foundations were laid on NE playgrounds and at Spingarn, Fatty and I both graduated from Fairmont Heights High School in Prince George’s County. 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 playing on the same courts with me (Kelly Miller, and Brown). During the Christmas break Spingarn would hold an annual varsity verse alumni basketball games 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 to him, but I didn’t remember that 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 began. 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 line-up 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 became a “Crybaby” 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 that 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 junior at Syracuse, but he took me to school. 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.
Left to Right: Fatty Taylor, Redskins Running Back Larry Brown, Harold Bell and Radio and TV Host Petey Greene
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 his ass if he stepped out of line, but he saved my life when he gave me a second chance for a college education. I called Coach Gaines and recommended him 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.
Fatty and I had a lot in common, we were similar when it came to sports 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 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 busy weekends on the NE H Street corridor robbing businesses’ of unguarded cash registers. Thanks to his Coach William Roundtree, Bing avoided jail time for one of his petty crimes.
I was a hard nosed basketball defender at Spingarn under the tutelage of Coach William 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 to well with my coach or teammates. I was kicked off the team for selfish behavior. I immediately 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. I later discovered, Fatty had tried out for the 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 and the naysayers he went all the way from Dodge City Community College, to the Sonny Hill Basketball League and LaSalle University in Philadelphia. These institutions led him to a stellar 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, tallying 3,495 points, 1,737 assists, and 1,715 rebounds in five seasons.
He became known as one of the few outstanding defensive players in a league known primarily for a “run-and-gun” style. 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. He 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 feared his “In Your Jockey Strap” mentality defensive skills.. He was known as a defensive stalwart.
Photo credit: Top photo of Fatty Taylor February 17, 2006 in Houston, Texas. Getty Images License Agreement. Copyright 2006 NBAE (Photo by Troy Fields/NBAE via Getty Images)