If you were a Chicago basketball fan in the 1970s, you knew the name: Arthur Sivels. He was a playground legend, the best player who never played in high school and better, his peers insisted, than nearly everyone who did.
How good was Sivels?
Take the word of Lloyd Walton, who was an all-stater at Mount Carmel, had an excellent career at Marquette and played for five years in the NBA.
"Arthur's reputation preceded him more than anyone else," Walton said in a 1993 interview in the Sun-Times. "He was better than we were, me and Rickey Green and Billy Harris and Maurice Cheeks and Sam Puckett...by far.
"He could score 50 points if he wanted to, 25 with his right hand and 25 with his left hand. No one could handle the ball like him...except Leon Hilliard of the Harlem Globetrotters, who taught a lot of us."
When Walton enrolled at Marquette, he met two playground legends from New York City, Butch Lee and Earl Tatum, who had been recruited by coach Al McGuire.
"We always talked about who was the best player in the city," Walton said. "New Yorkers always talked about Ron Behagen and Ricky Sobers. We talked about Arthur and Billy Harris (who played at Dunbar and Northern Illinois). They were, no doubt, the best playground players in Chicago."
Those who saw him--including Walton, Green, Harris and Bo Ellis--insist he was a better playmaker than Isiah Thomas.
"If he was playing today, Arthur would be recognized as the best playmaker to come out of Chicago, the best in the NBA," Walton said. "Playmaking was his thing. He was a great ball-handler. He knew how to run a team."
But Sivels never had an opportunity to showcase his enormous skills beyond the playground. He enrolled at Phillips, was expelled for excessive absences and transferred to Crane. He played during the second semester of his sophomore year, then dropped out. He didn't like school.
After working for two years in a metal factory, he attended Mineral Area Junior College in Flat River, Mo., for one year but left after a dispute with the coach. He briefly attended Kennedy-King College in Chicago.
He lost interest in basketball, sold drugs to make a living, began using heroin and spent time in jail for drug possession. He left his game and his life on the playground.
"Most of the guys who played (with Arthur) went to college and played basketball. But we lost track of Arthur," Walton said. "We all wondered what he was doing. We heard stories about him. We wondered what happens to a guy who has all the talent in the world but didn't want to go to school."