Swing and a Drive: The Murray State Tradition Part 2

As I said last week, for the next couple of columns, I will be sharing the stories of a few former Murray State basketball standouts in an effort to raise awareness and appreciation for the illustrious history of Murray basketball.

This week, we are taking a blast to the past, going way back to the 1940s to take a look at “Jumpin’ Joe” Fulks.

Fulks was a standout basketball player at Kuttawa High School, just about 40 miles down the road from what was the Murray State Teachers College.

He was recruited by the program’s original coach, Carlisle Cutchin, who was able to convince him to stay close to home and become a Thoroughbred.

While at Murray State, Fulks unveiled an unheard of type of shot. In the days where players never left the ground when shooting the basketball, Fulks would often jump, launching the ball from above his head. Fulks was later credited as the pioneer of the jump shot.

He joined the varsity team in 1941 and went on to score 13.9 points per game over the next two seasons, leading the team to a 39-9 record.

His time as a Thoroughbred was cut short in 1943, however, when he enlisted in the Marines during the height of World War II.

Fulks proceeded to play even during the war, joining the Fleet Marine Force Team at Pearl Harbor. It was there that Eddie Gottlieb, owner of the Philadelphia Warriors franchise in the Basketball Association of America (predecessor to the NBA), noticed Fulks. Gottlieb immediately offered Fulks a contract and he made his professional debut in 1946.

The move immediately paid off for Gottlieb, as his Warriors team won the 1947 league championship in Fulks’ first year. “Jumpin’ Joe” took the league by storm, averaging 23.9 points per game in the pre-shot clock era where teams often only scored 70-75 points a game. No one else in the league averaged more than 17 points that year.

To give a bit of perspective, Lebron James is currently averaging 26.3 points per game and his team routinely scores 100 points or more. Fulks continued to dominate the league, upping his scoring average to 26.0 per game in his second season.

Perhaps the highlight of his eight-year career came on the night of February 10, 1949 when Fulks dropped 63 points, shattering the single game scoring record which he had set the previous season. The record would remain untouched for 10 years.

In 1976, Fulks was shot and killed by his girlfriend’s son during an argument over a handgun. Less than a year later, Fulks was posthumously honored when he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Although his time in Murray was brief, Fulks was in a Thoroughbred uniform when he revealed his jump shot which would go on to revolutionize the entire game of basketball.

Next time you go into the CFSB Center, look up and you’ll see his number, 26, hanging from the rafters among the all-time Racer greats.

Column by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.