Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer George “Iceman” Gervin knows a thing or two about being unique. The skinny guy who could finger roll with ease after slithering through defenders vividly recalls late Overbrook High School and professional basketball standout Mike Gale having that quality.
“He was Sugar,” Gervin said of Gale who died on Friday, July 31, 2020. Gale celebrated his 70th birthday on July 18. “He was special. He had this aura about him. His nickname said it all. He was a great guy on and off the court.
“He carried himself with respect. Sugar was something else. With a name like that, he was legendary. When you said Sugar, everyone knew who you were talking about.”
A 6-foot-4 point guard, Gale earned his a nickname because his game was so sweet. Another thing that made Gale stand out during his playing days was his afro hairstyle. Like his former teammate with the New York Nets Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Darnell Hillman of the Indiana Pacers, Gale’s bush cut drew attention. The immaculate look was enviable.
“Man that thing was perfect,” Gervin recalled. “It was always perfectly round. The hair was never out of place and he looked good. I couldn’t grow one but Sugar had a nice ‘fro.”
In Gale’s 1966-67 senior year he led Overbrook to the Public League title. A first team All-Public selection, he was named Public League Player of the Year. Gale was coached by the late Paul Ward whose legendary coaching talents produced stars such as the late Mahdi Abdul-Rahman — known to many as Walt Hazzard, Wali Jones, the late Wayne Hightower and Andre McCarter.
Gale, who was inducted into the Overbrook Hall of Fame in 2016, went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career at Elizabeth City State University. Then Gale made a decision that altered his life. Drafted in the third round of the 1971 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls and by the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA, he opted to play in the league that featured the patriotic basketball.
It was a good move. In 1974, he won an ABA championship with the Erving-led Nets. The following year, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs. He found a home in San Antonio. He enjoyed the lifestyle and was embraced by the Spurs fans. He was a Spurs ambassador who also helped former Philadelphia prep stars such as Overbrook’s Malik Rose and West Philadelphia’s Gene Banks adjust to the NBA and San Antonio.
“He told me to go out and show them what Philly was all about and that’s what I did,” Banks said. “He was always there with encouragement. He definitely helped me.”
During his professional career, Gale tallied 6,203 career points and 3,146 assists. Twice he was named to the ABA’s All-Defense first team.
“He was such a different guy,” Gervin said. “I enjoyed playing with him and being around him. I can say this much, Sugar will be missed.”