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ASU's Best Professional Athletes: No. 31 Jumpin' Joe Caldwell

One of the top basketball players in school history checks in at No. 31 on our list of the 50 best professional athletes to attend ASU.


Had his career not been cut short by controversy, Joe Caldwell might have landed higher up the list. Nonetheless, his accomplishments in the NBA and ABA are enough to warrant a slot just outside the top-30.

Prior to his pro career, Caldwell was a member of the gold medal-winning 1964 U.S. Olympic basketball team that featured legends Bill Bradley and Larry Brown.

An All-American at Arizona State, the Detroit Pistons drafted "Jumpin" Joe with the second overall pick in the 1964 NBA Draft, but Caldwell truly broke out with the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks franchise.

Caldwell was twice named an NBA All-Star with his best season coming in 1969-70 when he averaged 21.1 points and five rebounds per game for the Hawks. Caldwell then left the Hawks for the Carolina Cougars and averaged 23.3 points per game in his first season in the ABA, where he gained All-Star notoriety twice.

At 6-foot-5, Caldwell was the prototypical do-it-all swingman with the athleticism to match his nickname. He described himself as "Charles Barkley without the extra weight," and Julius Erving cited Caldwell as the one who guarded him best.

Caldwell was named to three All-Defensive teams throughout his career. His athleticism was so impressive that the Los Angeles Rams reportedly offered him a contract following the 1964 Olympics.

Caldwell's standout career was slightly hampered by knee injuries suffered while in the ABA, but he still averaged over double-digit points in every season of his professional career. Despite his solid numbers and great reputation as a player, Caldwell's career was shortened not by injury nor decline in play, but through a disagreement with his team's management.

After the Carolina franchise fell apart due to financial problems, a new ownership group came in and moved the team to St. Louis and renamed them the Spirits.

At one point in the season, the Spirits' talented rookie Marvin Barnes disappeared, and St. Louis management blamed Caldwell for influencing Barnes. St. Louis suspended Caldwell for the remainder of the 1974-75 season for "activities detrimental to the best interests of professional basketball."

Caldwell denies having anything to do with Barnes' departure and claims St. Louis used the Barnes situation as a way to pension and contract disputes. Nonetheless, Caldwell never appeared in another professional basketball game.

While that situation remains unsettled (there are several websites and articles about the conflict), what is settled is that Caldwell was one heck of an all-around player. ASU retired his No. 32 jersey in 2010.