WORTHINGTON — (Editor’s note: The sports planet is no longer spinning, with coronavirus precautions depriving us all of memory-making moments from our gifted southwest Minnesota athletes. The pain is especially acute this week, when high school state basketball tournaments were to be played. So all we have are flashbacks from the past. One remains particularly fresh: of a time 45 years ago when arguably the best basketball team in Fulda history advanced all the way to the semifinals of the state tourney, then a two-class event. The Raiders had many superb players, and 6-foot-8 center Arvid Kramer was the best. The farm boy from Fulda averaged about 25 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocked shots that winter. He later became a star at Augustana (S.D.) College and played professionally both in the NBA and overseas for many years. Kramer lives now in California, where we caught up with him for our latest Conversation With Scott.)
Question: Nice to talk to you, Arvid. How are you, sir?
Answer: I’m good. How are you? Is it freezing back there? (Laughs)
Q: Everything is fine here in beautiful Murray County.
A: I’ll bet it is.
Q: Where exactly did you grow up?
A: Let’s see ... You drove from Fulda three miles south on 59 and then took a right to the west about a mile and three-quarters.
Q: Is the home place still there, Arvid?
A: Yep. It’s still there. My mother (Marion) passed about seven years ago, so we have the farm. My brother Lyle lives on the place. He bought the acreage.
Q: Were you two boys the only kids in the family?
A: No. I have an older brother, Deloy, and an older sister, Karen. My dad was Marvin. He passed in 1992. My mother wanted to stay on the farm. Until about six months before she passed she lived there. Grew a garden and was happy there.
Q: Where do you live now?
A: It’s just north of San Diego, a place called Encinitas. I run a small youth basketball club, for about 70 kids. So I’m coaching a lot, and I really enjoy it.
Q: Did you have some basketball players in your family there?
A: Yes, I did. I have a son, Dennis, playing in Germany now. He’s in his sixth season. He went to the University of San Diego. Another son, Josh, went to Holy Cross and ended up at an NAIA school in Irvine, Calif. Josh is 6-7 and Dennis is 6-11. I also have a daughter, Lisa, who is 6-11 and a half. She didn’t want to play basketball, but played volleyball at the University of San Diego and was MVP of the West Coast Conference her last year. I also have a son, Sam, who is 18 and plays at San Francisco State. He’s a good athlete, but we’ll see what happens.
Q: Wow. That’s great. When you think of growing up on a little farm in Fulda, my gosh ... Did you ever dream of playing professional basketball as long as you did? (He was a third-round pick of the Utah Jazz in 1980 and played 16 years, mainly overseas, in a great pro career. Arvid was a three-time first team all-conference star at Augustana and was named Player of the Year in the North Central Conference in 1978). I mean, did it ever cross your mind that you could be a pro basketball star?
A: Oh no. I was going to be a farmer.
Q: Did you have other big-time athletes in your family?
A: No, not really. My grandfather on my mother’s side was tall. And I had some very tall cousins. We had a large family with like 42 cousins. All the boys were over 6-2, including Don Basche’s sons.
Q: So you are related to the late coach Basche?
A: Yes. He was my uncle.
Q: He was a great guy.
A: Yes. A good coach, too.
Q: And his boys were fine players.
A: Yep, Jeff and Scott. My cousins.
Q: How did you get your start playing basketball?
A: I just had a hoop on the side of the barn (laughs). I remember I had a ball and kept it and used it until the white threads were coming out. We didn’t have nets on the rim because it would freeze. So I’d go out and have to decide: do I shoot with gloves on or without and get red, cold hands (laughs). That I remember very well. But I always had chores do to, too.
Q: Did you always like basketball?
A: You know, I can say yes, I like sports. My mother was very protective. I actually had to beg to play basketball when I was in the seventh grade. It was an evening league at the high school. In fact, my older brother only got to run track because basketball was too dangerous (laughs). But my mother eventually let me play.
Q: Oh man. And what a fine time to be growing up in Fulda with all those great athletes.
A: Yes. When I was a sophomore in high school, I didn’t play much. But we could put a lineup on the floor that could go 6-8, 6-8, 6-5, 6-3 and then Gary Hogan, who was maybe a 5-11 guard. This was Fulda, Minnesota. (Laughs)
Q: And we’re talking outstanding athletes, too. Most of them played sports in college.
A: That’s right.
Q: Well, I think that team when you were a senior in 1974-75 has to be the best one in Fulda history (finished 22-2, won the District 8 championship and, for only time in school history, the Region 2 title.)
A: Yes, although the one when I was a junior was pretty good, too. We lost to Luverne in a real close game (in the district tourney).
Q: That team in your senior season was special. Were you good pals with all those guys?
A: Yep. I got along with everybody in school.
Q: Kevin Fury was outstanding on that team, right?
A: Yes, he was. We had a bunch of great basketball players. Fury, he would be playing all the time at the grade school in Fulda. Just a basketball junkie.
Q: And your point guard, Brad Holinka. He was no slouch as a basketball player.
A: Brad was no slouch as an athlete, period. And as a leader. He was the leader of our team, more or less the voice of the team. Really a stud athlete in football and track. People listened to him.
Q: Brian Bunkers, too. He went on to a great football career in college (at South Dakota State).
A: Yep. Brian was a sophomore that year. A great guy. John (Bunkers) raised his boys to be very disciplined and coachable.
Q: Tom Pittman, also. I knew Tommy from the time I was a little boy in Slayton. He was a fine athlete.
A: Yes, he was.
Q: I remember it was shocking to me when you guys lost in the state tournament (34-33 to St. Paul Mechanic Arts, which was led by future NFL receiver Elmer Bailey).
A: I have a DVD of that game that somebody recorded from the television. Of course, they don’t call traveling anywhere any more. But if you watch that DVD, if you even looked like you moved your pivot foot a little bit, they would call traveling (laughs).
Q: That doggone Elmer Bailey leaped high to pick off a pass in the closing seconds, right?
A: Yes. But those refs missed a goaltending call that should have been called, too.
Q: That was quite a game, Arvid. I was working in the projection booth at my father’s theatre, listening to the game. Did you ever get to the Murray Theatre in those days?
A: No, I don’t think so. I didn’t go out. I stayed home. (Laughs). We worked. My folks let me play sports and let me play music. But I didn’t ask to go out on Friday nights. I stayed at home.
Q: Well, Arvid. The Slayton fans wished you would have stayed home during a few of those games when we played for the Goat (a trophy that for years went to the winner of the Slayton-Fulda basketball rivalry).
A: (laughs). You know, for years when I was younger that series went back and forth. And then when Doug Probst (6-9 star who went to Mankato State) and I came along, we were just tall. You know, I was about 6-8 at that time with a basketball body. I had a 7-2 wingspan. So I didn’t have to jump a lot (laughs).
Q: Well, you had soft hands and a great shooting touch. And I remember how well you ran the floor.
A: That was because of cross country. I could run all day. In fact, when watching that DVD of the state tournament game, we start the game and we’re going up and down and the announcer says, ‘Boy, he’s a pretty skinny kid. I don’t know if he’ll be able to go the whole game like that.’ (Laughs) And then at the end of the game he’s like, ‘I guess he can get up and down the court.’ It was because of track and cross country. My mother wouldn’t let me play football. So I ran cross country.
Q: I think you could have been quite a tight end or wide receiver, Arvid.
A: (Laughs) I don’t know. I was probably 6-8 and 185 pounds. My forearms were bigger than my biceps at the time, because of working on the farm.
Q: I always felt you guys had the best team in the state that year. I’ll bet if you’d played Mechanic Arts again (they successfully deployed slowdown tactics against Fulda in the state semifinal game before losing in the state championship game to Chisholm) it would have been a different outcome.
A: Without a question. We were shell-shocked. You go into the big city and play against athletes like that ... But if they would have played (normally) there’s no way they could have kept up with us. No way. They had to do that to win.
Q: Did you receive a lot of NCAA Division I offers, Arvid? Were the Gophers interested?
A: You know, at the time I was going to be a farmer (laughs). I wasn’t thinking about college basketball. Our high school coach (Daryl Sanborn) said he got a lot of questions from D-1 programs — I’m not sure which ones — but he told them all I wasn’t going to go play basketball. Certainly not at a big school. When I look back on it, the way I grew up if I’d have gone to a Big 10 school I probably would have gotten lost. So I’m very pleased about where I went.
Q: I see. So you never did talk to the Gophers?
A: No. I didn’t really talk to anybody.
Q: And Augustana was a good thing for you?
A: Oh, it was a great thing. I was interested in South Dakota State, too. But I’d waited so long and they couldn’t wait for me. Augustana waited. And they didn’t forget. At the start of June, when I was out in the field at our farm, their coaches came and visited me. (Laughs)
Q: Did you play right away as a freshman?
A: No, but by the middle of the year I was starting.
Q: Do you ever regret perhaps not trying to play a little longer in the NBA? (Arvid spent one season with Denver and was the first overall pick of Miami Heat in the 1988 expansion draft, but opted to stay in Europe and played primarily with a team in Germany).
A: Well, I didn’t understand the politics (of the NBA) the way I do now. First of all, I probably should have waited to sign a contract with Denver (who had picked him up as a free agent in 1980.) It was a ‘make-good’ contract, so there was no guarantee. Then when I was picked by Dallas (in the 1980 expansion draft), that didn’t help. Because I was told they had 12 guaranteed contracts and I’d have to dominate before they’d keep me. So I took an offer and went to Europe. But the problem was, once you went to Europe you were out of the NBA. They never brought people back.
Q: Did you have an agent then?
A: I did, but I didn’t understand the business that well. Back then, the minimum contact was $35,000. Now they’re like $750,000.
Q: It had to be a great experience to play overseas.
A: I loved it. I spent 20 years there. I love Europe.
Q: Do you get back home to Fulda?
A: Not too much. I don’t want to spend my winters with that cold weather (laughs). But I was back for my 40th high school reunion. And it was very, very fun. I hope we have another one soon. We had like 84 in our class and over 40 showed up. For me, Fulda was just a great place to grow up.
Q: Are you in decent shape? Can you still play?
A: I don’t play anymore. I played (pro ball) until I was 40, then I managed a pro team in Europe. Then I tried to play again but everything hurt. So I walk. I’m in decent shape but I haven’t played much. Until about six years ago, I could still dunk (laughs). Of course I’ve got long arms and don’t have to jump that high. But you know what? You never forget how you played.
Q: I’m sure you could still do just fine.
A: (laughs) About six years ago, the kids I coach are going ‘Coach, we’ve got nine. If you play with us we’ve got 10.’ I was feeling good that day, so I stretched and played with them. And I felt normal. Everything was good. Then a week later they go, ‘Coach, we’re only nine again. Come on, you did it last week.’ But that time I almost felt like diving on the floor after balls (laughs). And I told myself, ‘No.’ Your body tells you one thing and your brain doesn’t stop you. I knew I had to quit.
Q: When you think about days gone by, Arvid, it has to be a great feeling to realize how much joy you and your buddies brought to the Fulda community those many decades ago.
A: You don’t realize it when you are going through it. And I only speak for myself. When we were young it was a fun thing. I never thought I was going to be in the NBA. I was just having fun the whole time, the whole time. We went to the Cities and played and all these people came to watch the game, old classmates from 20 years before, and yes, that was something.
Q: Well, Fulda fans will never forget you.
A: Thank you. I was blessed that I could play. I could have played Division I, I think, but I was blessed to play at the D-II school. I went to school in Sioux Falls and worked hard and represented that community, too. Then I went to Italy, France and Germany, and played in the top division there. I can still walk down the streets of Bonn (Germany) and some people recognize me.
Q: All the way from Fulda.
A: That’s right. All the way from Fulda. And now I run a basketball club and live in a good community. I’ve been very fortunate. In my 15 years here, I’ve had 20-plus players who have gone on to D-1 or D-11 schools.
Q: That’s great, Arvid. But do you think the old iron hoop without the net is still up on the barn back home?
A: No. That barn’s gone (laughs).
Q: It’s a great pleasure to speak with you, Arvid.
A: Thank you, Scott. Fulda was a great place for me. I spent time out in the fields and got along with all the people at school — I’ve been all over the world but Fulda was a great place for me to grow up. I was raised with the correct values. I still have them today.
(Conversations With Scott is produced by Scott Mansch and appears periodically in online editions of the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)