Ex-Spartan, Piston Ralph Simpson fond of his ABA, Pershing days

Ex-Spartan, Piston Ralph Simpson fond of his ABA, Pershing days

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Ex-Spartan, Piston Ralph Simpson fond of his ABA, Pershing days

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It’s a safe bet that Ralph Simpson, a 10-year pro basketball veteran, is eclipsed by his daughter when it comes to fame.

That’s what happens when your daughter is India Arie, a Grammy Award-winning singer.

Simpson just laughed in a deep voice Tuesday when asked about how his daughter has surpassed him.

“A lot of my friends will look at me and say, ‘Hey, man, how’s your daughter?’ They won’t say, ‘How’s Ralph?’ They will say, ‘How’s India,’ ” Simpson said.

Simpson, 63, will get a little recognition tonight when the former standout from Detroit Pershing, Michigan State and the American Basketball Association will be inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in its 56th annual induction ceremony.

“I feel it’s an honor, but I guess I’m probably looking forward to seeing my friends more than really going into the Hall of Fame,” Simpson said. “It’s a great honor. It says you are one of the better athletes to come out of Michigan.”

Simpson was a part of the legendary Pershing team that won the 1967 state title. Coached by Will Robinson, the team included big man Spencer Haywood.

After two seasons at MSU, he jumped to the ABA. In his second season, he averaged 27.4 points and 3.1 assists for the Denver Rockets.

At 6-feet-5 and 200 pounds, Simpson’s open-court game thrived in the free-wheeling ABA, noted for embracing the slam dunk and the three-point shot. He was a five-time ABA All-Star.

The ABA was the original home of greats like Julius Erving, Rick Barry, George Gervin, Artis Gilmore, Connie Hawkins, Haywood and others.

But Simpson has a stronger recollection of the atmosphere of the now-defunct league.

“The ABA was a great league for young players just coming up,” Simpson said. “The NBA had never heard of us, so we got a chance to show our skill before we got into the NBA. The ABA became like a family. It was very competitive, and a lot of great players came out of there.”

The friendships last, and Simpson remains close to Erving.

Simpson was traded to the Pistons in 1976. Two years later, he was traded back to Denver. He had a stop in Philadelphia before he was waived by the Nets in 1979, ending his playing days.

He settled in Denver, where he lives today.

It has been 45 years since his Detroit Public School League days, but Simpson said his recollection is better of battles against Detroit high schools like Northwestern than professional games.

“I don’t remember a whole lot of pro games or a whole lot of Michigan State games, but I remember those Pershing games,” Simpson said.

Contact Vince Ellis: 313-222-6479 or vellis@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @vincent_ellis56.

More Details: Class acts

What: Michigan Sports Hall of Fame induction event for 24-member class of 2012.

When: Dinner reception at 6 tonight, followed by the induction ceremony.

Where: Gem Theatre in Detroit.

Tickets: $125 for general admission, $75 for 15 and under. Call 248-473-0656.

The 2012 class

* George Acker (Kalamazoo College tennis coach)

* George Allen (NFL coach from Detroit)

* Fred Arbanas (MSU tight end)

* Chuck Bernard (U-M center)

* Ed Budde (MSU offensive guard)

* Rex Cawley (Olympic hurdler from Farmington)

* Bob Chappuis (U-M halfback)

* Tom D’Eath (hydroplane racer from Detroit)

* Bob Devaney (Nebraska football coach and Alma College grad)

* Willie Hernandez (Tigers reliever)

* Richie Jordan (Fennville basketball and football standout)

* Eugene Lipscomb (NFL defensive lineman from Detroit)

* Earl Lloyd (Pistons player and coach)

* Barbara Marchetti-DeShepper (Upper Peninsula speedskater)

* Milt Pappas (pitcher from Detroit)

* Charlie Primas (Detroit Pershing and Wayne State basketball player)

* Marcel Pronovost (Red Wings defenseman)

* Dan Roundfield (Detroit Chadsey, CMU and Pistons)

* Ted Simmons (baseball player from Highland Park)

* Ralph Simpson (Detroit Pershing, MSU and Pistons basketball)

* Bob Strampe (bowler from Detroit)

* Chet Walker (NBA player from Benton Harbor)

* Bill Watson (Saginaw and U-M track star)

* Alex Wojciechowicz (Lions center and linebacker)

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