Greatest basketball player from Kansas City also might have been most accomplished, Warren Jabali

Warren Jabali, who played at Wichita State as Warren Armstrong, left WSU and became a star in the ABA.
Warren Jabali, who played at Wichita State as Warren Armstrong, left WSU and became a star in the ABA. The Wichita Eagle

There can be a difference between the greatest athletes who played at a Kansas City high school, and the most accomplished professionally.

In baseball, Albert Pujols attended Fort Osage, then Maple Woods Community College and was a 13th-round draft pick. He was great in high school. But as sixth on major league’s career home list with 648 entering this week, a three-time MVP and 10-time All-Star, Pujols is unquestionably the most accomplished baseball player from a KC high school.

In footbalI, let’s go with Darren Sproles, who just signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, from Olathe North as having the greatest NFL career. The former Kansas State star is a two-time first-team All-Pro, is the NFL’s active leader in all-purpose yards and ranks sixth all-time.

Basketball? That’s tougher. The player from a Kansas City high school with the most career NBA points is Lucius Allen, the former Wyandotte star who averaged 13.4 points per game over his 10 seasons. Others like Larry Drew and Anthony Peeler because of their longevity and point production are part of the conversation.

But as Allen once told me in an interview, he didn’t think he was the best player in the metro area while he was in high school. That player was Warren Armstrong, who later became Warren Jabali.

Jabali had an excellent pro career, all in the American Basketball Association. He was an All-Star in four of his seven seasons, a first-team all-league player in 1973 and averaged 17.1 points per game for his career. Jabali, who played at Wichita State, was the ABA rookie of the year and championship series MVP in 1969 and All-Star MVP in 1973.

Jabali died in 2012 at 65 but he is remembered in a new book, “Jabali, a Kansas City Legend” by David Thomas.

Thomas and Jabali played at Kansas City high schools in the early 1960s, Jabali at Central, Thomas at Southeast. They reconnected some 25 years later and remained friends.

“I feel like the book began when I was sophomore and I watched him play,” said Thomas, who lives in Omaha, Neb. “It was a revelation. I had never seen anyone that good.”

Thomas will be in Kansas City on Sunday to take part in a book launching and presentation at the Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch at 2 p.m.

Jabali was a 6-2, hard-nosed guard on the court. And he was a proud and thoughtful person, especially on matters of race, and spent the second half of his life in Miami as a teacher and community leader.

His wife, Mary Beasley, said that Jabali regularly visited basketball courts in the inner city and paid youth league fees for the kids of families that couldn’t afford it.

Jabali opened his circle of friends to Thomas, who produced the self-published book. It’s the second such project involving Jabali. Beasley wrote a book about her husband in 2013.

“It really was a labor of love,” Thomas said.