Chuck Person’s nickname was the Rifleman after the western tv series of the same name starring Chuck Connors. His full name is Chuck Connors Person. Person held onto the name the Rifleman throughout his career because of his great outside shooting in both in college at Auburn and in his 13 year NBA career.
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What was the Rifleman?
The Rifleman was a television Western about a Civil War Union veteran who settled in New Mexico. The series starred Chuck Connors playing Lucas McCain as the veteran whose wife died leaving him to raise a six-year-old son alone.
Amazingly, the actor Chuck Connors has an incredible sports history himself. He is one of only 13 people to play in both the NBA and Major League Baseball. He played the inaugural season for my beloved Boston Celtics in the 1947-1948 season. He went on to kick around minor-league baseball before playing 1 game for the Dodgers and 66 games for the Cubs.
The show The Rifleman aired in the late 1950’s into the 1960’s and was a pretty big hit. In the series McCain raises his son as a single father and encounters many challenges and different characters in the New Mexico territory where he lives.
The series featured a large string of guest stars including Sammy Davis Jr, Dennis Hopper and Martin Landau.
The name of the series came from McCain’s skill with a particular rifle: the Winchester Model 1892. That didn’t totally make sense since the show was set in the 1880’s, but no one seemed to care too much about that.
Since the Rifleman Chuck Person was born in 1964, it makes sense that his Mom would be a fan of the show. The series five seasons aired in the five years before his birth, concluding its run in 1963.
You can see what Chuck’s Mom was watching for yourself. You can buy the whole first season on Amazon here.
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Why was Chuck Person called the Rifleman?
Chuck Person was nicknamed for the Western television series the Rifleman, but there is no doubt the name stuck because he could shoot the rock. Person played four seasons at Auburn alongside future Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.
Person filled it up at Auburn, scoring 18 points per game for his career and being voted a two-time All American. He also led the team to an Elite Eight appearance.
The sharpshooting Person was the 4th pick in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. That was the same draft the Pistons stole The Worm in the 2nd round.
At a time when players stayed four years in college, Person came in the league ready and he came in firing. Person scored 19 points per game in his first season with the Pacers. He maxed out scoring 22 points per game in his third season.
This is when I became familiar with him. It’s funny to look back now and realize he was only in his first few seasons at that point. The matchups he had with my hometown Celtics back then were legendary.
As a kid, I assumed he was a veteran the way he filled it up and the way he was unafraid to fire it. Person had some duels with the Celtics that were fun to watch.
The Rifleman kept the name because of that shooting. He finished his career as a 36% 3-point shooter on 3.6 attempts per game for his career. And even those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Three point shooting was much less common when he entered the league and was a scoring star. As his game changed and league changed, Chuck let it fly even more. By his last year in Indiana in ‘91-’92 and his first year in Minnesota the following year, Person was shooting 4 threes a game and hitting them at his career average rate.
But by the time Person got to San Antonio in ‘94-’96 he was shooting almost 6 threes per game and hitting them at a 40% clip. The man could fire the rock. Chuck Person was the Rifleman.
Person got injured and missed the ‘96-’97 season then finished out with 3 lackluster years kicking around the league.
That was around the time I had one of my only up-close and personal encounters with an NBA star. I saw Chuck Person in Caesars Palace late at night/early one morning. I know I was shooting craps with my buddy Russ.
I can’t remember if Chuck was playing too or just walking through, but I know we saw him from a few feet away. I am pretty sure they don’t call him the Rifleman for shooting dice but I had to mention it.
As is my style, I said nothing to him – missed my chance for a better blog story!
What happened between Larry Bird and Chuck Person?
Chuck Person came into the league when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were at the peak of their rivalry. Person faced off with Bird much more often, obviously, because they were both in the Eastern Conference.
Both Bird and Person could shoot the rock AND shoot their mouths. Like Bird, Person was a prime-time trash talker. The day after Christmas in 1990 the Pacers and Celtics squared off.
Before the game, Person was interviewed and said he was going “Bird hunting”. Bird was told of the quote and said he had a Christmas present for Person that he’d give him during the game.
After launching a three next to the Pacers bench, Bird turned to Person and said, “Merry F***ing Christmas!” The shot, of course, swished in.
Person and Bird’s most important faceoff was in the 1991 playoffs when Bird’s aging Celtics dispatched Person’s upstart Pacers in a best of five series that came down to an absolute classic game five in the Old Boston Garden.
Bird’s return from a hard fall is a prime example of why he is called Larry Legend. But Person’s Pacers put up a hell of a fight as well.
In hindsight, Person had Larry’s respect. Years later Bird said of the Rifleman:
“When you played against Chuck, you knew you had to play and you had to play hard – and if you didn’t play well, they’d probably beat you.”Larry Bird
Is Chuck Person in the Hall of Fame?
No, the Rifleman Chuck Person is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Basketball Reference has a fun stat where they estimate a player’s chances of making the Hall. Chuck’s is 0.0%. I don’t like his chances.
Person was born and grew up in Brantley, Alabama. He played for the Brantley High School team before his stellar career at Auburn University. If you didn’t know, Auburn is named for the city it is in: Auburn, Alabama. So the Alabama Hall of Fame makes sense.
I liked Chuck Person as a player and am not making fun of his game at all. He could play and was a fun watch. But the Basketball Hall of Fame is reserved for players at another level, and Chuck never quite got to that level.
Summary: Chuck Person’s Nickname
Chuck Person was named after another great athlete: Chuck Connors, one of only 13 people to play in both the NBA and MLB. Connors was known for playing The Rifleman in a western tv show in the 1950’s & 1960’s. Chuck Person kept the nickname The Rifleman because of his outstanding shooting in his 13 year NBA career.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.