Gene Conley, one of the most well accomplished two sport athletes in history and a former Washington State star, passed away July 4 at the age of 86. He is the only man in history to have won both and NBA and MLB Championship.
Conley, originally from Muskogee, Oklahoma, moved to Richland, Washington with his family as a kid. There, he grew into his 6 foot 8 inch frame and was a multi-sport athlete at Columbia High School.
Conley came to WSU on a baseball scholarship in 1949 and immediately made an impact. He hit .417 and threw two shutouts while leading the Cougs to their only College World Series appearance in school history. In his one season playing college basketball, Conley was an All-American while WSU won the Pacific Coast Northern Division.
By 1951, Conley was off to the professional ranks and pitching in the Boston Braves farm system. He didn’t waste in time in the minors and made his major league debut April 17, 1952. In 11 seasons as professional baseball player, Conley made three all-star games, compiled a record of 91-96 and won a World Series in 1957 with the Milwaukee Braves.
In a lucky turn of events Conley pitched against Brooklyn Dodgers third baseman and Boston Celtics guard Bill Sharman. While at UCLA, Sharman played against Conley in basketball in college. Once they were both professionals the Bruin helped the Coug get a tryout with the Celtics. Conley made the team as a reserve in 1952, but put his basketball career on hold after that.
He returned to the court in 1958 and went on to win three NBA titles with the Celtics. All in all, Conley played 18 professional seasons in 12 years across two sports. Few have matched his achievements and versatility.
You can read the full New York Times obituary here.
Gene Conley, Dual-Sport Threat With World Series and N.B.A. Titles, Dies at 86 - The New York Times
Only two athletes have won championships in two major American professional sports. Conley was one.
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