On Friday night, the Wizards will retire Phil Chenier’s number 45 into the Capital One Arena stands. You may know that Chenier was a full-time TV color announcer for the Wizards from 1987-2017 and that he played for the team in the 1970’s. But how was Chenier the player? Today, we’ll take a look at that.
Chenier is a born and raised Bay Area native
Yes, Phil is a mainstay in the DMV. However, he was born and raised in Berkeley, California, a city just north of Oakland. He graduated from Berkeley High School and played two varsity college seasons at his local school, the University of California, Berkeley. from 1969-1971. The Bears did not make the NCAA tournament or an NIT during Chenier’s time there. I guess we can blame Cal’s rival UCLA for that, because the Bruins were in the middle of their Golden Age where they won seven straight championships from 1967-1973.
Chenier averaged 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in his sophomore and junior seasons while averaging 26.3 points a game in his freshman JV season in 1968-69. During that time, freshmen on basketball and football teams were not allowed to play on varsity squads.
Chenier left college early before the practice was commonplace
Chenier was the fourth of five picks in the 1971 NBA Hardship draft by the Baltimore Bullets. The draft was a supplemental one just for underclassmen who wanted to leave early due to a financial hardship. Otherwise, players had to be four years out of high school to get drafted.
Though Chenier was the fourth of five picks, he ended up having the best playing career of the five who were drafted. Only Nate Williams, the first pick of the supplemental draft had a long and successful career.
Chenier was a three-time NBA All-Star for the Bullets
Chenier was one of the best guards in the NBA during the 1970’s while the Bullets enjoyed their greatest days.
He was named to the 1974, 1975, and 1977 All-Star teams. Chenier was also on the NBA All-Rookie Team in 1972 and named to the All-NBA Second Team in 1975. In the 1974-75 season, Chenier had his best career performances for the Bullets where he averaged 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists a game.
Chenier averaged 17.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3 assists in his 9 year NBA career.
Chenier could not play in the 1978 NBA Playoffs due to injury
The 1977-78 Bullets won the NBA championship, but they weren’t at full strength. Yes, Washington’s franchise player was Wes Unseld and he formed a strong frontcourt duo with Elvin Hayes. But a championship team still requires a strong backcourt as well. In the 1970’s, Chenier certainly was a major part of their success.
Unfortunately in the 1977-78 season, Chenier suffered a back injury early in the regular season and had season ending back surgery so he never played a postseason game that year. Kevin Grevey took Chenier’s place in the starting lineup and had a breakout season averaging 15.5 points a game in the regular and postseasons.
Chenier was a strong perimeter shooter in his day
In the 1970’s the game was not as perimeter oriented as it is today, in part because there was no three point line. However, Chenier still had a good outside touch with his shot and also had the ability to drive to the rim for more points. Here’s a video of a 23 point performance Chenier had on March 4, 1973 against the Knicks. The game was at the Cole Field House in College Park, Maryland.
In short, Phil Chenier was a great player for the Wizards franchise who fully deserves to have his number in the rafters. Congratulations!