Joseph Franklin “Jumping Joe” Fulks (October 26, 1921 – March 21, 1976) was an American professional basketball player, sometimes called “the first of the high-scoring forwards”. He was one of the first players, albeit posthumously, enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Fulks was born in Birmingham, Kentucky, a small town in the state’s far-western Purchase region that was inundated in the 1940s after the Tennessee Valley Authority dammed the Tennessee River to create Kentucky Lake. He played college ball at Murray State University (then known as Murray State Teachers College) for two years before leaving school to join the Marines in May 1942. He served with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines during World War II, and was discharged as a corporal in May 1946. His number 26 hangs in the rafters at the CFSB Center.
Fulks joined the BAA’s Philadelphia Warriors in 1946, at age 25, and in his rookie season he won the league’s first scoring title with a 23.2 points per game average and the Warriors won the BAA title. Fulks again had the league’s highest scoring average in the 1947-48 season at 22.1 points per game, but lost the scoring title to Max Zaslofsky, who had more total points. Fulks had a career best 26.0 points per game average in the 1948-49 season. Fulks led the NBA in free throw percentage during the 1950-51 season.
Fulks set the BAA/NBA single game scoring record four different times. On December 3, 1946, in just his eight game as a professional, Fulks became the league’s record holder for most points scored in a single game when he scored 37 points, making 16 field goals and five free throws, in Philadelphia’s 76 to 68 win over the Providence Steam Rollers. Just 20 games later on January 14, 1947, Fulks set a new single game scoring record when he scored 41 points, making 15 field goals and 11 free throws, in Philadelphia’s 104 to 74 win over the Toronto Huskies. The following season on December 18, 1948, Fulks again set a single game scoring record when he scored 47 points, making 18 field goals and 11 free throws, in Philadelphia’s 71 to 99 loss to the New York Knickerbockers.
For the fourth and final time, Fulks set a new single game scoring record when he scored 63 points on February 10, 1949. It remained the most in an NBA game until Elgin Baylor scored 64 points in a 1959 game. Fulks’ 63-point outburst came during a Warriors 108-87 victory over the Indianapolis Jets. Fulks made 27 of 56 field goal attempts and nine of 14 free throws. Along the way he shattered the record for most points in one half (33), field goals, and field goal attempts.
The 6’5″ (1.96 m) Fulks was known both for his athletic drives to the basket as well as his shooting. He was perhaps most remembered as one of the pioneers of the modern jump shot. During his early career, Fulks was considered the league’s greatest offensive player. In his first three seasons, Fulks averaged 23.9 points per game at a time when, before the advent of the shot-clock, teams rarely scored over 70 points in a game. Fulks was named to the All-BAA First Team during his first three seasons. In 1971, he was one of 25 players named to the NBA 25th Anniversary Team.
Upon his retirement he returned to Marshall County, Kentucky where he lived the remainder of his life. He worked at the Kentucky State Penitentiary as the prison recreation director. He was shot and killed on March 21, 1976, by Gregg Bannister, the son of his girlfriend, Roberta Bannister, during an argument over a handgun
Career highlights and awards
BAA champion (1947)
2× NBA All-Star (1951–1952)
3× All-BAA First Team (1947–1949)
All-NBA Second Team (1951)
BAA scoring champion (1947)
No. 26 retired by Murray State