'Extra Sauce' Live @ Big Nate's BBQ, Bret Dougherty, 3/15/2004

'Quick Talk w/ Nate Thurmond,"Extra Sauce", Bret Dougherty, 3/15/2004

“Damn Nate, this is a good sauce!”...

Big Nate’s response to this statement is simply, “The key to ribs is a good sauce”. An efficient statement from ‘Big Nate’ Thurmond, who mastered the art of rebounding while with the San Francisco/Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, and Cleveland Cavaliers. The 6’11” former Warrior legend, who holds the record for most rebounds in a game with 42 and for most boards in a quarter with 18, has built a very solid business in his post-NBA career with Big Nate’s BBQ on Folsom St. in San Francisco.

Nate roamed the paint with solid, consistent play throughout his Hall of Fame career from 1963-1977. His battles against court legends such as Jabbar, Chamberlain, and Russell on the West Coast made him a basketball legend around the Bay Area. Now, he has become a legend in San Francisco for his rib sauce and restaurant business.

“A good friend of mine gave me advice. He said ‘Don’t ever go into business, where your assets spoil.’….but I love this business because of the people that I get to meet….I always thought that despite the diversity of San Francisco, there was a need for a black restaurant that had solid BBQ, and I seized the opportunity. It’s given me a lot of enjoyment. I’ve been doing this for 15 years now.”

The inspiration for Nate’s ribs comes from his family’s recipe.

“My Mom and Grandma are from Georgia and Alabama. Their recipe is more tomato-based. If you go to Chicago, you may have more of a vinegar based sauce, but with our ribs we like a smoky taste to our ribs. So, we go with a tomato-based sauce with thickness.

“Everyone has their different tastes. Some like the bottled KC Masterpiece, which is not a good sauce at all. When you buy that, you’re buying the advertising. Some like the Asian sauce with the sweet taste of soy and vinegar, but I think we serve a different taste with the tang of our sauce.”

In the seating area, you cannot help but look at the dozens of pictures hanging upon the wall. A black and white photo shows Wilt Chamberlain walking down the street in a white button down sweater, followed by Nate and Wayne Hightower in dark suits with dark porkpie hats to match. The three big men in their suits look like they could fit on stage with Miles Davis’s Quintet at the time.

“That one was taken on Haight St. in 1963. We were the biggest front line in NBA history at the time…6’11”, 7’1”, and 6’9”….We look pretty smooth there....Wilt was a big influence on me at that time. That year, I will never forget that he picked me up in a purple Bentley with a record player attached to the dashboard that played 45s. We drove that thing down to the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and we had a really good time.”

Yet, Nate is careful not to mis-represent his feelings for Wilt.

“You can’t be friends with guys you compete against…..When Wilt left the Warriors, I learned to be all business,” he says. “I can’t understand how these guys joke around on the court with each other. I always felt that the other guy was out to take my dinner money.”

However, Nate’s admiration for the centers of today is obvious.

“I really like the centers that are coming out now,” he says. “They’re talented, quick, and agile. Most importantly, they have good footwork and lateral movement. That’s why I like Duncan and KG (Kevin Garnett). They have the athleticism.”

When I look at a center, I immediately ask, ‘can he run?’ You can’t coach a stiff. I want a guy that can run, not a galoof. Most guys today can run.”

Nate also realizes that his position would be totally different to play now, compared with three decades ago.

“I look at Shaq and Yao, and there’s no way I could have handled them. I would have liked to have guarded David Robinson, Hakeem, and Duncan. I would have been challenged by them, and I think I would have done well because I had good enough footwork to step out of the paint to guard someone.”

Today, Nate shows up five days a week to run his family business, and above his desk hangs a sign with a quote from Bill Russell.

“The Game is On Our Schedule. We have to play the game. So why not win.”

When I ask, if he holds that statement true to his business, Nate smiles and states, simply, “Hey baby, I play to win”.

More Sauce,


Bret Dougherty is a sportswriter and current graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Bret is a co-host of WXYC SportsRap (9 PM Sundays on FM 89.3 & www.wxyc.org). He is also a music DJ on WXYC. You may check in for more of his interviews, articles, and interests at www.bretdougherty.com..

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