He scored 11,785 points in ten seasons playing in both the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association. He was a college All-American and a high school hero.
Yet when people greet him, Ralph Simpson says the usual greeting is, “How’s your daughter?”
Understandable. His daughter, India Arie, is a Grammy Award-winning soul singer. Simpson proudly declares, “she is much more famous that I ever was.”
That is typical Simpson, always humble.
Simpson was a high school star under legendary coach Will Robinson at Pershing High School in Detroit. His more celebrated teammate was Basketball Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood, but everyone took notice of Simpson in the Michigan state championship game against Flint Central in 1967. Simpson, a junior, over-shadowed the senior Haywood by scoring 43 points and leading Pershing to the title. As a result, he was the only high school player to be invited to the 1968 Olympic tryout camp. He turned it down.
At 6-foot-6, he was a natural swing man with sufficient ball handling skills to be the shooting guard and the strength to go inside. He was described as having “super agility and quickness.” Highly recruited, Simpson decided to stay close to home and became a Michigan State Spartan. As a sophomore, he averaged 29 points a game and was All-Big 10 and an All-American.
After that season, Simpson decided to follow his friend and former teammate, Haywood, into the ABA, signing with the same team, the Denver Rockets. He said the reason he made that decision was to help his family, which had six children at home. His one extravagance was a pink Cadillac Eldorado, something the folks in Denver hadn’t seen since the days of Cookie Gilchrist when he played for the Denver Broncos. Simpson didn’t get to play with Haywood, who after one sensational season, bolted to the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics.
Simpson was a scorer, often a streak shooter. In his rookie season, 1970-71, he averaged 14.2 points a game, but in the next five seasons his averages were 27.4, 23.3,18.7, 20.6 and 18.0. He was a five-time ABA All-Star. In 1972, the Rockets lost to the Indiana Pacers in seven games in the first round of the playoffs, with Simpson averaging 26.7 points a game. The next year he averaged 26.4 points a game in a five-game playoff loss to the same Pacers. Simpson was a major reason that Denver was one of the ABA teams to join the NBA in the merger. Because the Houston Rockets were a member of the NBA, Denver’s name was changed to Nuggets.
Simpson joined the Detroit Pistons in 1976, but returned to the Nuggets in 1978. As his basketball career wound down, he played for the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets. He retired in 1980.
Simpson was recognized by his home state, being inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. Since his playing days, Simpson has made his home in Denver and is the Head Pastor of the Apostolic Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
He was the only high school player to be invited to the 1968 Olympic tryout camp. He turned it down.