When Bill Atkins thinks about how fortunate he is to be inducted into the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame, he thinks how lucky he is to be here.
Atkins survived a near-fatal auto accident om New Mexico in 1961. He and his Western New Mexico teammates were in a station wagon traveling to a road game.
"We rolled over three times and it's a good thing we rolled to the middle (of the highway) because if we would have rolled the other way, off the road, we would still be rolling today," Atkins said. "We had the basketballs on the roof and I think that is what saved us. The roof didn't cave in or we would have been dead."
He suffered a back injury and thought he would never play basketball again.
"I was lucky I could walk," he said. "Today, if I close my eyes, I can still see me turning upside down in that station wagon, my body spinning. I am lucky to be here."
The 1960 Hammond High grad starred in basketball at the now-closed Parsons College in Iowa and had a tryout with the expansion Chicago Bulls. He said he can remember certain games in his prep and collegiate career like they were yesterday.
He transferred to Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, and had a good career, leaving as the program's all-time leading scorer. He tried out for the expansion Chicago Bulls in 1966, but was cut by the late Johnny "Red" Kerr, who was the team's first coach.
"He said I couldn't play in the NBA because I wasn't from a big school," Atkins said. "They had Jerry Sloan and some other good guards, but the owner (Dick Klein), gave me five one-hundred dollar bills for my trying out."
After a successful sales career, Atkins wants to pursue drawing. It was something he picked up early and he draws caricatures of friends.
"I was always a good drawer when I was at Maywood (Elementary) School. I never thought to pursue it in college," Atkins said. "I was thinking of drawing a cartoon series about my exploits."
He said he and childhood friend, the late Amos Powell, got into mischief when they were growing up in the Maywood Park neighborhood.
"Nothing bad, just you know how kids get into different things," Atkins said.
He said he credits his high school coach Steve Kucer, who played football with Ollie Matson at the University of San Francisco, for his successes. He recalls a funny story about his senior year.
"I wasn't going to go out for basketball my senior year, but Mr. Kucer told me to go to Millikan's (Sports Shop) on State Street and get a pair of gym shoes," Atkins said. "I come back and practice is over and Steve said, 'What are you doing here?' I said. 'You told me to come to tryouts.' He laughed and said, 'I meant tomorrow.' He still kids me about that to this day."