At 6-foot-9, John Pritchard knew success during his playing days at Minneapolis South High School and then at Drake University in Iowa.

He was "Big John," dubbed one of basketball's "skyscrapers" in those days. He was part of "The Big 5" at South, and Drake selected the four-year letterman for its all-decade team of the 1940s.

So imagine what it must have been like for the willowy center to sign with the Washington Generals and have to endure losing -- and knowing he was going to lose -- game after game to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Pritchard, who as a gangly high schooler had to be coerced into playing basketball, died Aug. 3 at a nursing home in Fridley. The longtime Minneapolis resident, who later lived in New Hope, was 85.

"He was already 6 feet tall in seventh grade," said son Sean Pritchard. "He didn't start playing in high school; he was trying to play baseball. The basketball coach was always on him" until he relented and got in the gym.

Sean Pritchard said he knows little about his father's time with the Generals, who played basketball straight-up while the world-touring Globetrotters clowned around the hardwood to the delight of millions.

Even though John Pritchard and his teammates repeatedly came up on the short end of the score, "I'm sure he probably had fun. At least he was able to play, probably enough to pay the bills," Sean Pritchard said.

John Pritchard also had a brief stint with the NBA's Waterloo Hawks during the 1949-50 season, scoring 22 points in each of seven games.

When his serious playing days were over, he raised a family in south Minneapolis, played church league basketball and worked at a nearby Sears warehouse until knee and back trouble in the early 1970s forced him out of the job.

He also had hip-replacement surgery, a fairly new procedure at the time, said stepdaughter Carol Fisher. "They had to specially build them because of his height," she said.

John Pritchard was preceded in death by his first wife, Patricia, and sons Thomas and Timothy. Along with Sean Pritchard and Fisher, he is survived by his wife, Lynn Pritchard, son Paul Pritchard and daughters Mary Pritchard, Julie Kukar, Lisa Bailey and Mary Baker. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday with visitation 30 minutes earlier at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel, 4239 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482