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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wayback Machine, Part I: The 1975 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

Before ESPN, TNT and the internet existed, pro basketball fans had very limited options to follow the sport: CBS broadcast a game of the week, the Sporting News published an annual NBA Guide and various preview magazines provided capsule looks at each team plus some feature stories--but some of the most entertaining coverage came in The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball, a paperback book edited by Zander Hollander that appeared annually from 1975-98. I remember going to the local bookstore every fall and asking when the newest edition was going to arrive. The CHPB contained a separate preview for each team and several feature articles but the real highlights were the individual player profiles that included staccato-style notes separated by ellipses ("The sun rises in the East and Adrian Dantley averages 30 ppg" is how one edition described Dantley's remarkable productivity and consistency).

The 1975 CHPB packed a lot of material into 288 pages, including feature articles on player ratings (not All-NBA style but rather "Angriest," "Most Intellectual" and other quirky categories), Rick Barry's initial foray into broadcasting (while still continuing his playing career) and high school phenom Moses Malone. The bulk of the book consisted of profiles of the 300-plus players competing for 18 NBA teams and 10 ABA teams, while the final pages contained lists of the 1973-74 statistical leaders from both leagues and an "NBA TV/Radio roundup" of the local broadcasting crews for each NBA team. Here are some interesting notes and quotes from the 1975 CHPB:

1) Alan Richman--yes, the same Alan Richman who became GQ's famous food correspondent--wrote "The Rating Game" and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar topped the "Highest Paid" list at $450,000/year, which is less than the 2010-11 NBA minimum salary. Richman noted that the average 1973-74 NBA salary was about $90,000/year. Richman ranked the NBA owners number one on his "Flakiest" list for being foolish enough to pay the players so much money (I wonder what Richman thinks of the NBA's current economic structure/pay scale). Most of Richman's rankings were highly subjective--if not downright flaky--but his list of the NBA's top five "Pure Shooters" was interesting: (1) Bob McAdoo, (2) Lou Hudson, (3) Jerry West, (4) Walt Frazier, (5) Geoff Petrie; Richman gave Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook an honorable mention and also singled out the diminutive Calvin Murphy for being able to get his shots off in the land of the giants.

2) The outspoken Rick Barry did not make many friends with his caustic on-air criticisms of fellow players but Barry was unapologetic: "If a fellow would take it personally, that I was trying to make him look bad, then I wouldn't have much respect for him. I'm sure he must feel he would be expected to do the same thing if he were in the same situation (as a TV color commentator). I was trying to be instructive more than anything else. I would point out why a fellow made a mistake, in order to educate the viewers. I tried to show what he might have done to eliminate the mistake. But if I was critical I also was complimentary. Whenever a fellow made a good play, I said it right away. I was just trying to do my job in the way it was meant to be done."

3) Newsday's Pete Alfano picked 1974 NBA Finalist Milwaukee to win the 1975 NBA Championship--but 1974 MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar missed 17 games and the Bucks slumped to 38-44, failing to even qualify for the playoffs. The Golden State Warriors--who Alfano picked to finish fourth in the five team Pacific Division--topped the Western Conference with a 48-34 record before stunning the 60-22 Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals.

4) New York Knicks' forward Phil Jackson's player profile included a colorful description of his awkward movements--"His arm waving, leg flailing style makes him look like a spider spinning a web on the court"--and concluded, "Son of a minister whose biggest problem can be his temper."

5) Abdul-Jabbar's player profile began, "Bill Russell says that this season Kareem will emerge as the best center there ever was...Already has...Great agility...Unstoppable, right-handed 'sky hook'...Has begun to hit turn around jumper too."

6) Rick Barry's profile included these notes: "A basketball gypsy...Bright, good-looking, charming, always ready to talk about himself...'Things come easily to me,' he says...Great scorer and passer...'I enjoy publicity; it's better than being obscure,' he says."

7) The Indianapolis Star's Dave Overpeck picked Kentucky to win the 1975 ABA Championship and he was right: Artis Gilmore led the Colonels to a 4-1 victory over the Indiana Pacers in the ABA Finals, adding yet another chapter to one of the league's greatest rivalries.

8) First year Kentucky Coach Hubie Brown's profile featured his candid acknowledgment that nothing short of winning a championship would be acceptable: "I know what I'm getting into...I'm getting into a pressure cooker. You've won a lot of games here but not the brass ring."

9) The New York Nets' "Scouting Report" contained a comment that may surprise those who believe the myth that Julius Erving did not develop a jump shot until late in his career: "Julius Erving is outstanding from any range." In 1973-74, Erving shot a then career-high .512 from the field (ninth in the league) en route to leading the ABA in scoring (27.4 ppg) and winning the first of three straight ABA MVPs (he shared 1975 honors with George McGinnis). Erving shot 17-43 from three point range in 1973-74 and his .395 percentage would have led the league but he fell just three 3 FGM short of qualifying for the crown; three pointers were not fired nearly as frequently back then as many people think: the 1973-74 ABA leader in three pointers made connected just 69 times and Erving's 17 3 FGM ranked 19th in the ABA that season.

10) That same "Scouting Report" noted that the Nets have three "fine playmaking guards" (Brian Taylor, Mike Gale and Bill Melchionni" but that "the club leader in assists is Erving. Dr. J can make things happen for other people as well as himself." Erving was also lauded for combining with Billy Paultz to "provide a formidable shot blocking force inside," quite a statement regarding a 6-7 small forward but befitting a player who ranked third in the ABA in blocked shots (2.4 bpg) in 1973-74.

11) Erving's player profile clearly showed how highly he was already regarded: "After just three years, experts are already calling him the best forward to play the game...That judgment still must stand the test of time but he is the best now...Became a more complete player, adding defense and playmaking to his shooting and rebounding, after coming to the Nets from the Squires last year." In his first year with the Nets, Erving led a very young squad (every main rotation player was 25 years old or younger, including rookies Larry Kenon and John Williamson--key contributors who ranked third and fourth on the team in scoring) to the 1974 ABA Championship.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:03 PM