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Friday, March 22, 2013

Wayback Machine VII: The 1981 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

The 1981 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball featured 1980 NBA Finals MVP Magic Johnson in the front cover photo and 1980 Rookie of the Year Larry Bird in the back cover photo; those two players became the faces of the NBA in the next decade and they played a major role in the league's soaring popularity. Johnson had arguably already played his best game--tallying 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in game six of the NBA Finals as the L.A. Lakers defeated Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers to win their first title since 1972--but it was not until he bested Bird in two out of three head to head Finals matchups and then won three regular season MVPs that he cemented his status as one of the sport's all-time greats; Bird achieved individual recognition earlier than Johnson did--winning three straight regular season MVPs before Johnson captured a single one--but by the end of their careers Johnson had matched Bird in MVPs and topped him five to three in championships.

The 1981 CHPB totaled 335 pages, the largest volume in the series' seven year history. The Dallas Mavericks joined the league as an expansion franchise, the first addition to the NBA's ranks since the 1976-77 ABA/NBA merger brought the Nets, Nuggets, Pacers and Spurs into the fold. The 1981 CHPB contained 23 team profiles, lists of the 1980 NBA statistical leaders, a complete schedule, a list of all-time NBA records, a list of all 214 players selected in the 1980 NBA Draft and a "TV/Radio roundup." The 1981 CHPB also had six feature stories: Joe Gergen--who invented an "All-Time All-Star Game" for the 1980 CHPB--brought out a whimsical crystal ball for a piece titled "A Fantastic Preview! 1981-90 NBA Champions," Scott Ostler described how "Jabbar and the Lakers Find Magic," Thom Greer discussed "Dr. J and Dr. Dunk," Bill Libby profiled "The Remarkable Vandeweghes," Howard Blatt wrote about the fledgling "Women's Pro Basketball League" and an uncredited writer contributed a one page item about 1980's Basketball Hall of Fame class.

Steve Hershey and George White co-wrote the "Inside the NBA" article, forecasting that the L.A. Lakers would beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1981 NBA Finals. The Lakers' quest for a repeat fell apart after Magic Johnson suffered a knee injury and missed 45 regular season games; Johnson returned to action in time for the playoffs but the third seeded Lakers lost to the sixth seeded Houston Rockets 2-1 in a first round mini-series. The 76ers tied the Boston Celtics for the best record in the league (62-20) but the Celtics earned homecourt advantage by capturing the tiebreaker with a 98-94 victory over the 76ers in the final regular season game; it did not seem like that would matter after the 76ers took a 3-1 lead over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals but the Celtics rallied to win the next two games and then clinched the series with a 91-90 game seven triumph in the Boston Garden. The Celtics topped the Rockets 4-2 in the NBA Finals.

Here are some interesting notes, quotes and quips from the 1981 CHPB:

1) The dateline for Gergen's piece was "LOVETRON, May 10, 1991," which indicates the humorous tone of the article. Gergen described a 34 year old Darryl Dawkins, the player-coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, having one last hurrah versus the Paris Jazz in the NBA Finals before retiring to work for Corning Glass Company as a pitchman for "The Glass Sir Slam Couldn't Break." Bill Walton, forced into retirement by his many injuries, served as the Commissioner of the International Basketball Association; the league had gone global--actually, interplanetary if one counts Dawkins' home planet of Lovetron.

Here are some highlights from Gergen's tongue in cheek Finals recaps:

1981: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar filled in at guard for Magic Johnson in game six, flipping the script from the 1980 Finals, and Abdul-Jabbar delivered 52 points, 15 assists and five steals as the L.A. Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics 114-112. The Lakers suffered so many injuries during the series that Jack Nicholson suited up for the clinching contest and Nicholson scored the game-winning basket after Abdul-Jabbar's no-look, behind the back pass bounced off of his hands and into the hoop. 

1982: Julius Erving scored 20 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter of game six as the Philadelphia 76ers beat the San Diego Clippers 105-99 to win the title--but Bill Walton, who played despite needing a cast on his broken foot, won Finals MVP honors after averaging 24 ppg, 14 rpg and six apg while playing the series on one leg. Walton retired after the Finals.

1983: George Gervin scored 100 points in game seven for the Dallas Mavericks but the Calgary Hawks escaped with a 104-101 victory. Billy McKinney scored the other point for the Mavericks, swishing a free throw after Calgary Coach Hubie Brown was whistled for a technical foul. Gervin averaged 74.8 ppg during the regular season but Brown's defensive philosophy during the Finals was to concede Gervin his points while shutting down everyone else.

1984: Rookie Ralph Sampson, who had sprouted to 7-8, led the Detroit Pistons to the championship over the Fort Wayne Jazz, a team that had relocated for the fourth time in four years. Sampson provided the winning points in the waning seconds of game seven when he "controlled a jump ball at the free throw line and jammed it home in the same motion" to finish with 45 points. Sam Bowie, Fort Wayne's 7-6 rookie center, scored 26 points in defeat. Nader, Edsel and Iacocca appeared in the box score for Detroit.

1985: Johnson City (Tennessee) defeated the L.A. Lakers despite Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 44 points in his game seven swan song. Dennis Johnson (34 points), Magic Johnson (24 points) and Marques Johnson (21 points) led the way for Johnson City in a 124-121 victory.

The funny thing about this portion of Gergen's satire is that real life proved to be even more fantastic than his spoof; Abdul-Jabbar won the 1985 Finals MVP in the real world and then kept playing until 1989, contributing to two more championship runs.

1986: The New York Knicks seemed to have the championship wrapped up when franchise owner Gulf & Western bought the two teams ahead of the Knicks in the Eastern Conference standings plus their first three playoff opponents but then the Monterey Jazz--relocated yet again--lured Wilt Chamberlain out of retirement by offering him $1 million per game plus a bonus for providing a halftime volleyball exhibition. Chamberlain scored 42 points and grabbed 50 rebounds as Monterey won game six 120-112 to capture the title. It did not help the Knicks that guards Micheal Ray Richardson and Ray Williams each went 0-4 from four point range; a new IBA rule made shots from beyond half court worth four points.

If you are familiar with 1980s basketball then you get the joke about the shot selections of Richardson and Williams but otherwise you don't understand why they would be taking half court shots and you also assume that I misspelled Richardson's first name (in fact, Gergen--or the editor--misspelled the name in the article but I spelled it correctly).

1987: The Havana Sugar Kings won game seven at home versus the Boston Celtics, rallying from a 10 point halftime deficit after forward Teofilo Stevenson--taking advantage of the more physical nature of international play--knocked out Larry Bird.

1988: Seattle defeated Tokyo in Tokyo 67-66 in a unique game seven; to level the playing field, Seattle shot at a 12 foot hoop while Tokyo shot at a conventional 10 foot hoop. The teams set Finals records for worst shooting percentage and most rebounds. Freddie Brown, still bombing away from outside at 39 years of age, dropped in the game-winning jumper with one second remaining.

1989: Ulyana Semanova led the Moscow Bears to victory over the Indiana Pacers in the most controversial playoff series in IBA history. The Pacers easily won each of the three games held in the United States but the Bears required multiple do-overs at the end of each of their home games before prevailing. Indiana Coach Bobby Knight was sent to jail after threatening to attack the two Cuban referees in the wake of Moscow's 97-96 game seven triumph.

1990: Paul McCartney led the London Philharmonic with 20 points in the decisive contest as they cruised to a 110-90 win to sweep the Chicago Strings. Reggie Theus poured in a game-high 34 points for the Strings.

2) Ostler explained how Magic Johnson transformed the Lakers from a "low-key, businesslike team" into the high flying, high fiving outfit known as "Showtime." Prior to the 1979 NBA Draft, Philadelphia General Manager Pat Williams expressed skepticism about Magic: "I think half of his appeal is his enthusiasm, but you have to remember that happiness and glow and joy often turn to dust in our league." Instead, Magic turned the 76ers into dust in game six of the NBA Finals; with an injured Abdul-Jabbar out of the lineup, it seemed like the 76ers had a great chance to win at home and force a game seven but a smiling, relaxed Magic jumped center, played all five positions and completely dominated all aspects of the game in a 123-107 L.A. win. Ostler astutely observed that, smiling visage notwithstanding, Magic was a physical, blue collar player who was comfortable playing power forward and banging with the big bodies in the paint. Magic ranked second on the team in both regular season rebounding (7.7 rpg) and playoff rebounding (10.5 rpg), trailing only Abdul-Jabbar, the league's regular season MVP.

3) Greer's article noted that Julius Erving deliberately sublimated his game during his first three NBA seasons, sharing the basketball with All-Star teammates George McGinnis and Doug Collins--but it soon became apparent that it made no sense for the team's best player (and arguably the league's best player) to sacrifice the most. In 1979-80, Erving once again took full flight, averaging an NBA career-high 26.9 ppg. As Erving poetically--and analytically--put it, he had decided to "become more singularly purposeful." Erving had read what the critics said about him--one sniped that Erving was a "struggling forward on a mediocre team...in the twilight of his career"--and he set out to prove that he had a lot left in the tank. "Ever since I came to Philadelphia, I tried to be an all-around player," Erving explained. "Instead I was criticized for not being dominant. There is a rush to stereotype or label a player as being one dimensional. People are looking for flaws rather than facts. I finally realized I couldn't worry about pleasing everyone. There's a creativity, an artistry, that I can bring to the game. But I saw an awful lot of what I had been working for, building up, just gradually slipping away. I had been worrying so much about what was in the best interest of the team that I had been afraid to do the things I used to...I decided that I had certain abilities and I had not been using them night in and night out. I was cheating myself. I have always believed that if you don't dare to be great then you are only denying yourself."

Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham praised Erving's skills and selflessness: "There may not be a more respected player in the league. You have to respect Doc so much because he has this incredible amount of talent and still all he wants to do is win a championship. It's a cliche but he's so team oriented. He'll do anything you ask him to do. Tell him to play defense and he'll go out and stop a guy. Have some guys hurt and he'll score 43 for you. He knows when to take charge, when to be assertive."

Erving took charge in game four of the NBA Finals, unveiling one of the most iconic shots in pro basketball history, jumping from the right baseline, gliding underneath the hoop while holding the ball over the out of bounds line and then flipping in the most amazing reverse layup anyone had ever seen: Erving elevated to shoot a regular shot, pulled the ball back down to make a pass and then shot the reverse layup as his third option because no one was open underneath the hoop. Other players have made some sweet reverse layups but no one else has turned the reverse layup into a three part, suspended animation saga. The play was not only spectacular but it was a key basket in Philadelphia's 105-102 win. After the game, Erving said, "I'm the leader. Down the stretch, the team looks to me to create something. Maybe I was setting an example for Darryl today, because I know it's a role he will evolve into." It is very typical for Erving that even after executing a great move in a big win he sought to deflect attention to Darryl Dawkins by anointing Dawkins as the team's future leader. Dawkins never became a big-time star, even though he possessed great athletic ability; Dawkins never put the mental game together the way that Erving did and he never figured out how to be consistently excellent: Dawkins would follow great plays and great games with average plays and average games.

The vastly disparate career arcs of Erving and Dawkins vividly demonstrate that it takes much more than tremendous raw talent to become a great player; there is a mental/psychological component that is essential for someone to fully reach his potential.

4) Bill Libby, author of more than 60 books, told the story of the multi-generational success of the Vandeweghe family. Kiki Vandeweghe, the first round draft pick of the expansion Dallas franchise, followed in the footsteps of great grandfather Maurice (a soccer star), grandfather Ernest (another soccer star), two cousins who swam in the 1936 Olympics and father Ernest (a collegiate All-American in basketball and soccer who later played for the New York Knicks). Kiki's mother Colleen was Miss America in 1952. Bill Walton often refers to people who have "won the genetic lottery" and that phrase applies perfectly to Kiki Vandeweghe, who set youth swimming records before switching his focus to basketball. Kiki excelled at UCLA--helping the Bruins to reach the NCAA Championship Game in 1980--before becoming a two-time All-Star with the Denver Nuggets. Dallas traded Kiki to Denver after he refused to sign with the Mavericks--and the Mavericks had to take Kiki's refusal seriously, because Kiki had other options besides playing in the NBA, including pursuing the possibility of receiving a Rhodes scholarship. Kiki's father Ernest only played for the Knicks after the Knicks agreed to subsidize his continuing education; Ernest eventually became a physician.

5) Howard Blatt's brief article about the struggling Women's Pro Basketball League noted that three franchises folded in the league's first season and three more were sold. The addition of Old Dominion superstar Nancy Lieberman was expected to boost interest and attendance but by 1981 the WBL disbanded.

6) Previous editions of the CHPB did not contain any information about the Basketball Hall of Fame but the 1980 Hall of Fame Class was pretty special: Oscar Robertson and Jerry West--the two greatest guards in league history up to that point--joined Jerry Lucas (who teamed with Robertson and West to win an Olympic gold medal in 1960), Wyoming coach Everett Shelton, referee J. Dallas Shirley and Rochester Royals founder/owner Les Harrison.

7) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received a lot of criticism during his first few seasons in L.A. but the 1981 CHPB gave him his just due: "After a few years in which the basketball world glorified first Bill Walton and then Moses Malone, this man is once again recognized as the most dominating force in the game. No longer can there be any question after a season in which he hit 60.4 percent of his shots, played in every game despite skull-splitting migraines, established himself as the league's most destructive defensive force, and was the major component in the Lakers' sweep to the NBA championship." It is worth mentioning that after completing 11 NBA seasons Abdul-Jabbar had a 28.3 ppg career scoring average.

8) Magic Johnson's profile declared him to be "Without question, the best 20 year old professional to ever play the game" and said "Magic may be the hottest name to hit town since Clark Gable."

9) Only in the CHPB will you find lines like this description of Phoenix center Rich Kelley: "Ask him about his favorite barbershop, Hair by Weedeater...Despite his villainous looks, this man is a good basketball player."

10) Dennis Johnson's profile mentioned that he had received high praise from someone who knows a little bit about defense: "When Bill Russell says you're the player he most enjoys watching play defense in the NBA, you've got something to write home about." Johnson was the only unanimous selection to the 1980 All-Defensive Team.

11) Larry Bird's profile did not mince words: "Wow...Exceeded all expectations except his own...'I'll be a better player next year,' he said during the playoffs. If he is, he should start looking for a higher league to play in...All he did in his first season is lead the Celtics in scoring, rebounding, minutes played, personal fouls and turnovers plus turn in the best passing by a forward this side of John Johnson."

12) New York's Ray Williams frustrated his coaches and fans at times: "Has all the tools, but sometimes uses a sledge hammer when a ball-point pen would do the job."

13) Julius Erving finished second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the MVP voting: "Enjoyed his greatest season in the NBA, but it ended in bitter frustration...Stunned and disappointed by his teammates' lack of intensity and determination in the finals...His mid-air maneuver behind the basket in Game 4 will never be forgotten...Shed his knee braces and said he felt free and looser than in previous seasons...Still the league's most entertaining player and most cooperative interview...Has earned the respect of everyone." After nine professional seasons, Erving had a career scoring average of 26.2 ppg.

14) Philadelphia selected Andrew Toney, soon to be known as the "Boston Strangler," with the eighth overall pick: "May have been the best pure shooter in the draft...Poured in 2526 points in four years at Southwestern Louisiana to rank 13th on the all-time NCAA list...Had the scouts' eyes popping in the Aloha Classic."

15) Elvin Hayes had another exceptional season: "The most remarkable physical specimen in the league...After celebrating his 34th birthday, Nov. 17, he went on to play more than 3100 minutes for the 11th time in his brilliant 12 year career...Will he ever slow down? Finished eighth in the league in scoring, sixth in rebounding and fifth in blocked shots and still has many detractors. Can you believe it?"

Wayback Machine, Part I looked at the 1975 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

Wayback Machine, Part II looked at the 1976 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

Wayback Machine, Part III looked at the 1977 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

Wayback Machine, Part IV looked at the 1978 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

Wayback Machine, Part V looked at the 1979 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

Wayback Machine, Part VI looked at the 1980 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:36 AM



At Friday, March 22, 2013 11:10:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Thank you for compiling these Wayback Machine posts. Those NBA annual yearbooks were my favorite zines in the 1990s.

At Saturday, March 23, 2013 4:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet M:

You're welcome. I also always looked forward to buying the new CHPB as soon as it appeared in stores.

At Tuesday, March 26, 2013 11:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to see the 1982 version of the Complete Handbook, i always thought that was the most balanced Lakers team of the 80's.

By the way, have you seen the video of Kareem and Julius playing 1-on-1? I found it on youtube labeled as "Clash of the Legends Dr J vs Jabbar" if you are interested.

They were both old, but it's very entertaining.

Anyways, thanks for the excellent blog.

At Tuesday, March 26, 2013 11:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I will eventually post a review of each edition of the CHPB.

Yes, I have seen the Dr. J versus Kareem video. It is entertaining to some degree but, as a Dr. J fan, I wish that Dr. J had performed better; when he was in his prime he could just soar over everyone but since both Doc and Kareem were well past their primes Kareem's size advantage proved to be decisive.


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