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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wayback Machine, Part IX: The 1983 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

The front cover photo of the 1983 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball showcased new school versus old school: the Lakers' Magic Johnson dribbled the ball in the open court with the 76ers' Julius Erving in hot pursuit. Fourth year pro Johnson had already won two NBA titles and two NBA Finals MVPs, while 12 year veteran Erving owned four regular season MVPs (three in the ABA, one in the NBA), two ABA championships and two ABA Finals MVPs. The two superstars had just squared off in the 1982 Finals, with Johnson's squad prevailing four games to two.

The 1983 CHPB contained 350 pages, making it the largest edition of the series yet. It included 23 team profiles, lists of the 1982 NBA statistical leaders, the complete 1982-83 schedule, a list of all 225 players selected in the 1982 NBA Draft and a "TV/Radio roundup." The 1983 CHPB had five feature stories: Pete Alfano contributed "What Next for Dr. J?" and "Dave DeBusschere's Rescue Mission," Bill Libby described "The Magical Mystery Tour," Willie Schatz wrote "TV's Dick Stockton: A View From Courtside" and Bob Ryan added "Robert Parish Pivots to Celtic Glory."

Steve Hershey and George White co-wrote the "Inside the NBA" article, predicting that the Milwaukee Bucks would beat the L.A. Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals. The Bucks posted the third best record in the Eastern Conference and swept the second seeded Boston Celtics before falling 4-1 to the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals. No other team won a game against the 76ers in the 1983 playoffs and the 76ers owned the record for best single season playoff winning percentage (12-1, .923) until the 2001 Lakers went 15-1 (.938) in an expanded postseason format. The 1983 Lakers' quest for a repeat ended when the 76ers swept them 4-0.

In addition to their prognostications, Hershey and White also editorialized about the overall state of the NBA: "As long as the owners cling to the antiquated policy of no revenue sharing, the financially-strapped teams have no hope. A year ago, 17 of the 23 teams lost money and, with a disappointing contract and escalating salaries--the average now is $214,500--there is no reason for optimism in the future."

Here are some interesting notes, quotes and quips from the 1983 CHPB:

1) Alfano, a New York Times' writer, had covered Erving since the Doctor arrived in New York for the 1973-74 season, so he had a front row seat as Erving led the New York Nets to a pair of ABA championships. "What Next for Dr. J?" examined the entire arc of Erving's career, focusing on his quest to win an NBA championship. The NBA title eluded Erving during the first six seasons of his Philadelphia 76ers career and after the 76ers lost to the Lakers in the 1982 Finals it seemed fair to wonder if Erving would ever complete the one blank space on his professional resume--and if he would do so as a top level performer, as opposed to being along for the ride. Erving's frustration was palpable right after the 1982 Finals ended: "Never has the walk [back to the locker room] been tougher to take. I've never been more hurt than right now. If you don't win, you're always second-best, bridesmaids, but there is nothing embarrassing about this. I'm just discouraged and hurt."

Still, Erving maintained an upbeat attitude: "There will always be tomorrow. My only regret would have been if I were quitting, and I'm not. I'm just going to keep banging and playing this game I love so much. I'll be back next year and running around like a rookie. Let's face it, I've been through a lot in my career and most of it was good. This should be the worst thing that happens in my life."

Erving concluded, "I feel there is a plan for us. You have a will of your own and you are given choices. Your destiny is affected by your will. People don't understand that destiny is broad. Many times I have to battle my will. Certain times I have great strength, other times great weaknesses."

Prior to the 1982-83 season, the 76ers acquired Moses Malone to match up with the Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Boston Celtics' Robert Parish and the other All-Star/All-NBA/future Hall of Fame centers who had repeatedly thwarted Philadelphia's championship dreams in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Malone and Erving proved to be a well-matched duo, complemented by All-Stars Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney and Bobby Jones. In the 1982-83 season, Erving was no longer the best player in the NBA--or even on his own team--but he made the All-NBA First Team and he finished fifth in MVP voting, so he was still an elite performer who played a crucial role for arguably the greatest single season squad in pro basketball history.

2) Alfano's DeBusschere profile described the Hall of Fame forward's smooth transition from being a great player to being a general manager--for Erving's ABA champion Nets in 1973-74--to being the ABA Commissioner. DeBusschere's newest challenge was serving as executive vice president/director of basketball operations for his old team, the New York Knicks, and trying to revive their slumping fortunes. DeBusschere enjoyed a remarkably diverse and successful athletic career. At just 24, he became the youngest coach in NBA history, serving as player/coach for the Detroit Pistons. He also played Major League Baseball, posting a 3.09 ERA in spot duty for the Chicago White Sox during the 1963 season. DeBusschere made the All-Star team three times as a Piston but he became a two-time champion--and a legend--after being traded to the Knicks. He was the final piece in their championship puzzle, providing rugged defense, dependable rebounding and solid scoring. DeBusschere had some classic confrontations with fellow Hall of Famer Gus Johnson.

DeBusschere built some solid Knick teams and he drafted Patrick Ewing but DeBusschere was not able to restore the franchise's former glory. He died of a heart attack in 2003.

3) Bill Libby called Magic Johnson "arguably the best player in pro basketball," noting that Johnson won the 1980 Finals MVP after scoring 42 points on 23 field goal attempts in the clinching contest and then he earned the 1982 Finals MVP after scoring 13 points on just three field goal attempts. Johnson did whatever it took for his team to win, proving to be a triple threat as a scorer, rebounder and passer. The media members who voted for the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards favored Larry Bird over Johnson until the late 1980s but Libby's comment was right on target: while Malone was the league's most dominant force in the early 1980s, Johnson was the league's best all-around player (a similar distinction could have been made several years ago between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant or in recent years between a healthy Dwight Howard and LeBron James).

Johnson became embroiled in controversy when his publicly critical comments about Coach Paul Westhead seemed to directly result in Westhead's 1981 dismissal but Johnson established himself as the player of the decade by leading the Lakers to five championships, including the league's first back to back titles (1987-88) since the curtain closed on the Bill Russell era in 1969. 

4) Dick Stockton is a class act on and off of the air. For many years he was the leading national NBA play by play announcer, developing great chemistry with several different analysts, including Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn and Hubie Brown.

When I approached Stockton face to face--without prior notice--at a Cleveland Cavaliers game and asked him if he could take a few moments to answer some questions for my upcoming Andrew Toney article, he could have politely--or impolitely--declined: he was a big-time national TV star who had no idea who I was. Instead, Stockton warmly agreed to my request and he enthusiastically answered my questions. I bumped into him on a few subsequent occasions at other games and he always gave me a friendly greeting. I can assure you that this is not typical behavior in this business.

Schatz' feature described how Stockton became captivated by sports journalism after attending the 1953 NBA Finals as a kid and watching Leonard Koppett file his game report from press row. Stockton graduated from Syracuse and steadily worked his way up the broadcasting totem pole until he earned the plum assignment as CBS' lead play by play announcer on NBA games. In the article, the then-39 year old Stockton said, "The test is longevity"; he is still working NBA and NFL games three decades later--and he has been honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame--so Stockton has passed that test with flying colors.

5) Casual fans may think of Robert Parish as the Boston Big Three's version of Ringo Starr but The Chief finished fourth in MVP voting in 1982 and his performance that season convinced many people that he was the best all-around center--if not the best player, period--in the NBA. Ryan's article quoted Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham stating that Parish deserved to win the MVP, while New York forward Maurice Lucas said, "There wasn't a better center in the league this year." Ryan cited Parish's impressive statistics (including a career-high 19.9 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 2.4 bpg) but hastened to add that Parish's impact could not  be quantified purely by using numbers; Ryan noted that Parish's shooting range distorted opposing defenses and Parish's ability to run the floor gave the Celtics more options on the fast break. It is important to remember that for most of NBA history--until the emergence of the back to back champion Pistons in the late 1980s, followed by the dominance of the Jordan-Pippen Bulls in the 1990s--it was very rare for a team to win an NBA title without having an All-Star caliber center; such a center might very well be the most valuable player on his team--or even in the entire league--even if there was a forward or a guard who was a more versatile all-around performer. Oscar Robertson and Jerry West are two of the greatest all-around players in pro basketball history but each player won his lone NBA title only after teaming up with a Hall of Fame center. Larry Bird likely would not have won a single championship without the production Parish provided at both ends of the court.

6) Bird shot just .427 from the field in the 1982 playoffs, including .412 in Boston's seven game loss to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals. His CHPB profile included some criticism of his postseason play: "Do we see a chink in the armor?...Perhaps the best all-around player in the league, but he had a problem in the playoffs...Made only 41 percent of his shots (54-131) in Eastern Conference Finals...Took only five shots in the second half of Game Seven, when team desperately needed points...Kept saying that his team didn't need him to score, that he could contribute in other ways..."

7) Parish's profile began with this bold declaration: "The Celtics' Most Valuable Player." The author explained, "Took over leadership when Larry Bird and Tiny Archibald were hurt and triggered 18-game winning streak."

8) The CHPB combined perceptive analysis with sharp one-liners; M.L. Carr's profile deftly deconstructed how he had become more of a towel-waver than a contributor: "Words speak louder than action...This part of the Carr never stops running...Self-appointed locker room spokesman...Displays a great defensive stance, then lets most guards in the league drive around him."

9) Former All-Star Larry Kenon had not yet celebrated his 30th birthday but he was already on the downside of his career (he would play his final NBA game in 1983): "Envious of Dr. J, he started calling himself Dr. K, then settled for Mr. K during his 20-ppg days in San Antonio. Now it's plain old K, as in struck out."

10) Mark Aguirre's profile included high praise from Erving: "He makes his teammates better, and that's usually the sign of a great player." Aguirre averaged 18.7 ppg as a rookie but a broken foot limited him to 51 games. He was often mocked for his round physique but he actually had one of the lowest body fat percentages (9.7) on Dallas' team.

11) Kelly Tripucka, son of star Notre Dame quarterback Frank Tripucka, had a great rookie season, averaging 21.6 ppg, earning an All-Star selection and finishing tied for 11th (with Dan Roundfield) in MVP voting: "Julius Erving and Larry Bird were the only forwards in the East to outscore him...Led all rookies in scoring...Was fourth in the league in minutes played...Highest scoring rookie since Bernard King (24.2 ppg) in 1977-78."

12) Tripucka's Detroit teammate Isiah Thomas became just the fourth rookie to start in the All-Star Game: "An instant leader who helped this team increase victory total from 21 to 39...Has that rare quality of making his teammates better players." Although I am not a big fan of the shorthand phrase "making his teammates better," I agree with the CHPB's assessment that both Thomas and Aguirre--who later teamed up to win back to back titles (1989-90) with the Detroit Pistons--made their respective teams significantly better.

13) Before he went to New York and solidified his status as a future Hall of Famer, Bernard King's career and life were on the brink: "Came back from edge of utter abjection of only a couple of years ago to reestablish himself as one of basketball's most unstoppable offensive forces...Legal problem and entanglement with drugs and alcohol had threatened to obliterate his career with Utah but, given a second chance by Al Attles, he has played the best basketball of his life." King averaged 23.2 ppg in 79 games for Golden State in 1981-82.

14) Kobe Bryant's father Joe played for Philadelphia and San Diego before landing in Houston for the 1981-82 season: "Believed San Diego was an extended scene from Animal House...Parttime clown, parttime basketball player. Can't seem to keep the two apart...When he isn't on stage with the funny stuff, he possesses a fair amount of professional talent...Can get inside occasionally for some muscle baskets, handles the ball well enough to play guard in an emergency and has also filled in at center."

15) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar often received unwarranted criticism during his career but the 1983 CHPB praised his contributions to the Lakers' 1982 championship team: "Absolutely no respect for the rocking chair...Put another outstanding season (23.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg) in the record books at age 35. Opposing centers will be unhappy to hear the opinion of noted sports physician Dr. Robert Kerlan: 'With his body, he could easily play until he's 40.'...Still the most imposing defensive player in the league (third in blocked shots with a 2.72 average) and still the game's best passing center."

16) Defense is perhaps the most underrated qualitiy about Julius Erving individually and about his Philadelphia teams collectively. Erving annually ranked among the league leaders in steals and blocked shots, Maurice Cheeks was a top notch defensive point guard, Lionel Hollins was a tenacious defender as a point guard or a shooting guard, Bobby Jones was the best defensive forward in the league for several years and Caldwell Jones was an undersized but very solid defensive center. The Philadelphia team profile in the 1983 CHPB gave Erving and his teammates the credit that they deserved:

You don't get to the Finals three times in six years without playing defense. Stop and think how all those dunks and fast breaks originate. Steals and blocked shots is the answer. The 76ers may not look like they're playing defense in the classic sense, but they do more to disrupt what other teams want to do than almost anybody.

Cheeks may be the most underrated defensive guard in the league. He had more steals (209) than anyone. Caldwell Jones and Erving were ninth and 10th in blocked shots, averaging 1.80 and 1.74 respectively, and there's your transition game. For straight-up defense, Hollins is excellent and everybody knows about Bobby Jones, a six-time selection to the All-Defensive Team. All in all, playing defense is this team's best quality.

17) Erving's profile reflected both his individual greatness and the urgency of his quest to become an NBA champion: "Frustrated once more...Another magnificent effort was wasted...The only thing left to conquer for this incomparable talent is an NBA championship ring and time is running out...Averaged 25 ppg in Finals against the Lakers, almost singlehandedly taking over segments of games, but it still wasn't enough...Scored 20 points in the second half of the stunning upset of the Celtics in Game Seven of Eastern Conference Finals...Also accounted for 18 of his 23 points in the second half of do-or-die Game Five victory over Lakers." The profile concluded with these words: "As classy off the court as he is on...Patient and personable to everyone...Very popular with opposing players...And the best of all--he shows no signs of slowing down."

18) Second year guard Andrew Toney emerged as a big-time player and the 76ers' second leading scorer behind Erving: "Has a great jumper and can stop on a dime...Difficult to defend because he has no favorite spot and unlimited range...A vastly underrated passer, too...His 52.2 shooting percentage was third in league among guards...Has ability to score in bunches."

19) George Gervin averaged 32.3 ppg en route to winning his fourth scoring title, second in ABA/NBA history behind only Wilt Chamberlain's seven at that time. Gervin's profile noted that he began his career playing alongside another future Hall of Famer in the ABA: "'I went to the School of Dr. J and I'm proud to say it,' Gervin says of his old Virginia Squires' teammate. 'He schooled me, not in basketball, but in life.'"

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

Wayback Machine, Part VII looked at the 1981 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

Wayback Machine, Part VIII looked at the 1982 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:02 PM

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3 Comments:

At Wednesday, September 25, 2013 8:50:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

I wasn't aware that Parish finished that high in a mvp voting.

Maybe he was overlooked because he was the third guy behind Bird and McHale.(At least for most of that time.)

I had wondered what if he wasn't fortunate to play on championship teams how things would have been different. Is he still a hall of famer? Could he have established himself as the face of another franchise?

 
At Thursday, September 26, 2013 4:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent look back (as always) at a great publication.

Would you mind expanding some on your reasons why Magic was a better "all-around" player than Bird through their careers in 1982?

Keep up the good work.

 
At Thursday, September 26, 2013 3:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Magic could play all positions defensively and offensively. For instance, Julius Erving hurt the Lakers on the offensive boards during the first two games of the 1982 Finals, so the Lakers switched Magic (who is taller and bigger than Erving) on to Erving. Erving still scored at his usual prolific rate, but Magic limited Erving's rebounding opportunities and ultimately Magic was the leading rebounder in the series. In contrast, the Celtics consistently hid Bird on defense by assigning him to the weakest frontcourt offensive threat--when the Celtics played the 76ers he usually guarded Caldwell Jones instead of Erving and, later, when the Celtics played the Hawks he usually guarded Tree Rollins instead of Dominique Wilkins.

 

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