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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

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March Madness is Harder Than Ever to Handicap

Six years ago, I filled out a "Danny Sheridan" bracket and a "Jeff Sagarin" bracket prior to the NCAA Tournament and while those statistically based brackets did reasonably well neither one came close to winning ESPN.com's contest--and I suspect that brackets filled out on a similar basis this year would do no better and perhaps would even do worse: the large number of "one and done" collegiate stars has both lowered the overall level of play in college basketball and also made it very difficult to sustain a dominant program. Kentucky was a 38-2 NCAA champion last season but this year the Wildcats went 21-11 and did not even qualify for the NCAA Tournament. As many as a dozen teams in this year's NCAA Tournament have a realistic chance of winning; it is conceivable that one of the number one seeds will triumph but it is just as conceivable that none of the number one seeds will even make it to the Final Four.

Some fans--particularly fans who root for teams that have traditionally been underdogs--may think that it is great that we have no idea who is going to be the 2013 champion but I think that anything that lowers the overall quality of play is not good. The parade of college stars who head to the NBA as early entry draft picks has lowered the quality of play in both college basketball and the NBA. Is it more enjoyable to watch young Anthony Davis struggle to adjust to the pro game while playing for a losing team in New Orleans than it would have been to watch him stay in school and try to win a second consecutive NCAA title? College basketball was much more entertaining in the 1980s when even the greatest players usually stayed in school for at least three years.

I did not fill out a "Sheridan" or "Sagarin" bracket this year but I did fill out three brackets: the one I believe in most strongly has Miami winning the championship, my "chalk" bracket gives the nod to Louisville and my "fan" bracket taps Ohio State. The 2013 Buckeyes would have been destroyed by just about any NCAA championship team from the 1980s but in the modern era of parity an excellent coach, one top notch scorer, one great defensive guard and a bunch of savvy/scrappy role players might just be enough to cut down the nets.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:51 AM

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wayback Machine, Part VI: The 1980 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

Dennis Johnson made his name--and earned his way to the Basketball Hall of Fame--primarily because of his suffocating defense but the front cover photo of the 1980 edition of the Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball shows Johnson shooting a jumper over the outstretched arm of Washington's Phil Chenier. Larry Bird called Dennis Johnson the best teammate he ever had but before Johnson played a key role alongside Bird on Boston's 1984 and 1986 championship teams he helped lead the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals in 1978 and 1979. Johnson shot 0-14 from the field in Seattle's game seven loss to Washington in the 1978 NBA Finals but he bounced back to earn Finals MVP honors as Seattle defeated Washington in five games to win the 1979 NBA championship. The CHPB back cover photo features Houston's Moses Malone, who had just won the first of his three regular season MVPs.

The 1980 CHPB included 320 pages, the largest edition yet. In addition to the usual features--22 team profiles, lists of the 1979 NBA statistical leaders, a complete schedule, a list of all-time NBA records, a list of all 202 players selected in the 1979 NBA Draft and a "TV/Radio roundup"--the CHPB contained five feature stories: Dan Lohwasser's "Phil Ford: The Greening Of a Star," Myron S. Waldman's "How Bill Bradley Shoots In the U.S. Senate," Leonard Koppett's "Bring Back the Zone," Steve Ellis' "SuperSonic Silas: Grandpa of the NBA" and Joe Gergen's "The All-Time All-Star Game."

Steve Hershey and Darrell Simmons co-wrote the "Inside the NBA" article, predicting that Washington and Seattle would meet in the NBA Finals for the third straight year, with Seattle claiming back to back titles. Instead, rookie Earvin "Magic" Johnson teamed with veteran Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to lead the L.A. Lakers to the championship over Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers, who made it to the NBA Finals for the second time in Erving's four NBA seasons. The Lakers defeated the SuperSonics in the Western Conference Finals, while the Washington Bullets lost in the first round after going 39-43 in the regular season. The 76ers overwhelmed Rookie of the Year Larry Bird's Boston Celtics 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals; the teams would face each other in that round in three of the next five years as Julius Erving versus Larry Bird became the sport's best rivalry in the early 1980s (Bird and Magic did not meet in the NBA Finals until 1984 and their teams only played each other twice during the regular season).

Here are some interesting notes, quotes and quips from the 1980 CHPB:

1) Phil Ford made the All-NBA Second Team and won Rookie of the Year honors in 1978-79 but he was never selected as an All-Star nor did he make the All-NBA team again in his seven year career. After averaging at least 15.9 ppg and at least 7.4 apg in each of his first three seasons, his numbers dropped precipitously and he bounced around to New Jersey, Milwaukee and Houston. In 1980, though, Ford seemed like a star on the rise and much of Lohwasser's article dealt with what is now a little known chapter in a largely forgotten career: when the Kansas City Kings drafted Ford he initially refused to report to training camp, questioning the propriety of the draft system and threatening to play pro ball in Italy or even to become a graduate assistant at North Carolina, where he had excelled as a college player (winning the Wooden Award in 1978 and being selected to the All-America Team three times). When the second overall selection in the draft declares that he may not sign with the NBA team that picked him that is big news but--unlike Spencer Haywood, whose case went to the U.S. Supreme Court and paved the way for players to jump straight from high school to the pros--Ford eventually backed down. He signed a five year contract with the Kings, reportedly for $200,000 per season. After Ford's fantastic rookie campaign, Kansas City Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons--who won the Coach of the Year award--called Ford the best point guard in the NBA and possibly "the best of his era." In 1980-81, Ford was averaging career highs in scoring (17.5 ppg) and assists (8.8 apg) when he suffered an eye injury that required season-ending surgery. He returned to action in time to play in five of Kansas City's 15 playoff games but he never regained his previous form.

2) Bill Bradley, the 35 year old recently retired New York Knick, was the youngest U.S. Senator when Myron S. Waldman profiled him for a Newsday article that was reprinted in the CHPB. Waldman reported that of the 12 pictures hanging in Bradley's outer office only one depicted Bradley as a Knick. "You don't forget about it," Bradley said of his NBA career. "I did it for 10 years. I loved it. I had a wonderful experience. It was living life at its fullest--for those years. Just as this is living life at its fullest at this time."

3) Leonard Koppett was presented the highest honor for a media member by both the Baseball Hall of Fame (the J.G. Taylor Spink Award) and the Basketball Hall of Fame (the Curt Gowdy Media Award). His brief CHPB bio noted that he had covered the NBA "since its inception." Koppett explained that the NBA had never allowed zone defenses because of the prevalence of the stall in the collegiate game: a team that gained the lead late in a game would either stall on offense or sink into a zone on defense, so that the trailing team would be forced to foul on defense or shoot long jumpers on offense. The introduction of the 24 second shot clock eliminated the stall from the NBA but Koppett noted that the rule prohibiting the zone stayed in place because the owners felt that zone defenses would still slow the game down too much. According to the official rules history posted at NBA.com, Koppett is not quite correct about the NBA never allowing zone defenses; the NBA briefly allowed zone defenses before banning them on January 11, 1947, roughly midway through the league's first season. However, Koppett is on target regarding the larger issue of why the NBA did not permit zone defenses to be used.

Fast forward to the late 1970s; with attendance declining and interest in the NBA waning, the league's owners and executives debated how to make the sport more popular and exciting. The NBA instituted the three point shot (borrowed from the ABA, which in turn had borrowed the idea from the ABL) and tweaked the scheduling format to increase the frequency of intra-conference play (which was supposed to heighten interest in local/regional rivalries) but some critics suggested that allowing zone defenses would add a strategic element to the game. Koppett largely agreed with this contention, though he noted that some people argued that zone defenses would stifle the creative drives to the hoop of players like Julius Erving and David Thompson. Koppett acknowledged that this might happen but he still favored the change because he believed that a more team-oriented game would be more popular than a star-driven game. Three decades later, the NBA is much more financially secure but it still seeks to find the right balance between promoting individual stars and promoting team-oriented play.

Koppett noted that in 1978-79 fewer than 200 illegal defenses were called in more than 900 games, which meant that the zone was either rarely attempted and immediately punished or else it was commonplace and rarely policed. In either case, Koppett and others felt that the rule was vaguely written and thus difficult to enforce. The NBA achieved great popularity in the 1980s and 1990s without getting rid of the illegal defense rule, though the rule was clarified in 1981-82--and that was an important move because many coaches had become very adept at playing disguised zones. In 2001-02, the NBA replaced the illegal defense rule with a defensive three seconds rule, prohibiting a defender from remaining in the lane for more than three seconds unless he was guarding a player but otherwise permitting a team to use any defensive alignment.

The three point shot has evolved from a seldom-used gadget to an integral part of NBA offensive strategy; shooting long jump shots is a typical strategy to defeat a zone but it is not clear how much of the evolution of the usage of the three point shot has to do with changes in defensive rules/philosophies nor is it clear that this evolution has made the game better and/or more exciting. Since Koppett--who passed away in 2003--advocated allowing the zone more than two decades before the NBA made this change, it would be interesting to know what he would have thought of the current state of the NBA game.

4) Paul Silas may be best known to younger NBA fans as LeBron James' first NBA coach and as the coach of the 2012 Charlotte team that posted the worst record in league history but he is also a two-time All-Star and a five-time member of the All-Defensive Team. Silas averaged more than 20 ppg and more than 20 rpg in his collegiate career, joining Bill Russell, Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore and Kermit Washington in the very elite Division I 20-20 club. One of the few--and biggest--mistakes that Red Auerbach made was not retaining the services of Silas, the rebounder/defender/enforcer for Boston's 1974 and 1976 championship teams who then helped Seattle reach two NBA Finals and win one championship. Steve Ellis quoted Silas' philosophy of competition: "What separates the winners from the losers is your mental attitude. Except for a very few, like Jabbar, we're all on the same keel. The only thing I care about is winning and what my players feel about me. You see, winning takes care of everything. To win, you have to die to win. That's barring nothing. Whatever it takes."

Silas starred for Boston but in Seattle he played a reduced yet still very important role--and he not only contributed on the court but also as a mentor for young All-Star center Jack Sikma. Ellis noted that three-time champion Silas was the ring leader among active NBA players and that he only trailed recently retired eight-time champion John Havlicek on the league's career games played list.

Silas' all-time NBA team included Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Bob Pettit and Elgin Baylor.

Although Silas the player deservedly had a reputation as a great student of the game, he did not want or expect to become a coach, calling it "The toughest job I've ever come in contact with." Ironically, Silas would get his first NBA head coaching job in 1980, right after he finished his playing career in Seattle.

5) Joe Gergen penned an entertaining fantasy centered around the premise of George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain selecting all-time All-Star teams to face each other in a battle for the ages; Mikan would have his pick of the pre-1970 greats, while Chamberlain would choose post-1970 players. That arbitrary dividing line does not entirely make sense since most of Chamberlain's career happened prior to 1970 but Gergen should be granted some poetic license here; he made Mikan and Chamberlain his protagonists because they were the two dominant scorers of their respective eras but he wanted his All-Star Game to represent a battle between the old and the new. Red Auerbach coached George's Giants, with John Kundla and Joe Lapchick serving as his assistants; Red Holzman led Wilt's Stilts, assisted by Tommy Heinsohn and Kevin Loughery.

Gergen significantly expanded the normal All-Star rosters, allotting 20 players to each team:

George's Giants

Guards

Bob Cousy
Bob Davies
Sam Jones
Slater Martin
Dick McGuire
Bill Sharman
Bobby Wanzer

Centers

Neil Johnston
Ed Macauley
George Mikan
Bill Russell

Forwards

Paul Arizin
Joe Fulks
Bob Pettit
Dolph Schayes
Maurice Stokes
Jack Twyman
George Yardley

Swingmen

Jim Pollard
Frank Ramsey

Wilt's Stilts

Guards

Walt Frazier
George Gervin
Hal Greer
Earl Monroe
Oscar Robertson
Jerry West
Lenny Wilkens

Centers

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Wilt Chamberlain
Willis Reed
Bill Walton

Forwards

Rick Barry
Elgin Baylor
Dave DeBusschere
Julius Erving
Elvin Hayes
Moses Malone
David Thompson

Swingmen

Billy Cunningham
John Havlicek

At the time Gergen wrote his story, the four highest career scoring averages among the players chosen all belonged to members of Wilt's team: Chamberlain (30.1), Abdul-Jabbar (28.6), Baylor (27.4) and West (27.0). Then came the Giants' Pettit (26.4), followed by the Stilts' Erving (26.2), Barry (25.9), Thompson (25.8) and Robertson (25.7). One could quibble with some of the positional designations--Moses Malone as a forward?--as well as some of the generational designations--Baylor and several others had their best seasons before 1970--but, again, some poetic license should be granted. It is interesting to note that except for the 6-4 Sam Jones every guard on the Giants' squad was 6-1 or shorter, while every guard on the Stilts' team was 6-2 or taller except for the 6-1 Wilkens.

Naturally, all of the players were "restored to their prime" (in Gergen's words) for the February 14, 1981 showdown at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Gergen provided a detailed and very entertaining recap of the game, incorporating many real life quirks and throwing in some humorous twists on actual situations (i.e., Chamberlain fouled out of the All-Time All-Star Game after never fouling out of a game during his NBA career). The Stilts prevailed 142-136 in triple overtime. Abdul-Jabbar scored a game-high 16 points and he had eight rebounds. Schayes led the Giants with 15 points.

6) The L.A. Lakers were an efficient offensive team even before Magic Johnson joined the squad; in 1978-79, seven of the Lakers' top eight scorers shot at least .500 from the field, topped by Abdul-Jabbar's .577 mark (second in the league behind Cedric Maxwell's .584). Abdul-Jabbar was under fire from the media for only winning one championship in his 10 year career and the 1980 CHPB dismissed the Lakers as a team that had settled into being "always a contender but rarely a champion." Little did the author of those words suspect that the Lakers would not only win the 1980 championship but also capture titles in 1982, 1985 and 1987-88 to become the team of the decade and the first franchise to win back to back rings since Russell's Celtics in 1968-69. Johnson's rookie profile called him "the most exciting player to come into the league in years" but also questioned how well he would fit in with Norm Nixon, the Lakers' other guard.

7) Robert Parish averaged 17.2 ppg and ranked seventh in the league with 12.1 rpg in his third season with Golden State but his CHPB profile was hardly a ringing endorsement of his prospects: "Developed slowly and still thinks he's a perimeter shooter...Has erased all the question marks but don't look for him at the All-Star Game." Parish, who became a Hall of Famer and was selected as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, made the first of his nine All-Star appearances in 1981 and he finished fourth in the MVP voting in 1982.

8) Jabari Parker is currently one of the most highly touted high school players in the country. His father Sonny averaged 9.9 ppg during his six NBA seasons, including a career-high 15.2 ppg in 1978-79. Sonny Parker's CHPB profile said that he "has the ability to take smaller guards inside or drive past most forwards."

9) Bob Dandridge, a 31 year old 10 year veteran, said that his only personal goal was to set the NBA record for seasons played. He was coming off of arguably the best season of his career and he had just earned his first (and only) All-NBA Second Team selection (beating out, among others, Julius Erving) but after playing 78 games that season his career lasted just 79 more games over the next three seasons.

10) Many members of the media had already decided that regardless of Erving's production he was not living up to the expectations he built as a three-time ABA MVP and two-time ABA champion. Despite increasing his scoring, rebounding and assist averages, Erving did not make the All-League Team for the first time in his professional career; his 1978-79 averages--23.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.6 apg--would represent a career year for many All-Stars so it is hard to understand why Erving received such criticism. His field goal percentage dipped to a career-low .491 but that was only marginally worse than his previous shooting percentages--the consistent Erving shot between .496 and .512 in his first seven seasons--and it is important to note that he switched to guard for extended periods of time after All-Star Doug Collins got hurt. Erving averaged 25.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 5.9 apg in the playoffs while shooting .517 from the field, so the popular notion that he was a declining player looks patently absurd when viewed objectively.

Erving's CHPB profile again inexplicably took potshots at his defense, a slur that I refuted in Wayback Machine, Part V: The 1979 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball. At least Erving's profile concluded with this accurate assessment: "Took more heat than he deserved for Philly's failure...Still one of league's most exciting performers." The "failure" in question consisted of losing a tough seven game Eastern Conference semifinal series to the San Antonio Spurs while an injured Collins--the team's second best player--watched in street clothes. Erving, playing out of position at guard, scored 34 points on 11-16 field goal shooting in 46 minutes in Philadelphia's 111-108 game seven loss. He also had eight assists, five rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals.

11) Kobe Bryant's father Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, a teammate of Erving's, received less than flattering reviews: "An erratic reserve who moves like Doctor J one night and Doctor Welby the next...A typical 76er--good offense, bad defense, big ego."

12) Moses Malone emerged as a dominant player in 1978-79, winning the first of his six rebounding titles (17.6 rpg) and averaging a then-career high 24.8 ppg (fifth in the league). Malone's CHPB profile summarized his playing style: "If anyone doesn't understand what a physical basketball player is, just show a brief film clip of Malone at work...He may go up for a rebound some night and come back down with someone's head." Malone spent the first two seasons of his career in the ABA after jumping straight from high school to the professional ranks and he played for three teams before establishing himself as an All-Star in Houston.

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

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:35 AM

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