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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wayback Machine, Part X: The 1984 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

The front cover photo of the 1984 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball featured Moses Malone shooting a left handed jump hook at close range over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, while the back cover photo depicted Julius Erving soaring above Louis Orr. It was fitting that the two Philadelphia stars received that recognition, because they had dominated the league the season before, leading the 76ers to a 65-17 regular season mark and a magnificent, record-setting 12-1 playoff run capped off by a 4-0 sweep of the defending champion L.A. Lakers. Erving had won the 1981 regular season MVP, while Malone captured the 1982 and 1983 regular season MVPs in addition to winning the 1983 Finals MVP.

The 1984 CHPB contained 335 pages, 15 fewer than the previous edition. It included 23 team profiles, lists of the 1984 NBA statistical leaders, the complete 1983-84 schedule, a list of all 226 selections in the 1984 NBA Draft and a "TV/Radio roundup." The 1984 CHPB had four feature stories: Stan Hochman wrote "Wholly Moses! The Indestructible Sixer," Bob Ryan contributed "The All-Bizarre All-Star Teams," Peter Alfano heralded "The Dawning of the Age of Sampson" and Frank Brady profiled Marty Blake in "Superscout: The Marty Blake Report."

Steve Hershey and Fran Blinebury co-wrote the "Inside the NBA" article, predicting that the Philadelphia 76ers would defeat the Lakers in the NBA Finals to become the first repeat NBA champions since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics in 1969. The Lakers posted the best record in the Western Conference (54-28) and cruised to the NBA Finals by going 7-1 in their first two playoff series before losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games. The 76ers mounted a disappointing title defense, finishing the regular season 52-30 (second best record in the Eastern Conference but 10 games behind the Celtics) before being stunned in the first round by the New Jersey Nets.

Here are some interesting notes, quotes and quips from the 1984 CHPB:

1) Hochman's article chronicled the improbable rise of Moses Malone from high school phenom in Petersburg, Virginia to NBA champion, NBA Finals MVP and three-time NBA regular season MVP. Malone was never a flashy player but he was brutally and relentlessly effective. As Erving put it, "We have the world championship because after six years of knocking on the door, even though we felt good in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls, we went out and got, for cold cash, a hard hat." Prior to the 1982-83 season, the 76ers signed Malone to a then record-setting six year, $13.2 million deal, and they shipped former ABA All-Star Caldwell Jones plus a first round draft pick to Malone's former team, the Houston Rockets (per the NBA's limited free agency rules at that time, which stipulated that a player's team owned a "right of first refusal" but could waive that right in return for compensation).

As if often the case when two superstars join forces, some wondered if Malone could co-exist with the iconic Erving--but Malone never had any doubts: "It's Doc's show and I just want to watch the show," Malone said not long after arriving in Philadelphia. In the ABA, Doc was always a great show. Now I've got a chance to play with Doc and I think it's gonna be a better show." In that first season, Malone helped lift the 76ers from 20th in the league in rebounding to first as the 76ers raced to a 50-7 start, the best such run in the history of the league. Such dominance makes one wonder how many titles Erving might have won had he been paired with one of the 50 Greatest Players of All-Time while he was in his prime, the way that Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan were as they won multiple NBA titles.

2) Bob Ryan noted that no one could argue about the five players selected to the 1983 All-NBA First Team--Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Sidney Moncrief--and commented, "But there's more to the NBA than excellence. There is, for example, baffling inconsistency, greed, stupidity, selfishness and any number of anti-social behavioral patterns. There is also valor, determination, aggressiveness, and self-sacrifice." Ryan then selected his version of "The All-Bizarre All-Stars," 13 teams consisting of five players each.

I disagree with several of Ryan' choices; you can judge for yourself after looking at a couple of the teams he put together: "All Slama-Jama" (F Dominique Wilkins, F Edgar Jones, C Tree Rollins, G Darrell Griffith, G Sidney Moncrief); "All-ICBM" (F Larry Bird, F Eugene Short, C Dan Issel, G Fred Brown, G Brian Winters, Swingman Junior Bridgeman). Ryan realized that not putting Erving on the team of best slam dunkers would look odd but Ryan's explanation is hardly persuasive: "All I can say is Dominique had to be on this team, and that if you have never seen Edgar's act, hush your mouth." During the 1982-83 season, Erving authored his famous "rock the cradle" dunk over Michael Cooper, one of the greatest dunks of all-time. At age 33, Erving was still a phenomenal dunker; keep in mind that in the season after Ryan wrote those words Erving finished second in the NBA's inaugural All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk Contest (after winning the ABA Slam Dunk Contest in 1976), while in 1983 Wilkins had just completed his rookie season and Jones was a third year journeyman who had already played for three different NBA teams. No, Erving had to be on the team and he probably should have been joined by Larry Nance, an emerging young talent who beat Erving in the 1984 Slam Dunk Contest.

Regarding Ryan's team of sharpshooters, he wrote, "Distance, and distance alone, counts. When these guys approach the three point arc, an alarm buzzer should sound on the opposing team's bench." This was a much different era than the current one; in the early 1980s, no NBA player shot the three pointer with great regularity and few players connected at what would now be considered a decent percentage. Only four NBA players made at least 25 three pointers during the entire 1982-83 season and Mike Dunleavy led the league in three point field goal percentage at .345 after hitting 67 of his 194 attempts. Still, it is more than a bit of a stretch (no pun intended) to put Issel and Bridgeman on a list where "distance, and distance alone, counts." There is no doubt that Issel and Bridgeman were deadly midrange shooters but Issel shot 4-19 from three point range during the 1982-83 season and Bridgeman shot 1-13 from beyond the arc that season. The only alarm buzzers sounding when those guys took three pointers were on the benches of their own teams. Issel shot 29-142 (.204) from three point range during his ABA/NBA career and, surprisingly, he shot even worse during his free-wheeling ABA days (10-67, .149) than he did during his NBA career. Bridgeman finished his NBA career as a .244 three point shooter (40-164). As for Eugene Short, he played one NBA season prior to the league adopting the three point shot. Maybe Ryan meant Eugene's brother Purvis? Purvis was a big-time scorer for a few years in the 1980s but he shot just 4-15 on three pointers in 1982-83 and he finished his career as a .282 three point shooter (125-443).

I have a lot of respect for Ryan--there is a Ryan section in my extensive basketball library--and he is usually a perceptive commentator (albeit one with a Boston Celtics bias at times), so perhaps someone ghost-wrote this piece for him, because the choices and explanations are, to borrow a word, bizarre.

3) It is easy to forget just how big of a star--literally and figuratively--the 7-4 Ralph Sampson was in the early 1980s. As Alfano put it, "Now, like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, to a lesser extent, Bill Walton, Sampson is expected to usher in an era of his very own--'The Age of Sampson.'" Sampson had an exceptional collegiate career at Virginia, though some critics faulted Sampson for not winning a national title. He earned the 1984 NBA Rookie of the Year award after averaging 21.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg (fifth in the NBA) and 2.4 bpg (third in the NBA) while helping the Houston Rockets improve from 14 wins to 29 wins. In 1986--after the addition of Hakeem Olajuwon--the Rockets made it to the NBA Finals before falling to the Celtics in six games. Injuries limited Sampson's production during the rest of his career, but he still was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

4) Marty Blake was officially the NBA's Director of Scouting but everyone called him Superscout. As Frank Brady noted, anyone can identify the few elite players but it takes real skill to know "the difference between good players--of whom there are many--and very good players--of whom there are never enough." Blake provided each of the 23 NBA teams with detailed scouting reports regarding college basketball players. "Marty Blake is the guru of pro basketball," declared 76ers' owner Harold Katz.

Blake started his NBA career with the Hawks in 1954 and he spent 17 years with the franchise in three cities (Milwaukee, St. Louis, Atlanta). He began to be recognized as Superscout in the early 1960s, when he found future Hall of Famer Zelmo Beaty at Prairie View. Blake worked briefly for the ABA's Pittsburgh Condors before founding his independent scouting service. For a few years, he worked for individual teams but after the 1976 ABA-NBA merger he was hired by the league office. The 76ers' 1983 championship team featured a couple of second round draft picks recommended by Blake: future Hall of Famer Maurice Cheeks and key reserve Clint Richardson.

Blake has a quick wit and Brady mentioned some of Blake's quips but a couple of my favorites come from Alexander Woolf's March 14, 2005 Sports Illustrated profile of Blake: "Best newspaper lede I ever read was in a music review: 'The St. Louis Symphony played Beethoven last night, and Beethoven lost.'" and "It's hard to tell a coach with a two-year contract that some guy's three years away."

5) Dominique Wilkins' player profiles stated, "Can do it all, but often lets his man do it all, too...Prematurely called the next Dr. J, but he does have potential to be one of the league's elite showmen."

6) Larry Bird's profile included high praise: "How do you improve a Picasso?...May be one of the best all-around players ever...Incredibly, he somehow improved again in almost every statistical category."

7) Kevin McHale is described as "Most publicized sub since the nuclear-powered Triton went around the world without surfacing...As free agent, he surfaced last summer with a $4 million, four year contract, reportedly making him the fourth highest paid player in the NBA."

8) M.L. Carr's profile is harsh: "Let's put his Carr up on blocks...The only part that still runs well is between the lips...Used to be an aggressive defender, but probably caught cold in the draft created by guards rushing past him last year."

9) Boston traded Darren Tillis to Cleveland and Tillis' CHPB profile opined, "Could Red Auerbach be wrong?...Sure, but not in this deal...A first-round draft choice of the Celtics, this non-shooting, non-rebounding near 7-footer has all the makings of the next Eric Fernsten...Was told he didn't have to score, so he didn't...Is lifting weights, but not big ones."

10) Sidney Moncrief may not be a name player to members of the younger generation but he was at his peak during the early to mid-1980s. His CHPB profile stated, "Worked his way to the top...No doubters now...Generally acknowledged to be one of the game's best all-around players...He can sky...Could score more if he wasn't so unselfish."

11) The 76ers' scouting report noted the team's offensive prowess--four starters plus Sixth Man of the Year Bobby Jones shot at least .500 from the field as the team scored 112.1 ppg--and added, "Finally, after capturing that elusive championship, the 76ers are getting credit for playing magnificent defense...When you're talking defense, nobody does it better than the 76ers."

12) Julius Erving's profile began, "On top, where he belongs...A champion, at last." Of course, it must be mentioned that Erving won two championships and two Finals MVPs in the ABA prior to winning the 1983 NBA title. The profile continued, "A truly genuine sports hero...The fans' favorite throughout the league...In storybook fashion, he took over in the closing minutes of the final game, scoring seven straight points to assure the 76ers of a 4-0 sweep of Los Angeles." Erving's best game of the season came on December 11 versus Detroit, when he posted 44 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and a career-high eight blocked shots. The CHPB included Erving's ABA statistics and thus listed Erving with 24,393 career points (25.6 ppg average), 8945 rebounds, 4195 assists, a .509 career field goal percentage and a .778 career free throw percentage.

13) Andrew Toney's profile declared, "Has arrived...Status secured...An All-Star now...All it took was full time duty...One of the best at getting a shot on his own late in the game...Wants to take the last shot...Played best against the best...Had career-high 46 points vs. Lakers and set club record with 25 points in one quarter against Boston...Very difficult to defend--Boston has no one who can--because he has no favorite spot and unlimited range."

14) Moses Malone is described as "'Octobull'--a cross between an octopus and a bull...Simply wears out defenders, then dominates them in fourth quarter...The most dominating player since Wilt Chamberlain."

15) Maurice Cheeks, who just became the third Hall of Fame player from that squad, was a young star on the rise: "Stock is soaring...Played in first of what should be many All-Star Games...Named to All-Defensive Team...Starts a lot of breakaways with steals...None better in the East at taking the ball the length of the court...Has averaged more points in playoffs than during regular season every year."

16) Hall of Fame player Billy Cunningham is an underrated coach. As the CHPB noted, at that point he owned the highest regular season winning percentage (.707) of any of the league's 10 winningest coaches. Cunningham also ranked first in career playoff winning percentage (.653) and he reached the 300 win plateau faster than anyone else. Cunnigham is currently second in career regular season winning percentage (.698) behind Phil Jackson (.704); Steve Kerr's career regular season winning percentage is .808 but he has only coached 328 regular season games and one must coach 400 regular season games to qualify for the career winning percentage leaderboard. Cunningham now ranks sixth in career playoff winning percentage (.629; minimum 25 playoff games coached)

17) Kobe Bryant's father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, played for the Rockets. The CHPB summarized the elder Bryant's game simply: "If he stays within limits, he can contribute in a reserve role...Rarely stays within limits."

18) Eddie Johnson is now a fixture on Sirius XM NBA Radio but in 1983 he was a third year forward for the Kansas City Kings. His scoring average jumped from 9.3 ppg as a rookie to 19.8 ppg in his second year and the 6-7 small forward led the team in rebounding as well (though that also said something about the quality of the team's big men). The CHPB saw a bright future for Johnson: "Everything you would want in a young player...Enthusiastic...Coachable...Dives for balls the way a street mutt would jump on a piece of filet mignon...Attended Illinois, where he set career records for scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage."

18) Wilt Chamberlain once lamented "Nobody loves Goliath," and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could certainly relate to that sentiment. The CHPB stated, "Any time the Lakers don't win the whole enchilada, the big fella can expect to hear plenty of criticism...Has been the giant redwood everyone has loved to cut down since his days at Power Memorial High and UCLA." The CHPB asserted, "Definitely near the end of a long and glorious career." Who could have imagined at that time that Abdul-Jabbar would play until 1989, winning three more titles plus the 1985 NBA Finals MVP?

19) Magic Johnson did not win a regular season MVP award until 1987, by which time he had already captured four championships (1980, 82, 85, 87) and three NBA Finals MVPs (1980, 82, 87). The CHPB fully recognized his greatness, though: "Has revolutionized the guard position...Arguably the finest player in the game today...Can pick you apart with his pinpoint passes, sink you by scoring or rip you apart by rebounding...The most complete player since Oscar Robertson...San Antonio coach Morris McHone says: 'He can do whatever he wants on the court, he's so good. He could lead the league in scoring or rebounding or assists."

20) The soft-spoken Jamaal Wilkes was overshadowed by Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson but Wilkes was a vital contributor to the Lakers' success: "Baryshnikov of basketball...Everything about him is smooth as silk, hence the nickname...Can cut your heart out with that long slingshot jumper that starts out behind his right ear...Probably the best in the game today at finishing off the fast break...Has shot better than 50 percent from the field for five straight seasons."

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
 
Wayback Machine, Part IX looked at the 1983 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:39 AM

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