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Thursday, September 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:03 PM



At Thursday, September 15, 2011 9:22:00 PM, Blogger Matt said...

It's rather odd how the current perception of Dr. J is at odds with the contemporaneous analysis.

At Thursday, September 15, 2011 10:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the last two all-time pro basketball greats from before the time that the NBA had a huge TV deal--let alone the internet coverage that has proliferated in the last decade or so--and it is no coincidence that they are not given as much credit as they should be.

At Friday, September 16, 2011 8:48:00 AM, Blogger Matt said...

By ‘current perception’, I am referring to the opinion of those basketball historians who grant Dr. J credit mainly for aesthetic reasons, not as an all-round player. He is considered more important than great, a stylish, exciting player who was nonetheless one dimensional.

To your point about TV deals, I suspect that many people have come to conflate stardom with greatness; while they are strongly correlated, they are not the same thing. For example, many of the arguments for Michael Jordan being indisputably the greatest player of all time are really arguments for him being the biggest star of all time, which he almost certainly is. Note how many of the commentators extolling his virtues refer to his commercial success (‘making the game global’) and his signature moments. This is the language of marketing, not of basketball.

At Friday, September 16, 2011 2:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Knowledgeable basketball observers give Abdul-Jabbar and Erving the credit that they deserve. The problem is that far too many people who have been granted platforms to express their opinions in print and/or on air are not knowledgeable and thus base their perspectives on what they have seen on TV/YouTube, etc.

Anyone who only gives Erving "credit mainly for aesthetic reasons" is, by definition, very uninformed; Erving won four regular season MVPs, three championships and two Finals MVPs while leading his teams to six Finals appearances and nine conference finals appearances in 16 seasons--Erving's resume (which also includes other individual and team accomplishments not mentioned here) stacks up with just about anyone else in pro basketball history.

At Friday, September 16, 2011 10:20:00 PM, Anonymous sports said...

i agree. there are many commentators/observers who fail to acknowledge the accomplishments of past greats. it's in every sport. for example, in tennis, djokovic is currently having an outstanding season, and many tennis pundits are rushing to say that it's the greatest season of all time. firstly, the season hasn't finished yet, and he could very well lose a few matches before the season ends. and secondly, there have been many great seasons over the history of open era tennis which have been just as impressive. jimmy connors (99-4) and mcenroe (82-3) had seasons which are atleast on par with djokovic's current season. With that being said, djokovic's domination of nadal is unprecedented.

At Saturday, September 17, 2011 2:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your general point is right on target but then you lost your way at the very end. I don't want to highjack this thread with a tennis discussion--and I will moderate the comments to make sure that does not happen--but just as you are quite correct to note that there have been other great tennis seasons on par with Djokovic's 2011 campaign you are quite wrong to say that Djokovic's "domination of Nadal is unprecedented." In 1979, Borg went 6-0 versus Connors, with four of those wins coming in Finals--and three of those Finals wins were straight set demolitions. Borg also beat Connors both times they met in both 1980 and 1981 to extend that streak to 10 straight victories before Borg retired from the ATP Tour. Also, at one point in the Sampras-Agassi rivalry Sampras won eight out of 10 matches (Sampras finished with a 20-14 head to head advantage).

Despite all that Djokovic has accomplished in the first nine months of 2011, Nadal still owns a 16-13 head to head advantage over Djokovic, including 5-2 in Grand Slam events. Nadal has won 10 of the 30 Grand Slams he has entered, a better winning percentage than anyone other than Bjorn Borg, while Djokovic has won just four of the 28 Grand Slams he has entered. Djokovic is the player of the year for 2011 but his career does not even belong in the same discussion with Nadal or Federer.

At Saturday, September 17, 2011 6:08:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Granted, Nadal has a higher Grand Slam win pct. than Fed, but he was injured and didn't play in at least 2 slams, and I think it was actually 4. If he played in those, Fed actually has a higher pct. Borg was obviously awesome, but if he played for 10-12 additional years, his pct. would be much worse. He also played in a much weaker era than today, admitted he was burned out, and never won a slam on a hardcourt. Let's not forget about Fed either. He's won 3 slams in 3 different years plus reached the french final in 2 of those years, something Djoker didn't accomplish this year, and Fed won the year-end finals each of those 3 years, which Nadal has never won, and we'll have to wait to see if Djoker can do it. Sorry, had to throw my 2 cents in.

I was having a discussion the other day about all-time greats. Most of the others didn't even have Kobe in the top 10. That certainly irked me, but whatever. I'm not really surprised. Anyway, some listed their top players, I think there were 13, and Dr. J wasn't included. I was confused. Basically, they said he wasn't really 'the alpha dog' for much of his time. I mean, come on people. He won all these MVPs and did all these things. I do agree with Erving and Kareem, and along with Kobe, with being the most underrated all-time great greats. The thing with Kobe is that he's only had a chance to be the 'alpha dog' on 3, maybe 4 title teams. I don't believe if you replace Kobe with anyone else who's ever played that the 08 lakers would've won, and they actually mightily close to winning, too. They only went 7, maybe 8 deep, and c's were a better much. As far as last year, even if kobe wasn't injured, which it was obvious he was, they aren't winning it with Pau playing like an average, at best, PF. Jordan had a much different career path. He was the alpha dog immediately, and was extremely lucky to get another all-time great to play with for most of his career, who would be the perfect complimentary piece to himself.

Anyway, I thought you were going to write a piece about the CBA and the lockout. Hard to say if it's looking good right now or not, at least there's talks going now. The owners and Stern are really getting on my nerves.

At Saturday, September 17, 2011 11:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Your comment about tennis is brief and to the point, so I let it through and I will offer my own brief response--but further comments about this post that refer to tennis will not see the light of day, because I don't want tennis to highjack a comments section that should focus on the CHPB.

If you look closely at any tennis player's career you can find exceptions and excuses to explain why his winning percentage could/should be better. I prefer to deal with reality and the reality is that Borg has the all-time best Grand Slam winning percentage both in terms of events entered/events won (11/27) and in terms of match winning percentage (89.8%; 141-16). Borg also owns the overall career record for match winning percentage (82.7%; 608-127). Even though his career is considered to be truncated, Borg is tied for fifth with 11 Grand Slam singles titles and he ranks third in the Open Era behind only Federer (16/50) and Sampras (14/52). Borg won at least one Slam event in eight straight years, a record since tied (but not surpassed) by Sampras and Federer--but Borg's streak was active when he retired and it was accomplished without the benefit of playing in the Australian Open, where Federer picked up four titles and Sampras accumulated two titles. You speculate that Borg's winning percentage would have gone down had he continued to play but there is no way to prove or disprove that; Borg could easily have won two or three more French Opens and probably could have picked up at least one more Wimbledon and possibly even the U.S. Open title that narrowly eluded him four times. If Borg had played four more years, entered the three Slams that he normally entered and won three French Opens, one Wimbledon and one U.S. Open then he would have finished with 16 Grand Slam titles in 39 appearances, essentially the same winning percentage he achieved from 1974-81. Borg never lost in the first round of a Grand Slam and he had made it to six straight Grand Slam finals when he retired, earning victories in three of them; his winning percentage was going up, not down at that point. Borg has said a lot of things about why he retired--sometimes it seems like even he does not know--but if you followed the sport at the time and/or read the published reports then you know that Borg wanted to play in the French Open and Wimbledon in 1982 but the tennis authorities insisted that he play in the qualifiers because he was not active enough by their standards. Borg did not officially retire until 1983 and even at that point he was still playing in high paying exhibitions in which he regularly beat McEnroe and Lendl.

That's it for tennis here. Back to basketball.

It is idiotic to assert that Erving was not an "alpha dog"; he won four MVPs and three scoring titles and was clearly the best player on his team from his rookie season at least until his 12th campaign when the 76ers traded for reigning MVP Moses Malone, a player who was much younger than Erving. While playing alongside Malone on the 1983 championship team Erving was still a top five player (All-NBA First Team, fifth in MVP voting).

At Saturday, September 17, 2011 11:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Kobe Bryant is obviously underrated in many quarters as well, something that I have frequently documented here; it is amazing that Steve Nash received two MVPs but Bryant just has one: Bryant should have, at the very least, received the 2006 and 2007 MVPs in addition to the 2008 MVP and one could make a case that he deserved the 2003 MVP (though I agree with the selection of Tim Duncan that year).

I wrote the definitive CBA-related article back in February--Trade Deadline Deals Show How LeBron's "Decision" is Reshaping the NBA--and I concluded then that the NBA faces a "lockout that continues until the owners and players agree to fundamentally restructure the league's failing business model." That article explained in great detail exactly how the NBA arrived at this situation; there really is nothing further to say on the matter until the two sides reach an agreement--and the fact that several NBA players have already signed contracts with overseas teams that prohibit them from returning to the NBA next season tells you all you need to know about how likely it is that there will be a 2011-2012 NBA season.

At Sunday, September 18, 2011 1:15:00 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Why is Dr. J considered not a real alpha dog for not having won his first three trips to the Finals while Moses is considered one for winning with a team which had been to the Finals two of the previous three years without him? Furthermore, as David has stated ad nauseam, Dr. J was still a high level performer in 1983 so he wasn’t riding anyone’s coattails. It’s also forgotten that Moses never replicated his success as alpha dog once Dr. J and other members of that team went into decline.

The designation of 'alpha dog' can be quite arbitrary: why was Steve Nash considered an alpha dog and not John Stockton? (I personally believe that Nash should thank Stephon Marbury for his MVPs, as Jason Kidd would have had to had he won in 2002.) Instead imposing a rigid hierarchy, I think it would be more useful to examine players in terms of their skill sets and roles : it wasn’t Dr. J’s jobs to handle Walton and Kareem.

Consider Pippen's 1994 season. Could it be that we have learnt the wrong lessons? I stand correction, but Pippen's role on the Bulls didn't change substantially in 1994. Yes, he now had to face the double teams as the primary scoring threat but he never 'took Jordan's place' He was what he always was: the main facilitator in the triangle and ‘the quarterback on defense.’ Instead of using this as a litmus of how far a Pippen lead team could go, we should have reexamined our assumptions about the inner workings of ALL those teams from 1991 to 1998.

(Yes, this is overkill but I can’t resist: a basketball writer at ESPN, in examining Kobe’s Finals resume, quibbled that he couldn’t recall any ‘signature moments’, dutifully reminding the audience that Kobe famous alley-oop to Shaq was actually the Western Conference Finals.)

At Sunday, September 18, 2011 3:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You make some excellent points.

I tend to categorize players not as "alpha dogs" or some other kind of dogs but rather as elite or not elite and, as I have explained before, at any given time there are rarely more than five elite players in the NBA; usually, those players are All-NBA First Teamers, though occasionally one may be a Second Teamer if there is a surfeit of talent at one position and/or a deficit of talent at another position.

Julius Erving was an All-ABA or All-NBA First Teamer nine times in his first 12 seasons; twice he made the Second Team and only once did he fail to make either squad. He also earned Second Team honors in his 13th season, meaning that he was ranked among the top 10 players in 12 of his 16 seasons, including 12 of the first 13 seasons of his career. That is elite by any reasonable definition of the word.

Scottie Pippen earned All-NBA First Team honors for three straight years (1994-96) and was arguably the best player in the league during the 1993-94 season. He was never a dominant scorer but during his prime he reliably averaged at least 17 ppg and he averaged at least 20 ppg in four different seasons; that scoring prowess, combined with his peerless defensive skills and excellent playmaking, qualifies Pippen as an elite performer circa 1991-98, though he did not always receive recognition as such.

The sad thing about the ESPN quote that you paraphrased is that off the top of my head I can think of at least half a dozen ESPN writers who are stupid enough to have said it. Anyone who is interested in an intelligent, in depth look at Bryant's career should check out these two articles:

Placing Kobe Bryant's Career in Historical Context

Lakers Repeat as Champions, Bryant Earns Second Finals MVP

At Tuesday, September 20, 2011 4:15:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

It would've been interesting to see how Jordan did without Pippen, other than the wizards years, in particular, 1994. It's hard for me to imagine a better outcome for the bulls that year, but we'll never know. It actually turned out perfect for Jordan in missing 94 and most of 95, in that while he was playing baseball, he had more rest and came back re-energized. Again, we'll never know, but extremely highly unlikely for the bulls to win 8 years in a row, one of many reasons for this mystique about jordan, 2 3-peats, but never more than 3 consecutive finals appearances. You've talked before about the consecutive finals trips, and obviously only the c's have had anywhere near that many before, and that was when the playoffs had fewer rounds and when they had basically a monopoly on the nba.

While a lot of the things fans and media alike say about Kobe are basically just false, or unfair, what they fail to remember is Jordan never had a winning season without Pippen. While that needs some context as well, Kobe rarely gets the benefit of the doubt.

It will be interesting to see how Bosh does with the Heat. While Gasol has seemingly improved a lot and benefited much from playing with Kobe(0-12 in the playoffs and only 1 AS appearance before joining Kobe), Bosh was almost irrelevant at many times with the Heat and became a convenient scapegoat, which bosh should receive some blame for his poor play at times, but differently not entirely, and barely squeaked to an AS appearance. I was wondering if you had pick 2 of the 3, which 2 would you choose, right now? It's troubling if you're a heat fan to see how ineffective lebron/wade work together in the halfcourt offense, given their talent levels. I would be much more scared as an opposing team to go up against lebron/bosh than wade/bosh, but then when the heat actually face a worthy team, what will lebron do? Disappear again and retreat or fight back? Even with Wade prodding lebron be tougher during the finals, he still really didn't. It is very surprising why he does this, given past playoff heroics, but it's happened in consecutive playoffs, very troubling to say the least for his future.

At Monday, October 10, 2011 12:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm arriving a little bit late to this party, but in reference to the top 10 all time discussion from earlier, I've seen a lot of knowledgeable basketball fans place Kobe in the top 10 ever (usually from 10-8), which is right about where he belongs.

I'm surprised to hear that Boyer's friends undervalue Bryant. When you look at his career resume, I don't think you can objectively pick out 10 players who have had a better career. Whether or not you like him or not, he's going to finish his career with at least 5 rings and over 30,000 points scored. That will leave him in the company of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and no one else.

The problem with Bryant is that he remains a polarizing figure. At one end of the spectrum, you have

I don't agree with Dr. J or Kareem being overlooked, but also understand why it happens. Other people who actually were privileged to see Erving play would know better, but everything I've read about the man indicates that his ranking historically has suffered due to being a victim of circumstance. No matter how you slice it, the fact that Erving spent a large portion of his prime in the ABA is counted against him. When he switched over to the NBA, he was forced into a more team oriented style that never really allowed him to show how brilliant he was during his physical peak.

Kareem is underrated historically because of playing significant years during the days where the NBA wasn't prime time television, but also because of an acrimonious relationship with the press and even his fans. Very intelligent man, but also very sensitive and reserved. He really wanted just to be left alone, but was instead perceived as a jerk.

Either way, he arguably has the greatest resume in the history of the NBA. Only Bill Russell and Jordan are in the same league in terms of individual accolades, statistics and championships won.

The author that Matt was referring to was Bill Simmons, someone who admittedly has an axe to grind with Bryant.

I would also say that he is incorrect in his assertion. However, pretending Kobe Bryant has choked in every single game of his finals career falls more in line with Simmons' POV. Bryant twice narrowly missed notching a triple double against the Sixers in 2001. I also vividly remember his overtime takeover against the Pacers in 2000, after Shaq fouled out. In 2010, he singlehandedly kept the Lakers competitive in game 5 against the Celtics by putting up 17 in the third quarter.

At Monday, October 31, 2011 6:24:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Sharp, you're spot on with most of your analysis. Except, I strongly disagree with Kobe only being 8-10 range. I don't know how anyone can him outside of top 5. With titles, statistics, top player of his generation, etc., he's firmly placed himself in the top 5, and he has several more great/good years left. And if we're rating a player based on skill set, which David does, and I think is smart, you just can't find 5 better players than Kobe is. If the media was in love of Kobe and hated jordan, I bet most people would come up with plenty of arguments to say that Kobe is the best ever, except, we're left with Kobe barely making the top 10 on a list than seems to favor Kobe compared to the rest. A little ridiculous if you ask me. Too bad the media votes for MVPs, because this is often a huge knock against Kobe. Most of the media voters are just clueless most of the time.

If we're going on stats and titles alone, then Kareem is probably #1. Kareem has to be top 5 for sure. I'm very skeptical of Russell. People don't realize, but russell is the same exact size as Durant. Russell was a dominant center in his day, that just wouldn't happen today with his size, even if the center position is down a bit in the nba. And no other elite player had such mediocre offensive talent as russell did.

At Sunday, July 01, 2012 9:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I want to correct one point from an earlier comment I made: Erving's teams made it to the Conference/Division Finals 10 times, not nine: 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977-78, 1980-83, 1985.

At Friday, January 25, 2019 5:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim O'Brien did at least two earlier editions of the handbook -- 1971-72 and 1972-73. They were much like Hollander's later ones and perhaps even funnier.


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