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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wayback Machine, Part IV: The 1978 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball

The cover of the 1978 Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball features a photo of Bill Walton fighting for rebounding position while clad in Portland's red road uniform. Walton had just won the 1977 Finals MVP after averaging 18.7 ppg, 19.0 rpg, 5.2 apg and 3.7 bpg during Portland's 4-2 victory over Philadelphia; during the regular season, Walton led the league in rebounding (14.4 rpg) and blocked shots (3.3 bpg) while also ranking eighth in field goal percentage (.528). Walton finished a distant second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the regular season MVP voting but after Walton's dominance during Portland's 14-5 playoff run (which included a 4-0 Western Conference Finals sweep of Abdul-Jabbar's Lakers, though Abdul-Jabbar's individual numbers against Walton during that series were quite good) Walton seemed poised to challenge Abdul-Jabbar's status as the best player in the NBA. Walton won the 1978 regular season MVP (Abdul-Jabbar finished fourth, trailing George Gervin and David Thompson) despite playing in just 58 games due to injuries that ultimately would force him to miss the entire 1978-79 season and all but 14 games in the 1979-80 season. Walton would never again scale the heights that he reached in 1977 and 1978 (though he did capture a Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1986 while helping Boston win the final championship of the Bird-McHale-Parish era) and the 1978 CHPB cover photo that seemed to mark the beginning of a new era instead just captured an image from the brief, fleeting moment when Walton strode atop the basketball world.

The 1978 CHPB included 288 pages, 16 more than the 1977 edition but still short of the 304 pages in the 1976 CHPB. The 1978 CHPB contained 22 team profiles, lists of the 1977 NBA statistical leaders, a complete schedule, a list of all 170 players selected in the 1977 NBA Draft (including Lucy Harris, a seventh round pick by the Jazz) and a "TV/Radio roundup." Tom Meschery--described in a brief bio as "poet, player, coach and friend of Bill Walton"--wrote a feature article titled "The Bill Walton I Know," Peter Finney interviewed Pete Maravich for a piece titled "Pistol Pete's World of Jazz" and Meschery contributed "A Survival Kit for Coach Willis Reed."

Steve Hershey and Woodrow Paige--who is now better known as ESPN's Woody Paige--co-wrote the "Inside the NBA" article, forecasting that the L.A. Lakers would defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1978 NBA Finals. That did happen--but in 1980, not 1978. Washington, picked to finish second in the Central Division, beat Seattle, picked to finish third in the Pacific Division, in the 1978 NBA Finals. Along the way the Bullets ousted the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals, while the SuperSonics took out the Lakers 2-1 in a first round miniseries. Here are some interesting notes, quotes and quips from the 1978 CHPB:

1) Meschery served as an assistant coach under Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens during the early stages of Walton's Portland career. Meschery described rookie Walton as so skinny that he "was a man Washington Irving could have used as a model for Ichabod Crane" and added that Walton looked like "a skeleton impersonating a man." Meschery's initial skepticism about Walton's physique quickly dissolved after he watched Walton dominate during the 1975 training camp but injuries limited Walton to just 86 games in his first two seasons and prevented Walton from emerging as an elite player. Meschery noted that Portland's management became so frustrated by Walton's injuries and off-court controversies that the team seriously considered trading him at least six times during Walton's rookie season alone.

2) Who could have imagined that Maravich--coming off of his best pro season, when he led the league in scoring with a 31.1 ppg average--would die of heart failure barely a decade after Finney's interview with the Floppy Socked Mopped Top? Maravich told Finney, "I've always said I'll never be happy until they pour champagne over my head and put a championship ring on my finger. But I'm mature enough to know that fate plays a role in what happens to everyone...When you come down to it, I guess you can never be completely happy in this world." Maravich said that if he did not suffer a major injury he thought that he could play at least seven more seasons because of the way that he took care of his body; unfortunately, Maravich blew out his knee just past the midpoint of the 1977-78 season when he seemed to be en route to his second consecutive scoring title and he never regained his old form before retiring during the 1980-81 preseason. Maravich called himself "Pete Maravich's worst critic" and said that even though 1976-77 was his best season he was only content with about 20 of the 73 games that he played because in those 20 games he "shot and passed and made things happen and played defense the best I know how." Maravich made the All-NBA First Team for the second year in a row and finished third in MVP voting behind dominant centers Abdul-Jabbar and Walton so his performance in 1976-77 was a lot better than that harsh self-assessment suggests.

3) Meschery's "Survival Kit" for Reed--a rookie coach who would lead the New York Knicks to the playoffs with a 43-39 record but finished his coaching career with an 82-124 mark--consisted of a series of fictional letters written to Reed providing tongue in cheek advice about surviving the NBA grind.

4) Julius Erving made his NBA debut in 1976-77 after a five year ABA career during which he led the New York Nets to two championships in the league's final three seasons. Erving shared the ball with two other Philadelphia All-Stars (George McGinnis and Doug Collins) but still led the squad in scoring (21.6 ppg) while earning All-NBA Second Team honors. Erving's profile included these observations: "The ultimate in offensive weaponry...The Doctor is the most highly-respected player in the league by his peers...A complete player who gives you the impression he can score anytime he wants...The one genuine gate attraction in the league...As proof, the 76ers sold out 33 of their 41 road games...Very much the leader type who was shocked by the 76ers lack of discipline."

5) McGinnis received most of the blame for Philadelphia's collapse in the NBA Finals (the 76ers lost four straight games after taking a 2-0 lead against Portland): "Awful slump in playoffs took luster off a good season...Hates to practice and is probably more to blame than anyone for the team's schoolyard sessions...Doesn't move well without the ball and is not as physical as he should be with those muscles."

6) Collins, who is now Philadelphia's head coach after previous stints in Chicago, Detroit and Washington, was a great complementary threat alongside Erving and McGinnis: "The best, repeat, the best offensive guard in the NBA...Moves relentlessly without the ball...Missed 24 games with succession of groin pulls, which cost him a shot at All-Pro..."

7) Lloyd Free--he did not legally change his first name to "World" until a few years later--led the charge for the 76ers' "Bomb Squad," the bench players who shot first, second and third and did not bother to ask questions later: "A typical 76er...His enormous talent is exceeded only by his ego...Called by many the best leaper inch for inch in the league...Started 24 games when Collins was hurt and led team in scoring."

8) Kobe Bryant's father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, also came off of the bench for the 76ers: "Another typical 76er...Good offense, bad defense, big ego...A streak shooter with good range, who like Free has no conscience."

9) Walton's profile began with a simple rhetorical question: "Are there any skeptics remaining?...The Mountain Man has finally proved his worth after two disappointing, injury-riddled seasons...Years of glory ahead if he wants it."

10) In 1976-77, Abdul-Jabbar won the fifth of his record six regular season MVPs: "In love again...With basketball...Two years ago it seemed the fun had gone out of it but Jerry West showed up, brought in some new plays for Kareem and new players to surround him and the Big Man was, in the words of John Denver, far out...His sky hook is the most automatic two points ever invented."

11) Denver's Bobby Jones made a smooth transition from the ABA: "A computer spewed out Jones' name as the best overall player in the NBA last season...Won $10,000 as a result and promptly gave all of it to charity...That's Jones...Among league leaders in several categories--like field goal percentage, blocked shots, steals...(Coach Larry) Brown says he is the game's best all-around player and, now that the NBA has been exposed to him, many others agree."

12) The CHPB always included some colorful barbs. Here are the opening lines of Jim Eakins' profile: "Put six sheets of No. 5 ply typewriter paper on the floor and bet Eakins that he cannot jump higher than the pile...Collect your money...No leaper...His abilities have always been suspect but not his attitude."

13) Phil Jackson was nearing the end of the line with the New York Knicks: "So retire already...Threatened to quit until he found out what sheep herders make in Montana...Has slipped the past two years after building a reputation as a steady reliever...Knows his limitations and plays within them."

14) Maravich received some overdue praise after being unfairly criticized earlier in his career: "All-World (sorry, Lloyd Free)...Simply the best guard in basketball and finally getting the recognition he richly deserves...Highlight of season was 68-point performance against Knicks, but more impressive were his 13 games with 40 points or more...Became the first guard to win scoring title since Nate Archibald four years ago and only fifth ever...Now owns third-highest career scoring average for a guard (25.0) behind Jerry West and Oscar Robertson...Despite all the points, his greatest skill still is passing."

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

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:38 AM



At Friday, December 21, 2012 12:58:00 AM, Anonymous Maravich fan said...

Always enjoy these Hollander flashbacks, David. Thanks.

Just curious as to your opinion on the legacy of Maravich: do you think he's accurately "rated" in hindsight? It seems the average fan holds a special reverence for his stylistic contribution; yet fans with more depth to their basketball interest seem--with a nod to his entertainment value--somewhat critical of his lack of team success and supposed selfishness. The Maravich case obviously runs deeper, but I would be interested to get your thoughts on his body of work.

At Friday, December 21, 2012 5:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Maravich fan:

Depending on who is doing the talking/writing, Maravich can be either overrated or underrated; some of his advocates perhaps go a bit too far in praising him while overlooking his weaknesses, while some of his critics are far too quick to dismiss Maravich's precocious skills. Maravich was truly ahead of his time, something that is said about many people but is only true of a select few; he understood passing angles better than just about anyone who has ever played, he was a great shooter and a great scorer (few players possess both qualities) and he understood how to entertain the fans. He never was in the right situation--in terms of coaching staff and teammates--to fully put his skills on display for a contending team. If he were playing today he would be a perennial All-NBA performer and he would be the most popular player in the league.

At Friday, December 21, 2012 11:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've set up a wonderful cyber-library here, Mr. Friedman. Kwame Fisher-Jones of Jones Sports World recently directed me here re. the unofficial NBA-ABA All-Star games from the early '70's. It's become a regular stop.

That Portland team was nirvana to a hoops purist -- I always thought it ironic that Bobby Jones played with that Wild Bunch and Maurice Lucas (remember the SI picture with all the chains)on such a squeaky clean outfit.
Al McGuire seems a more appropriate coach for the image of Big Luke than Jack Ramsay, eh?

A question, if I may: While Scottie Pippin and perhaps Paul Pressey are often credited with "inventing" the position of Point Forward, I seem to recall John Johnson of those back-to-back finalist Sonics serving that role with that team, to a lesser extent with Bill Fitch's Cavaliers prior to that.
My question is: Other than swingmen like Havlicek or the Van Arsdales, was there an earlier incarnation of the point/playmaking forward?

Thanks for the Mr. Peabody allusion -- also working both "flotsam" and "knucklehead" into the same essay last week was impressive. Bravo for your writing talent as well.

Abacus Reveals, jonessportsworld.com

At Friday, December 21, 2012 3:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Abacus Reveals:

Thank you for your kind words and for your continuing interest in my work.

Jones and Lucas were both ABA vets but they never played on the same team. It is perhaps ironic that Jones played for Philly, though the 76ers shipped out a lot of the wild players before Jones' arrival.

John Johnson was an excellent playmaker who is not as well remembered as Pippen, Pressey and some of the others but I did mention him in my Basketball Digest article about pro basketball's greatest passing forwards:

More Than A Passing Fancy: The Best Playmaking Forwards Ever

Elgin Baylor, Cliff Hagan and Rick Barry are three players who filled the "point forward" role prior to the emergence of John Johnson.


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