Historical Pro Basketball 1967-69

SWC75

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#1
The Lively League

Change is inevitable, good or bad, and in 1967, it was happening – apparently- everywhere in pro basketball. The American Basketball Association rose to be by far the strongest rival to the NBA, in a sense another reincarnation of the original American Basketball league that got the whole thing going back in 1925, returned in 1934 and again, briefly, in 1961. The new league even borrowed an idea from the early 60’s ABL – three points for a 25 foot shot. But they also had a new blueprint for success: The American Football League.

The AFL had been created in 1960 because the NFL refused to expand. They not only survived but eventually merged with the NFL as equals, even bringing their league records into the NFL record book and eventually beating the older league in the 3rd and 4th Super Bowls. The prevailing theory for the AFL’s success was part of the theory for pro football’s first great success in the 1960’s: they were on television and the sport was made for TV, with its bursts of action on a relatively small field. The AFL got an immediate TV contract from, (appropriately), the American Broadcasting Company. But after two years they switched to the National Broadcasting Company, (also appropriate, considering where they wound up). In probably the only positive contribution to the league from New York Titans owner Harry Wismer, the league adopted the idea of splitting television revenues equally to keep each franchise afloat, something the NFL didn’t adopt until later. The league also adopted an exciting, offensive oriented style in an effort to put on a good show. I recall watching a game where Oakland beat Houston 52-49, (at one time, a basketball score). It was more fun than the Green Bay sweep.

But they also did something else that was key to the league’s survival: they didn’t directly compete with the NFL in the same market unless they felt they really had to. You can win a trivia contest by asking what cities got the initial 8 AFL franchises: Boston, Buffalo, New York, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. The NFL moved to compete with the fledgling league by putting teams into Dallas and Minnesota. The AFL made strategical withdrawals from those sites, moving their Minneapolis franchise to Oakland before they ever played a game and finally convincing their founder and richest owner, Lamar Hunt, to move his team from his native Dallas to Kansas City in their fourth season. The league also moved the Chargers from LA to San Diego after one season, (they would be there for 56 years). That meant that the league was competing with the NFL only in New York. Their franchise there was weak as long as the mercurial but cash-strapped Wismer owned it but when he was forced to sell the team to veteran sports and show business entrepreneur Sonny Werblin before the 1963 season. Sonny subsequently signed Joe Namath and the league now had a strong New York franchise. In every other city they were in, the AFL was the only football game in town and often the only major league sports game in town. The fans looked to their AFL teams to put them on the map and became loyal to the new team and the new league.

The founders of the ABA had seen all this transpire. One was Dennis Murphy, the former Mayor of Buena Vista, California and along time public relations executive before that. Another was John McShane, a former disc jockey for Los Angeles Angel owner Gene Autry’s radio station and PR man and executive for his baseball team. The two of them got together with Lawyer Gary Davidson and worked out a proposal for a new league and came up with a motto for it: “The Lively league”. In New York, Constantine, “Connie” Seredin, who was running something called the “Professional Sports Management Company”, a firm that brought together athletes and advertisers. Per “Basketball: The American Game” by Joe Jares, Seredin’s favorite words were “divine” and “concept”. It was his divine concept that his firm would handle all the public relations, including television sales, for a new league. Both the Murphy group and Severin came up with their ideas independently but there was one idea besides the league itself that both came up with: They wanted George Mikan, now a Minneapolis Lawyer, to be their league’s commissioner. Receiving both offers, Mikan brought the parties together and agreed to take the job provided there was a franchise in Minneapolis.

Mikan came up with good gimmick that turned out to be very good: he wanted the league balls to painted red, white and blue. There was a lot of opposition to it from traditionalists. Players often warmed up with naturally brown colored balls but Mikan put his foot down. The multi-colored ball became league’s symbol and proved to be a lucrative marketing gimmick: The public bought half a million of the ABA colored balls and the league got a cut each time.

The group admired the AFL so much they actually went to the AFL owners to ask them if they’d like to create a basketball version of their league. They weren’t interested so the organizers had to come up with cities, owners and venues by themselves. Some of the owners were from their group. Davidson, whose law practice was in Orange County in California, became part-owner of the Dallas Chaparrals along with another Orange Country resident, John Klug. His law partner Donald Regan became a co-owner of a “floating” franchise that had no home yet. Murphy because the owner of the Oakland Oaks. A PR client of his, James Trindle, was the owner of the Denver Rockets. They contacted potential owners from Indianapolis, Cleveland and New Orleans. The two prospective Cleveland owners showed up for the organizing meeting, announced they were interested but had to leave and were never heard from again. The Indianapolis people showed up at the last minute. Sean Downey, (brother of Morton Downey Jr.) had tried to buy the St. Louis Hawks and bring them to New Orleans but his check bounced. There was nervousness when he presented a check for a New Orleans team to the ABA founders but that one didn’t bounce. It was decided to put a team in Louisville, to be called the Kentucky Colonels. Former ABL owner Arthur Kim bankrolled the Anaheim Amigos. The New York franchise could not find a venue and wound up being the New Jersey Americans because the only place they could find to play was the armory in Teaneck. An introductory news conference in New York turned out to be a fiasco as the young owners were unable to answer reporter’s questions until the 6-10 Mikan strode in and calmly spoke to them. Somehow the league was launched.

But one thing was missing: a TV contract. They hadn’t bene able to negotiate one, so, by modern standards, they were playing in the shadows. On ABA official said “It was a looser atmosphere.” One fan remembered. “We could do a lot of things [the NBA] won’t let us do” Per the History Channel website, “The ABA was a much flashier league than the NBA. In place of the traditional orange basketball it used a garish red, white and blue ball that, Celtics coach Red Auerbach frequently said, belonged on the nose of a circus seal. Its cheerleaders wore bikinis. Many of its players grew outlandishly large Afros. Trash-talking and fights on the court were the norm.”

There were some familiar faces from the old ABL days. Connie Hawkins, who couldn’t play in the NBA because a peripheral involvement in a point shaving scandal became the star of the league again for the Pittsburgh Pipers, averaging 26.8 points and 13.5 rebounds a game. Other players who had been involved with the same scandal, Tony Jackson, Doug Moe and Roger Brown, also got another chance to play in the ABA. Ex hawks star Cliff Hagan jumped to the new league as player-coach for the Dallas team. NBA journeymen Wayne Hightower and Ben Warley also jumped but the big fish was NBA scoring king Rick Barry, who signed with the Oakland Oaks. But the Warriors filed a law-suit that took several years to resolve. Per a judge’s order, Rick was not allowed to play for anybody in 1967-68 and instead began his career as a TV color man- doing the Oaks games, wondering what he’d be able to do if he could play in those games.

The league also developed its own stars: Larry Jones, who scored 22.9 for Denver, 6 foot Freddie Lewis the Pacers (20.6). The Minnesota Muskies had a fine inside tandem of Mel Daniels (22.2p 15.6r) and Les “Big Game” Hunter (17.6p 9.8r). Another 6 footer Charlie Williams, aided Hawkins with the Pipers, (20.8p) as did former Duke star Art Heyman (20.1). Another Dukie, Bob Verga, came out of military service to score 23.7 in 31 games for Dallas. Kentucky had a tremendous backcourt of Darrel Carrier, from Western Kentucky, (22.9p) and Louie Dampier, from Kentucky (20.7). 5-10 170 Willie Somerset scored 21.7 for Houston and Doug Moe 24.8 for New Orleans. But for much of the season, the leading scorer was somebody named Lavern Tart, (his nickname was “Jelly”), who scored 26.9 for the Oakland Oaks in Barry’s absence. He was then traded to New Jersey for whom he scored only 19.0 and wound up at 23.5. Anaheim’s Les Selvage led in three pointers, with 147 of 461 (32.0%). Jerry Harkness made an 88 foot shot for Indiana against Dallas. He thought he’d tied the game at 118 but someone reminded him of the three point line. The game was over.

Pittsburgh won the East with a 54-24 record just ahead of Minnesota (50-28). New Orleans (48-30) beat out Dallas (46-32) and Denver (45-33) in an exciting Western race. The top four teams in each division made the playoffs but there was a tie for 4th in the east between Kentucky and New Jersey. There was to be a one-game playoff in Teaneck but the circus was using the armory so it was arranged to play the game in the Commack Arena on Long Island, 50 miles away. When the teams showed up (Per “The Sports Encyclopedia: Pro Basketball”), “they found floor boards missing and bolts protruding from the floor.” The game was forfeited to Kentucky, who thus made the playoffs. “The incident cast the playoffs in a somewhat bush-league light.”

The two conference champs, Pittsburgh and New Orleans, won their way to the final round. The Pipers swept the Pacers 3-0 and easily handled the Muskies, probably the loop’s second best team, 4-1. They finally had some adversity in the final against the Buccaneers, featuring Moe and point guard Larry Brown, who won the second game in Pittsburgh 109-100 and the third game in New Orleans 109-101. They had a 9 point lead going into the third quarter of the fourth game, also in the Big Not-so-easy but Hawkins led the Pipers back to tie it up and win 106-105 in overtime. Connie wound up with 47 points while Trooper Washington had 18 and 25 rebounds. But Hawkins had hurt his knee and missed the fifth game back in Pittsburgh and the Bucs won 111-108 to take a 3-2 lead. Connie came back with his right leg heavily taped up. (Willis Reed, take note.) It was discovered he had a torn medial collateral ligament. But he played those last two games, scoring 41 points to lead his team back from a 13 point halftime deficit to win 118-122 in New Orleans. Then, with more help from his teammates, including Charlie Williams with 35 points, Hawkins and the Pipers closed out the series in their home arena with a 122-113 victory to win the first ever ABA championship. Amazingly, it wasn’t the last.

The balance of power and just about everything else shifted in the ABA’s second season, 1968-69. New Jersey’s Americans moved permanently to the Commack Arena after the floor was rebuilt and changed their name to the New York Nets. The Anaheim Amigos became the Los Angeles Stars. The Muskies moved from Minnesota to Miami. Commissioner Mikan threatened to resign if there was no Minnesota franchise so the Pipers moved from Pittsburgh to become the Minnesota Pipers. Hawkins continued to have trouble with his knee and played only 47 games, although he scored 30.2ppg. The team was plagued with injuries and the only starter to play even 70 games was Art Heyman with 71. The result was a 36-42 record. The leagues’ best team was the Oakland Oaks, who now had Rick Barry’s services. Unfortunately, he also hurt his knee and played in only 35 games. But they also had the services of Coach Alex Hannum, who had jumped from the 76ers and led the team to a dominating 60-18 record, which won the West by 14 games over the Buccaneers, whose 46-32 record was better than the Eastern pennant winners, the Indiana Pacers who were just 44-34.

The Oaks missed Barry but had Moe and Brown from New Orleans and Warren Armstrong, who became Warren Jabali. Barry averaged a league –leading 34.0 in the games he played. Jabali averaged 21.5 and Moe 19.0. Brown led the league in assists with 7.1. The Oaks averaged an all-time pro record of 126.5 points per game, never falling below 100 points in any game. But they had a difficult time subduing Denver in the first round. The first game was a 129-99 Oaks blow-out that may have made them complacent. A 41-22 third quarter propelled the Rockets to a 122-119 game two win. The Oaks re-took command with a 121-99 win in Denver behind 42 points from Jabali. But the Rockets pulled out a 109-108 win in game 4. Back in Oakland the Oaks built up a 19 point lead after three quarters and coasted to a 128-118 win. But Denver again answered with a 126-115 win at home as their star, Larry Jones, scored 33. It was almost like the 1960 World Series with the Oaks winning one-sided games but the Rockets scrambling to match them each time. But Oakland closed it out with a 115-102 win at home with Moe scoring 28 and Brown 25. That was the only serious threat: the Oaks then swept New Orleans in four games and beat the Pacers in five for the second d ABA title.

The league was certainly lively. More importantly, it was alive and the NBA had some serious competition.
 

SWC75

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#2
The Celtic’s Revenge

The NBA responded to the new completion in the same way the NFL did: after refusing to expand to accommodate new cities and new owners, thus forcing the creation of the rival league, the older circuit opened the doors to new franchises in Seattle, (the Supersonics, now the Oklahoma City Thunder), and San Diego, (the Rockets, now in Houston) for the 1967-68 season, Milwaukee, (the Bucks), Phoenix (the Suns) for 1968-69 and Buffalo (the Braves, now the Los Angeles Clippers), Cleveland (the Cavaliers) and Portland (the Trail-Blazers) for 1970-71.

On the court, the league’s teams had been sick of losing to the Celtics every year and had begun to imitate them. The Philadelphia 76ers under Alex Hannum, had gotten Wilt Chamberlain to focus on defense and getting his teammates involved and ii had paid off with a divisional title in 1966 and a dominating March to the NBA title in 1967, featuring the league’s best regular season record to date, (68-13) and a 4-1 steamrolling of the old champs in the playoffs. The Sixers were the new dynasty!

But other teams had taken note of the trend. The Knickerbockers had a twin towers concept with Walt Bellamy and Willis Reed but eventually eased Bellamy, an old-fashioned “get me the ball” big man, out in favor of Reed, who could score but also defend and rebound more in the Russell mold. The Baltimore Bullets got a defense and rebounding guy of their own with Wes Unseld for the 1968-69 season. The Hawks, (who moved from St. Louis to Atlanta for the 1968-69 season), had a similar player in Zelmo Beatty. Even in the ABA, the most consistently successful team was the Indiana Pacers with the Russell-like Mel Daniels at center. The most successful NBA teams since then have tended to resemble the Russell Celtics in some respect, especially the defend-and-fast break model. There have been some high-scoring centers but they have become a dying breed.

The team that reinvented the game was getting a bit old. Bill Russell was 33, Sam Jones 34. KC Jones retired. A couple of retreads from other teams, Bailey Howell and Wayne Embry, were playing key roles. John Havlicek was just coming into his own as a star at age 27 but all those years of winning had cut off the flow of young talent. Boston still had a formidable team and won 54 games vs. 28 losses. They had a 25-7 start but they could not keep ahead of the 76ers over the course of the long regular season. The Sixers won 24 of their last 29 games to finish at 62-20. They swept regular season honors with Wilt Chamberlain winning a third straight MVP award. Hal Greer was MVP of the all-star game, which the East won 144-124. The Sixers pushed aside the Knicks in six games and then took on Boston who had done the same to the Detroit Pistons but had to overcome a 1-2 deficit to do so. The Celtics shocked their rivals with a 127-118 win in Philadelphia but the best team in the NBA righted the ship with three straight wins, two of them in Boston and all was right with the world – if you were a Sixers fan or just a Celtic hater.

From “The Sports Encyclopedia: Pro Basketball”: “the eastern showdown between the 76ers and the Celtics had the air of a rematch for the heavyweight championship of the world: the Celtics had beaten the 76ers two years ago; the 76ers had beaten the Celtics last year. The opening game, one day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, (the teams voted to play after Russell and Chamberlain consulted with each other and then talked to their teammates), saw the Celtics use long-range shooting to take a 127-118 victory. But then the 76ers settled down to their power game and took three straight from the Celtics. With their backs to the Wall, the Celtics staved off elimination with a 122-104 win in Philly. Then, back in Boston, they evened the series with a 114-106 win. With the series riding now on a seventh game, it came down to the 76ers muscle vs. the Celtic savvy. Chamberlain concentrated on feeding his teammates, who had a collective off night in the shooting department the Celtics stayed right with the stronger 76ers and led 97-95 with 34 seconds left on the clock. Russell then sank a foul shot, blocked a shot by Chet Walker, grabbed a rebound of Hal Greer’s shot and got the ball out to Sam Jones, who sunk a final basket for a 100-96 victory. The Celtics dynasty was back in business.” It was the first time a 1-3 deficit had been overcome in a best of seven NBA series.

From “The Illustrated History of Basketball”: “The ‘new’ Chamberlain had played his role to a tragic conclusion on the Greeks and Shakespeare seem to enjoy. Even though his teammates were very much off the mark, Chamberlain refused to shoot in the second half. As the 76ers crumbled around him, only one year after winning the championship Wilt Chamberlain took only two shots.”

From ”The NBA Finals: A Fifty Year Celebration”: “Luck, always plays a major factor in sports, made it’s play early in the playoffs, when Chamberlain lost a $1,000 blackjack hand on the team bus, an omen if there ever was one. In the post-season battle, the Philly boys fell one at a time. Cunningham fractured his wrist and was out. Jackson had a badly pulled hamstring. And Wilt injured his big toe. None of which seemed to make a difference heading into the Boston series, but it would all add up afterward. The Celtics, meanwhile, were reasonably healthy and ready. They needed no extra motivation going into the conference finals. Howell recalled: “Everywhere we went, especially in Philadelphia, they had a chant ‘Boston’s Dead…Boston’s Dead… The dynasty is over!’ You’d hear it at the airport, when you got off the plane in Philadelphia. The cab drivers would be on you, riding you a little. Everywhere you went, the fans were real vocal. So it just made you more determined, really. It just helped you to play. It’s tough, playing as often as you do, to be emotionally ready every night. When you get some help like that from opposing fans, it’s really a lift.” Enough of a lift that the Celtics beat the Sixers three times in Philadelphia: the bloody nose of the first game, the big turn-around in the fifth game and the clincher in game 7. The decision to play game one without a postponement resulted in a “dead atmosphere”: game 2 was postponed for 5 days. Both teams had to play in the dead atmosphere but it did not seem like a home game for anybody.

Wilt Chamberlain: “They deserved to win. They were tougher.” Sam Jones: “We believed we still had more to give. We had Russell and he was the savior. As long as he stayed healthy, I never worried about winning.” Wayne Embry, describing the Celtics reaction to being down 1-3: “Before the next game, John Havlicek and I walked into the locker room and wrote PRIDE on the blackboard in great big letters.” Satch Sanders: “The things other people laughed at, the Celtics believed in.” It was the Celtics and the Lakers for the 6th time in the anti-climactic finals. The Celtics won in 6 for their 10 title in 12 years.


Meanwhile is all began to unravel in Philadelphia. Wilt wasn’t getting along with Sixer’s owner Irv Kosloff. Wilt wanted a piece of the team but Kosloff turned him down. He then felt he had gotten “had grown too big for Philadelphia, sought the presence of fellow celebrities (which were plenty in L.A.) and finally also desired the opportunity to date white women, which was possible for a black man in L.A. but hard to imagine elsewhere back then.” (Wikipedia) He threatened to jump to the ABA so Kosloff agreed to trade him to the Lakers, (For Darrell Imhoff, Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers). Alex Hannum also left for the west coast, where his family lived and where he’d been offered a piece of the Oakland Oaks, who (see above) dominated that league to win its second championship in 1968-69.

The Lakers were expected to do the same thing with the three greatest players ever to play one team: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. From “Basketball: The American Game”: “Here at last was the powerhouse center the Lakers had needed since Mikan retired back in the Minnesota days….”We’ve always gotten along well and that’s one reason the Lakers have always had good records in Los Angeles” said West. “Last year, if we played well, we had a chance to win. Now, if we play well, we’re going to win”…The Laker’s second-year coach Butch van Breda Kolff was happy with the deal- at first. Then he found out why Wilt – three man who once scored 100 points in a regulation NBA game, the man who once took down 55 rebounds against Boston- had been traded twice. Butch realized that if he didn’t win the championship with all that talent, he would be the goat. He saw that Wilt was a sulker and a lackadaisical practicer. Wilt arrived with a beard and kept it, even though VBK preferred a clean-shaven team. Wilt wanted a private room on the road…Butch was grumbling and gloomy, whereas the previous season he had been his usual exuberant self while managing the difficult trick of being both buddy and boss to the players. The players were optimistic about the 1968-69 season, although nobody was doing any flip-flops of pure joy.”

The Lakers steam-rolled through the west, winning by 7 games with a 55-27 record. But that wasn’t the level of dominance the Sixers had had or the Celtics before them. “Wilt was a new intimidating factor on defense, enabling his teammates to gamble more. On offense, however, it was a struggle all season between Butch and Wilt. The coach wanted Wilt to play more at the high post. Wilt wanted to stay in his old, accustomed spot down low. Whichever place the big guy played, the Laker offense was not as free-wheeling and fast as it had been.”

Ironically Wilt’s old team, the 76er, had the same record without him: 55-27. Billy Cunningham developed into a star and he and Hal Greer and Chet Walker carried the team. But they finished second to the Bullets, who went 57-25. Wes Unseld proved to be the best anyone had seen at launching the fast break with long outlet passes. He only scored a Russell-like 13.8ppg but pulled down a Russell-like 18.2rpg. Earl Monroe was the most spectacular one-on-one player the league had seen and scored 25.8. Kevin Loughery added 22.6, giving the Bullets the league’s highest scoring backcourt. Gus Johnson was the definition of a power forward with 17.9/11.6 and Jack Marin added 15.9ppg. In third place was the hottest team in the league. The Knicks traded for Detroit’s Dave DeBusschere midway through the season and won 36 of their last 46 games. They were now the team that would win the NBA title a year later. They wound up 54-28. In fourth place was a tired old team called the Boston Celtics.

Bill Russell was 34 with a bad knee. He didn’t even practice anymore. He just played in the games. Sam Jones was 35 with a pulled groin muscle. Satch Sanders was 30 and Bailey Howell 31. Wayne Embry had retired. John Havlicek, the “kid” at age 29, got his chance to start when Bill Russell became the coach, had become the Celtic’s star but even he was only the 16th best scorer in the league at 21.6ppg. The old men limped to a 48-34 record, which included a sub .500 second half of the season. They lost 6 of 7 games to the Knicks on the season and were blown out on national TV by the Lakers 73-108 at the end of the regular season.

From “The Illustrated History of Basketball”: “Still, fourth place meant a spot in the playoffs and the Celtics were thankful for that. In the short, second season their professional pride, savvy and poise would carry them to heights their aged legs might not have been able to scale over an eighty two game schedule.” Bill Russell: “About midway through that season I decided that I was playing my last year. We were hoping to win a last championship for Sam (Jones had announced his retirement for the end of the season). I dedicated myself to leaving just as happy as Sam at season’s end.”

The red hot Knicks continued their roll, shockingly eliminating the Bullets in four straight. The Celtics destroyed the 76ers, winning the first three games by a total of 52 points and the series in five games. Then they shocked the Knicks in New York 108-100 and 112-97 back in Boston. The Knicks rallied to win two of the next three but the Old Men closed out the new kids 106-105 in Boston. The Lakers had rolled through the West, beating the Warriors and Hawks in only 11 total games. And so it was on.

Jerry West was ready. The Lakers were 0-6 against the Celtics in the finals. “The closer you get to the magic circle, the more enticing it becomes. I imagine in some ways, it’s like a drug. It’s seductive because it’s always there and the desire is always there to win one more game. I don’t like to think I’m different but I’m obsessed with winning. And losing made it so much more difficult in the off-season.” But Elgin Baylor was fading. Bailey Howell told reporters “I don’t have to go for his fakes anymore and he’s not as quick in following his shot.” Meanwhile, Chamberlain faced another confrontation with his nemesis, Bill Russell.

Havlicek scored 39 points in the opener in LA but West more than topped that with a 53 points and his team needed every basket in a 120-118 win. Russell, (16p 27r), and Chamberlain (15p 23r) cancelled each other out inside. Howell may not have gone for Baylor’s fakes but Elgin out-scored him 24-8. Old man Sam Jones scored 21. The West-Havlicek shooting contest continued in game two with John winning that battle 43 points to 41. The Laker’s old man, Baylor added 32 and little (5-11) Johnny Egan surprised with 26 points as the Lakers took a 2-0 lead with a 118-112 win. There were some nervous thoughts of a sweep but they didn’t last long.

At home, the Celtics took a 57-40 halftime lead but the Lakers wiped that out with a 38-21 third quarter. From “The NBA Finals”: “But the Garden crowd helped pump up the Celtics for one final offensive surge. Havlicek, his left eye shut, hit the late free throws to keep Boston alive, 111-105….Russell had helped the battered Havlicek off the court at one point. “I was thinking that he might be hurt badly”, Russell explained later. “You see these men are my friends. Above all, we are our friends.” Havlicek scored 34 and Larry Siegfried surprised with 28. West was held to 24.

Game 4 was a defensive duel, plagued by 50 turnovers ”and enough bad shots and passes to last them a month…With 15 seconds left, the Lakers had an 88-87 lead and the ball. All they had to do was get the pass in safely and run out the clock. Instead (Emmett) Bryant stole the ball, (which must have excited Johnny Most), and the Celtics raced the other way. Sam Jones missed a jumper but Boston controlled the rebound and called time at 0:07. On the in-bounds Bryant three the ball to Havlicek, then set a pick to his left. (Don) Nelson and Howell followed in line to make it a triple pick. At the last instant, Havlicek passed to Jones, cutting to his right. Jones stumbled to a halt behind Howell, who cut off West. There, at the 0:03 mark, Jones lofted an 18 footer. He slipped as he took his off-balance shot and it just cleared Chamberlain’s out-stretched hand. Jones knew it was going to miss and even tried to pull it back, he explained afterwards. The ball went up anyway, hit the rim, rose up, hit the back of the rim and fell in. Chamberlain leaped up and lorded over the basket, his face a picture of anguish as the ball came through the net.” West had 40 points in a game where no one else had more than 21 but the series was even.

The Lakers re-took the lead in the series in Los Angeles, 117-104. Chamberlain dominated Russell inside, 13 points and 31 rebounds to 2 and 13 for Bill. West had 39 but injured his hamstring. He was hobbled for game 6 in Boston scored ‘only’ 26 points. Baylor matched that but Mel Counts, Chamberlain’s back-up was the only other Laker in double figures as the Celtics evened the series again with a 99-90 win. Now it all came down to game 7.

Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke was confident his team would hold serve and finally win a championship for Los Angeles. “He visualized the perfect finale for a championship season. He ordered thousands of balloons suspended in the Forum rafters. According to Cooke’s plan, they would be released as the Lakers claimed their championship. As the balloons rained down on the jubilant Lakers and their fans, the band would strike up “Happy Days Are Here Again”. Cooke could see it clearly….and so could Red Auerbach. The Celtics General Manager walked into the Forum that May 5 and gazed up into the cloud of balloons in the rafters. “Those things are going to stay up there a hell of a long time.”

From “The Illustrated History of Basketball”: “The Celtics broke fast from the gate that night in Los Angeles, as if they feared time would suddenly turn their aging legs to rubber. They hit eight of their first twelve shots and led by 24-12.” The Lakers fought back to 56-59 at halftime and eventually tied the score at 60 all, only to see the Celtics go on an 11-0 run that erased all that good work. Eventually the lead got to 17 at 91-74.

“With six minutes to play and the Celtics still up by 9, Wilt Chamberlain, the indomitable super-human Dipper, came down hard with a rebound, grimacing with pain. He had injured his leg but play continued even though he was unable to make his way upcourt. When the Lakers did manage to call time out, Wilt hobbled to the bench. Butch Van Breda Kolff, the excitable, strong-willed Laker coach, who had sparred with Chamberlain throughout a troubled season, sent in his speed boys and probably mumbled a little player. Surprisingly the Lakers started to do better with Chamberlain on the bench, scoring 8 straight points to trail by only one with less than three minutes to go. Now, if he could make it at all, was the time for Chamberlain to return and crush the fading and weary Celtics.”

“The next moments are muddied with controversy. Chamberlain later insisted he had motioned to Van Breda Kolff that he was ready to go in. Van Bread Kolff insisted just as vehemently that eh received no such message. In any event, Wilt Chamberlain remained on the bench. The Celtics were there for the taking but without Wilt the Lakers didn’t have the reach.” Ex-Laker Don Nelson made a basket that hit the back rim, bounced straight up and fell through and Larry Siegfried a couple of free throws to clinch the game and the title, 108-106.
1969 NBA Finals Gm. 7 Celtics vs. Lakers (4th Quarter)

After the game, Russell said that Wilt should not have left the game with anything short of a broken leg. Per “The Picture History of the Boston Celtics”: “The criticism ruptured a longtime friendship, creating bad feeling between the men. It also was a clue that Russell was retiring because he never would have publically antagonized his archrival had he intended to oppose him on a basketball court.”

Jerry West, despite his hobbled leg, scored a triple double with 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, (this from a 6-2 175 guy). He was named MVP of the series- the only player ever to win that award for the losing team. For the series, Jerry averaged 38 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists per game. Note the comments by Red Auerbach and Sam Jones at the 30:00 mark of the above video. John Havlicek told him as the game ended, “Jerry, I love you.” Larry Siegfried called him “The master. They can talk about the others, build them up, but he is the one. He is the only guard.”

But the numbers were of no consolation #44.”I didn’t think it was fair that you could give so much and maybe play until there was nothing left in your body to give and you couldn’t win. I don’t think people really understand the trauma associated with losing. I don’t think people realize how miserable you can be, and me in particular. I wanted to quit basketball. It was like a slap in the face, like “We’re not gonna let you win. We don’t care how well you play.” I always thought it was personal.”

Elgin Baylor was more philosophical: “It was a challenge to play against Russell and the Celtics. It was fun. It was disappointing to lose. But it was the ultimate challenge. They were a proud team and they had reason to be. Some people thought they were proud and arrogant. But I enjoyed playing against them. They were the best.”
 

SWC75

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#3
NET POINTS

1967-68 NBA
Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 3350 (41.9)
Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati 2575 (34.2)
Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles 1981 (31.4)
Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati 1976 (34.3)
Bill Russell, Boston 1837 (29.9)
Zelmo Beatty, St. Louis 1782 (27.9)
Willis Reed, New York 1745 (29.1)
Lenny Wilkins, St. Louis 1635 (24.8)
Walt Bellamy, New York 1626 (29.0)
Bill Bridges, St. Louis 1588 (23.8)

1967-68 ABA (includes turnovers- they also had a three point shot to add to their scoring totals)
Connie Hawkins, Pittsburgh 1918 (29.2)
John Beasley, Dallas 1564 (26.4)
Doug Moe, New Orleans 1313 (26.4)
Red Robbins, New Orleans 1305 (29.0)
Mel Daniels, Indianapolis 1292 (21.1)
Jim Hadnot, Oakland 1227 (19.6)
Larry Jones, Denver 1151 (17.9)
Goose Ligon, Kentucky 1135 (19.5)
Bud Netolicky, Indianapolis 1130 (22.7)
Steve Chubin, Anaheim 1124 (22.1)

1968-69 NBA
Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles 2662 (34.9)
Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati 2285 (35.7)
Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati 2149 (29.8)
Elvin Hayes, San Diego 2149 (27.9)
Willis Reed, New York 2043 (31.6)
Nate Thurmond, San Francisco 1946 (29.1)
Wes Unseld, Baltimore 1908 (30.8)
Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 1847 (26.5)
Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles 1842 (28.9)
Bill Russell, Boston 1839 (26.8)

1968-69 ABA
Jimmy Jones, New Orleans 1714 (25.8)
Mel Daniels, Indianapolis 1602 (26.2)
Red Robbins, New Orleans 1406 (24.7)
John Beasley, Dallas 1365 (21.5)
Larry Jones, Denver 1352 (21.3)
Skip Thoren, Miami 1323 (24.0)
Donnie Freeman, Miami 1242 (20.7)
Louie Dampier, Kentucky 1226 (17.7)
Connie Hawkins, Minnesota 1213 (31.4)
Roger Brown, Indianapolis 1205 (21.8)
Bob Netolicky, Indianapolis 1201 (21.2)

Top Ten for 1967-69 (10 points for finishing first in net points, 9 for second, etc.)
Wilt Chamberlain 20 points
Jerry Lucas 18
Oscar Robertson 15
John Beasley 14
Mel Daniels 13
Red Robbins 13
Connie Hawkins 12
Elgin Baylor 10
Jimmy Jones 10
Larry Jones 10
Willis Reed 10

Comment: I was disappointed not to see Dave Bing,s name on the NBA lists: he was the NBA’s scoring champion in 1967-68, (although Oscar Robertson had a higher average: they used total points in those days). Dave had 1,516 NP that year, just short of the top ten. He averaged 22.7 per 48 minutes. The next hear he had 1,377 NP (21.7). Dave was a great player but it’s hard for a guard to crack the top ten unless he’s more of a guard/forward and can get those rebounds. Jerry West is not on this list because it’s based on total net points and Jerry missed 31 games in 1967-67 and 21 in 1968-69. He totaled 1,254 NP in the first year and 1,391 NP in the second. That gave him averages of 31.4 and 27.9 per 48 minutes in those years, better than many in the NBA Top Ten. But his total NP fell short of the Top Ten in each year. Rick Barry couldn’t play in 1967-68 due to his court case and played in only played in 35 games in 1968-69 due to a knee injury. He had 964 NP in those games and averaged 34.0 per 48 minutes. Again, a great average but not enough to make the Top Ten. So Rick got zero ranking points over this two year period, even though he was one of the best players in basketball. Connie Hawkins in 1968-69 played only 47 games but his NP average was easily the best in the league. However, he had only 1,213 NP and finished 9th, giving him only 2 ranking points for that year and 12 for the period. Those are the breaks. Your value to your team when you aren’t playing is zero.

HISTORICAL TOP TEN after 1969
Wilt Chamberlain 100
Dolph Schayes 93
Bill Russell 86
Bob Pettit 81
Oscar Robertson 74
George Mikan 72
Bobby McDermott 65
Neil Johnston 61
Leroy Edwards 58
Benny Borgmann 57

Comment: the players of the 60’s have taken over the top of the list, (with Wilt, ironically at 100 points), but they don’t have far to go. The next generation will have a hard time cracking the list, which still has several guys from the early days of the pro game.
 

SWC75

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#4
THE PLAYERS

New faces on the scene, (mostly form the ABA, although the faces weren’t all that new), included MEL DANIELS, the best center the ABA ever had. I always thought of him as the closest thing to Bill Russell in the ABA except Mel could score better than Bill. Mel had virtually the same dimensions: 6-9 220, (some sources list Bill as 6-9, others as 6-10).

He was an All-American at New Mexico and was the star of the team that beat the first SU basketball team I ever followed wire-to-wire, the 1966-67 post-Dave Bing team. He went to the Minnesota Muskies of the ABA and led the league in rebounds his first year with 15.6 while scoring 22.2ppg. The Muskies had the second best record in the league at 50-28 and Mel was easily the biggest reason why: he had 5 points and 6 rebounds a game more than anybody else on the team. The Muskies were bleeding red financially and they both moved to Miami and sold Daniels’ contract to the Indiana Pacers, his home for the next 6 seasons. He led the league in rebounding three times with a high of 18.0 and scored as high as 24.0, averaging 18.4/14.9 for his career, (rebounds started getting harder to come by as shooting percentages were going up). With Mel the Pacers won three ABA titles. Mel was Rookie of the Year in 1968 and MVP in 1969 and 1971.

Injuries curtailed Mel’s career and he played only one year in the NBA, the first season after the merger in 1976-77. He played 11 games as a reserve for a former ABA team, the New York Nets. The ABA lasted 9 seasons and several of its stars played out the prime of their careers in that league, leaving the question of how good they actually were unanswered. But that works both ways. They may have been over-rated in their time by ABA fans but they tend to be under-rated by current fans. Mel’s record was sterling enough to get him elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012. He holds the record for the fewest single-digit scoring games in his career for a HOFer with 12. Michael Jordan had 13.
Hall of Fame inductee Mel Daniels a titan of the ABA

Video tribute:

Nobody knows who JOHN BEASLEY was now. Well, he does, I’m sure and so do his family and friends. If you type his name into Wikipedia, you’ll get a list of John Beasleys and he’s #5 on the list behind a musician, an actor, a cyclist, an Egyptologist and a football player. John played for Texas A&M, hardly a basketball powerhouse back in the 60’s. But he was a 6-9 225 power forward for the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA. His first three years he averaged between 18.3 and 19.7ppg and was MVP of the 1969 all-star game.

He was still productive at 15.9/9.2 in 1971-72 as the “Texas Chaparrals”, (they eventually became the San Antonio Spurs), but his production was nothing but single digits after that. I haven’t been able to find the reason but I assume it was injuries. He played a couple of years as a back-up for the Utah Stars and then retried. He never played in the NBA. I found no clips of John in action but he was named the #7 player in Spurs history, (even though he never played as a Spur):
San Antonio Spurs: 25 Best Players To Play For The Spurs


RED ROBBINS is another forgotten name. He was a smaller than Daniels and Beasley at 6-8 190 but, per Wikipedia, he was “nicknamed for his red hair, as well as his fiery personality, and he gained a reputation as one of the toughest players in the league, grabbing over 6,000 rebounds in his career. Robbins was also a solid offensive contributor with above-average shooting range.” He played for five different ABA teams from 1967-75. He never reached quite the statistical heights of Daniels and Beasley (his best year was 1969-70 when he averaged 16.4/16.2) but he was able to maintain his production, averaging 14.1/7.6 in his final season. He was never quite a star, just a respected player who did the dirty work for some good teams. He often played as an under-sized center but gave as good as he got. “In Game 7 of the 1971 ABA Finals, he made eleven out of twelve field goals to lead the Utah Stars to a league title.” I also found no clips of Red in action.
Remember the ABA: Red Robbins: "The Big Easy" (by Dan Pattison)


The JONES boys, JIMMY and LARRY weren’t really related but they often seemed to be next to each other in the stats. Larry was the older man by 3 years and came out of the University of Toledo. He’d been drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers but were assigned by them to play minor league ball, (yes they could do that back then, too). He did manage to play in 23 games for the Sixers, averaging 5.7ppg. “When the American Basketball Association was created in 1967, Jones called and wrote to every team in the league, the Denver Rockets were the only one to answer.” (Wikipedia). Larry took off for the wild blue yonder in Denver, scoring 22.9 his first year, leading the league with 28.4 in his second year and 24.9 his third year. That second year he scored 30 points in 23 consecutive games with a high of 52. He was a good rebounder for his size, (7.9 that first year and learned to get his teammates involved, too, (5.7assists his third year). He was only making $23,000 per year and rebelled when rookie Spencer Haywood signed a contract for $1.9 million after his Olympic stardom. Jones demanded a trade and got it- to Miami where he had one more really good season before his decline began. His scoring average went from 24.3 to 17.6 to 8.7. The team folded and he was picked by the Utah Stars in the dispersal draft. He then got traded to the Chaparrals. He wound up back with the Sixers the year after they bottomed out at 9-73 and scored 10.0ppg for them, then played in Europe for a while.

“He was said to be weak on defense and team play” but “It was speculated that his tenure of the head of the Players' Association discouraged clubs from signing the former all-time ABA scoring leader”. I found no video on Larry, either.
Larry Jones, former Denver Rocket guard – The Denver Post

Jimmy, like Willis Reed below, was a Grambling graduate, (they were teammates in 1963-64). Reed: “You never had to worry about Jimmy. There were never any problems with him at all. He was a good teammate.” Jones “Willis encouraged me to be a leader as a guard, that it wasn’t all about the big men on the team.” Jones was a classic “big guard” at 6-4 188 and averaged 20.1p and 8.2r during his collegiate career as the Tigers won the SWAC title every year. He was drafted by the NBA Baltimore Bullets and the ABA New Orleans Buccaneers but opted for the Bucs, despite a lower offer. “I took less money from the ABA, but felt I could have a better chance of contributing and playing a lot.”

And he did play a lot. He averaged 18.8p 5.7r 2.3a as a rookie them upped that to 26.6/5.7/5.7 his second year, finishing second in scoring to Larry Jones. His scoring then leveled off to 20.7, 19.6, 15.5, 16.7 and 16.8 the next five years but his assists kept going up, reaching a peak of 6.2 in in 1971-72. By that time he was with the Utah Stars, (it seems everyone wound up there at some point). He was even better in the playoffs, scoring 30.2ppg in 1969 and over 20ppg three other times. He jumped to the NBA at age 30 to play for what were now the Washington Bullets. He was reserve for them behind Kevin porter and Phil Chenier, (both 24 years old) and only averaged 7.1ppg. He played in that year’s NBA finals, losing to the Warriors. He played two more years for the Bullets in the same role and then retired.

Here’s Jimmy playing in a game between the NBA and ABA all-stars in 1972:
Jimmy Jones (7pts/5asts) vs. NBA All-Stars (1972)

These games were played in 1971 and 1972, over the objections of the NBA, (the player’s associations organized the games). The NBA won both but the margins were so close, (125-120 and 106-104) that the ABA was the real winner, having proved that they could compete with the more established circuit.
20 Second Timeout: Supergames I & II: The 1971 and 1972 NBA-ABA All-Star Games


Like his former college teammate, WILLIS REED was one of an increasing number of players from what we now call the “Historically Black Schools”. He was a two-time NAIA All-American and averaged 18.7p/15.2r for his career there, 26.6/21.3 as a senior. Reed was drafted by the New York Knicks, the only team he would ever play for, in 1964. At 6-9 235 he was a bit undersized for an NBA center but he made up for that with tough, aggressive play on both ends. He averaged 19.5 points and 14.7 rebounds in 1964-65 and won the NBA Rookie of the year award. He had no sooner establish himself as the Knicks’ center when, in his second year, the team obtained Walt Bellamy from a trade with the Bullets. “Bells”, at 6-11 240, was more the normal size of an NBA center and had already established himself as one of the league’s elite centers, so Willis became a power forward. That first year, Bellamy averaged 23.2/16.0, Reed 15.5/11.6 and the team went 30-50. The next year Bellamy went 19.0/13.5 to Reed’s 20.9/14.6 and the team improved to 36-45. In 1967-68, Bellamy scored 16.7/11.7 and reed 20.8/13.2 as the Knicks went 43-39. In 1968-69, the Knicks started 18-17 and traded Bellamy, moving Reed back to center. They went 36-11 the rest of the regular season with Willis having his best statistical season with 21.1/14.6. They upset the division champion Bullets 4-0 in the playoffs before the Celtic’s Old Men figured out how to beat them. But the Knicks had become a championship-level team and Willis Reed was a big reason why.

It all came together in 1969-70. Willis had another productive year at 21.7/13.9 and was also anchored the team’s strong defense, plugging up the lane and blocking shots. He was named MVP of the league. The Knicks went 60-22, beat the Bullets again, (this time in a tough 7 game series with Willis battling Wes Unseld underneath). Then they beat the league’s new power- the Milwaukee Bucks with Lew Alcindor, (who had not yet changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), in 5 games. Then they won classic seven game series with the Lakers for the title, (Jerry West must have thought fate was water-boarding him).

The game for which Willis Reed will always be remembered was a game in which he scored 4 points. He had torn his right thigh muscle in game 5 and missed game 6 entirely. It was assumed he would be unavailable for game 7 at MSG. 19,500 spectators waited to see if he would come out of the Knick’s dressing room with the rest of the team.
The "Willis Reed Game" - Sportscentury

That’s what he’ll always be remembered for. It was the first of a series of injuries that would curtail his career. He had another strong season the next year, (20.9/13.7) but his knees had started to bother him. He played only 11 games in 1971-72 due to tendinitis in his left knee. He played 69 games the next year but Willis only averaged 27 minutes a game and scored 13.4/8.7. He was on the Knick’s second title team in 1973 but shared time with the newly acquired Jerry Lucas and produced 11.0/8.6. He played only 19 games the next year and then retired. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.

A video tribute: Basketballography: Willis Reed
 


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