Historical Pro Basketball 1969-73 The Knicks Click

SWC75

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(I'm breaking this up into separate posts due to length)

The Search for Excellence

Pro football had been the big story of the 1960’s. That sport challenged baseball for the status of America’s #1 sport and won. It’s an explosive sport played on a smaller field and is easier to televise. People wondered what other sports could explode on TV. Basketball is also an explosive sport with dunks and shots form downtown and spectacular athletic moves performed by athletes in abbreviated uniforms in an even smaller field of play with fewer players, which allows the fan to focus on each player as an individual. And, while players have different roles, we can easily follow any player on the court and see how well he is doing what is assigned to do. There are no right tackles in this sport. Basketball seemed a natural to go to the center of the American scene in the 1970’s.

But it didn’t happen. Pro basketball pushed its way into a corner of the American sports scene but never made it to the center in the 70’s. I recall there being a gap in the yearly sports calendar between the Super Bowl and the opening of the baseball season where nothing that important seemed to be happing and I used to watch ABC’s Wide World of Sports during that time to see what all the other sports out there looked like. It was actually nice to have a little ‘down time’. A lot of other people apparently felt the same way as the failure of pro basketball to really go “big time” was the talk of the decade.

Why did this happen? There were a lot of theories, the most common was that basketball was a sport dominated by black players and the suburban white audience couldn’t relate to them. Football and baseball had black players, too, but they were a minority there. They were becoming a majority in basketball. I recall Bill Russell being incensed by the notion that a sport dominated by black players was unmarketable. Subsequent events have certainly proved him right. The NBA did eventually make it big and who was ever better marketed than Michael Jordan?

So why didn’t pro basketball become the big hit of the 70’s? One reason was that it’s most spectacular player, Julius Erving, “Doctor J” was playing in the ABA that had no TV contract. But the other reason was that the sport lacked a definition of excellence.

A sport needs a definition of excellence. Even if a performer or team dominates a sport to the point of making it seemingly boring, we admire their excellence and wonder who could and will challenge them. Look at golf. Tiger Woods has never been seen to be a nice guy but his excellence brought the sport to new levels of popularity and people keep want him to make a comeback so it can be like the old days. During the era of his dominance, people wanted to see a rival emerge and had hopes for David DuVal, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. Phil has done very well but he never became a serious rival to Tiger in his prime. Golf has had some great rivalries in the past, often resolving themselves in to triumvirates: Vardon Taylor and Braid, Jones, Hagen and Sarazen, Nelson, Hogan and Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. Something like that may eventually happen with McElroy, Spieth and Day or maybe one of the other talented young players in the sport. What the sport does not want is a different winner every week, which suggests mediocrity more than great completion in the mind of the sports fan. They may be wrong but that tends to be their response.

Pro basketball had had a definition of excellence for much of its history: George Mikan’s Lakers won 6 titles in 7 years, then after a two year interregnum, Bill Russell’s Celtics won 11 championships in 13 years. But the time was not quite right for the sport to go big-time. But when it was expected to, the NBA had a different champion for 18 seasons in a row. The latter part of that period was a brilliant era for the league because of the competing dynasties of Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics, who won 8 titles in 9 years between them, facing off three times. That would be followed by the era of Jordan’s Bulls that put the league on the pedestal upon which it currently sits. But the 70’s were all about teams seeming to establish themselves as the sport’s next definition of excellence but then failing to follow up on it. No team or individual really captured the imagination of the public and so the league languished in a sort of marketing purgatory.
 

SWC75

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The Knicks Click

The first team to step to the plate as the next prospective dynasty was the New York Knicks. They were an original NBA team, dating back to the formation of the BAA in 1946. They began with 9 straight winning seasons and made it to the finals three times in a row from 1951-53, but lost each time, once to the Rochester Royals and twice to Mikan’s Lakers. They had losing seasons in 1956 and 1958 but they were only 35-37 records. They had a good team in 1959, going 40-32. Their problems really began in the 60’s. They started that decade with 7 consecutive losing seasons with a combined record of 217-418. It must have seemed strange that a New York franchise would be among the dregs of the league, given the success of the Yankees in baseball and the Giants in football, although the hockey Rangers were going through a stretch just as bad but longer.

The Knicks began to put the pieces together in the mid-60’s: Willis Reed in 1965, Dick Barnett and Dave Stallworth in 1966, Cazzie Russell in 1967, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson in 1968, Dave DeBusschere and Mike Riordan in 1969. The GM was Eddie Donovan, who had a particular type of team in mind. His chief assistant, scout Red Holzman, provided him with the information he ended about these players. Donovan then moved him into the head coaching positon to coach and develop these players into a winning team.

The dynamic of Bill Bradley and Cazzie Russell competing for the small forward positon was interesting. Both had been huge stars in college, Russell being the greatest player in Michigan’s history to date, (and perhaps still). He averaged 30.8 ppg as a senior and was named the College Player of the year. The Pistons absolutely wanted him but the Knicks had the first pick and chose Cazzie, leaving the disappointed Pistons to settle Dave Bing. Bill Bradley was Princeton’s all-time greatest player and had led the Tigers to the Final Four in 1965, where he set a scoring record with 58 points in the consolation game against Wichita State. He was in the consey because the Tigers had lost to Russell’s Michigan team in the semi-finals. It was the second time their teams had met that season. In the Holiday festival in the garden, Bradley’s Tigers had led the then #1 ranked Wolverines 75-63 with 4:37 left when Bradley, who had scored 41 points while holding his man to 1 point, fouled out. With Bill out, the Wolverines went on a 17-1 run, eventually winning 80-78.

The Knicks drafted Bradley that year but he had won a Rhodes scholarship and spent two years at Oxford so he actually joined the team after Russell. They were both 6-5 although Russell was about 15 pound heavier at 220. His natural ability seemed clearly higher than Bradley’s, although he wasn’t the defensive player Holzman wanted him to be. From “The NBA Finals, a Fifty-Year Celebration”: “Russell had great moves and could create opportunities to get himself open for the shot. There wasn’t much need for him to pass the ball. Bradley, on the other hand, didn’t move nearly as well and couldn’t always get his shot. The team had to set picks to get him free. If the play didn’t work, he passed the ball and seldom forced a shot. That helped, Frazier said, because it created movement in the offense and kept everyone involved….Russell was starting in 1969 when he broke his leg and Bradley took over. Bradley kept the job when Russell returned the next season. The team played well with Russell coming off the bench. An incredible offensive talent, he obviously wasn’t happy about the circumstances but he wasn’t loud about either. Then in the spring of 1970, Bradley was injured and Russell moved back into the starting line-up, only the team didn’t fare as well. They suffered some losses and it became obvious that they were better with Bradley as the starter….The situation could have had explosive consequences for a New York team, a white guy and a black guy, both high-profile types competing for the starting job. It was a story made for the New York press and the writers had a go at it. The rest of the Knicks, though, let it alone.” Walt Frazier: “Cazzie had his chance. But he was better coming off the bench when we needed something. He would come in and get us points when we needed them.”

It wasn’t a big team. Reed played center at 6-9 235, (I remember reading that he was really 6-8). DeBusschere was a 6-6 220 power forward. Bradley and Russell were both 6-5. Stallworth was 6-7 but third string. The guards all had good size at 6-4. The team was without superstars but Reed and Frazier were certainly stars. Frazier averaged 21 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists. Reed averaged 22 points and 14 rebounds. DeBusschere averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds and was an excellent defender. Not Oscar Robertson/Wilt Chamberlain/Bob Pettit stuff but a good nucleus for the team. Former college stars Bradley and Russell averaged 14.5 and 11.5, respectively. Barnett, the shooting guard scored 15 a game. They had balance and depth and they played terrific defense, leading the league with 105.9 ppg, 5.9 points lower than any other team. The talents of these players meshed together perfectly. You could kick the doors and you wouldn’t hear a rattle.

They played like the Celtics of old- stop them on D, beat them down court, hit the open man. The only difference, as Red Auerbach constantly pointed out, was that they didn’t have Russell. No matter. They won like the Celtics. The Knicks won 23 of their first 24 games, including a record 18 game winning streak. They slowed down to a 16-10 stretch but then won 9 in a row in late January and early February for a 47-11 record. The coasted after that to a 60-22 record, four games better than the Milwaukee Bucks for the best record in the League. Reed reported to Holzman that his knee was bothering him but he was ready to make a run at the championship.

The first round of the playoffs was a tong war with the similarly built Baltimore Bullets, still smarting after being swept by the Knicks in the first round of the 1969 playoffs. The Bullets had the league’s third best record at 50-32. They had Wes Unseld to battle Reed, Gus Johnson to battle Dave DeBusschere, Jack Marin scoring 20 a game at small forward, and a backcourt of Kevin Loughery (21ppgs) and future Knick Earl Monroe, (23ppg). The teams switch back and forth from New York to Baltimore, never playing at the same venue twice in a row. The first game, in New York, went 2 overtimes and the Knicks won 120-117, despite 39 points from Monroe. Reed had 30 points of his own and both teams had 5 double figure scorers. The Knicks also won the second game in Baltimore, 106-99, this time with 6 double figure scorers. The Bullets used a 64-49 second half to shock the Knicks in the Garden 127-113, as Monroe, Unseld, Marin and Fred Carter, coming off the bench all scored 20+ points. Then they beat the Knicks again in Baltimore, 102-92, as Monroe scored 34 and the Knicks only had Frazier, Reed and DeBusschere in double figures. The Knicks pulled themselves back together and dominated game 5, 101-80 as Reed scored 36. The Bullets answered with a 96-87 win in Baltimore as Johnson and Monroe combined for 60 points. It ended where it started, in the Garden and the Knicks took care of business, building up a 62-47 halftime lead. The Bullets, naturally, came back to make it 82-87 after three quarters but the home team put the visitors away in the final quarter for a 127-114 win. Monroe scored 32 but Barnett and DeBusschere had 28 each.

Now came was seemed to be the Nick’s biggest challenge- against Milwaukee, a team that did have a superstar, towering rookie, 7-2 Lew Alcindor. The Bucks had won the right to draft him on a coin flip with the Phoenix Suns, both expansion last place teams in 1969, even though the Bucks were 27-55 and the Suns 16-66. The Bucks still had to out-bid the Harlem Globetrotters and the ABA’s New York Nets, who thought they could get Lew because they represented his hometown of New York. Lew, advised by Sam Gilbert, his mentor from his days at UCLA, had each side present a bid and chose the Bucks because they had the highest bid at $1.4 million per year. The Nets then offered $3.25 million but the principled Alcindor refused to reconsider, saying "A bidding war degrades the people involved. It would make me feel like a flesh peddler, and I don't want to think like that."

Lew didn’t disappoint, finishing second in the league in scoring with 28.8 ppg and third with 13.6 rebounds a game. He was named Rookie of the Year. He was third in the MVP voting behind Reed and the Lakers’ Jerry West, who led the league in scoring at 31.2 ppg. Alcindor was probably the true MVP as the Bucks improved from 27-55 to 56-26 due to his presence on the team. Alcindor seemed poised to be the next great big man in the game’s history and the Bucks looked like they might be the next dynasty, not the Knicks.

But the Knicks didn’t see it that way. They opened up and swallowed the Bucks whole, beating them in five games. The Bucks lacked the balance the Knicks had. Alcindor scored 34.2 ppg in the series but no other Buck was within 20 points of that. The Knicks had 5 guys averaging between 12 and 28 points a game, with Reed almost holding his own with the young giant, scoring 27.8 ppg. The Knicks won the opener in the Garden 110-102, despite 35 points from Jabbar, countering that with five guys between 18 and 25 points. The key game was probably game 2, also at the Garden, which the Knicks pulled out 112-111. Alcindor had a triple double with 38 points, 23 rebounds and 11 assists but Reed nearly matched that with 36 points and 19 rebounds. That was important because the Bucks won the third game, in Milwaukee, 101-96, thanks to a 29-16 first quarter. This time Alcindor out-scored Reed 33-21.

The Knicks came our roaring in game 4, also in Milwaukee, taking a 65-45 halftime lead. They then withstood a 17-34 third quarter that narrowed the lead to 82-79. They put it away with a 35-26 fourth quarter to win 117-105 and take a commanding 3-1 lead. This must have demoralized the Bucks – or energized the Knicks, who put on their best performance of the season in blowing out the Bucks 132-96 in the finale back at the Garden. They won every quarter: 35-19, 34-26, 32-27 and 31-24 in the rout. Alcindor had 27 points but only two other Bucks were in double figures. The Knicks had 5 double-figure scorers, including Reed with 32, Barnett with 27 and Bradley with 25. They seemed unbeatable and the finals with the western champs looked to be an anti-climax.

These days the NBA Eastern conference is arguably the weakest conference in major league sports while the NBA West is probably the strongest. But that wasn’t true in 1970. The supposedly powerful Los Angeles Lakers stumbled to a 46-26 record and finished second to the Atlanta Hawks at 48-34. No other team in the conference even had a winning record. The seven teams in the conference were a total of 44 games under .500. There was no shortage of star power on the Lakers. Wilt Chamberlain averaged 27 points and 18 rebounds per game but that was only 12 games: He injured a knee on November 7th, underwent surgery and vowed to return for the playoffs. He came back for the last three games of the regular season. He only scored 39 points in those three games but was ready to return full time for when it really counted. Jerry West won the scoring title at 31.2. Elgin Baylor had his last really good rear with 24 ppg and Happy Hairston averaged 20.6. The team lacked depth, (as many all-star type teams do: the payroll is very top-heavy). Despite having four 20 ppg scorers in their starting line-up they were 12th in the league in scoring with 113.7ppgs. With Chamberlain in the middle and West playing the passing lanes they were actually better on defense: ranking second to the Knicks with 111.8 points surrendered per game.

Like the Knicks, the Lakers struggled in their first round series to beat the Suns, 4 games to 3, and then played their best ball of the season in sweeping the Hawks in four games, including a 133-114 rout in the fourth game. Suddenly they had a chance to win the title everyone expected them to win the year before – and Bill Russell would have to watch on TV. They just had to beat the Knicks, not the Celtics. They seemed over-night to become the powerhouse team everyone anticipated when Wilt joined West and Baylor the previous year. The result was one of the great final series in NBA history.

In the opener in the Garden, the Knicks took a 35-25 lead after one quarter but a 38-24 third quarter gave the visitors a 92-89 advantage. The Knicks closed it out with an impressive 35-20 final quarter that gave them a 124-112 win and a 1-0 lead in games. Reed had 37 points and 16 rebs to Wilt’s 17 and 24. West scored 33 and Baylor 21 with 20 rebounds but Hairston had only 7 points. Four Knicks scored between 16-19 points. Reed had stayed outside on offense, hitting jump shots over the somewhat immobile Chamberlain. West had this to say about the New York team: “They just raise up and shoot. They’re such a very, very intelligent team. Reed is so active and they recognize this and use him so well in their offense. And they all can hit. They just work for an open 15 foot shot.”

The Lakers came back to win game 2, also in New York, 105-103. This one was that close all the way. The Lakers led by 4 after one quarter. It was tied at the half and after 3 quarters. Reed again led the way for the Knicks with 29 points and 15 rebs while Wilt had 19/24. West scored 34 points. Baylor only had 13 and Hairston was again a no-show with only 4 points. Dick Garrett, who had been Walt Frazier’s backcourt mate in college, scored 17 for the Lakers. Frazier only had 11 but he had a triple double with 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Wilt came out on Reed, forcing him to miss 17 shots. He blocked Reed’s shot on the final possession. DeBusschere got the rebound but couldn’t get it in. Stallworth then got the ball but, incredibly, was called for 3 seconds in the lane and the Lakers held on.

The next two games were in LA. In game 3, the Knicks made a big comeback from a 14 point halftime deficit to send the game to overtime where they won it 112-109. This was the game where Jerry West hit a 60 foot shot to send the game into overtime:
Amazingly, Keith Erickson had hit a 40 footer at the end of the first half- and the Lakers still lost. Wilt thought West’s shot had won it and ran off to the locker room. He had to be retrieved for the overtime. West was 0 for 5 in the OT period. Reed was again amazing, scoring 38 points and grabbing 17 rebounds against Chamberlain, who was at least 4 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier. Wilt, too had big numbers with 21 points and 26 rebounds. West has 34 points and 9 assists. Frazier had 19-11-7. DeBusschere had 21 points and 15 rebounds. Laker reserve Erickson surprised with 19 points.

From “The NBA Finals”: “A flow had been established to the series. Each side had an advantage, the Lakers their inside strength, the Knicks their running and quickness. One side would use its advantage to get a lead, the other would then come back.” Lakers responded with an overtime win of their own, 121-115 win in game 4. The Knicks won the first and fourth quarters while the Lakers won the second and third quarters and, most importantly, overtime. West scored 37 points and had 18 assists in this game. Baylor had 30 points and 13 rebounds. Chamberlain had 18/25. Reed had 23/12, DeBusschere 20/11 and Barnett 29 points.

Now the teams began switching back and forth from coast to coast for each game. The Knicks had to make another comeback to win game 5 in New York. This was the game in which Reed was hurt. “Wilt came out strong and determined to cover reed all over the floor. With a little over 8 minutes gone in the first quarter, Los Angeles had raced to a 25-15 lead. Then Reed caught a pass at the foul line and Chamberlain was there to meet him. Reed tripped over his foot and fell forward, tearing…a main muscle running from his hip to his thigh. The New York center lay writhing in pain as the action raced the other way and Holzman screamed for the refs to stop the game. At the other end, DeBusschere halted the action by getting a hold of Chamberlain. “Oh, my God”, the Knick forward said as he looked back up the court at Reed on the floor.”

The Lakers took a 53-40 halftime lead. From “The Illustrated History of Basketball”: “During the intermission (the Knicks) were able to re-group. Bill Bradley recalled an old offensive pattern the Knicks had once used to keep the middle open without the use of a real center. On defense, Dave DeBusschere giving up almost a foot in height, (actually 7 inches), was assigned to try to guard Chamberlain. Red Holzman told his players to “go out and create a little havoc” and that’s what the darting, driving Knicks did.” From “the NBA Finals”: “The Lakers seemed almost possessed by the notion of taking advantage of the mismatch in the post. Time after they attempted to get the ball into Chamberlain and the Knicks got bunches of steals and turnovers.” A 32-18 final quarter secreted a 107-100 win for the home team, who now took a 3-2 lead in the series. This is a less famous game than game 7 but was equally significant in the Knick’s ultimate victory. Six Knicks were in double figures, led by Frazier with 21 and Russell with 20. The Lakers had a similar box score with four guys between 18-21 points, led by Wilt with 22 points and 19 rebounds. Baylor had 21 and West had 20. But the Lakers had 30 turnovers – 30!

The Lakers seems on the verge of finally winning a championship for Los Angeles when they held onto the ball and blew out the Reedless Knicks 135-113 there to tie the series at 3 games apiece. They jumped out to a 36-16 lead after the first quarter and it was never a game after that. 6-10 Nate Bowman, (Phil Jackson was injured) tried valiantly to match up with Chamberlain, scoring 18 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. But Wilt went off for 45 points and 27 rebs. West added 33 points and 13 assists. The Knicks tried to answer with 6 guys in double figures but it wasn’t enough. They went back to New York wondering how to beat the Lakers without their heart and soul, Willis Reed.

The result was one of the most famous moments in NBA history:
The "Willis Reed Game" - Sportscentury

Bradley and DeBusschere asked Reed to give the team “just one half”. “The NBA Finals”: “In the training room, Reed was set to receive injections of carbocaine and cortisone through a large needle. There were problems, though, because the skin on his thighs was so thick. The doctor had trouble getting the needle in. “it was a big needle, a big needle”, Reed recalled. “I saw that needle and said Holy s---!” And I just held on. I think I suffered more form the needle than the injury.” The doctors had to place the injections at various places and various depths across his thigh in an effort to numb the tear. “I wanted to play. That was the championship, the one great moment we had played for… I didn’t want to have to look at myself in the mirror 20 years alter and say that I wished I had tried to play.”

The Knicks won that first period 38-24 and the second 31-18. The game was over at halftime with the Knicks up 69-42. The Lakers only made it respectable with a 30-19 final quarter: Knicks 114 Lakers 99. New York had its first NBA championship. West scored 28 and Chamberlain had 21/24 but it wasn’t nearly enough. “Reed used his wiles and his physical presence to anticipate Chamberlain’s moves and then deny him the place on the floor he wanted. Handicapped by, perhaps, by his own recent surgery but still infinitely more mobile than the hobbled Reed, (who told his teammates “It’s killing me”). Chamberlain simply refused to try any movement, even from side to side, that would give him an advantage. He was out-played, negated, nullified by a one-legged man.” Wilt missed 9 of 11 shots in the first half. After the game he said “Willis has played better basketball against me than any center I’ve ever faced in a playoff.” Hear that, Bill Russell? Walt Frazier had perhaps the best game of his career with 36 points and 19 assists. DeBusschere had 18/15. Barnett added 21 and Bradley 17. The Big Town finally had a basketball championship and it had two heroes it will never forget in Reed and Frazier.

“But, as usual, Red Auerbach had the last word: “How many championships have they won?” he asked, bitingly.” Would there be more?

The ABA in 1969-70 was dominated by a team somewhat similar to the Knicks. The Indiana Pacers cruised to a 59-25 record, eight games better than anyone else. They then won 12 of 15 playoff games for the championship. They were anchored by 6-9 220 center Mel Daniels who averaged 19 points and 12.5 rebounds, guarded the basket as well or better than anyone else in the league. The leading scorer was 6-5 Roger Brown at with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game. 6-9 220 Bud Netolicky was the power forward with 21 points and 11 rebs. Their backcourt was a bit on the short side with 6-1 John Barnhill (11 ppg) and 6-0 Freddie Lewis (16 ppg). Like the Knicks, they got off to a torrid start, 15-2, and later rode an 8 game winning streak to 27-5 and were never challenged, winning the East by 14 games

The second best team in the league was the Denver Rockets, who won the West with a 51-33 record. Their key player was the league’s best, 6-8 225 Spencer Haywood, who had leapt from obscurity to stardom in two short years. He played for Trinidad Junior College in Colorado in 1967-68. The boycott of the Olympics by many top black athletes opened the door for Spencer, who became the star of our Olympic team and led them to the gold medal, the USA’s seventh in a row since the sport had bene introduced in the 1936 Olympics. Thanks to Spencer, we’d dodged a bullet just when the rest of the world through the US was vulnerable. We’d be back at full strength for the 1972 Olympics and the beat would go on, (or so we thought). Spencer now became the nation’s hottest college recruit and he decided to play for his hometown school, the Titans of the University of Detroit. He averaged 32 ppg and 21.5 rebounds for them. Unfortunately, the rest of the team wasn’t all that good and they only went 16-10 and did not play in the more restrictive post season of that time.

Spencer wanted to make money playing basketball but the NBA had a rule at that time that they didn’t draft players whose college class had not yet graduated. So Haywood signed with the Rockets as the ABA had no such rule. Haywood tore through the league averaging 30 points and 19.5 rebounds. He joined Larry Jones, who averaged 25 ppg as the top 1-2 punch in the league. It was largely a two man team as no one else on the Rockets scored more than 12 ppg. But the hoped-for confrontation between this dynamic tandem and the Pacers’ balanced line-up evaporated when the Rockets lost in five games in the western finals to the Los Angeles Stars.

The Stars were coached by former Celtic Bill Sharman. They had a mediocre 43-41 record but an amazing 14 double figure scorers!
1969-70 Los Angeles Stars Roster and Stats | Basketball-Reference.com
That was because the team kept making trades: Warren Davis, Larry Miller, Bill McGill, Tom Workman and George Lehmann were all traded away while Craig Raymond, Andy Anderson and trooper Washington were obtained from other teams. Also Bobby Warren and Merv Jackson went down with knee injuries. All averaged double figures in their games with the Stars. The mediocre record was a product of the team’s kaleidoscopic line-up. When things finally settled down, Sharman actually had a pretty good team. In the playoffs the 6-11 Raymond averaged 17 points and 15 rebounds. George Stone averaged 24 ppg and Mack Calvin 23. Jackson and Warren both averaged 15 points and Washington averaged 11 rebounds. The next year they became the Utah Stars and went 57-27.

The Rockets never knew what hit them. Haywood and Jones tried mightily to carry his team past the Stars but kept coming up short. The Rockets did win the opener in overtime, 127-119. Haywood scored 39 and Jones 37. Why was it so hard? Because Stone and Calvin each scored 33 and three other Stars scored in double figures. It got harder. The Stars then won consecutive games by scores of 114-105, 119-113, 114-110 and 109-107. Haywood scored 40-37-32-37 and Jones scored 15-30-27-15 but they couldn’t overcome the Stars’ balance.

The newly perfected Stars team then took on the Pacers, who quickly restored order with a 109-93 win. But it took a 36-22 fourth quarter to clinch the deal. The Stars had 5 men in double figures with Warren as their leading scorer with only 20 points but the Pacers had 6 double figure men with Lewis leading with 22. Game 2 was even tougher with the Pacers winning 114-111 after being down two to open the fourth. Stone Jackson and Warren scored 77 points between them but Daniels and Netolicky had 63 points and 46 rebounds between them. Brown added 23 points and Bill Keller came off the bench for 22.

The series moved to LA for two games and the Stars drew blood with a 109-106 win featuring a tremendous comeback from a 17-38 first quarter. The home team sliced 9 points off that lead by halftime, three more in the third quarter and closed with a 31-18 fourth quarter for the win. The Pacers had five guys in double figures led by Lewis with 24 but the Stars had 6 and Stone scored 34. The Pacers again jumped out to a lead in game 4, leading 35-25 after the first quarter. Again the Stars came back to lead 63-62 at halftime. But the Pacers gathered themselves and exploded for an incredible 45 third quarter and went on to hammer the Stars, 142-120. Roger Brown had the game of his life with 53 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Five other Pacers were in double figures. Seven Stars were in double figures but none had more than 20 points. Sometimes balance isn’t enough to overcome a great game by one player.

But the Stars weren’t done. They beat the Pacers on their home turf, 117-113 in overtime. They had only 5 guys in double figures but Mack Calvin scored 33 points and three Stars were in double figures in rebounds. Brown had another amazing game with 39 points, 13 points and 8 assists. Daniels and Netolicky had 43 points and 34 rebounds between them. But then the Pacers, the class of the league, showed it by winning their first championship with a 111-107 win in game six. A 34-27 opening quarter and a 33-27 finish did the trick. Brown continued to be en fuego with 45 points, 11 rebounds and 1 assist, (why pass?). In the last three games he was 34 for 54 from two point range (63%), 12 for 25 outside the arc, (48%) and 33 for 40 from the line (82.5%). Daniels had 27 rebounds and four guys besides Brown were in double figures.

The NBA seemed to have a new standard of excellence in the Knicks and the ABA seemingly had one of its own in the Pacers.

Hoosier History Part 1 - The Indiana Pacers of the ABA

The war between the ABA and the NBA was in full swing. Zelmo Beatty and Joe Caldwell of the Hawks jumped to the new league and Dave Bing agreed to on the condition that the Washington Capitals remain in his home town. They didn’t and so he stayed with the Pistons. Rick Barry wanted to go back to the Warriors but a judge said he had to stay in the NBA for another season. He would have been Bing’s teammate in Washington but he refused to play for the team they became, the “Virginia Squires” and so was traded to the New York Nets. Spencer Haywood decided, in conjunction with Seattle Supersonics owner Sam Shulman, to challenge the NBA’s rule about not signing players whose college class had no completed their eligibility. Shulman signed Haywood to a contact, creating still another court case between those two, the NBA and the Rockets. The end result would be the “hardship” rule for players who needed the money now- which was most of them. And that led to the elimination of the restriction altogether, which led to the current “one and done” rule.
 
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