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Dr. Jack Ramsay

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
'70s brought wide-open style of hoops
By Dr. Jack Ramsay
Special to ESPN Classic

Clyde Frazier ran the show at the Garden. Wilt controlled the glass in L.A. Kareem won a title in Milwaukee. ESPN basketball analyst and Hall of Fame coach Dr. Jack Ramsay steps back to the era of big hair, leisure suits and the dawn of a new style on the hardcourts -- the 1970s. Dr. Jack, who coached the Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship, weighs in with his top memories of professional hoops in the '70s.

Pete Maravich averaged 24.2 points during his 10 NBA seasons.
There were a lot of great players in the '70s, but none quite like Pete Maravich. As a college player at LSU, Pete holds just about every scoring record in NCAA history, and entered the NBA with great anticipation awaiting. He was not only highly skilled, but was loaded with charisma and flash. I loved watching him play, but wouldn't have wanted to coach him. He could score from anywhere, had uncanny agility, saw everybody on the floor -- and many in the stands -- and made incredible passes. But his dominance of the ball made him hard to play with.

Maravich was All-NBA first team twice, once led the league in scoring, and was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987, but while his scoring stats were good, he played on only one other team with a winning record, before joining the Celtics at the end of his career. He started at Atlanta, was traded to New Orleans, and went with that team to Utah when the franchise changed locations. He was waived by the Jazz during his first season there and signed by Boston as a free agent. He was a part-time player by then, and averaged only about 10 minutes a game in the playoffs that last season.

Maravich lived a hard life dissipated by alcohol abuse. He was a great player who flamed out was sad to watch.


Lenny Wilkens was general manager of the Sonics at the start of the 1978 season, but the team got off to such a bad start (5-17) under Bob Hopkins that he took over the coaching reins. In a remarkable turnaround, the Sonics won 42 of the remaining 60 games, qualified for the playoffs, and advanced all the way to the Finals before losing to Washington in seven games.

The next season, they won the Pacific Division, then beat the Lakers (4-1), Phoenix (4-3) and Washington in the Finals (4-1). From a near disastrous season in '78 to reach the Finals that season and win the title the next is one of the great comebacks in NBA history.

The Sonics were sound defensively and had explosive scorers. Jack Sikma and Lonnie Shelton anchored the front line, while Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson took care of the backcourt. Downtown Freddie Brown, who always seemed to come up with a clutch hoop, was the spark off the bench.


The Suns had a spectacular playoff run after a mediocre 42-40 regular season. They won tough preliminary rounds against Seattle (4-2) and defending champion Golden State (4-3) to reach the Finals. After losing the first two games to the Celtics and many predicting a Boston sweep, Coach John McLeodís team bounced back with two wins at home to even the series. Then came Game 5 -- a triple-overtime classic.

The Celts appeared to have the game won at the end of the second overtime when Havlicek hit a jumper to put his team ahead by a point -- but officials ruled there was a second left on the clock. In order to move the ball to half-court, McLeod took a time out -- which his team didnít have -- and was assessed a technical foul. Boston made the free throw to put it ahead by two points. On the ensuring play, Garfield Heard received the inbounds pass, turned and fired home a 20-foot shot that forced the third overtime. Celts eventually won that game, then took Game 6 at Phoenix. But Game 5 is the one that everyone yet remembers.


The Warriors of coach Al Attles were the best team in the Western Conference, but no one gave them much of a chance against the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals. Rick Barry was the key Warrior (30 points, over 5 rebounds and assists) on a team that led the league in scoring, shuffled 10 players in and out of the lineup each game, and used its two centers (Clifford Ray and Charles Johnson) mostly as defensive stoppers.

The series was unusual in that the Bullets, because of a schedule conflict in their arena, played the first game at home (and lost), then the next two at Golden State (also losses) before returning home to lose again in a one-point game. The games were close, intense battles but Golden State somehow managed to win them all. Barry was electric with his clutch scoring, passing and rebounding and was the Finals MVP.


Two recollections stand out for me about this season. First, the Buffalo Braves, whom I coached, made the playoffs by doubling their win total of the previous year (from 21 to 42). The Braves, led by league scoring leader and MVP, Bob McAdoo, and Rookie of the Year, Ernie DiGregorio, were a young team in its fourth NBA season. They were matched in the first round against a veteran Boston team, coached by Tom Heinsohn, that had the best record in the East (56-26). It turned out to be a great series. McAdoo, Jim McMillian, Randy Smith and Ernie D played well, but couldn't match the skill and experience of Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White. After tying the series 2-2, the Braves lost Game 5 by three points (100-97) and Game 6 by two points (106-104). Those Braves were a fun team to coach. They played a wide-open offensive game and led the league in scoring.

The second memory that I have is of the intense NBA Finals between the Celtics and Milwaukee. This series had some great match-ups: Cowens - Abdul-Jabbar, Havlicek - Bob Dandridge, Don Chaney - Robertson. It was fiercely fought, and home court didnít appear to be especially advantageous. The series went seven games and Boston got three of its four wins at Milwaukee. Havlicek, the Celtics most dominant player, averaged 27 points in the series, played his usual stellar floor game, and was voted the series MVP; and the fiery 6-9 Cowens played 7-2 Abdul-Jabbar to a standstill.


Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain won two NBA championships, including one with the 1971-72 Lakers.
One of the great teams of all time, the Lakers set records for consecutive wins (33) and road wins (16) that stand today. Jerry West was the floor leader of this team and was superb as playmaker, scorer and top defender. The team had an unusual combination of players that featured the rebounding of Wilt Chamberlain (19 a game) and Happy Hairston; the sharp-shooting of West, Gail Goodrich and Jim McMillian; and the team unity stressed by Coach Bill Sharman. Seven players averaged double figures in the regular season, and the Lakers, once past the defending champion Bucks in the Conference Finals, rolled easily over New York (4-1) to win their first NBA title.


The Bucks won 56 games in 1970, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's first season in the NBA, but lost to New York in the Conference Finals. They became a championship team in '71 when they acquired the great Oscar Robertson. The combination of Oscar and Kareem was an overpowering force that no team could match. Abdul-Jabbar led the league in scoring (about 32 a game) and grabbed 16 rebounds. Robertson was the floor general who averaged 19 points, over 5 rebounds, and 8 assists. The dominating Bucks, coached by Larry Costello, led the league in scoring (118 ppg), shot .509 from the field, and were third best defensively in points allowed (106 per game). They lost only two playoff games on their way to the NBA championship, and swept Baltimore in the Finals.


Walt Frazier and the 1970 Knicks
Walt Frazier, second from left, was the straw that stirred the drink for the 1970 Knicks. Here, Clyde celebrates with Dick Barnett, left, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere, right.
The first of two championship teams coached by the legendary Red Holzman, the Knicks featured unselfish team play, great ball movement and tough defense. The starting five (Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and Dick Barnett) was poetry in motion. Perhaps the most memorable moment in Knicks history came when the injured Reed limped out on the Madison Square Garden floor to play Game 7 against Los Angeles while players on both teams stopped their warm-ups to watch. Reed then hit his first jump shot over Wilt Chamberlain as the game began to provide the spark his team needed to win the title.


Portland, in its seventh year in the NBA, had never been to the playoffs nor had a .500 record before that year, and had seven players and a coaching staff (myself and assistant Jack McKinney) new to the team. The Blazers came together in the second half of the season, led by the interior finesse/power combination of Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas, and the precision passing and playmaking of Dave Twardzik, Lionel Hollins and Johnny Davis. Playoff highlights: edging past the strong Chicago Bulls (2-1) in the opening round; sweeping the Lakers in the Conference Finals as Walton won out over Kareem Abdul Jabbar in a classic match-up; and the Blazers four-straight wins after an 0-2 start against Julius Erving and the star-studded 76ers in the NBA Finals. Walton had a monster Game 6 against the Sixers (20 points, 23 rebounds, 8 blocks and 7 assists) and was deservedly selected as the Finals MVP.


The American Basketball Association broke up after the 1975 season and four of its member teams (Denver, Indiana, New York and San Antonio) and many other individual players joined the NBA to end the bitter competition for players that had existed for nine years. The NBA was soon to learn that the new members had star-quality players who were very much on the same level as theirs. Players like Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore, Maurice Lucas, Moses Malone, David Thompson, Dan Issel, Bobby Jones, Billy Knight, Dan Roundfield, George Gervin, Swen Nater and Larry Kenon became valuable members of new teams and brought a dramatic infusion of new blood into the league. The new players played a more wide-open style, featuring spectacular dunks, long-range 3-point shooting and well-coordinated team play. The NBA became a stronger, more exciting basketball league as a result.

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