After the game
the Lakers and the Knicks scrambled aboard the same charter bus for a trip to
Newark, and ultimately to Syracuse by chartered plane. Frost festooned the
windows as the players settled back for the ride under the Hudson. "What
was it like in L.A. when you left?" the Knicks' Richie Guerin wanted to
know. "Eighty degrees," Hot Rod Hundley told him smugly. "It's like
that five days a week out there." From the back of the bus came a scornful
"I'd get sick of that." Hundley looked out at the slush-ridden streets
slipping past under the wheels. "I'd get sick of this," he growled.
Newark, Dec. 27.
It was 1 a.m. and a gelid wind rattled off the Jersey wastelands as the Lakers
and the Knicks straggled through the airport. A porter dispiritedly swabbed at
a muddy floor with a sodden mop, from the entrails of which spirals of steam
Suddenly, from an
open door, a pert stewardess sashayed past the towering silhouettes. The Lakers
went into an all-court stall. A low whistle emerged, and then, although none of
them had ever seen the young lady before, someone told her loudly, "I love
you very much." The Lakers nearly fell down laughing, helpless in their
merriment. "Was that you, Rudy? That was you, I heard you," insisted
Elgin Baylor. Rudy LaRusso, tall second-year forward, one of the few Ivy
Leaguers ( Dartmouth) in professional sports, looked hurt, "it was somebody
else," he said.
As the Lakers
made their way up the loading ramp of the Mohawk airliner, LaRusso dangled in
his huge hand, in addition to his duffel, a gaudy Christmas package. It was a
toaster given him by his family in Brooklyn for his bride in Los Angeles. As
the trip went on, players forgot watches, books, rings, even shoes at one
point. But Rudy never forgot his toaster. It became a sort of symbol of the
whole trip—the very last Christmas present, melancholy reminder of their lost
27. It was 5� and snowing steadily when the plane landed at the Syracuse
airport. It was also past 2 in the morning. The terminal was deserted, and Rudy
LaRusso, striding in and surveying the emptiness, put his hand in his pocket
and commanded, "All right, everybody, this is a stickup." Hundley,
joining him, moaned, "Syracuse—this town is out to lunch."
In the all-night
lunchroom a few bleary-eyed refugees from skid row, killing the empty hours
until the bars would open again, regarded the entrance of the team with little
interest. The tired counterwoman stared as the forest of players queued up.
"You must be with some team," she guessed. "Yeah," said Baylor,
"the Los Angeles Mothers. We're midget wrestlers."
The next day snow
flurries dashed across the face of downtown Syracuse, and the alternating
temperature-time signs in front of a savings-and-loan building read a bare 19�
as Hot Rod Hundley looked out the window of the room in the Onondaga Hotel he
shared with Elgin Baylor.
Hot Rod Hundley
is a man who has made only casual inroads into the domain of culture. The
trouble is, he forgets books, leaves them in hotel rooms. This day he was
bemoaning the loss of Robert Ruark's Poor No More in a hotel room in New York.
"This guy's a real heel, see. He's making a play for his girl friend's old
lady, is the kind of a guy he is. Only she's a nut and they keep putting her
away and this guy is telling her she oughtn't to be in the nut house. This is
because she's rich and this guy wants the dough. You wouldn't believe a guy
could be so rotten.... Damn, I wish I hadn't of left that book in the
A few years ago
Hot Rod similarly mislaid the biography of Clarence Darrow (For the Defense),
and he never did find out how the Scopes trial came out. "Hot Rod,"
taunts Jim Krebs, "is a man who can tell you every word of every book he's
ever read—'cause he's only read two."
The game in
Syracuse was another discourager for the Lakers. With 37 seconds to go, the
score was 113-113 when the home-team Nationals missed a layup basket. Krebs and
Hundley came down with the ball. Either could have had it but together they
wrestled it out of bounds. The Nats' Hal Greer grabbed it, shot again, missed,
and Elgin Baylor came down with the ball. With 23 seconds to go and only 16 in
which to take a shot, Baylor passed it over to Jerry West, the best jump shot
on the team. West popped for the basket, missed. There were only four seconds
to play when John Kerr, fully 25 feet from the basket, leaped and threw. It
swished through the net for a Syracuse win.