Man, how can I
win? Look: I know I'm getting well paid for this sort of jazz, and everybody
shrugs and says, "Well, old Wilt can laugh all the way while he's walking
to the bank." Actually, it's better than that. I can laugh all the way
while driving to the bank in my $27,000 baby-lavender Bentley Continental
convertible. But that doesn't help the hurt piled up inside. Let me put it
another way: I get paid big money for playing basketball, and I play it. But I
do not get paid big money for being hounded and castigated and called a lot of
things I am not, right?
In a funny way,
name-calling is one of the key things that makes professional basketball a
bush-league affair when it doesn't have to—it shouldn't—be that way at all. You
don't see that sort of thing in other sports. Does the owner of the New York
Giants say bad things about Jimmy Brown because Jimmy plays for the Cleveland
Browns? Never. Big-league owners know that interleague sniping gives the whole
game a bad name. And the fans expect better conduct. You won't hear Al Lopez
calling Mickey Mantle a bum. Unfortunately, the fans don't always get such
conduct in pro basketball. I ask you: Where else but in professional basketball
do you get 1) owners, 2) players and 3) coaches all knocking each other?
How can Ned Irish
of the New York Knicks say "I wouldn't have Wilt on my team?" Never
mind Ned's personal feelings about me; how he might feel personally doesn't
matter. But in sniping at me—or at anybody—can he be helping the NBA? He's
knocking it down. It creates a strictly bush atmosphere. And when this sort of
thing happens you start to wonder if the people involved really want to improve
basketball or maybe just get their names in the papers. They have money and
what they really want is fame, I guess.
I think some NBA
owners regard having their own basketball team as sort of like an executive
yo-yo; you know, like a toy. They like the idea of really owning something in
sports and maybe they can't afford a whole football team. (It's nice to have
something to kick around at the country club. "Yeah, man, as I was telling
my team the other day....") All of which is fine. Man, I don't care what
these people spend their money on. But don't forget, they're trading in the
lives of real people here.
Franklin Mieuli, who owned about 10% of the San Francisco 49ers, and he had a
hold of that little piece of action and then he got the owners' hots. So when
Eddie Gottlieb sold his share of the Warriors, Mieuli dashed right over and
bought it all up, and now here he is, really able to get in there and mix it
up. Frankly, I doubt if Mieuli knows very much about basketball. But he wants
to speak up about it, and now that he is an owner, now he can. Oh, man!
And what do you
get in situations like this in the league? I'll tell you what you get: I was
sitting in my apartment in San Francisco one night looking out at the view, and
a newspaper reporter knocked at my door. He said something cheery like,
"Hello. You have now been traded. Goodby." And do you think the owner
had the courtesy to even talk to me about it? Hah. (In this case, though, I
figured something was coming up. Some time before, Gottlieb had talked to me
and kind of asked how I'd like going back to Philadelphia to play. And I was
honest and warned him that if they signed me it would have to be with the
understanding that it might be my last season.)
How about Barry
Kramer coming in for practice one day, and about the time he gets down to his
undershorts someone says something like. "By the way, man. Don't bother
undressing any further. You don't play for us anymore." Just like that. And
Wayne Hightower. He walked into the locker room in New York.
""Hightower? Oh. yeah. Hightower. You've been traded to
It's the old
yo-yo, like the owners have a little game of their own going that we don't know
anything about. You know, a secret league where they say, "Look, I'll give
you two forwards and a regulation basketball and a couple of rolls of tape for
a big center and a pair of sneakers." And what about the image to the
public? Oh, man, never mind the image. And if that isn't bush, baby, I don't
know what is.
Now, I don't want
to sound like rhythm and blues. You don't have to set this story to music. But
there is a reason this action has such a crazy impact in basketball that it
does not have in other sports. Look, we all know there must be trades and
player cuts and drafts. We all know there must be owner wheeling and dealing.
Fine. All sports wheel and deal. And we don't even want to know all the owners'
business, you follow me? But basketball is a kind of special case because the
players get so close to each other playing this game. The game demands close,
instinctive relationships. We're more sensitive about teammates than, say,
linebackers, who are bought and sold by the pound like hamburger. Basketball
players build strong friendships and respect on and off the court.
So we understand
the owners have to deal. But it doesn't have to be this bush. They could call
the players in and let them know what's cooking. I don't mean ask the players'
opinion. But at least let them know, see? And then you wouldn't have those kids
out there all jumpy and not playing 100% basketball. In football and baseball
also most of the trading is done in the off season, and by the time the regular
season comes around the shock has worn off.