Bianchi will have to make the Sonics run and gamble and scramble to make up for their lack of experience as a unit and lack of size underneath. But then, that was the way Bianchi played and stayed in the league for 10 years. Hazzard says, "You can see Al out there, working, just bringing back our confidence. After all, the first thing he has to do is make us forget that we are all a bunch of castoffs. We know we are, still."
"You turn it around," Bianchi says. "You make that work for you. You say, "O.K., here's your chance, so now show me.' "
Unlike the others, Meschery does not carry the stigma of rejection. He had informed the San Francisco Warriors that he and his wife were going to Korea to work in the district office of the Peace Corps there, and he meant it. Tom Meschery is not the sort of man who would use the Peace Corps as a holdout gimmick. But Richman simply offered him too much money, flat out, and he postponed his Peace Corps assignment for two years, although the Mescherys will work in Korea between seasons. Meschery is among the most sensitive and articulate of pro athletes. He is publishing a book of his own basketball poetry this winter. But he is not a lone intellect on the Sonics. If anything, the team is better in readin' and writin' than in that other r, reboundin'. Plummer Lott, the rookie from Seattle U., is planning to attend law school. Kron is going after a master's in business. Dorie Murrey, the first-string center, is completing his degree in electrical engineering. Forward Henry Akin is also finishing his college studies, and first-round college draft choice Al Tucker received, as part of his bonus, a promise from the Sonics that they would finance the completion of his schooling. Bob Weiss—who joins Hazzard, Rod Thorn and Kron in a most respectable backcourt—has already earned his master's, and his thesis was the basis for establishing a program for intramural athletics in the Philadelphia elementary school system.
The Sonics made a point of considering the personality and character of players to be drafted, instead of leaning solely on talent. Hazzard, the first they selected (after San Diego chose Center Toby Kimball from Boston), possesses the particular qualities that can hasten the formation of a team identity. He comes into the locker room, playing Taps on an imaginary trumpet. The dirge is for Henry Akin, who has just taken another beating in a card game that Olsen introduced called Boo-Ray. "Henry Akin," Hazzard calls out. "Henry, the same old tune." He blows another round of Taps. Akin, perhaps the only chew-tobacco basketball player, eyes Hazzard morosely, but he is suppressing a smile.
Hazzard and Thorn ask Meschery, the highest-paid Sonic, to sign their paychecks so that they can be cashed. Walt follows with a few pointed remarks about the cost of Meschery's new house in the fancy suburb of Mercer Island. Hazzard's own spiffy home is in Bellevue, another high-dollar community. He was the first Negro in the area, and to welcome him his neighbors gave the Hazzards a little party. The very next day Hazzard's 2-year-old son, Scooter, took a large bite out of the arm of a little girl down the street.
Like Meschery, Hazzard had no business being on anybody's expansion list. Unfortunately, the owner of the Lakers, the self-assured Jack Kent Cooke, persuaded himself that Hazzard and Rudy LaRusso were the cause of all the team's problems. It is true that Hazzard's unique playmaking abilities were superfluous on a team whose basic strategy has always been to get the ball to Elgin Baylor and Jerry West and then fall back on defense. For the first 10 games of last season, when both stars were injured much of the time, Hazzard averaged 19.8 points, ninth in the league. He was playing 34 minutes a game and was fourth in the NBA in assists—figures he could easily maintain for the full season with the Sonics. For the balance of last season, however, he played only 19 minutes a game and averaged 7.7.
" Mr. Cooke would come in the locker room and shake hands with everyone else—this is only after we won a game, of course," Hazzard says. "He'd just nod at me. Then he would invariably take my chair. Invariably. I don't understand that man. I don't ask him to like me, but why does he let his personal feelings influence the way he feels about the job his players are doing on the court? I'll tell you, by the end of last season I had lost all confidence. I was just mentally worn down. I love this game, but I would have quit it before I played another season in Los Angeles.
"What they have done to that team! I knew I was going, but Elg couldn't believe it. When the announcement came that Seattle had picked me, he was over in about five minutes, and he just couldn't understand it. He cried. Can you imagine that—Elgin crying? I miss him, I miss Archie. I don't miss anything else in L.A.
"Up here, they treat you like a man. We had a meeting the other day. I spoke to Tom and Rod about it, and we all just got together. We talked about how we've got to play for that man [ Bianchi]. We have to go out like this"—he clenched a fist. "No, I don't mean hard. I mean together. I mean unity. We do that, and we can win some games."
"Going in with an expansion team," Tom Meschery says, "is like buying a 50� speculative stock over the counter. If you hit it, you hit it big. But it is not just the financial analogy. I don't want to dwell on that. Your pride can go up; and your self-esteem. And the things that disappointed you can all fade away."