"They ask me sometimes," he says, " 'why doesn't The Z get more rebounds?' They forget, I'm often 15 feet away from the basket when the shot goes up."
With Wilkens and Beaty, the Hawks, as they say in baseball, are strong up the middle. The flanks are protected by the big forwards—Bill Bridges, a handsome, sturdy man, who achieved All-Star status last season when he was fifth in the league in rebounding; and Paul Silas, thinner now but no less babyfaced, who averages more rebounds per minute played than any other forward in the league. For more speed, Caldwell is the swing man up front. Cheating a step or two on defense the way Frank Ramsey once did, he surely leads the league in breakaway layups. The others accept his facility for this glory job and generously assume the more onerous task of defensive rebounding.
Such an intelligent, agreeable sharing of responsibility and credit is visible in every effort of the Hawks. The victories have been too close and the schedule too easy so far for anyone to assume they can keep up the pace but their ability to shift attack and defense to take advantage of changing situations will always help them.
Here they are against Cincinnati last week. Snyder quickly takes his smaller guard into the pivot for the easy turnaround jump. Next the Hawks clear a side for Caldwell to go head to head against a weak defender. Silas enters, and Wilkens directs the flow underneath, playing to the muscle. The Royals' center is in foul trouble; the Hawks promptly start moving the ball inside to Beaty.
Or the night before, against Baltimore. A Hawk press flusters the Bullets; Wilkens turns the helter-skelter game into cool baskets at his end. Now back to Beaty, for the Bullets' big men have fouled out. He puts in four in a row, and the Bullets start watching him more carefully. Quickly then The Z moves high. Bridges slips underneath with his smaller guard, and the play turns to him. A rookie is left with Wilkens. Now he calls his own number.
Kerner permits himself a contemplative smile as Wilkens slithers home. The crowd in seats distant from the floor prepares to leave. Kerner folds his collar back. When he moved to St. Louis, in 1955, Kiel Auditorium, a borrowed opera house, was a classy NBA showplace, third-largest in the league. Kerner added the scoreboard, helped finance the new floor and additional seating, and has supplied a team that has missed the playoffs only once.
But now Kiel is the smallest in the league, and Kerner is warning that he may abandon St. Louis. What he is saying is that it is not Kerner the times have passed by.