Any day now American Basketball Association officials will begin passing a collection plate among their owners. They figure they'll need $1 million, give or take a stack of 50s, all of which will be heaped at the feet of 7'1�" Lew Alcindor. Then the big fellow gets his choice of the 11 ABA teams. "That's right, any team," says Alex Hannum of the Oakland Oaks. "Just so long as he plays in the ABA. The league will split the cost, then we'll ask him where he wants to play. We're flexible." The thinking, of course, is that Alcindor will be to the struggling ABA what Joe Namath is to the American Football League. At least.
It's sound thinking. Brilliant. Daring. Why it's...it's.... "It's a lot of garbage," says Wes Pavalon, the outspoken young chairman of the board of the rival NBA's Milwaukee Bucks. In recent weeks this big, bearded financial wheeler has been watching, with public amusement, the ABA and its plans for landing Alcindor. "And just how," says Pavalon, "do these people think they are going to outbid the whole state of Wisconsin? If all they can come up with is $1 million, they had better save it to buy themselves a one-eyed 5'6" center out of Humpty-Dump State."
The Bucks have a secure lease on last place in the Eastern Division of the NBA, which, this season, is an extraordinarily delightful place to be. The lowlies of the West are the Phoenix Suns, and when the season is over the Suns and the Bucks will flip a coin for the rights to Alcindor—with the residents of Wisconsin standing by for action.
"And there'll be action," says Pavalon, who last year created such a broad financial base by insisting that the NBA allow the Bucks to join the league as a public-owned company. Stock in Milwaukee Professional Sports and Services was offered to Wisconsin residents only. Something like 500,000 shares were sold. "I felt the Bucks would have a better chance of success if everybody had a piece," Pavalon says. "Now, if we can just win the right to draft Alcindor, we'll say to the people of Wisconsin—O.K., it's going to take X dollars to get him, do you want him? The ABA is talking about $1 million. I'd say a more realistic price will be whatever the ABA offers plus what we have to add to get him. And I'm sure the people of Wisconsin will say they want him, whatever the cost is going to be. As a public company, the Bucks have a dozen ways of coming up with the money." He began to laugh. "How about this?" he said. "Convertible debentures for Lew Alcindor?" But should Pavalon feel so moved, he might just dip into his own pocket, sort out the loose change and buy the UCLA giant himself. If the mood should take him, he might even make a down payment on UCLA.
At 35, Wesley D. Pavalon is thumpingly rich, multimillionaire rich, and all but the first $1,800 has been earned since 1954. He has so much, in fact, that he says he long ago stopped counting it. "Thirty or 40 or 50 million, or more," he guesses rather grandly. "After you string together all those zeroes, the numbers up front aren't that important." Recently, an associate mentioned that a stock in which Pavalon owns a million or so shares had climbed almost 20 points in 1968. "You made close to $20 million last year," said the associate. "Yeah," said Pavalon, absentmindedly. "That's nice. Now where the devil are the plans for...?"
Pavalon is also:
?A 10th-grade dropout who has a degree from Wright Junior College. When the registrar at Wright asked for his high school diploma, Pavalon went out and bought one for $50. "Fortunately," he says, "no one at the college ever checked. But I sweated a lot while there."
?Founder (with that $1,800), president and chairman of Career Academy, a $200 million-plus international complex of private trade, technical and home-study schools.
?Author of many of the schools' textbooks. "I used to keep the books just one lesson ahead of the classes. Like our course for medical technicians," he says. "I'd spend all day talking to doctors and then spend all night writing for the next day's class. I just took what the doctors said and translated it into layman's terms."
?Holder of a franchise commitment in the proposed professional boxing league, when and if that dream of jack Drees gets off the drawing board.