On the marquee outside the Milwaukee Arena the top billing listed something called "The World Championship Wonago Rodeo." About six feet below that was the notation, " Bucks Basketball Apr. 21." Inside the arena, vendors sold programs that showed Alcindor on the cover shooting over Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere.
Baltimore Forward Jack Marin took all this in, slumped in a chair outside the Bullet locker room and said sarcastically, "I'm wearing a New York jersey tonight. I don't want to disappoint these people. They paid good money to see the best and I'm gonna give it to 'em."
It looked briefly as if the Bullets would give Buck fans more than they bargained for. During slightly more than two minutes of the first quarter Alcindor committed three fouls and had to leave the game. But his 15-minute absence hardly helped Baltimore. When Lew left, his team led by four points; when he returned to start the second half, his teammates had increased the margin to eight. With Alcindor on the bench Robertson directed the Bucks flawlessly, steadying his younger teammates by scoring Milwaukee's first six points after Lew's departure and finishing with 15 for the half. If Oscar was spurred to his performance by visions of playoff glory and money, he wouldn't admit it after the game. "The championship isn't necessarily what I've been waiting for all these years," he said—and yawned. "If it comes, it comes."
Alcindor returned to dominate the second half, scoring 18 points in the third quarter and finishing with 31 in the 33 minutes he played. It was the only time in the series that Lew scored with consistent ease over Wes Unseld. Bullet Coach Gene Shue took the risk of assigning the 6'7�" Unseld to guard Alcindor unassisted. Only twice in the first game and not much more often subsequently, did Wes receive aid from his teammates. Since nobody, perhaps not even his mother, seems to know exactly how tall Lew is, the disparity between the two centers was guessed at anywhere from seven to 10 inches. When Unseld stood on his toes, he barely seemed able to peer over Alcindor's shoulder. But Unseld had an advantage of his own, since he outweighs Lew by 13 pounds, all of it muscle. Wes danced around Alcindor, overplaying him first on one side, then the other, frequently batting away passes into the post and generally laying a load of weight on Lew's spine. He forced Alcindor to attempt all the shots in his repertoire, from dunks to that majestic hook fired from an absurd yard above the basket, to jump shots outside Lew's best range. Alcindor occasionally responded by backing strongly into Unseld and jostling him slightly, which is equivalent to making the Sphinx flinch, but after the opening game Unseld was able to hold Alcindor six points under his league-leading regular season average of 31.7.
Although he was the Bucks' high scorer, Alcindor's most valuable work was on defense. Bullet Forward Gus Johnson missed two games because of sore knees and was unable to perform with anything near his usual effectiveness on Baltimore's offensive boards when he did play, so Alcindor was free to control the defensive rebounding for Milwaukee and a large part of Baltimore's favorite shooting territory from his zone under the basket. Baltimore shot better than 40% in only one game and scored as many as 30 points in just two of the 16 quarters played. Those were also the only quarters in which the Bullets outscored the Bucks. After the first game, in which he had 26 points, Earl Monroe was eliminated as a significant offensive threat by the strong, head-on defensive play of Robertson, by Alcindor's presence under the basket and, eventually, by a pulled muscle added to his chronically sore knees.
The frustration of facing Alcindor's interior, roving defense spilled over into the crowd during the second game, which Baltimore lost, at home, 102-83. Marvin Cooper, the free-form rock dancer who was the best single performer for Baltimore during the series, stopped tripping lightly after he observed what Alcindor did to his team in the second and third periods, when the Bullets scored only 35 points. Cooper, who began dancing in the aisles during the Philadelphia-Baltimore playoff round, bopped out of the stands near the Bucks' bench in the first quarter. With the fingers of both hands wiggling furiously, he sent his hex—the one that had worked so successfully against the 76ers and the Knicks—flying at the Bucks. Lew, obviously up on his voodoo, shook it off so easily that Cooper's later dances were more like tantrums. Still, Cooper gave Baltimore its only victory in the series. He proved to be much better TV time-out entertainment than Steve Swedish's Polish sausage band, which played during similar breaks in Milwaukee. With the American Broadcasting Company absurdly prolonging the time-outs and halftimes, incidental entertainment became very important for the paying customers.
"They just stopped us from getting the layup," Marin said of the Milwaukee defense. "You look up there and see that Afro up by the rim, and you just don't figure out what to do about it. They gave me a lane to the basket all night. I took it once, I took it again, and then I said forget about it. It's like taking a golf shot through a tree; it's supposed to be 90% air, but you always seem to hit a twig. They figure you can't beat them with 20-foot jumpers and they're right. I'll tell you, it ain't easy out there."
"You've got to give Lew all the credit," added Kevin Loughery. "He may only block one shot here or there, but guys have to change their shots because of him. He's the greatest defensive player I've seen since Bill Russell."
In the third game, which Milwaukee won 107-99, Bob Dandridge scored 29 points and twice Robertson came off the bench in foul trouble to break up Bullet rallies. He scored 30 points in the fourth game, hitting 11 of 15 and, as he did all through the series, he forced his teammates to play harder, not allowing them to relax even when they had long leads.
The Bucks retained their pattern to the end. With 2:54 left to play in the last game and Milwaukee ahead by 17 points, Costello was still diagraming new plays on the yellow pad. In the locker room after the victory Lew sat quietly in a corner for a time, drinking a Coke and chewing his gum. He has now won national titles at all three levels at which he has played—high school, college, the pros. He allowed that winning the NBA championship is "a great honor." Then he added that he was glad it was over and he would like to get some rest. After a few minutes, he got to his feet, took a cup and drank a little of the victory champagne.