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A war is over, and the shooting starts
Peter Carry
October 25, 1971
What if General Robert E. Lee, after all those terrible months in the trenches at Richmond, had gone off to surrender at Appomattox only to find that his troops would not quit fighting? Well, after four years under constant siege by the rebel American Basketball Association, the National Basketball Association has finally capitulated and agreed to merge. At least, the NBA owners have agreed. Their players have not. After all, the hostilities turned them into some of history's most generously rewarded war profiteers.
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October 25, 1971

A War Is Over, And The Shooting Starts

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What if General Robert E. Lee, after all those terrible months in the trenches at Richmond, had gone off to surrender at Appomattox only to find that his troops would not quit fighting? Well, after four years under constant siege by the rebel American Basketball Association, the National Basketball Association has finally capitulated and agreed to merge. At least, the NBA owners have agreed. Their players have not. After all, the hostilities turned them into some of history's most generously rewarded war profiteers.

Today, the merger that seemed so near last spring is still incomplete. But for the fans, the days are now past when clamor about player raids, interleague intrigues and other nonbasketball brouhaha can detract from the game itself. Beginning with the season-opening tip-offs last week, basketball is back.

Sometime in the next few months Congress will act on the battle between owners and players, but whatever the final decision it will have little effect on the face of the game. If the players win—and theirs is the stronger philosophical position—the bosses will grouse for a time, a franchise or two may fail and then the front offices (perhaps those in baseball and football as well) will adjust to the hard reality of doing business in a free-market economy. Should the owners win—and that also must be considered a possibility since Congress is often responsive to those who appear before it with the most money and influence—the players will grouse awhile, continue to compete as hard as they do now and watch their average salaries slowly decrease.

If the notice given the opening round of Senate hearings earlier this month is a true indicator, fans will have to subscribe to the Congressional Record to find out how the owner-player battle fares. But most basketball buffs will be too busy enjoying the sight of Kareem Jabbar, stronger and better than ever, trying to propel Milwaukee to another championship, or Julius Erving, very likely the best rookie in either league, doing his thing for Virginia.

Defense is another aspect of the game well worth watching. Scoring in the NBA has dropped steadily over the past few seasons, and the once point-happy ABA is certain to begin following the trend now that the talent and size of its players are reaching NBA proportions. Ten seasons ago five NBA players averaged at least 30 points per game; last year only Jabbar among all pros reached that level. In the 1961-62 season the average NBA team scored 120 points a game; in 1970-71 the mean was 112.

Jerry West, a top scorer throughout the past decade, says, "Defenses all around the league are more sophisticated. This has necessitated a change in all players. The days of four or five guys averaging 30 points are gone. There are more complex zone types of defenses now. They have the appearance of man-to-man but work on zone principles."

Match-ups, like the ones pictured on the preceding pages, are the key to good defense, particularly for teams without a huge, shot-blocking center. Coaches routinely respond to opponents' substitutions with lineup changes of their own, attempting to gain an edge in speed at one position or in height at another. For a coach, the ultimate tactical triumph is a mismatch in his team's favor, a situation in which the fine balance of talent has gone awry and put the opposition at a defensive disadvantage.

There will be plenty of interesting new match-ups this year involving the largest group of good young players ever to enter the pros in one season. Aside from regular draftees like Portland's Sidney Wicks and the two giant, defense-oriented centers, Artis Gilmore of Kentucky and Buffalo's Elmore Smith, there are several even younger rookies who have reached the pros a year or more before their college careers were due to end. Erving, Cincinnati's Nate Williams and George McGinnis of Indiana are among those who left school as a result of wartime raids or because of the decision in the Spencer Haywood case which obliges the leagues to permit special "hardship" cases to play even before their college eligibilities have expired. The presence of these premature pros will make this spring's draft a monumental nonevent. The talent in the present college senior class is now considered so thin that at least one scout will be staying home most of the winter. Atlanta's Gene Tormohlen will spend less time viewing college games in order to remain with the Hawks and give individual coaching to 7'2" hardship draftee Tom Payne, who was a sophomore at Kentucky last season.

The younger rookies, most of whom play in the ABA, will help the newer league move more rapidly to equality. There are other signs of approaching balance: the ABA's surprising record in interleague exhibitions (8-15), its success for the first time in matching the NBA in signing college seniors and the fact that it was the NBA which moved franchises and made more major trades during the off season.

The two leagues are not equal yet, but within each of them tight races, far more exciting than that dreary battle between the players and owners, are at hand. Scouting reports on the NBA and the ABA start on the next page.

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