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The man ran fast. in college he did 100 yards in 9.7 seconds and 440 in 46.9. He is 38 now and still running. Occasionally he returns to the track at his alma mater, San Diego State, burns a quarter without warming up and figures he is still in shape if he does it in less than a minute. He recently was clocked in 54 flat. And he plays basketball the same way—all out. One-on-one. Full court. It is a game few people play or would care to. In fact, it isn't really basketball; it's a nonstop footrace and the man never loses. His victims include Speedy Duncan, who is one of the best kick returners in pro football history. Not bad for a 5'9" orthodontist.
Like those literary runners, Rabbit Angstrom and Sammy Glick, Leonard Bloom D.D.S. has other pursuits. For instance, collecting money. He has a huge accumulation, which has enabled him to buy a hillside home replete with a swimming pool, a tennis court equipped with a Coca-Cola vending machine, a basketball court and a pad for his personal helicopter. He began amassing his fortune as a bill collector for magazines in high school, buying his first piece of San Diego real estate—an apartment house—when he was 16. Bloom is now an orthodontist in title only. He straightens teeth one day a week and spends the rest of his time running around tracks, gyms and the offices from which he operates his businesses—land development and management, computers and, for the past three months, basketball. Five-on-five. Full court. Professional.
Bloom calls his ball club the San Diego Conquistadors, a polysyllabic olla podrida that begs to be intoned to the strains of a mariachi band. Without musical accompaniment it's a mouthful, however, so the team has been called everything but Conquistadors—Cons, Cors, Cues and Qs, which also happen to fit headlines.
And headlines, astonishingly, are what the Qs have been making. They won five of the first six games they ever played and led the Western Division of the American Basketball Association by two games before they lost two in a row to Utah, the defending Western champion. San Diego's success is doubly surprising because it is not merely an expansion team, but one which was hastily thrown together. Late last spring the ABA's weakest franchises, Florida and Pittsburgh, folded, leaving the league with only nine teams. Shortly thereafter some mathematical whiz realized that since eight teams qualify for the playoffs, one division would play the entire season without eliminating a single club from postseason play. Suspecting that this situation might bring on both ridicule and a lack of competitive spirit, the ABA decided to add a team. San Diego, which had lost the NBA Rockets to Houston the year before, was the lucky city.
At first, Bloom, who earlier in the year had tried to bring the Cincinnati Royals to his hometown, didn't bid for the ABA franchise. Two other San Diegans—one of them was Peter Graham, who operates the only indoor arena within the city limits that has more than 5,999 seats—met in July with the league board, which wasn't impressed with either. It was then that Earl Foreman, the owner of the Virginia Squires, brought up the name of his cousin the dentist. Foreman called cousin Lenny one night at 11:30 and within an hour Bloom was on the red-eye to Chicago, polishing his forthcoming remarks to the board. By noon that day Bloom had been awarded the franchise for $1 million. "His presentation was the finest I've ever heard," said no less an orator than Charlie Finley, who owns, among other things, the Memphis Tarns.
Bloom started hiring—the team's original two employees were a professional ice skater and a commercial artist. They were followed by the first all-ABA-trained front office in the league. From General Manager Alex Groza, who had been business manager of the Kentucky Colonels, to the publicity man, the sales and promotion director, the assistant coach and the trainer, all had got their experience in the new league. Even Secretary Kay Moore had been in on some league meetings when she worked as a barmaid at an Indianapolis saloon owned by former Pacer Bob Netolicky.
The only exception is Coach K. C. Jones, the old Celtic who assisted Bill Sharman with the Lakers last season. Until he sips a couple of Cuttys and water and is invited onto the bandstand at one of his favorite bistros to croon Sunny, K. C. is certainly the quietest coach, if not the quietest man, in all of pro basketball. Many of his friends were worried when they heard that Jones had taken the job with the Qs. His head coaching experience was minimal: three seasons at Brandeis University where his record was three wins over .500. It was also predicted that since the players made available to expansion clubs inevitably include malcontents, kindly, silent K.C. Jones would be eaten alive by members of his own team.
The only ones who have been chewed up so far have been San Diego's opponents. Like the six other former Celtics who have become pro coaches, Jones is committed to the Red Auerbach philosophy of rugged team defense and a nonstop, fast-break offense. The Qs already have one of the most cohesive defenses in the ABA, and they have lent credence to the maxim that the best offense is a good defense. San Diego's offense is the most productive in the league and many of the baskets have resulted from loose balls, deflected dribbles, blocked shots, steals and interceptions.
"There is not the same fantastically high level of intensity on this team that there is on a Sharman team," says Larry Miller, a guard who has played for both men. "But then K.C. has us more relaxed than I ever was with Bill. Neither of them ever shouts, but where Bill disciplines by pushing you, K.C. does it with wryness and cynicism. We were at a banquet a couple of weeks ago and Kase introduced the players one by one and gave a little scouting report on each of us. For instance, when he brought up Stew Johnson he said, 'Here's Stew Johnson who will shoot for us, and shoot for us and shoot and shoot and shoot.' He was giving the audience a pretty accurate idea of what each of us does and doesn't do well and at the same time he was leaving a message for each of us to think about.
"In the huddle during a time-out, K.C. will stand quiet for a moment and then look at the guy or guys who have been messing up the most. He'll say something like, 'That guy too much for you?' And you say, 'Well, er, ah, na, he's not.' Then he'll look you right in the face and say very clearly in that soft voice, 'Why don't you do something about it?'