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And now, fans, the starting lineup for the Utah Stars: At center, nearing the world's record for knee operations, with six, and fresh from filing a $1.2 million lawsuit against his own team, No. 31, 6'9" Zelmo Beaty!
At one forward, equipped with a knee brace and the only eyeglasses in the pros, the man with the heretofore notorious Roto-Rooter one-hander who recently has become the toughest shooter since Willie Tell, No. 25, 6'10" Gerald Govan!
At the other forward, wearing no knee brace and with almost no right knee, the only man on either team who looks as if he climbed straight out of bed to be here tonight, No. 42, 6'5" Willie Wise!
At one guard, distinguishable among the 73 other players in the ABA with the same last name by the scar from his recent ankle operation, No. 15, 6'4" James Jones!
And at the other guard, the iron man of the Stars who hasn't missed a game since the fourth grade and invariably plays with his tongue firmly planted in his right cheek, No. 24, 6'2" Ron Boone!
In the interest of brevity, the introductions have omitted some basic biographical data about the players, such as their alma maters, including those centers of higher learning and basketball tradition Grambling, Idaho State, Prairie View and St. Mary's of the Plains. None of the missing details, however, would change the Stars' image as a team of limping litigants who, except for ex-NBA All-Star Beaty, appear to deserve their anonymity. Quite the contrary is true. Utah, with typical lack of hullabaloo, has been tearing its league apart this season.
With consecutive home wins last week over Indiana (114-91), Kentucky (121-117) and New York (116-105)—three teams which should be among the Stars' toughest rivals in the playoffs—Utah ran its record to 43-19, the ABA's best. And as the season has progressed, the Stars have been getting brighter. After an early 10-12 record, Utah has won 33 of 40 games, and last week's victories increased its latest streak to 13 straight, longest in the team's history and no small feat since the Stars have won more often than any other ABA club over the last 3� seasons.
Despite suits and countersuits between Beaty and his bosses—just the sort of thing that could disrupt a less cohesive squad—these Stars are the first ABA team to show the maturity of style, the poise and patience previously associated only with the most disciplined NBA clubs. Beaty alone can be considered old; his arthritic knees, which have prevented him from practicing and severely hampered his overall game the last two years, are a decade or so senior to the rest of his 32-year-old body. But the other starters, each of whom has had four to six seasons of pro experience, are just old enough—and wise enough.
Coach Joe Mullaney, the silver-haired ex- FBI man and renowned aficionado of the ponies, who came to Utah this year after back-to-back tours with winners in Los Angeles and Kentucky, last week looked at a photograph of himself taken as he paced the sideline—elbows held high, hands grabbing at the hair on the back of his neck, suit coat open wide, lips pursed in rage and eyes thrown up to heaven. "That's a picture of a man who's just lost a photo at Santa Anita," he said. He could afford to be good-humored because his team is putting him through so few trials these days.
Mullaney freely admits he has done little coaching of the Stars' offense and hardly much more in his favorite area, defense. "Ours is a very strange team," he says. "Our offense is basically three guys—Jones, Wise and Boone—going one-on-one and that's something you don't normally want. You don't get any overall movement that way and the one-on-one guys will usually end up taking all the shots. But it works for us because they're so good at it. They're almost always successful at disrupting the defense and all three of them are willing to give up the ball to the open man once the defense begins adjusting to stop them. I've never seen a team so honestly unconcerned about who scores the points.