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"Lou Mohs, a former general manager of the Lakers, made up my mind for me," Mieuli said. "He told me one day that if I was going to be successful in pro basketball I'd have to get a catfish. I said, 'A what?'
" 'A catfish,' said Mohs. 'My father and a friend fished together for 26 years. Same place, same bait, same everything. But the friend always caught most of the fish. Finally, after 26 years my father asked him what he was doing differently. The friend reached over and opened his bait bucket and in it was this big old ugly catfish. He had those minnows stirred up like crazy. Franklin, that's what you need. A big old ugly catfish.' "
Done, said Mieuli, who had been accused of becoming too emotionally involved with his teams. He brought in Dick Vertlieb as general manager and chief executive officer. "You're my catfish," said Mieuli.
Vertlieb's first move was to sign Wilkes and Smith, the Warriors' top draft choices. It was the first time Golden State had signed a No. 1 pick since 1969. Then he traded veteran center Nate Thurmond to Chicago for Ray, $500,000 and a first-round draft pick. And signed Dudley and Bill Bridges as free agents.
"I was just lucky," said the Catfish. " Wilkes and Smith were picked before I came and I just had to sign them. And to be honest, we traded Thurmond because I needed cash to carry out some other things. We got Ray, but I was just hoping to maintain the team. I didn't think he would improve it. And Dudley—shoot, I was just doing a favor to a friend who suggested we give him another tryout. With the deals I've made, Al Attles has bailed me out. The job he and the athletes have done. I've just been real lucky."
"I see they are calling us a team of destiny," said Attles for his part. "I guess that means they're trying to say that we're not a very good team. We play hard, we're tough and that's why we win. No one likes us, no one thought we should be here. But I'm not saying prayers. There aren't any old ladies going to churches making novenas for us to win. This team is good. That's why we are winning."
Charles Johnson, one of the starting guards, shook his head. "Hey, man, this isn't a religious happening. This isn't due to transcendental meditation working in some mysterious way. This is us."
In the first three games the slender Wilkes held Hayes, who had averaged 27.0 in the playoffs, to point totals of 29, 15 and 24. "Destiny? That's a little heavy," said Wilkes. "It's more like making Elvin work for his points. Pushing him out, fronting him, making him play defense and tiring him out. Then what happens, happens."
What happened last Sunday was that the Warriors race-horsed through another of their patented comebacks, this time from 14 points down and minus Attles, who had been ejected following a near-brawl in the first quarter, and won the fourth game 96-95. That one team would sweep the series was not too surprising; that it was the " Warriors who did it stunned even those who in recent days had become believers. But really, what else would you expect from a team that hires a catfish to run its operation.