One center nobody puts down went from Milwaukee to Singapore to Pakistan to Malaysia before winding up in Los Angeles. Not long after arrival, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, " L.A.'s changed. I've changed." But the most dominating figure in the game has not changed enough to stop the beautiful people in Bel Air from guaranteeing each other another Laker dynasty. Maybe even Doris Day will come out to the Forum once more.
Abdul-Jabbar has never lost a championship while playing for a Los Angeles team (he was 3-0 at UCLA), and while the current Lakers have not been known to play defense during their relentless pursuit of statistics and salaries, Kareem should be keen again after all those bitter winters matching wits with the thick snows and the thicker playbooks in Milwaukee.
"We'll put defensive pressure on people. We'll smother teams," says Abdul-Jabbar. First, Coach Bill Sharman must get his men's minds off their potentially incredible scoring averages. To these ends, when Guard Gail Goodrich held out all through the preseason, the joke was that the Lakers were offering him a no-cut, no-shoot contract. Cazzie Russell, another noted tommy-gunner who must relish the presence of Abdul-Jabbar, reveals priorities when he says, "All the older guys talk about the legs going first. Me? If my right arm goes, I'm through."
Most refreshing for the pro game is the possibility that teams will follow the lead of the two defending champions, the Warriors and the Colonels. Somewhere along the line their coaches, Al Attles of Golden State and Hubie Brown of Kentucky, recognized that "super teams," or a single man who can control a division race by himself, are things of the past.
Attles and Brown—two former underachieves off the mean streets of Jersey, the one a black battler from North Carolina A&T, the other a white whippet who wore a crewcut at Niagara—used a "team" to win. Not five men—not even eight—but 10 or 11 individuals substituting, platooning, helping, filling a role, cheering each other, contributing to a championship. Their victories—especially that of Golden State, which had only the remarkable Rick Barry among players Sonny Hill had never heard of—confirmed that excellent purses, at least the quality of old silk, can now be made from, say, nylon. Sows' ears still won't do. Beyond that, a sport finally had two championship leaders who refused to take themselves seriously. In the frenzy of a close late-season contest with the Nets, the effervescent Brown leaned over the press table and vigorously kissed a woman reporter. "Hell of a game, isn't it?" he said. And Attles must have been the first winning coach in history to be kicked out of the last game of a 4-0 championship sweep, thus having to watch the crowning achievement of his professional life on TV in the locker room.
But how much do coaches know anyway? When the CBS-TV microphones picked up the conversation in the Washington Bullets' sideline huddle during that final NBA series, the cat was out of the bag for all men who make a living at the glamorous art of Xs and Os. Hardly anyone can forget the Bullets' coach, K.C. Jones, momentarily mute while Assistant Bernie Bickerstaff furiously scribbled patterns and diagrammed plays as one time-out drew to a close. When the Bullets broke from the huddle, the coaches screamed, "O.K. O.K. What we got? What we got?" and Mike Riordan, dripping with sarcasm, said, "We got 24 seconds to shoot."
Pro basketball confusing? You got to love it.