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The fortune cookie smiled
Pat Putnam
November 03, 1975
Out West the Knicks couldn't land Wilt Chamberlain but then their luck changed and they found something quite a bit better, Spencer Haywood
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November 03, 1975

The Fortune Cookie Smiled

Out West the Knicks couldn't land Wilt Chamberlain but then their luck changed and they found something quite a bit better, Spencer Haywood

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Still, Burke and General Manager Eddie Donovan got ready to fly to Los Angeles on Friday, Oct. 17 for a meeting with Chamberlain, taking along a Knick uniform—complete with his old number 13—for the benefit of photographers. "We felt confident," said Burke, "but first I wanted to talk to Wilt to see if he really wanted to play as a Knick or just to draw some big money."

But just before they left, Donovan received another phone call: Bill Russell, coach and general manager of the Super-Sonics, and Sonics President Sam Schulman would meet them in L.A. This produced an odd echo for Donovan. In early summer, when everything was turning sour, Russell had called to say he was having "vibrations" about Haywood and would New York be interested in a deal? The Knicks were, of course, but after a few phone calls, Russell abruptly said he had changed his mind and would not trade his superstar.

Since then, however, Haywood, a moody 225-pounder with a great talent for individual play, had told reporters that he was not happy with the Sonics and wanted to be traded, mainly because he felt he was not fully appreciated. He had had a fine regular season (22.4 points per game, 630 rebounds), but had been plagued by assorted ailments and had not performed well in the playoffs.

Russell and Schulman were waiting when Burke and Donovan got to Los Angeles and the four of them drove to Schulman's office. Over several cups of coffee, they discussed a possible deal for Haywood. "Let's let it hang for a while," Burke said. "We've come out to talk to Wilt and I feel that we owe him that first. Let's see what happens."

What happened was that Burke discovered Chamberlain was in Hawaii. "I told Goldberg I'd stay on and meet with Wilt next day and he said Chamberlain was on his way back."

The next morning Goldberg had to tell Burke that Chamberlain was still in Hawaii. Burke exploded and called Schulman, asking him how much he wanted for Haywood. He thought Schulman's figure was high, but said he would consider it. Then he and Donovan headed for the airport.

"As far as I was concerned any deal with Chamberlain was no longer possible," said Burke on Monday when he was back in New York. "I have to feel now that he never really intended to play. Even if he calls now, it's over."

On that day and the next the phone circuits between Seattle and New York were kept busy and finally on Wednesday Burke called Schulman and named a figure: better than $1.5 million—part now and the balance over the next three years. Schulman, whose franchise has had financial problems, said "fine." That was at 7 p.m. At 11, Donovan phoned Burke and reported that Russell had just called to say he wanted to sleep on it. With visions in his head of McGinnis, Abdul-Jabbar, Webster and Thompson all dancing off into the night, Burke said, "Like hell. I can't go to sleep without knowing the deal is set."

So he got Schulman on the phone again. Aside from the money, the Sonics had said they wanted either Gene Short, the Knicks' No. 1 draft choice out of Jackson State, or their No. 1 draft choice in 1979. Now Schulman bound the deal by agreeing to take Short. Satisfied, Burke went to bed.

"The next day I heard the news on the radio while I was taking a shower," said Earl Monroe, half of the Knicks' one outstanding department, their backcourt. "All of a sudden the water got awful warm. He will make things happen."

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