Though it is too soon to certify the final nationwide results—the ballots on the New York Nets appear to have been impounded, for instance—the time seems about right to draw certain conclusions from the early samplings of a few precincts in pro basketball's mergerific season. Namely, that the famous Artis Gilmore cannot turn junk into jewelry by himself but that somebody named Dave Twardzik possibly can. That the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers cannot prosper while their leading scorers occupy hospital beds. That the Kansas City Kings have not reverted to the American Basketball Association, their lineup only looks that way. And finally that David Thompson will not soar right out of a building one night while leading the Denver Nuggets to Venus, Mars and an 82-0 season. Well, maybe not.
It should be noted that all of the above news items involve former ABA teams and players—the ABA, as you may remember, being that poor little league with the beach ball, the degree-of-difficulty shot and the 300-point games. A touch of irony here: when the NBA finally took in Denver, San Antonio, Indiana and the Nets as indentured servants (each club had to fork over a $3.2 million indemnity payment) the intent was to make more money, not to disturb the class structure on the playing floor. That much was obvious when the dispersal draft benefited a few NBA teams while virtually excluding former ABA clubs. At least they were better off than in the college draft, where they had even fewer choices. None, to be exact. All of which made it quite interesting that last week the ABA survivors—teams and individuals—were being very upwardly mobile.
Just a quick glance past the 24-second clocks around the league revealed that:
?The San Antonio Spurs beat the Team of the Century Philadelphia 76ers on opening night and then took on last year's NBA finalists, Phoenix and Boston. The Spurs got 41 points from Larry Kenon in a victory over Phoenix, then got 37 from George Gervin and led the Celtics by seven points in the second half before losing. Alas, the Spurs have since succumbed to injuries that have wiped out most of their backcourt, including star James Silas. Coach Doug Moe is frustrated. "What gets me down," he says, "is there are so many terrible teams in this league and here we are decimated and losing, so what can I say?"
?The Los Angeles Lakers have been rescued from guaranteed pathos by the appearance in backcourt of former ABA Guards Don Chaney, Mack Calvin and, especially, the missile-launching Bo Lamar. A few weeks ago Laker broadcaster Chick Hearn, who surely had resigned himself to another endless season of Cazzie Russell defense, sat watching Lamar at his first practice session, mumbling almost pleadingly, "Do it, Bo." Now, as Lamar continues to heave everything from the Santa Monica Freeway and average 12 points in 20 minutes' playing time, Hearn bellows into the mike, "Bo, Bo, Bo"—drawing the name out.
?The Indiana Pacers' young leader, Billy Knight, missed four games with a bad ankle but the Pacers put together a four-game winning streak anyway. They scared the ill-prepared Celtics in their opener before losing in overtime. Knight, who scored 29 points against Boston, said there was too much clogging in the NBA lanes and that he preferred the ABA. The Market Square Arena fans, expressing true joy that the NBA had finally returned to its home ground, screamed, clapped, stomped, booed and shouted at the Celtics' coach. What they shouted was, "You're outta the bar now, Heinsohn."
?The Kansas City Kings have undergone cosmetic surgery by adding four ex-ABAers—Guards Ron Boone, Brian Taylor and Mike Barr, plus the league's reigning backup center, Jumbo Jim Eakins. Boone and Taylor are a nifty pair, averaging a combined 35 points, while Jumbo says, "I always heard that if there was no ABA, Jim Eakins would be out in the street. Times have changed. I'm here. Everytime I play I'm out to stick it in their faces." Against Seattle he was merely seven for seven from the floor.
?The Philadelphia 76ers finally got to practice with Julius Erving. Using what is basically an all-ABA front line of Dr. J, George McGinnis and Caldwell Jones, the Sixers are supposed to be on their way to 17 consecutive world championships. Golden State's Rick Barry, voting in opposition, proved he may still be the best all-round forward in the game by stopping Erving in his tracks last week. Still, the 76ers defeated the Warriors at Oakland.
?The New York Nets, destiny's dolts, have won four games without Erving or any other facsimile of an inside man. This is akin to Jimmy Carter capturing the lemonade vote without Amy. When the Nets win one more contest, Coach Kevin Loughery should be declared Coach of the Year on the spot if only for enduring the gunning, hilariously incompatible backcourt of John Williamson ("I'm so happy. This league is all I've dreamed of) and Tiny Archibald ("Some guys around here are just out for numbers. I'm in a web. This is very unenjoyable").
?The Portland Trail Blazers, while getting a UCLA-era, superhuman effort out of the Mountain Man, Bill Walton, have filled out their lineup with two key ABA graduates, Maurice Lucas and Dandy Dave Twardzik, who enable the Blazers to run like nobody else in the NBA and to lead the Pacific Division. What happens when an opposition shot goes up is that Walton and Lucas head for the defensive board while Twardzik and the other Blazers sprint in the other direction. Thus Portland barely edged Philly's juggernaut by the amazing count of 146-104. Before that, the Blazers got 80 points in a half against Atlanta, and Hawk Coach Hubie Brown wailed, "What is this, a track meet?"