Measured solely by the number of certified stars in the lineup, the New Orleans Jazz ought to be twice as good this season as last. Until recently, the club's only true headliner was Pistol Pete Maravich and, indeed, Maravich continues to stir up all kinds of excitement in the Louisiana Superdome, arching jump shots from the outer limits, wriggling through packs of opponents and flashing his famed behind-the-back maneuvers. At 28, Maravich is thus picking up from last season, when he made the All-NBA first team for the first time in his six years as a pro. "When I'm on, nobody can stop me," he says with commendable honesty. "I can do anything on the court I want."
But now in the invigorating early weeks of the new season, the leader of the Jazz ensemble has a new sideman in Gail Goodrich, the clever little guard who spent most of his previous 11 years in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers. Second in career scoring to John Havlicek among active NBA players, Goodrich joined the Jazz as a free agent in August after playing out his option. At 33, he works tenaciously to get open, keeps finding new ways of outwitting opposing giants and hits his left-handed 15-footers with his accustomed accuracy. "I can shoot the basketball," says Goodrich, also an honest man. "I'm what you call a scorer."
The pairing of 'Vich and 'Rich does not in itself guarantee success for the Jazz, even though after their first four games they were the highest-scoring backcourt in the league, averaging 48 points per game. Guard-oriented clubs seldom win big in the NBA and, despite the fact that New Orleans got off to a 3-1 start, the club does not seem to be much better than last season, when the maturing Maravich led his faceless but game teammates from lowly expansion-hood to something like respectability. The Jazz backcourt may be one of the league's genuine adornments this time around but New Orleans still lacks the rebounding, steady defense and scoring from the front line to gain a playoff berth. The club sought to help that situation by buying Forward Sidney Wicks from Portland during the off-season but had to scrub the deal when Wicks declined to move to New Orleans. Boston wound up with Wicks and the Jazz got nothing.
Goodrich had been signed earlier by the New Orleans front office with the blessing of Coach Butch van Breda Kolff, who had him for a while during his two-year stint as Laker coach in the late '60s. Van Breda Kolff thinks Goodrich wears his years well, just as he himself does. Now in his fifth pro coaching post, the Jazz boss has a foghorn for a voice, shows up for games in what might be called casual clothes and enjoys the kind of stamina he demonstrated during a nine-hour pub crawl the other day to commemorate his 54th birthday. It was a celebration broken only occasionally by talk of basketball.
"I'd like to think we've got a balanced attack," he said during one such interlude, while quaffing beer in a working-class New Orleans bar called Whitey's. "But, of course, we are guard oriented. There's one thing I don't have to worry about. Maravich and Goodrich will score points."
This was already being borne out, even while the two of them were suffering minor infirmities. Maravich had been bothered since preseason by a pinched nerve in his back and there were moments when his timing was clearly off. But he had little trouble scoring. After the first full week of the season, the 6'5" star was averaging 31.2 points per game, compared with last season's 25.9, which was third highest in the NBA. Goodrich, meanwhile, had a strained Achilles tendon that kept his right leg in a cast for two weeks during the preseason, reinforcing van Breda Kolff's decision to start young Jimmy McElroy alongside Maravich and to bring the 6'1" Goodrich off the bench "to spark us." And Goodrich was doing just that: logging barely 21 minutes a game, he nevertheless was sporting a 16.7 scoring average.
Goodrich's biggest contribution to the Jazz may be helping to motivate Maravich, who has been brooding lately about the fact that he has never played on a championship team either in college or the pros. He is in the final year of a three-year, $1.2 million contract and he will not rule out the possibility of bolting to a stronger team in search of "fulfillment." For this season, at any rate, he hopes to scotch doubts that a couple of gunners like Goodrich and himself can find happiness with the same ball. The doubts persist even though the Pistol excels at passing while Goodrich is one of the best at moving without the ball.
"I don't care if it's Godzilla, I can complement anybody on a basketball court," Maravich says. "And with an intelligent, experienced player like Gail, there's no problem at all. He's a great shooter and I'm going to get the ball to him. He's also going to make me better. When he's on he's going to be double-teamed, and that will leave me open."
Goodrich wound up in New Orleans after haggling bitterly over money with Los Angeles Owner Jack Kent Cooke, who paid the veteran $160,000 a year, which is not exactly the NBA poverty level. The Jazz came along and offered him $200,000 for each of the next three seasons and compensated the Lakers with a first-round draft choice. Goodrich is a prudent man and no doubt noted that New Orleans is one of the last outposts of the nickel pay phone and dime newspaper. But he insists that money was not the only factor. He says he was also drawn to the Jazz by the opportunity to play alongside Maravich, a consideration admittedly shaped by the days when he and Jerry West formed one of the finest backcourts in NBA history.
"I consider Jerry the best guard ever, and I wouldn't want to compare him with anyone," says Goodrich. "But Pete has so much talent, too. I know we'll get along fine."