Most of us are not good at waiting, which may explain the success of instant breakfasts and instant loans, instant-on TV sets and screens filled thereafter with instant replays. In this country if you have to wait on it, phooey on it.
Come now the Cleveland Cavaliers, those merry misfits of yore who suddenly reached maturity last year and who this season are even daring to let themselves think they might be the best team in the NBA. The secret of their success? Instant Offense. In fact, a double portion of Instant Offense.
It works like this. Late in the first quarter or so when things start to sag, as they often do for the Cavs, Coach Bill Fitch summons from the bench his Instant Offense—listed in the program as Guard Austin Carr and Forward Campy Russell. At which time the two produce an avalanche of points with their outside shooting. Is there any particular place the coach prefers Carr and Russell to shoot from? "Inside the gym," says Fitch.
This scheme of keeping the team's two best scorers (the 6'4" Carr averages 15.8 points per game, the 6'8" Russell 15.3; both play about half the time) on the sidelines for a spell helped Cleveland open the season with eight straight wins. In 1970, says Fitch, "we won one out of our first 16 games, then went into a slump." At the end of last week, Cleveland had an 11-4 record, the second best in the NBA. Most notably, the Cavs are 5-4 on the road, including their recent seven-game trip in which they lost to Atlanta, Detroit, Seattle and New Orleans and beat Milwaukee, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
Most NBA coaches would welcome that sort of road record—especially this year when home teams have won 75% of their games compared to 65% last season—but Fitch will tell you how difficult it all has been. "I've already sweated through two sport coats and lost one bag," he says, "and we've only just begun."
For one of the few times in Cleveland's seven-year history, the Cavs had some luck at the beginning of the season. Six of their first eight games were at home, where the impact of the huge, bananas-going-berserk crowds at Richfield Coliseum is already legendary around the league. Too, the Cavs are almost the same group of players who knocked off Washington and made it to the Eastern Conference finals last season. And while they have had a few injuries, none of their best players has been hurt. Injuries have always been a Cav bugaboo, particularly to Carr, who during much of his career "has been a disappointment," says Fitch, "only because he couldn't seem to play quite as well with a cast on his leg as without."
Denver Nuggets Coach Larry Brown, whose team also got off to an 8-0 start this year, turned up in Detroit to watch the Cavs against the Pistons, who are coached by his brother Herb. Cleveland lost but Larry Brown gave Fitch high marks for having Carr, Russell and three or four others always ready to jump up and play. "On a lot of other teams," said the Denver coach, "I see guys sitting on the bench with their warmups on but I have the feeling there's nothing on underneath. So if the coach would tell them to get in, the players would have to say, 'Just a minute. I have to run get my gym shorts on.' "
To make the system work, Fitch has had to try to dazzle Carr and Campy with his theory that starting isn't important and that being able to come in off the bench is a precious talent. "Games in this league seldom are won in the first eight minutes." Fitch says. "Rather, it's the last five guys on the court at the end who do it." Having digested all this, both players—who often are in at the end—harmonize on that old favorite of athletes, "Yeah, but I'd rather start."
Still, they work together so well that if they were a grocery store, they'd be known as Price and Pride. Both are vegetarians ( Carr especially likes almonds and cashews and eats as many as 2,000 a week; Russell loves all vegetables except okra and all fruit except purple grapes, which make him break out) and both dislike being known as Instant Offense. Fitch also loathes the term. Once this year, he sarcastically referred to the Carr/Russell contribution to a winning game as the Savior Offense.
Carr and Russell don't like the Instant idea because it implies all they can do is shoot, whereas both pride themselves on other aspects of the game, like defense. Fitch doesn't like the term because he thinks there is far too much emphasis on who starts and who scores points. After the Detroit loss, Fitch approached Russell, the ex-Michigan star who had scored a team-high 22 points. "How many tickets did you give out to friends tonight?" inquired Fitch. "I don't know," said Russell innocently. "A lot." Responded Fitch, "I thought so. There are 20 people outside wanting their money back." Which was Fitch's way of indicating that he was not swept away by Campy's performance. Nothing is worse, Fitch says, than people who want money back on complimentary tickets.