Of the strange phenomenon known as "home and away," an obscure philosopher—perhaps it was Lenny Bruce—once said: "I violate you at my place. You violate me at yours. What could be fairer than that?"
Lenny would not have said "violate," but you get the picture. Which is that in the National Basketball Association the buses are slow, the planes are late, the gates are far away, somebody took a hatchet to the suitcases, there aren't any cabs, there are 99 steps to the hotel lobby, the room is small, the bed is hard. the food is miserable, old playground buddies demand comps, the backboards sway, the scorekeepers cheat, the ball bounces the other way and assorted maniacs scream for blood. In short, in the NBA nobody wins on the road anymore.
One would think that the pros, who are creatures of habit, would be unaffected by exhausting travel, emotional uprisings and the peculiar directions of their old friend. Mo Mentum. However, through nearly the first two months of the season the NBA home-team winning percentage hovered around 73%, up 8% from last year. Teams such as Portland and Denver were undefeated in the friendly confines, Milwaukee was un-victorious on the road and the hilarious Seattle SuperSonics nearly managed to be both at the same time. During this period, Seattle was in the process of running its home winning streak to 29 and its losing streak on the road to 14 (both figures over two seasons).
As a point of comparison it should be noted that in baseball the world champion Cincinnati BR Machine won 65% of its away games and in football the Super Bowl-bound Raiders and Vikings took II of 14 road contests. On the other hand, through the end of the year the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics had won only seven of 18 road games (two in overtime) while the four division leaders—Philadelphia, Houston, Denver and Portland—had a breathtaking .387 winning percentage on the road. The other 18 pro teams boasted a pathetic 85-220 record on foreign courts.
Among the more curious home and away exchanges have been swings of 39 points in two games between Houston and Milwaukee, 43 between Portland and Philadelphia and 53 between Kansas City and San Antonio. The Kings defeated the Spurs by 28 (130-102) at home in Kemper Arena, then lost to them by 25 (129-104) at the Hemisfair in Texas.
At home, the Sonics whipped the Central Division-leading Cavaliers, holding them to just 78 points, while in the course of another defeat on the long and winding road, they permitted the Central's fourth-place Spurs 138. Currently, Seattle's home and away records are, respectively, 14-2 and 4-14.
Sonics Coach Bill Russell has been asked again and again why Seattle imitated Attila at home and Holly Hobbie away. "Hey, Big Bill, hey, you figured out a reason?" reporters asked him following a tough loss at Boston. Russell folded his arms, raised his bearded visage and glared over the tops of his inquisitors' heads. Seconds passed. More seconds. And more. Was Russell contemplating dinner at Jimmy's Harborside? Increased rates for L-o-n-g D-i-s-t-a-n-c-e? The number of reporters he could pound into the concrete? Russell just kept glaring. He never did answer.
The disparity in the SuperSonics' record is often attributed to the fact that the team's all-so-obvious game plan of Get The Other Team As Confused As We Are works better in familiar surroundings. Yet despite Russell's silence, there are other reasons why the home-team tilt has been so pronounced throughout the league.
Home Attendance and Officiating. Fourteen teams are averaging more than 10,000 home spectators, pushing league attendance and, more important, enthusiasm to the highest pitch in years. This is one benefit of the expandomerger and the transfusion of new ABA faces and styles among players and coaches. Denver, Philadelphia, Cleveland and the New York Knicks are drawing better than 13,000 a game. "You'd think we were playing without pants on," says Nugget Coach Larry Brown. Portland and Seattle are often sold out. And the Knicks' fans—thrilled by the acquisition of this year's Christmas savior. Bob McAdoo—have not yet begun to bet, er, fight.
Increased attendance means more noise and fury. Visiting teams have trouble concentrating on the foul lines and keeping track of the shot clock as well as maintaining composure and tempers in the face of such insults as recently greeted Portland's Jack Ramsay and Dave Twardzik in Phoenix. "Hey, Ramsay," one transplanted Sun fan yelled at the former Buffalo coach. "We don't like Twardzik for the same reason we didn't like Buffalo. Too many Polacks!"