In the years to come it surely will be remembered as the Mountain Man Jam or the V (for Vegetarian) Bomb or the Sky-Is-Falling-Redbeard-Autographed-Screamer. Something like that. But before the explosive dunk shot that Bill Walton put in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's face—the one he threw right down there in the famous goggles—before that moment becomes blown out of proportion, let us consider what it was not.
It was not a signal that a new president of the UCLA Alumni Pivotmen's Association had been chosen. It was not a sign of quick and absolute victory in this new mano a mano duel. Possibly it wasn't even the decisive play in the Portland Trail Blazers' stunning 4-love defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Western Conference championship. What the shot did was proclaim to the world that Bill Walton has finally arrived on the same plateau as Abdul-Jabbar; that his classically balanced passing and rebounding, his quick shots and outlet bullets, his savage defense and intelligent command of all phases of the game are more than enough to match his adversary's greater offensive powers. The play showed that pro basketball has a brand-new Russell-Chamberlain rivalry to savor.
The manner in which wave upon wave of Trail Blazers galloped past the Lakers—as if, L.A. Coach Jerry West observed, "a shoemaker had nailed us to the floor"—made any extended comparisons of play in the middle invalid. But Walton's singular brilliance in the series obviously dictated that the Lakers, who somehow won 53 games during the regular season, were not about to play that one on five game of theirs all the way to the NBA championship.
Both centers went to great, silent lengths to avoid talking about each other. Walton did say, "It's no big deal.... I'm excited. As Kareem gets older, he gets smarter. Physically he's in his prime. I think he's playing the best of his life."
And Abdul-Jabbar said, " Walton believes in his talent. He tests his skill rather than using muscle to hang on me. It's a challenge to play against a guy this good, on a level above what I go through most nights. It's not so much even winning. It's expressing yourself."
After the Blazers had shocked the Lakers by winning the first two games of the series at the occasionally Fabulous Forum in L.A., the situation in Portland was this: 9:10 left in Game Three, Los Angeles ahead 81-77. Frustrated because his 70 points in the two L.A. defeats had been to no avail, Abdul-Jabbar had turned passer and defender. As a result, Walton had been held to eight points. But in the next 5:18, his eyes glazed and raging as if somebody had spiked his kumquat juice with kerosene, the Mountain Man scored seven baskets. He banked, he tipped. He soared, he stuffed. He hooked right, he hooked left. After this reign of terror had subsided, Portland had the lead, 93-84, and eventually the game, 102-97.
In the middle of all of this came the play which approximately 78 billion Oregonians and their grandchildren will swear they witnessed long after Walton's red beard is down to his toes. Maurice Lucas started it by missing a jump shot, which he rebounded and threw out to Walton in the foul circle. Walton paused, roared down the lane and flung himself into the air. Abdul-Jabbar went up to meet him somewhere north of reality, where few mortals dare to tread.
Boom! A mountain symphony. Incredibly, all of us survived.
After the smoke had cleared, there was Walton waving his fist at Lucas and flashing that peculiar manic grin. There was Abdul-Jabbar looking around at the scoreboard, the referee, the bench. Anywhere for some help. And everywhere but at Walton.
"I wish I had been on the bench, not in the game," said Portland's Herm Gilliam of the moment. "I wanted to jump up, do spin-arounds, do handstands. Bill got that look that says he's handling the case. That look is scary."