SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
February 20, 1978
The NBA's rookies are resoundingly led by the Suns' Davis, Johnson of the Bucks and King of the Nets
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February 20, 1978

It's Whoooosh! Boom! Whoop! Time

The NBA's rookies are resoundingly led by the Suns' Davis, Johnson of the Bucks and King of the Nets

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The three of them are the favorite sons of their widely separated constituencies, have impressive credentials and, like presidential candidates, are trying to become the nominee:

AR-I-ZO-NA. Mr. Chairman, the great desert paradise which bestowed on the nation Barry Goldwater, Linda Ronstadt and the polyester Indian moccasin, is proud to submit the name of the next Rookie of the Year in the NBA, Walter (Sweet D) Davis.

NEW JERSEY. Mr. Chairman, the choice is clear to the industrial hub of the Northeast, the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, the state to which all tunnels burrow except when clogged by snow, soot or the bodies of fallen Mafia leaders. New Jersey is honored to cast its vote for the Pearl of Piscataway, Bernard King.

WIS-CON-SIN. Where there is cheese, Mr. Chairman, there is justice. The land of a thousand breweries, the home of the three L's—La Follette, Lombardi and Lager—the amazing state of Wisconsin gives you our amazing native son (by way of another L, Los Angeles), the Grand Slammer himself, Marques Johnson.

Hyperbole aside, Walter Davis, Bernard King and Marques Johnson may be the best athletes ever to come into the same professional sport at the same time at the same position. Think about this for a minute:

Small Forward Davis has transformed the Phoenix Suns from a last-place Pacific Division team to a championship contender that last week was tied for the second-best record in the NBA. Davis leads the Suns in shooting percentage, as well as in uncanny plays, and is averaging 23.4 points per game, 10th highest in the league.

Small Forward Johnson has transformed the Milwaukee Bucks from a Midwest Division cellar occupant with the tied-for-second-most-terrible record in the pros to a legitimate playoff spoiler whose overall youth and potential scare the bejesus out of everybody. Johnson leads the Bucks in two or three dozen categories, including rebounds, blocked shots, minutes played and gasps from the audience. He is seventh among NBA shooters (53.5%) and 10th among rebounders (11.1 per game).

Small Forward King must be content with single-handedly preventing the incomparably horrible New Jersey Nets from fleeing the coop and seeking some sort of asylum east of Eden. The smart money once held that the Nets, who won only 22 games last season, would be shut out this time. But while watching seven inmates—uh teammates—leave and six new ones arrive, King has averaged 24.3 points (seventh highest in the league), helped the Nets win an astonishing 12 contests and avoided being apprehended with a single video tape machine.

The irony is that none of the rookies was the original heartthrob of his team. Selecting first and third in the draft, Milwaukee went for Center Kent Benson ahead of Johnson, which, in retrospect, looks like the dumbest move the Bucks have made since they traded Kareem Abdul-Goggles, opening the way to obtaining the draft choices in the first place.

Though they will not admit it even at gunpoint, the Suns and the Nets preferred, respectively, Greg Ballard and Tom LaGarde to Davis and King. But, picking fourth, just ahead of Phoenix, the Washington Bullets drafted Ballard while the Nets turned sour on LaGarde at the last minute because of his questionable (now collapsible) knee.

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