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How is Webster going to find his senses if New York starts off slowly; if he can't produce the miracles Knick fans expect of him; if the New York media bombers take their obligatory potshots? Moreover, a serious question remains whether Webster, late of group-togetherness among the Sonics, can find peace and happiness among the self-indulgent, spotlight-hunting Knicks. "I'm afraid that Marvin has been thrown to the dogs," says one NBA coach. "That New York club is a kennel. They'll eat him alive."
The sounds emanating from the Knick camp, however, don't exactly sound like yips and yaps. Bob McAdoo and Spencer Haywood, the two psyches-in-residence who don't have the easiest time sharing the bone, er, ball, or getting along with each other, seem positively ecstatic over the prospect of lining up alongside Webster. "It's the first time I've played on a team with somebody bigger than me," says McAdoo. "I won't have to be responsible for blocked shots or defense on the tall guys." When McAdoo won the scoring championship three years running as a center in Buffalo, there was speculation that if he ever had a towering, rebounding playmate around the glass, the slim, 6'9", jump-shooting machine might open up and go for, oh, say, maybe 100 points some night.
In the preseason, all Knicks seemed to be aware of their roles. Coach Willis Reed arranged to have Webster and McAdoo ride to and from practices together and renew a friendship that began back in high school in Greensboro when Webster used to visit his future wife, who lived down the block from McAdoo.
"I told our big men the way I think. It's a marathon the way the centers play the game today. McAdoo's just not big enough. At 218 pounds Bob can give the big centers hell in a 20-game series, but not over a whole 82-game season. His game won't change. Marvin will just give him more freedom," Reed says.
And what of Haywood, who arrived on the Knicks scene three years ago to hosannas and has led the world in sulking ever since? "I came here all alone, expected to replace Reed and [Dave] DeBusschere by myself," says Haywood. "I suffered, but it made me a better man. Now look around here. Marvin's got a cast. The thing is, in New York all the attention and the fans and the press can be so detrimental. Marvin's got to learn they aren't the archenemy. If he's not ready for all of this, he could get crushed."
Webster is unconcerned. " New York demands performance. I know that. But I can't change personalities. I want to get everybody together here. If we win, all our reputations will be enhanced," he says.
Reed, who, like Webster, was raw in his early pro years, has been working with the new pivotman. The coach says Webster has small hands, is inexperienced for a fourth-year man and is still unproved on many levels. "It may take two more years for Marvin to be the player he should be," Reed says.
Webster's presence certainly makes the Knicks more competitive than they have been since Reed hobbled into retirement. Along with the question marks surrounding the other new boys on the Eastern Seaboard—Jones at Philly; Barnes, Billy Knight and Tiny Archibald at Boston—Webster's potential has put the Atlantic Division into what Celtic Coach Satch Sanders calls "a wait-and-see posture." Which is further complicated by the unexpected presence of defending champion Washington in the division.
What does that mean? "It means the Bullets won't make the playoffs," says Philly's Julius Erving. Aw, Doc, you never were one to let us wait and see.