He has one advantage. He has the ball. Everything begins with him.
General Manager, Philadelphia 76ers
If the game were baseball, of course, he would be the pitcher. If it were football, he would be the quarterback. But it is basketball, and the man to whom Williams is referring is the point guard.
The point guard? Aren't we talking about the playmaker, the direct descendant of Bob Cousy, Dick McGuire and Slater Martin, those wizards of the fast break, the give-and-go and the back door? Aren't we speaking of the man who is responsible for, as Cousy used to say, "passing out the sugar"—setting up the shot for the right man at the right time by putting the ball in his teammate's hands just where and when he can best use it?
Well, yes and no. There were play-makers, but that was way back before one-on-one, the 20-foot jumper and the mystical pleasures of slam-dunkery replaced the boring—ugh!—pass.
Now, as all basketball fans know, the pass is back—and it's anything but boring. As if by Magic it came flying in on the wings of a Bird. That's Earvin (Magic) Johnson and Larry Bird, who as collegians did for the pass what Dr. J and David T did for the dunk.
"People have told me that Magic and Bird are going to have a tremendous impact on the game," says Williams. "That they will have an infectious effect all the way down to the playgrounds for the next 10 years. Personally, I hope so. I hope we are entering a passing era. The good pass is about the most exciting play in basketball."
True enough, but let's spread the credit for all the excitement around. While the college boys have been the best P.R. men for the pass, of late a bunch of guys have come to the fore in the NBA who, while perhaps less publicized than Magic and Bird, are their equals as deft passers. Because the game has become so specialized since Cousy's day, giving us the high-post center, the low-post center, power forwards, small forwards, big guards, little guards, shot-blockers, intimidators, rebounding specialists, steal specialists, defensive specialists, and let's all welcome—trumpets, please—the three-point field-goal specialist, these fancy passers needed a job description, too. Hence the term "point (or, sometimes, 'lead') guard."
The point guard does many of the things that the classic playmaker did, especially pass, but so do many of today's centers—Alvan Adams and Bill Walton, to cite a couple—and forwards John Johnson and Rick Barry, to name just two. But the point guard is more than a mere passer. For one thing, he seems to fit a certain profile: he's generally the smallest player on the starting five, quick and peppery (although this season we will see a point guard who is 6'8", quick and peppery, named Magic). He most certainly must be a superb passer, but to keep today's increasingly complex and effective defenses honest, he must be able to score as well, even though he probably has a man 6'5" or taller who is a 50% shooter (and, therefore, known as the "shooting guard") sharing the backcourt with him. He must, as Williams says, "have a minimal ego without a lot of hangups, keep everyone happy and get everyone involved. If he creates animosity on his team, he fouls everything up."
"He must control the tempo of the game," says Atlanta's Coach Hubie Brown. "When the defense closes one offense down, the good point guard can go to something else and keep the tempo of the game moving."
Good point guards are tough to come up with. "The easiest player to find is the shooting guard," says Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry, "but try to find one who is willing to give it up on the break."