As the game unfolds Blake scribbles down five points: Great end-to-end speed. 6'7 1/2"? No range. Leaper. Shot blocker. Later he takes admiring note of the way Millsap bores his knees into the backs of the legs of guys he's trying to outrebound. He's not suggesting Millsap is a dirty player, only a crafty one, and if there's one thing Blake hopes to find, it's evidence that some guys still practice the game as a craft. "Someone's got to get hold of him and teach him some offensive moves," Blake says. "His range is about seven inches. He's a quick jumper, but he blocks shots by instinct rather than style. He's sort of rough and tumble."
Auburn has no regular taller than 6'6", the light by which Blake will have to appraise Millsap's numbers--31 points, 18 rebounds--in the Techsters' 79--67 loss.
Blake leaves early. Scouts usually do. A backup on I-85 provides an additional hour of story time on the ride back to Atlanta. Given how rapidly he burns through tales, it seems impossible, but it has taken more than two days for Blake to repeat a story--in this case the one about a trip up to Utah State, where he saw basketball-football star Cornell Green in 1961, and the meal at Maddox's steak house, in Brigham City, where they raised the angus beef in the backyard.
Marty Blake & Associates is housed at the rear of an office park in the Atlanta exurb of Alpharetta. Calls still come into the office from dreamers around the world, some wanting tryouts, others looking for work as a scout. By a desk stand a pair of conga drums, a gift from Marcia, along with a set of unviewed instructional videos; on a shelf sits a copy of Kerouac's On the Road; scattered about are various period pieces--a typewriter, a stack of 45s, a plaque from United Airlines dated 1961 that honors Blake as a 100,000-mile flyer. The walls, festooned with personally signed 8-by-10 glossies, look like those of a big-city steak house: Robertson, Russell, Bird, sure, but also grateful Blake discoveries like Sikma ("I really appreciate your confidence in me") and Pippen ("Thanks for helping to make my dream team come true").
Eavesdrop on Blake's end of an incoming phone call from a sportswriter, and you might hear something like this: "Oh. I thought you were Brown, from the Sun. Best newspaper lede I ever read was in a music review: 'The St. Louis Symphony played Beethoven last night, and Beethoven lost.'... Yeah, but say you like 12 guys and you're picking 14th. Then what do you do?... I used to play the trombone, you know, but I let it slide.... Centers in high school want to play the four spot. Tell a center to throw the ball to the forward in the corner, and he'll say, 'Can't do that, Coach. I'm gonna be the forward in the corner.' ... Say, did I tell you about my butcher, Chuck Roast? ... You have to judge 'em on what they could be, not what they are.... And my gardener, Pete Moss? ... See, our problem is instant gratification syndrome. Chauncey Billups is drafted by somebody in Boston who didn't like him eight days later. Then he's MVP of the Finals with his fifth team. But it's hard to tell a coach with a two-year contract that some guy's three years away.... Right. And next time you'll have to go through my agent, Skip Town."
After the Condors let him go, Blake recalled how other G.M.'s relied on him for heights and weights every year at draft time. Let others X-and-O, he decided; he would become the game's A-and-R guy. As recently as the early 1980s some NBA teams still didn't have dedicated scouting staffs. Front-office personnel might catch a college all-star game, dog-ear a copy of Street & Smith's or call an old college coach to ask who had impressed him that season. Blake supplied a lifeline they probably didn't deserve. "In those days he'd come in and bang out a memo and hand-fax it to every team," Ryan says.
Now the Blakes send out their massive Fall Briefing Book, a catalog of every player to keep an eye on, with comments in Blakese (e.g., "a slasher--a Charles Manson type; his future is all ahead of him"). As the college season unfolds, Marty, Ryan and a network of 60 freelancers in the U.S. and five to 10 overseas post updates on a website for which only NBA teams have the double password required for entry. In the spring comes basketball's very own Doomsday Book: Marty Blake & Associates' Draft Book. "We're both very competitive," Blake says of Ryan. "We want to make sure no one in the draft goes unreported on."
By draft day the Blakes' work is done. "We don't tell teams who to pick," Marty says. "We just tell them who's out there." In spite of those years of experience Blake's assessments now bow to those of the player personnel staffs of each team, who'll be called to account if a pick flops. "What he provides now is more of a cross-reference," says New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn. "It always helps to have another set of eyes." But even if Marty Blake & Associates didn't supply the essentials--accurate college schedules, rosters and thumbnails, along with a stream of game reports in-season--the NBA would surely keep him on contract, if only because scouts couldn't bear to be without Marty's company.
"In a way it's hard to believe, because he's like the absent-minded professor, but Marty brought a semblance of organization and structure to the whole process," the Raptors' Babcock says. "He used to do a sophisticated rating system, but he's backed off that because now everyone does their own. Yet he was the one who forced everyone to become better organized in-house."
Over a half century Blake has launched his share of air balls, touting such busts as LaRue Martin of Loyola, William Bedford of Memphis State and Leon Douglas of Alabama. On the other hand Blake listed Vlade Divac as the top center in 1989, and 25 players went before the Lakers made Divac their pick. If all he had done was advise the selection committee of the Portsmouth Invitational, his status as a seer would be secure. The players who have emerged over a few days in April in a high school gym in that Tidewater town include Jerome Kersey, Terry Porter, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, Charles Oakley, Kevin Duckworth, Anthony Mason, Dan Majerle and Ben Wallace. In many cases Blake was first to bring them to the attention of NBA teams.