Come on, Daddy," pleaded the boy. He clutched a picnic basket in one hand and, with the other, dragged a man in a Stetson across the parking lot. "We'll miss the kickoff."
"Tipoff, Son," said the man. "Kickoff is what they're doing everyplace else in Texas on a Friday night. Tipoff is what they call it here, and it ain't nothing like a kickoff at all."
To the uninitiated, a tipoff involves a couple of real tall tight ends dressed in their underwear, jumping for an airborne fumble. Then all 10 fellows on both teams run around and jump a lot while the numbers on the scoreboard change faster than those on a gas pump. No, it's not football. It's even better, because there's no traffic jam after the game.
Pro basketball, welcome to Dallas, where winners fly their own airplanes and losers are encouraged to take their acts to Waco. By sundown. Remember the late, great Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA? Played their last game in Big D in 1973 before 573 customers, paying and otherwise. Left by cover of night with their red, white and blue balls for the Mexican border, but they got no farther than San Antonio. It's been 10 years since Coach Bill Fitch, whose expansion team in Cleveland had a 15-67 record, uttered the immortal words, "War is hell. But expansion is worse."
Now come the Mavericks with a secondhand nickname and a team full of players only an Italian league coach could love. The veterans, such as they are, were picked from a garage sale of bench warmers—"pine brothers" in the players' vernacular. As for the rookies, well, sadly the Mavericks' history will include the fact that the club's first four picks from the college draft turned out to be as useless as West Texas. Nos. 3 and 4, David Britton and David Johnson, couldn't even make the ragtag club, while Nos. 1 and 2, UCLA's 6'8" Kiki Vandeweghe and Syracuse's 6'11" Roosevelt Bouie, told Dallas "no thanks." Bouie's in Europe, and Vandeweghe's on his way to grad school.
The Mavericks do have some things going for them: a wealthy owner, a determined coach and sparkling new 17,761-seat Reunion Arena. General Manager Norm Sonju spent a year and a half getting an NBA team for Dallas, buttonholing roughly 200 potential investors before coming up with the $12 million entry fee—nearly twice the $6.1 million paid in 1974 by the most recent previous expansion club, New Orleans. "Dallas is football country, but it's also Bible Belt country," says Sonju. "We can win the respect of the people with wholesomeness and goodness and respect for God and country."
When Sonju had trouble coming up with the money, Donald J. Carter, one of Texas' richest men, stepped in and guaranteed the whole $12 million. Carter's mama, who founded the Dallas home accessories company that made the family rich, is the only woman to serve on Rev. Billy Graham's evangelical board. So it's not surprising that Carter and Sonju came up with a "model" for the team, based on down-home Texas values. "What an example we could set for the NBA and our country," gushes Sonju, "if we had a brand-new, clean model that worked just right."
Watching the model, er, team work out with Coach Dick Motta before the season began, Rick Sund, the 29-year-old director of player personnel, said, "Hey, maybe we aren't going to win many games right off, but we're banking on the future. Do you realize that the Cowboys went an entire season before they won a football game? Win or lose, we're going to battle. Texans love killers. They'll say, 'The Mavericks didn't win, but they bloodied their noses.' "
On the floor, the motley Mavericks looked out of place against the background of beautiful green and blue arena seats and below the $1.2 million state-of-the-art scoreboard. But at least no one was dogging it. "Dick didn't want anything that even remotely resembled his Washington Bullet team," said Sund.
Dallas doesn't, not with Geoff Huston, Winford Boynes, Jim Spanarkel, Austin Carr, Terry Duerod and Joe Hassett for guards; Tom LaGarde and Ralph Drollinger for centers; Abdul Jeelani, Jerome Whitehead, Richard Washington, Darrell Allums and Marty Byrnes for forwards. As bad as this team is, it's not as bad as people expected. Detroit, which has been in the league 32 years longer, hadn't even won a game by the end of last week, but the Mavericks had; they were victorious their first time out, on Oct. 11, beating San Antonio 103-92. "They're the new kids on the block," the Spurs' George Gervin grumbled after the game, "and the new kids don't last long in a man's world."