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McAdoo had left the University of North Carolina after his junior year and was drafted by the Buffalo Braves, for whom he had his finest years. He averaged 28.2 points a game in a little more than four seasons before being traded to the New York Knicks after he had demanded a $500,000-a-year contract.
New York was already loaded with talent when it picked up McAdoo on Dec. 9, 1976, and yet, like Spencer Haywood before him, Mac was expected to be a savior. New York wanted idols to replace the recently retired Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley, and it wanted to win right away. The Knicks improved their record from 40-42 to 43-39 and made the playoffs in McAdoo's second year, but the great savior experiment was judged a failure.
"Anytime you have a team with Ray Williams, Michael Ray Richardson, Spencer Haywood, Lonnie Shelton, Earl Monroe and Bob McAdoo," McAdoo says, "you've got to look elsewhere for the problems. They just weren't patient enough." On Feb. 12, 1979, the Knicks unloaded McAdoo on the Boston Celtics for three first-round picks.
McAdoo had been third in the league in scoring when the Knicks shipped him to Boston, but he never fit in with what was a bad Boston team. McAdoo complained to Player- Coach Dave Cowens about too little playing time, and that gave birth to his reputation for selfishness. President-General Manager Red Auerbach later told The New York Times, "Bob was more concerned with personal achievements than team achievements." Before the 1979-80 season Boston traded McAdoo to Detroit for M.L. Carr and draft choices that would become Robert Parish (through a trade) and Kevin McHale.
Things went from bad to worse when the Pistons' other star, Center Bob Lanier, was traded to a contender, the Milwaukee Bucks. "When Lanier was gone," McAdoo says, "all the fans' anger switched to me."
During his first year in Detroit, McAdoo separated from his wife, Brenda, a New Jersey lawyer. That was also the year in which his father, to whom McAdoo had always been very close, died. And the year he had a couple of injuries, which kept him out of 22 games. Playing for a bad team didn't help. "I always used to get butterflies on the day of a game, thinking about how I hoped we could win," McAdoo says. "In Detroit I just hoped we wouldn't get embarrassed. It was pitiful."
It was during McAdoo's second year in Detroit that things began to go completely sour for him. Conflicting stories are told about what happened. A series of nagging injuries caused him to miss all but six of the 73 games the Pistons played before he was waived. He says Detroit Coach Scotty Robertson suggested that he retire, and that when he was finally ready to play shortly after the league trading deadline had passed, Robertson and General Manager Jack McCloskey refused even to let him put on a uniform and sit on the bench. "I told them I would gladly play 10 minutes or no minutes. I just wanted to be in uniform," McAdoo insists. "I didn't need to take abuse from the fans while I was in my street clothes. The front office told me I could go on home, then they told the press that I didn't want to sit on the bench at all because I didn't want to take the abuse from the fans."
The Pistons claim that McAdoo was healthy enough to make a contribution but refused to do it. "He could have given us 10 to 12 minutes a game," McCloskey says. "He said that he didn't want to play part-time because it would drive the value of his next contract down. Prior to that, I might have been the only guy in Detroit who thought Bob McAdoo was really injured, but after he said that, I lost all respect."
Soon the word was out that McAdoo was a malingerer. "Ever hear anybody call a white player a malingerer?" asks former Laker great Elgin Baylor. "Ever? Think about that."
The Lakers haven't thought about it at all. Los Angeles needed someone who could score maximum points in minimum minutes and serve as an effective backup to Abdul-Jabbar. At 30, McAdoo is still eager to shoot his quick-release jumper, an awkward-looking shot from which he pulls his hands back so fast it looks as if he's burned his fingers. "Mac's done everything that's been asked of him," Riley says. "I don't know if he could carry a team anymore. And he would probably like to start, but he likes his role here."