Bob McAdoo learned what it was like to be forgotten shortly after he was traded to the Detroit Pistons 2� years ago. He had been Rookie of the Year in 1973 while playing for the Buffalo Braves, and he led the NBA in scoring in '74, '75 and '76. But by 1979 he was a vagabond with a big contract and big problems, and when he was traded to the wretched Pistons—his fourth team in four seasons—people gradually forgot about him.
But now, in the playoffs, people are beginning to remember where Bob McAdoo was, and where he belongs. Coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers, the 6'9" McAdoo averaged 17 points a game and shot 56.1% as the Lakers pounded Phoenix in four straight games and then swept the San Antonio Spurs in four to reach the NBA finals. Those figures don't compare with McAdoo's numbers when he was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 1975 (34.5 ppg, 14.1 rebounds), but, as San Antonio Forward Mike Mitchell so eloquently puts it, "When Can Doo get on, he can do."
McAdoo just needed a place to do his thing. After being traded around and finally put on waivers by Detroit on March 11, 1981, he was determined to sit out this season rather than play for another doormat. He even turned down a reported offer of $300,000 a year from the New Jersey Nets, who had picked him up late last season. The Nets were a young team with a promising future, and their new arena in the Meadowlands was only a 20-minute drive from McAdoo's home in Ramsey, N.J. "One week Larry Brown [the Nets' coach] wanted me," says McAdoo, "one week he didn't. Early in the year they were going bad, and Larry blamed the players. Even though it was home, I didn't want to be somewhere where they have a four-year plan. I wanted to win right away."
Every NBA owner wants to win right away, and that's why McAdoo has been shuffled twice for the astonishing sum of five first-round draft choices, one second-round pick and thousands upon thousands of dollars.
McAdoo might still be sitting at home had it not been for an injury to Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers' starting power forward and backup center. Kupchak's misfortune on Dec. 19 turned out to be McAdoo's "dream come true," and on Christmas Eve the Lakers signed him to a contract reportedly worth $175,000 for the rest of the 1981-82 season.
Not all of the Lakers were happy about the acquisition. "Just what we needed," grumbled one at the time, "another scorer." "You could see it when I came to L.A.," McAdoo says. "I think everybody was watching and waiting to see how I was going to fit in."
McAdoo arrived on Dec. 26 and in a way presented the first real challenge to new Coach Pat Riley. "Everything—his image, his problems with coaches—was discussed before we got him," Riley says. "We still felt he was the ideal guy. Everywhere else Mac had played, he was expected to carry the load every night. This team is too strong for any one player to be a disruption."
It took McAdoo a month to get in shape, and during that time Riley experimented with several starting lineups. In that 14-game period Kurt Rambis, Mark Landsberger and Jim Brewer averaged only 10.3 points a game among them as Kupchak's replacement and, as Riley quickly found out, "a lot of teams were playing us five on four." Teams still drop off Rambis, who became the starting power forward, to help out on Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but when McAdoo comes into the game for Rambis, they no Can Doo.
"When they play those five together," San Antonio Assistant Coach Morris McHone said of McAdoo, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Norm Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes, "all five can score. When you surround McAdoo with those other players, it makes him much better. And he's already good enough."
Nothing McAdoo did was enough to please the Detroit fans, especially a heckler known as Leon the Barber, who nightly bellowed, "McAdoo, McAdon't, McAwill, McAwon't." "The thing that hurt me the most was that I was made out to be a malingerer and a bad guy," McAdoo says. "But I was just doing what was expected of me. I was supposed to be the main attraction, score a lot of points and clear the boards. I had to do it all every night."