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11) Red ink makes strange bedfellows. Despite the Knicks and Rangers, Madison Square Garden has problems because of high interest payments on money borrowed for its new building. The Garden wants the rights to run the planned Long Island arena, where it will be partners with the Nets.
12) Winter wonderland. In a rabid hockey town, with a new NHL franchise, Buffalo's NBA team will have rough going. It passed up a natural drawing card in little Calvin Murphy from nearby Niagara and will let Pittsburgh and San Diego fight over him. If Calvin goes with the Pipers, he may find Press Maravich as the new coach—even if Pete did go NBA. Maravich père turned down the Pittsburgh job last year and the Phoenix post the year before. That, too, may be offered to him again.
13) Make money, not war. NBA teams are supposed to be so many Rocks of Gibraltar compared to the ABA franchises, but war is no respecter of tradition. Last week, while it was apparent that 11-time world-champion Boston had lost money over the regular season—and would miss out on its usual quarter of a million in playoff receipts—there was talk that the franchise would be moved to Long Island.
The pistol shot heard round the league. With an impact—good or bad—felt in every franchise on the map, Pete Maravich signed possibly the largest playing contract in sports history with the NBA Atlanta Hawks. He ended up in Atlanta as a result of a series of bizarre events and coincidences that could hardly have been contrived, much less foreseen. One example of this is the fact that the key man for Atlanta in the negotiations was the same person who originally approached Pete's father, Press, on behalf of the ABA. The winding trail goes back even farther, to a time in West Virginia before Pete was even born, when Press was making a very few thousand dollars a year coaching the team at Davis & Elkins College and a friend of his named Bob Kent was pulling down the same salary as Maravich's big rival at Beckley College. Bob and Press were together last Thursday night, in Kent's Atlanta apartment, when Pete signed the formal contract that will bring him approximately $1¾ million for five years of playing basketball.
Walking out to make the announcement a few minutes later, Press turned to Bob. "Could you have imagined, back in West Virginia, that anything like this would happen?" he said.
"Yes," Kent replied, straight-faced, not breaking stride.
About a year ago Kent was still serving as general manager of the Greensboro (N.C.) War Memorial Coliseum (SI, May 12, 1969). Generally acknowledged as the best man in his field, he had gone into arena management directly from his coaching job at Beckley. His friend Maravich had, of course, stayed in coaching. But the two men kept in close touch, traded visits and usually roomed together at NCAA conventions.
The Carolina Cougars came into the ABA last spring as the nation's first regional franchise, playing Greensboro-Raleigh-Charlotte. They settled into offices about 50 feet down the hall from Kent's in Greensboro. Don DeJardin, the Cougars' bright young general manager, and Kent became good friends, and when the Cougars learned that Kent was an old pal of Press Maravich they asked him if he would make the initial contact with Press. Kent was delighted to be of help and flew down to Baton Rouge. Formal ABA draft rights eventually went to Carolina.
In the spring of '69 Kent was also approached by Tom Cousins, an Atlanta millionaire who had made his fortune in real estate and had brought the Hawks to Atlanta from St. Louis the year before. Cousins wants to build a new arena for Atlanta and asked Kent to serve first as a consultant and then as the arena manager. Kent took the job and finally left Greensboro for Atlanta on Dec. 1. At that point, it is safe to say, the Cougars had the inside track on Maravich, but Owner James Gardner, a hamburger franchise magnate and former Congressman, was just beginning to make one of his few serious mistakes since he came into pro basketball and began to escalate the interleague war. Gardner would not leave the Maraviches alone. His constant pressure was an error in judgment. Now, too, the road to Pete's signing really begins to twist and turn.
Gardner also had served as interim commissioner of the ABA in the summer of '69, and his aggressive leadership encouraged ABA teams to go after the NBA's top players. The Los Angeles Stars took Zelmo Beaty away from the Atlanta Hawks. It was a coup for the ABA at the time; eventually, the price the ABA paid was Pete Maravich.