New York, New York: Julius Erving, the Nets-Knicks Feud, and America’s Bicentennial

via the Daily Mail
A pleasant ride on the NY Subway in 1976 (via the Daily Mail)

1976 was an awkward time for the United States of America.

The previous few years had seen the military massacre college students at home and abandon an unpopular, costly war abroad. A president had resigned, narrowly escaping impeachment. And as James Brown eloquently stated in his song, “Funky President (People It’s Bad),” times were bad, people:

Stock market going up, Jobs going down
And ain’t no funky jobs to be found

Taxes keep going up, I changed from a glass
Now I drink from a paper cup, It’s getting bad

Amidst all the social tumult, the United States also prepared for the bicentennial of its revolutionary birth. It was a much needed shot of enthusiasm to reinvigorate the triumphant American spirit which was on a prolonged vacation after such harrowing gut checks.

Once the capital of the United States, New York City reflected this strange dichotomy of enthusiasm and desperation. Crime and poverty were rising for the five boroughs, but so were the magnificent Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The social grime that created miserable hardship also was giving birth to the vibrant expressions of disco and hip-hop.

The dichotomy even extended to basketball. The New York Knickerbockers were falling off the turnip truck, while the New York Nets were riding high.

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Classic Rivalries: Wilt Chamberlain vs. Elgin Baylor

via siphotos.tumblr.com/
via siphotos.tumblr.com/

Teammates from 1968 through 1971 on the Los Angeles Lakers, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain weren’t exactly the best of friends. The two men possessed huge similarly styled egos. Each always thought he was right all the time and never hesitated to express their unvarnished opinions. One locker room argument exemplifies their disdain and incompatibility…

“[The Boston Celtics] run like a bunch of turtles with arthritis,” [Baylor] joked to the delight of his fellow Lakers.
“Are you joking about people again?” Chamberlain inquired seriously.
“I’m not talking about people,” Baylor answered.
“You always talking about people,” Chamberlain replied.
“What do you mean?” Baylor asked.
“How do you think people feel when, you know, you call them turtles with arthritis?” Chamberlain said.
“I didn’t say they were turtles with arthritis. I said they run like turtles with arthritis,” Baylor responded.

… what had begun as jovial locker room interplay between teammates quickly descended into an unpleasant clash of egos…

- Via Thomas Whalen’s Dynasty’s End

Forget the arthritis, the Lakers locker room was one big awkward turtle. Chamberlain thought Baylor was beyond his prime and ought to relegate himself to secondary status behind the Big Dipper and Mr. Clutch. There was some truth to Chamberlain’s thoughts. Baylor after suffering from a serious knee injury in 1965 was robbed of his explosive first step. Prior to the injury Baylor had averaged 30 points and 15 rebounds  a game. Afterwards it was a “mere” 23 points and 11 rebounds.

In truth, though, Chamberlain wasn’t quite the overpowering force he had been in younger years either. Gone were his routine spectacles of 50 points and 30 rebounds in a game. He was still good for 20 points and 20 rebounds a night, but both of these men were past their most physically spectacular, statistically outlandish years. As it so happens, they often performed their statistical feats opposite one another.

Using the wonderful databases at basketball-reference.com, I’ve been able to find three instances where Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor scored at least 50 points against one another in the same game. And as it so happens they all took place in December 1961 and December 1962.

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