Boston Celtics Franchise History: 1976-77 through 1985-86

Boston Celtics

Championships: 3
Conference Titles: 4
Division Titles: 6

Regular Season Record: 539-281
Regular Season Win Percentage: 65.7%
Playoff Appearances: 8
Playoff Series Wins: 18
Playoff Record: 74-42

Capturing two titles in the previous three seasons, while also making every Conference Finals since 1972, the Boston Celtics entered the 1976-77 season on an incredibly high note. However, high notes don’t play on forever.

John Havlicek, at age 36, was somehow still averaging 18/5/5. Jo Jo White submitted one of his best seasons with 20 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds a game. Those two venerable Celtics proved to be the only rocks on a team clearly in decline. Dave Cowens and Charlie Scott each missed nearly half the season. The frontcourt of Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe didn’t exactly replace the leadership and intelligence of the dearly departed Paul Silas. Add it all up and Boston finished with just 44 wins.

In the playoffs, White provided his final great run for Boston. His 31 PPG dropped the San Antonio Spurs in the 1st Round. In the semi-finals, Boston faced off against old nemesis Philadelphia now led by Julius Erving. Thanks to White’s 40 points in Game 6, Boston forced a Game 7, which they narrowly lost. In due time, the Celtics would engage in numerous battles with Erving’s 76ers. But, in due time.

That series marked the end of Boston’s 1970s squads as any sort of contender. The 1977-78 Celtics won only 32 games in missing the playoffs. The highlight of the season was John Havlicek’s raucous retirement ceremony. With such a crummy team on the court, why not get excited remembering the eight titles Hondo had helped Boston win?

With Havlicek retired, the complete razing of Boston was underway. White was traded midway through the 1978-79 season. Big names with underwhelming game were trotted out: Marvin Barnes, Billy Knight, Dave Bing, Ernie DiGregario, Bob McAdoo, etc. Boston limped to the finish of that season with 29 wins as Cowens became the last player-coach in NBA history.

From this turmoil, Boston – again – was assembling the bits for a new contender. Cedric Maxwell was drafted in 1977 and by his second season averaged 20 and 10 while leading the NBA in FG%. Nate “Tiny” Archibald was acquired cheaply as he recovered from Achilles and foot injuries. And most stealthily, the Celtics exploited a loophole in 1978 to draft Larry Bird.

The loophole? NBA draftees at the time became if they explicitly declared for the draft or automatically four years after their high school class graduated. At least that was Red Auerbach’s argument. Bird was still in college, but due to sitting out a season while transferring schools, he had still reached four years past his HS graduating class.

Boston had to wait until the 1979-80 season to get Bird, but he was worth the wait winning Rookie of the Year.

The lineup of Bird, Cowens, Maxwell, and Archibald stormed to the best record in the NBA with 61 wins. A quick sweep of Houston deceived the Celtics. In the Conference Finals, Dr. J’s 76ers smacked down the Celtics in 5 games. Boston was clearly to be reckoned with once again, but would need a little more seasoning and a little more talent.

The seasoning would naturally come. The talent arrived through one of the great swindles in NBA history. Why write about it when there’s an awesome video breakdown of the silliness…

So, even though Cowens finally retired, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish joining the Celtics fray made them a legitimate title contender for years to come. Indeed, in 1980-81, they again finished with the league’s best record (62-20). However, the Sixers also finished with 62 wins. The showdown in the Eastern Conference Finals produced one of the greatest series ever played.

Game 1 was decided by a single point in favor of Philly. Games 2 and 3 had double-digit victories by each side. Then came the deluge of Maalox moments. Philadelphia won Game 4 and took a 3-1 series lead. Boston won the three next games to amazingly win the series. If you recall, Boston had done the same thing back in 1968 to Philadelphia. For the 1981 edition of this comeback, the final three Boston victories were decided by 5 points total.

The Finals against the 40-win Houston Rockets – who had moved to the Western Conference – proved more difficult than first imagined thanks to the burly Moses Malone. Nonetheless, the Celtics dispatched Houston in six games and claimed their first title since 1976.

In the 1981-82 season, Boston again finished with the league’s best record (63-19) and again faced the 76ers in the Conference Finals. And again the series went seven games. Again in a 3-1 series hole, Boston nearly made up the difference one more time, but the Sixers stopped the rally in a 120-106 Game 7 win in Boston.

The next year, Boston somewhat stumbled to 56 wins and were swept in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks. That 1983 season saw the demise of the first incarnation of Bird’s Celtics. Archibald, who had missed half of the 1982 ECF, was just too old and broken down to be effective anymore. Also, coach Bill Fitch with an insanely intense style had worn out his welcome.

With a new coach in KC Jones and some back court help arriving in the form of 2nd-year man Danny Ainge and a trade for Dennis Johnson, Boston looked to regain its championship form in 1984.

New Era, Old Foes

Oh did the Celtics ever regain their mojo.

They finished far and away the best team in the NBA in 1984 with 62 wins. The hated Sixers after winning the title in 1983 finished with just 52 wins and finally seemed no longer a threat to Boston.  Indeed, the Celtics made easy work of the Eastern playoffs. Only the heroics of Bernard King, who single-handedly forced Boston into a 7-game semi-final series, gave them any trouble. But King’s personal exploits couldn’t stymie the Celtics’ great team.

Moving on tot he Finals, Boston faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time since 1969. After taking a Game 3 pounding, 137-104, Larry Bird disparaged his team with unflattering remarks. Regrouping and galvanized, they came out in Game 4 in what might be the greatest game ever played.

Famous for Kevin McHale’s clothesline foul of Kurt Rambis, the contest itself stands as a hallmark of pressure-filled playoff basketball. Lakers star Magic Johnson eventually wilted under the pressure as Boston annoyed and intimidated Los Angeles. The Celtics pulled the game out in overtime, 129-125. Eventually going seven games, the Celtics demonstrably handled the Lakers 111-102 in the final game to win another championship thanks to Maxwell’s 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.

Boston looked to repeat as NBA champs in the 1984-85 season. With a sterling 63 wins they looked even better than the year before. A brief tussle with the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals did give Boston a taste of a foe who would be more troublesome in the years to come. The Celtics then had their swansong confrontation with the 76ers in the ECF. The Celtics proved far superior defeating Philly 4-1.

The Finals rematch of Celtics-Lakers and Magic-Bird opened with a dramatic 148-114 victory for the Boston. Scott Wedman came off of Boston’s bench and drilled all 11 of his field goals for 26 points. That great omen proved false for the Celtics. Magic and the Lakers proved more resilient than the previous year and wound up winning the series 4-games-to-2 despite lacking home court advantage.

For the 1985-86 season, Boston decided to shake things up. They traded longtime forward and 1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Bill Walton. Walton had hardly played over the previous half-decade due to foot injuries, but his passing skills and post presence would push McHale into the starting lineup while making himself the NBA’s premier 6th Man.

The gambit worked and the ’86 Celtics cruised to the NBA title. During the regular season they finished with 67 wins and probably could have won more if they had the desire to. They won 12 of their 13 playoff games in the Eastern Conference. The only bump in the road proved to be the Houston Rockets in the Finals. Their combination of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson could contend with Boston’s enormous frontcourt, but the Celtics held a decisive edge at guard and it was there that the balance was fully swung. The Celtics celebrated a 4-2 series victory over the Rockets and their third title in six years.

As this latest Celtics decade came to a close, Boston could fondly look back on a spectacular rebuild from the Hondo-Cowens-White Era to the Bird-McHale-Parish Era. The latest Big 3 had not only delivered three titles, but also routinely garnered the NBA’s best regular season record. Amazingly, Boston was in a position to begin rebuilding before their current era of success was even close to being finished.

In 1984, the Celtics had traded Gerald Henderson to the Seattle SuperSonics for a future first round pick. Well, the pick was due in 1986 and as (Celtic) luck would have it, the Sonics wound up with the #2 overall pick. Boston took possession of that draft pick. On draft night, June 17, 1986, the Boston Celtics looked to solidify their NBA hold for the rest of the 1980s and extend the dynasty into the 1990s with the selection of Len Bias.

STARTING FIVE

C -Robert Parish (1980-’86) – 480 Games
18.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 54.6% FG, 72.3% FT

F – Cedric Maxwell (1977-’85) – 607 Games
13.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 55.9% FG, 78.3% FT

F – Larry Bird (1979-’86) – 561 Games
23.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 49.6% FG, 35.9% 3PT, 86.9% FT

F – Kevin McHale (1980-’86) – 475 Games
16.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 55.3% FG, 75.2% FT

G – Tiny Archibald (1978-’83) – 363 Games
12.5 PPG, 7.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 46.9% FG, 79.0% FT

BENCH

G – Dennis Johnson (1983-’86) – 238 Games
14.8 PPG, 5.6 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 45.2% FG, 84.1% FT

G – Danny Ainge (1981-’86) – 359Games
9.0 PPG, 3.6 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 49.2% FG, 84.7% FT

C – Dave Cowens (1976-’80) – 261 Games
16.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 46.9% FG, 81.8% FT

Pro Hoops History HOF: Warren Jabali

Warren Jabali
Warren Jabali

At a stocky 6’2″ and 200 lbs., Warren Jabali was one of the hardest players to guard and control in the ABA. Born Warren Armstrong, his changed surname means “the Rock” in Swahili and frankly it couldn’t have described him better. The name change occured toward the end of his career, but all throughout his life, Jabali exhibited an intensity on the court and off the court that often made people wary.

He was known as a merciless defender and averaged 2 steals per game in his career. His coaches wouldn’t hesitate to through him on any opposing guard or forward, no matter their height. If Jabali was on the court, you basically had the other teams best offensive guard and/or forward dutifully harassed

Despite his own short height, Jabali would fly in with reckless abandon to snare rebounds. Capturing the board, he would sprint down court and loved to throw down left-handed dunks – despite being right-handed. In the halfcourt setting, Jabali was absolutely too strong for opposing guards to contain and absolutely too fast and short for forwards to have any hope of slowing him down.

Jabali put his unqiue blend of talent and personality to immediate use in the ABA during his rookie season with the Oakland Oaks. Stacked with Rick Barry, Doug Moe, and Larry Brown, Jabali emerged as perhaps the team’s best player. That title was without dispute once Barry was lost to a knee injury early in the season. Averaging 21.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists, Jabali was named the ABA’s Rookie of the Year and lead Oakland to a 60-18 record – best in the ABA.

In the playoffs, Jabali was outstanding. Averaging 29 points and 13 rebounds for the playoffs (and 33 points in the Finals), the 6’2″ guard led the Oaks to the ABA title and was easily named the MVP of the playoffs.

A sensational follow up season was in store for Warren as the Oaks moved to Washington, DC, and became the Capitols. He upped his production to averages of 23 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He was named to the first of his four All-Star games. But his season was cut short and his career altered by a knee injury.

Returning in the 1970-71 season with the Indiana Pacers, Jabali’s limitless versatility was perhaps overused. Indiana had won the 1970 ABA title, so clearly had a solid core in place with Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, and Freddie Lewis. Jabali was basically designated as a Swiss Army Knife sliding up and down the lineup plugging holes instead of having a firm role.

After that lone season in Indy, Jabali was picked up by the Floridians forming a dynamic backcourt with the equally short Mack Calvin. Jabali returned to his All-Star form with averages of 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He also added a new wrinkle to his game: the three-point shot. His outside shooting had always been his biggest weakness, but in 1972 he led the ABA in three-pointers attempted while finishing fifth in percentage by nailing 36% of his downtown attempts.

Jabali was again on the move for the 1972-73 season. Landing with the Denver Rockets, Jabali’s unbounded athleticism was becoming a thing of the past. His rebounds fell to just 5 a game, but he still managed 17 points and 6.5 assists. Also, we finally get a glimpse at his steals totals since the ABA began tracking the stat this season. Warren swiped 2.1 per game.

In any event, 1973 proved Jabali’s last great season. At the All-Star Game, he secured MVP honors. But by the playoffs Rockets coach Alex Hannum had cooled on Jabali, drastically cutting his playing time.

What may have been Jabali’s undoing in pro basketball was his personality, the reaction others had to it, and his reaction to the reaction. No one in their right mind picked a fight with Jabali. During his vaunted rookie season, the firebrand stomped on an opponent and received a 15-game suspension.

More than that though, he was considered a radical black nationalist. After all, he had given up his born name of Armstrong for Jabali when he converted to Islam. Indeed, his outspoken beliefs made ABA management fearful of retaining him. In the 1974 season, Denver put Jabali on the waiver wire and no ABA team picked up the rest of that season.

A return to the ABA came in 1974-75 season for Warren with the San Diego Conquistadors, but he averaged an underwhelming (for himself) 12 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals a game. After those 62 games with the Qs, Jabali was done as a professional ball player.

Jabali explained his politics and seemingly aloof nature, but not many people in pro basketball wanted to take the time out – then or now – to fully grapple with the issues he saw swirling in sport and American society. In his later years, Jabali more keenly focused the rage he felt toward the injustices and became a devoted community organizer.

Even though his basketball career was spectacular, one wishes he had the same time and space to replicate his latter life solemn focus on to the court. Instead, injuries and personality curtailed the murky yet still amazing career of Warren Jabali.

Years Played: 1968-1975

Oakland Oaks

Accolades

ABA -
Champion (1969)
Playoff MVP (1969)
Rookie of the Year (1969)
All-ABA 1st Team (1973)
4x All-Star (1970, 1972-’74)
All-Star Game MVP (1973)

Statistics

ABA Career (1968-69 through 1974-75)

Average and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Career Rank
Games 447 36 27th
PPG 17.1 18.1 27th
RPG 6.7 8.5 42nd
APG 5.3 3.2 6th
SPG 1.99 N/A 9th
BPG 0.26 N/A 59th
TS% 0.521 0.496 58th
2PT% 0.453 0.451 83rd
3PT% 0.319 0.167 16th
FT% 0.756 0.702 61st
PER 16.3 15.8 31st
WS/48 0.11 0.11 39th
Ortg 100 N/A
Drtg 105 N/A

Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Career Rank
Games 447 36 27th
Minutes 15264 1209 21st
Points 7666 651 20th
Rebounds 2985 306 29th
Assists 2389 115 6th
Steals 384 N/A 8th
Blocks 29 N/A 66th
2PTs 2341 210 29th
3PTs 322 11 5th
FTs 2018 198 12th
WS 35.1 2.8 22nd

Boston Celtics Franchise History: 1966-67 through 1975-76

Boston Celtics

Championships: 4
Conference Titles: 4
Division Titles: 5

Regular Season Record: 534-285
Regular Season Win Percentage: 65.2%
Playoff Appearances: 8
Playoff Series Wins: 16
Playoff Record: 70-47

Entering the 1966-67 season, the Boston Celtics had appeared in 10 straight NBA Finals winning all but one of them. However, the 1966 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers showed that the Celtics had much to be concerned about. Up 3-games-to-1, the Celtics blew the series lead to the Lakers. In the decisive Game 7, the also blew a 16-point 4th quarter lead, but barely won the game 95 to 93.

Those 10 straight Finals appearances seemed to put tremendous strain on Boston. If they were to win a 10th title, they would have to withstand not only their talented opponents, but the wear and tear of endless playoff runs. They would also have to withstand the loss of Red Auerbach, who had coached the franchise since the 1950-51 season. In Red’s place, Bill Russell would be the first black coach in American sports while still retaining his place as the key player on the team.

As usual, the Celtics retooled for their latest title run. Don Nelson, who had been cut by the Lakers, was actually added prior to the 1965-66 season, but he would play a larger role going forward as a key scorer off the bench. Just as valuable would be a trade with Baltimore. The Celtics acquired Bailey Howell, an All-Star caliber forward, who could relieve some scoring pressure off of Sam Jones and John Havlicek. It should also be noted that point guard Larry Siegfried had fully matured into a capable and cool-handed player ready to take over the starting job from KC Jones.

The additions and the development provided Boston with 60 wins in the 1967 regular season. However, they finished 2nd in the East behind the 68-win Philadelphia 76ers. Concerned but not alarmed, Boston seemed sure to retain the title when playoff time rolled around.

Instead they got rolled on by the 76ers.

In a stunning rout, the Sixers beat Boston 4-games-to-1 in the East Finals, including a 140-116 demolition derby in the final game. Philly fans, weathered by years of defeat against Boston, jubilantly chanted “Boston’s Dead” as Game 5 came to a close. The Sixers led by Wilt Chamberlain went on to win the championship, the first non-Celtics club to do so since 1958.

A repeat affair seemed to be in the offing for the 1967-68 season.

Again, Philly finished first in the East. And again they had Boston pummeled. Up 3-games-to-1 in the East Finals, Philly looked to easily repeat as champions. Pissed at the circumstances, John Havlicek strode into the locker room prior to Game 5 and wrote a simple word on the chalkboard…

PRIDE

It may seem straight from a Disney film, but the tactic amazingly worked as Boston stormed back to become the first team to ever dig themselves out of a 3-1 hole and win a series. In the Finals, the Celtics and Havlicek showed no let up. They dispatched familiar foe Los Angeles in six games. Hondo averaged 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists in the series. In Game 6 he made sure to bury the Lakers with a 40-point performance. Howell chipped in a cool 30 points to aid the effort.

The 1968-69 season would prove just as, if not more, daunting for the Celtics. The New York Knicks were coalescing into a title contender with Willis Reed and Walt Frazier leading the way. The Baltimore Bullets were doing the same with Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe. The 76ers seemed to take a step back after trading Chamberlain, but Billy Cunningham turned in a spectacular season to keep them afloat. The toughened East meant Boston finished 4th place, snagging the last playoff spot.

In a mild upset, the Celtics defeated the Sixers 4-1 to advance to the East Finals against the heavily-favored Knicks. Boston stunned the NBA by defeating New York in six games. It was a close victory though. Boston’s Game 4 and Game 6 wins were each by a single point. Nonetheless, Boston moved on to the championship round.

The Finals seemed to setup the perfect culmination for this era of Celtics basketball. Boston’s two longtime foes the Lakers of West and Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain had combined forces the previous summer and seemed destined to definitively end the Russell Celtics. Jerry West (38 PPG, 7.5 APG) and John Havlicek (28 PPG, 11 RPG, played every minute of the Finals) battled all series providing amazing performances. The turning point, however, came in Game 4 courtesy of Sam Jones who would retire after the series finished.

With LA looking to take a 3-1 series lead, Boston was down 88-87 with barely a second left in the game. With possession, Boston inbounded the ball and Jones caught the pass tossing up a haggard runner that rolled around the rim before settling through the net. The win gave Boston the breathing room to eventually force a Game 7 on the Lakers’ home court. That (in)famous game ended 108-106 in Boston’s favor thanks in no small part to a Don Nelson jumper near the game’s end that hit the back iron and sailed three feet straight into the air before going through the hoop.

With 11 titles in 13 years, Bill Russell officially retired from the NBA and Boston had to retool.

A New Big 3

1970s Celtics
Jo Jo White, Don Chaney, John Havlicek, and Don Nelson lined up for action against Milwaukee

With Russell and Jones retired, the Celtics stumbled in 1969-70 missing the playoffs for the first time in two decades. For the 1970-71 season, Boston again missed the postseason, but there was undeniable improvement and retooling in effect. First off they improved from 34 to 44 wins. Secondly, Boston drafted Jo Jo White (in 1969) and Dave Cowens (1970) to form a new Big 3 to go along with the venerable Havlicek. With Tom Sanders, the brilliant defensive forward Don Chaney and instant bench offense extraordinaire Don Nelson still in the fold, Boston would look to make a big splash in the 1971-72 campaign.

With 56 wins, Boston captured the 1972 Atlantic Division crown, but fell to the New York Knicks in the Conference Finals. Undeterred, the next season Boston won an astounding 68 games, the best in the entire history of the franchise spurred by the acquisition of forward Paul Silas to bolster frontcourt defense and rebounding. Cowens meanwhile was named league MVP and Boston got a rematch with the Knicks in the Conference Finals. However, a shoulder injury to John Havlicek derailed their return to championship glory. The series ended with Boston’s first Game 7 loss on their homecourt.

Falling back to 56 wins in the 1973-74 campaign, Boston more importantly maintained its health while adding rookie guard Paul Westphal. In their third straight matchup with the Knicks in the ECF, the Celtics finally demolished their foe in a 4-1 series victory. Havlicek in particular relished the rematch as he averaged 30 points in the five-game series.

Returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1969, the Celtics faced off against the Milwaukee Bucks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The series see-sawed back and forth with neither team winning back-to-back games. The classic series is famous for Cowens diving like a mad man to gather a loose ball on the court and for Kareem nailing a game-winning, last-second skyhook in Game 6. In the end, Boston took the series in seven games and John Havlicek took the honors of Finals MVP.

Boston failed to repeat as champs in 1975, despite winning 60 games in the regular season. But in 1976, after trading Westphal for all-star guard Charlie Scott, they struck back with their second title in three years. That 4-2 series victory over the Phoenix Suns was again a classic, especially the triple overtime Game 5. Best remembered for Suns forward Gar Heard’s unbelievable turnaround jumper, Havlicek and especially Jo Jo White were just as heroic in their efforts to deliver Boston a win. White for his efforts was named the MVP of the 1976 Finals.

Boston’s latest Big 3 of Cowens, White, and Havlicek augmented by Nelson and Silas had done admirably well to restore Boston’s NBA dominance. But as the Celtics prepared for the 1976-77 season, change was again afoot. Silas was traded to Denver. The timeless Havlicek was finally nearing retirement.

As Boston entered its next decade it’d have to figure out to bridge another gap from one title-winning core to another.

STARTING FIVE

C – Dave Cowens (1970-’76) – 465 Games
19.1 PPG, 15.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 45.6% FG, 76.5%

C – Bill Russell (1966-’69) – 236 Games
11.9 PPG, 19.6 RPG, 5.1 APG, 43.8% FG, 56.0% FT

F – John Havlicek (1966-’76) – 803 Games
22.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 44.6% FG, 83.0% FT

F – Don Nelson (1966-’76) – 797 Games
11.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 48.9% FG, 77.8% FT

G – Jo Jo White (1969-’76) – 542 Games
19.0 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 44.6% FG, 82.1%FT

BENCH

F – Paul Silas (1972-’76) – 325 Games
11.5 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 43.9% FG, 72.5% FT

F – Bailey Howell (1966-’70) – 323 Games
18.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 48.0% FG, 73.9% FT

F – Don Chaney (1968-’75) – 485 Games
10.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 45.0% FG, 77.4% FT

St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks Franchise History: 1966-67 through 1975-76

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 2

Regular Season Record: 404-415
Regular Season Win Percentage: 49.3%
Playoff Appearances: 7
Playoff Series Wins: 3
Playoff Record: 21-31

The Hawks bid farewell to St. Louis with one of their strongest seasons in years in 1967-68 by setting franchise records of 56 wins and a .683 win percentage. Unfortunately, in the playoffs, the Hawks were upset 4-games-to-2 by the San Francisco Warriors and exited their St. Louis era on a sour note. Under coach (and sometimes player) Richie Guerin, the Hawks kept chugging in Atlanta for the next two seasons with back-to-back 48-win seasons and appearances in the Western Division Finals.

The roster was in flux, however, throughout this period. Upon moving to Atlanta, the Hawks traded longtime point guard Lenny Wilkens to Seattle. Big and skilled center Zelmo “Big Z” Beaty left for the ABA. As did forward “Pogo” Joe Caldwell. The Hawks managed to keep a hold of “Sweet” Lou Hudson and added “Pistol” Pete Maravich in 1970. Still hanging on as well was a defensive mad man and tough as nails rebounder, Bill Bridges. In early 1970, making, up for the loss of Big Z, the Hawks traded for Walt “Bells” Bellamy.

The roster may have been in chaos, but at least all the players had splendid nicknames.

Added together, though, the moves were never truly enough to keep Atlanta a stalwart and they slid from the realm of contender. After 1970, the Hawks posted just one winning season (46 wins in 1973) in this period, although they made the playoffs seven times. The string of playoff appearances was more a testament to the imbalanced conferences than Atlanta’s own power. Their next winning campaign wouldn’t be until the 1977-78 season.

The Hawks waning fortunes at the end of this period leads to one of the great what-ifs in basketball history… What if Julius “Dr. J” Erving had played for the Hawks instead of the Virginia Squires of the ABA? Atlanta signed Erving to a contract in 1972, but ultimately the contract was ruled invalid. Erving’s brief stint in some exhibition games for Atlanta leave the tantalizing prospect of Pistol Pete, Sweet Lou, and the Doctor as true teammates only a fantasy for basketball and Hawks fans.

Ultimately, this period was one of transition and missed connections and chances. Through it all, Lou Hudson was the linchpin in this swirl of changes. He played every season of this era with the Hawks and cemented his status as a franchise legend.

STARTING FIVE

C – Walt Bellamy (1970-’74) – 338 Games
15.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 50.8% FG, 58.4% FT

F – Bill Bridges (1966-’72) – 419 Games
14.1 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 45.8% FG, 69.8% FT

F – Joe Caldwell (1966-’70) – 323 Games
16.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 47.7% FG, 62.5% FT

G/F – Lou Hudson (1966-’76) – 672 Games
22.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.9 SPG, 48.9% FG, 79.3% FT

G – Pete Maravich (1970-’74) – 322 Games
24.3 PPG, 5.6 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 44.8% FG, 80.9% FT

BENCH

G – Herm Gilliam (1971-’75) – 280 Games
12.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 45.0% FG, 82.1% FT

G – Mahdi Abdul-Rahman (1968-’71) – 244 Games
14.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.7 RPG, 44.4% FG, 76.0% FT

C – Zelmo Beaty (1966-’69) – 202 Games
20.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 47.8% FG, 76.3% FT

Atlanta Hawks Franchise History: 1976-77 through 1985-86

Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta Hawks (sportslogos.net)

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 1

Regular Season Record: 408-412
Regular Season Win Percentage: 49.8%
Playoff Appearances: 7
Playoff Series Wins: 2
Playoff Record: 13-22

For their first full decade in Atlanta, the Hawks were apparently the definition of middling. Over the course of these ten seasons they finished virtually at .500… well, .498 to be precise. Four of these seasons saw Atlanta finish with a wins total between 40 and 43 wins, while three were in the 46-50 range and another three between the 31-34 range.

Despite the middle-of-the-road records, the Hawks did sport some exciting talent. Forward John Drew was a force on the offensive glass and one of the NBA’s best scorers. Tree Rollins was a mammoth shot-blocker, while Dan Roundfield slid beside him as an agile defender. Speedy Eddie Johnson created havoc in the backcourt. And in 1982, the Hawks traded Drew to Utah for the draft rights to an even more exciting scoring machine: Dominique Wilkins.

Dominique helped catapult Atlanta to a 50-win season for the 1985-86 campaign. It was Atlanta’s best record since the 1977-78 season when they also finished with 50 wins. Those seasons were equal in regular season wins, but it was the 1978-1979 squad that was Atlanta’s shining beacon. With 46 wins in the regular season, the ’79 Hawks swept the Houston Rockets in the first round and then slogged a 7-game series with the Washington Bullets. Storming back from a 3-1 deficit, the Hawks barely succumbed in the final game, 100 to 94.

It would be another eight years before Atlanta rose to those heights again and it’d be on the back of their high-flying dunker, Dominique Wilkins. To cap off the decade, Wilkins in 1986 became the first Hawks player since Bob Pettit to lead the NBA in scoring.

STARTING FIVE

C – Tree Rollins (1977-’86) – 663 Games
7.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 52.9% FG, 68.7% FT

F – Dan Roundfield (1978-’84) – 435 Games
17.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 49.0% FG, 73.8% FT

F – John Drew (1976-’82) – 440 Games
21.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 47.3% FG, 74.8% FT

F – Dominique Wilkins (1982-’86) – 322 Games
24.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 47.0% FG, 78.2% FT

G – Eddie Johnson (1977-’86) – 619 Games
15.6 PPG, 5.2 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 47.8% FG, 79.3% FT

BENCH

F/C – Steve Hawes (1976-’83) – 451 Games
10.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 48.1% FG, 79.9% FT

C – Tom McMillen (1977-’83) – 416 Games
8.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 48.8% FG, 80.7% FT

G – Doc Rivers (1983-’86) – 203 Games
11.5 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.9 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 47.1% FG, 72.8% FT

The 6’2″-and-Under Champions Club

Napoleon

Life should be grand for Chris Paul. He delivered 22.5 points, 12 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 51% FG, 75% FT, and 45.5% 3PT in the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His regular season saw some injury woes but he’s still likely to make another All-NBA 1st Team, which would be the 4th such selection of his career. Of course the Clippers losing their series against Oklahoma City is dispiriting, but basketball fans can bask in Paul’s great efforts.

Well, some can. Not all.

Roll that beautiful Chris Paul critique footage!

The criticism will start anew after the Clippers playmaker delivered more heartache during his team’s season-ending 104-98 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday night at Staples Center.

Paul finished with 25 points and 11 assists but will be recalled mostly for the offensive foul with 3 minutes 35 seconds left that probably sealed the Clippers’ fate.

Paul was dejected after the loss and his continued failure to reach the Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals:

“It’s not just to get out of the second round. It’s to win a championship. I don’t know anybody in our league that plays for the Western Conference finals. That’s not enough.”

Well, given the circumstances of the NBA, having a 6’0″ tall player as your leading man rarely means winning a championship. Extending the height to 6’2″, only five NBA franchises have garnered a title with a player that tall reasonably, not unequivocally, considered their best player.

The Rochester Royals 1950-51

The first franchise was the Rochester Royals back in the 1950-51 season. Their best player was Bob Davies, a 6’1″ guard/forward who was one of the first players in the major pro leagues to dribble behind his back. The Royals, however, were a well-balanced machine with Bob Wanzer and especially Arnie Risen contesting best player honors. Indeed during the postseason, the 31-year old Davies had a miserable time averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3 assists on 34% shooting over 14 games. However, Risen and Wanzer rose to the ocassion. Wanzer notched 12.5 PPG, 5 RPG, and 4 APG while shooting 47% FG and 91% FT. Risen was a beast in the post with 19.5 PPG and 14 RPG including a dominating NBA Finals against the Knicks which would have secured a Finals MVP for Risen had it existed then. There was also defensive ace Jack Coleman who threw in 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in the postseason.

Davies may have been the best player, but it was truly a full team effort.

The Boston Celtics 1956-57

The Celtics were the next NBA champ to exhibit a wondrous 6’1″ dribbler as their best player. Bob Cousy was the regular season MVP for the NBA and had appeared in the All-Star Game all seven seasons of  his pro career. The Celtics had also made the postseason every year of his career, but had never made the Finals. Finally, in 1957 Boston won the Finals as Cousy averaged 20 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds in the playoffs.

Don’t be too quick to give Cooz all the credit, though. His longtime running mate Bill Sharman averaged 21 PPG. Rookie forward Tommy Heinsohn dropped 23 PPG and 12 RPG. Oh yeah, another rookie – Bill Russell – contributed 14 points and 24 rebounds nightly. Russell would wind up winning MVP the very next season in 1958 quickly supplanting Cousy as the Celtics’ best player.

But in 1957 was Cousy or Russell the better Celtic? It’s debatable. Nonetheless, the point is still standing: a short star needs a some equitable talent.

The Los Angeles Lakers 1971-72

No one can still figure out who was better for the Lakers in 1972: Wilt Chamberlain or Jerry West. The team won 33 straight games on their way to 69 wins in the regular season. They trounced opponents in the playoffs breezing to the title with 12 wins and 3 losses. West and Wilt played vastly different but complementary roles. Wilt cleaned the glass, defended the paint like crazy, and produced highlight dunks here and there. West pestered the perimeter, ran the offense as the point guard, and drained long-range bombs.

Their regular season stats reveal their productive schism.
Wilt – 15 PPG, 19 RPG, 4 APG
West – 26 PPG, 4 RPG, 10 APG

Jerry West, however, played the worst postseason of his career that year. Prior to 1972, he had averaged 31 PPG, 6 APG, and 6 RPG on 48% FG and 81% FT shooting. In 1972 he bottomed out at 23/9/5 – still great for a 33-year old guard – but shot a miserable 37.5% from the field. It was even worse in the Finals where Mr. Clutch put up 20/9/4 on 32.5% shooting. The Big Dipper meanwhile feasted on the Knicks to the tune of 19.5 points and 23 rebounds a game on 60% shooting.

In the end, it’s likely a wash as to who was more instrumental for those Lakers.

The Seattle SuperSonics 1978-79

The champion oft-forgot, the 1979 Sonics were one of the most egalitarian teams to take the title. The youthful trio of Jack Sikma (23 years old), Dennis Johnson (24) and Gus Williams (25) did the heaviest lifting while veterans like Paul Silas, Freddie Brown, and John Johnson capably helped out the young bucks.

The splits of three contenders for Sonics’ best player don’t concretely solve the question, but it gives a tentative answer…

Regular Season

  PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% FT%
Gus Williams 19.2 3.2 4.0 0.4 2.0 49.5% 77.5%
Jack Sikma 15.6 12.4 3.2 0.8 1.0 46.0% 81.4%
Dennis Johnson 15.9 4.7 3.5 1.2 1.3 43.4% 76.0%

Playoffs

PPG RPG APG BPG SPG FG% FT%
Gus Williams 26.7 4.1 3.7 0.6 2.0 47.6% 70.9%
Jack Sikma 14.8 11.7 2.5 1.4 0.9 45.5% 78.7%
Dennis Johnson 20.9 6.1 4.1 1.5 1.6 45.0% 77.1%

On balance, Gus Williams emerges as the premier, but not definitive, candidate for best player on the 1979 Sonics. The 6’2″ guard would lose out on Finals MVP to the 6’4″ Dennis Johnson. Guess that didn’t help settle matters.

The Detroit Pistons 1988-89 and 1989-90

The only time a multiple championship teams were led by a diminutive player. Still in his prime, but maybe a hair past his peak, Isiah Thomas was the linchpin of the Bad Boys Pistons. If ever a team won a title based on gang tactics, it was these Pistons squads. Bill Laimbeer, James Edwards, Dennis Rodman, and John Salley delivered body blows to frustrate opponents. But the real threat to Thomas’s claim to best player on these teams came from his young, stoic backcourt mate: Joe Dumars.

Dumars proved so valuable he snared the 1989 Finals MVP in a sweep over the LA Lakers. Put winning Finals MVP doesn’t automatically catapult you to best player on the team. When it’s all said and done, Isiah was the orchestrator of the Pistons’s assault even if the disparity between himself and his teammates wasn’t the chasm we like to imagine exists between a team’s best player and the secondary pieces.

So what does any of this mean for Chris Paul? Or for any future pipsqueak star?

It means that they can be the best player on a team that wins an NBA title, but the team has to be extremely well-balanced. And even if that short star plays the role of best player, it’ll be hard for contemporaries and future generations to easily discern that.

The NBA Record Book… in 1976

via colinwood0 (Flickr)
via colinwood0 (Flickr)

The idea of having an “all-time” record has always seemed odd to me. For starters, no one and no thing exists for “all-time.” We all eventually fade away and so do records. Secondly, trying to encompass “all-time” records washes over and wipes away the differences that have occurred over time. Comparing scoring methods in 1924 to 2014 are useful from a philosophical and educational standpoint but not from the standpoint of record books.

So, with all that in mind, I find it prudent to chop up the NBA record book into more manageable chunks. Chunks that make sense and allow for proper perspective and comparison of statistics. The compartmentalized view gives the appropriate scrutiny and appreciation to players of each and every era.

First up is observing the NBA Record Book from the 1949-50 season through the 1975-76 season. This is a good first look because it starts with the NBA’s first season and ends with the merger between the NBA and its last major challenger, the ABA. This two-and-a-half decade chunk also deserves some closer looks in the future, but for now it’s a good start.

And of the five major stat categories looked at here – points, rebounds, assists, FG%, and FT% –  Oscar Robertson is the only player  to appear in the top 25 for each. The Big O was a well-rounded beast beyond getting triple-doubles.

POINTS

Rank Player Points Games PPG
1 Wilt Chamberlain 31419 1045 30.1
2 Oscar Robertson 26710 1040 25.7
3 Jerry West 25192 932 27
4 John Havlicek 23678 1109 21.4
5 Elgin Baylor 23149 846 27.4
6 Hal Greer 21586 1122 19.2
7 Walt Bellamy 20941 1043 20.1
8 Bob Pettit 20880 792 26.4
9 Chet Walker 18831 1032 18.2
10 Dolph Schayes 18438 996 18.5
11 Lenny Wilkens 17772 1077 16.5
12 Bailey Howell 17770 950 18.7
13 Bob Cousy 16960 924 18.4
14 Gail Goodrich 16599 849 19.6
15 Dave Bing 16561 757 21.9
16 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 16486 549 30
17 Paul Arizin 16266 713 22.8
18 Elvin Hayes 15920 652 24.4
19 Jack Twyman 15840 823 19.2
20 Sam Jones 15411 871 17.7
21 Dick Barnett 15358 971 15.8
22 Lou Hudson 15081 672 22.4
23 Richie Guerin 14676 848 17.3
24 Bill Russell 14522 963 15.1
25 Dick Van Arsdale 14480 843 17.2

REBOUNDS

Rank Player Rebounds Games RPG
1 Wilt Chamberlain 23924 1045 22.9
2 Bill Russell 21620 963 22.5
3 Walt Bellamy 14241 1043 13.7
4 Nate Thurmond 14090 915 15.4
5 Jerry Lucas 12942 829 15.6
6 Bob Pettit 12849 792 16.2
7 Elgin Baylor 11463 846 13.5
8 Dolph Schayes 11256 932 12.1
9 Bill Bridges 11054 926 11.9
10 Red Kerr 10092 905 11.2
11 Paul Silas 10074 927 10.9
12 Elvin Hayes 9873 652 15.1
13 Dave DeBusschere 9618 875 11
14 Bailey Howell 9383 950 9.9
15 Wes Unseld 9340 600 15.6
16 Johnny Green 9083 1057 8.6
17 Leroy Ellis 8709 1048 8.3
18 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 8544 549 15.6
19 Willis Reed 8414 650 12.9
20 Larry Foust 8041 817 9.8
21 Happy Hairston 8019 776 10.3
22 Oscar Robertson 7804 1040 7.5
23 Clyde Lee 7626 742 10.3
24 Wayne Embry 7544 831 9.1
25 Gus Johnson 7379 581 12.7

ASSISTS

Rank Player Assists Games APG
1 Oscar Robertson 9887 1040 9.5
2 Lenny Wilkens 7211 1077 6.7
3 Bob Cousy 6955 924 7.5
4 Guy Rodgers 6917 892 7.8
5 Jerry West 6238 932 6.8
6 John Havlicek 5386 1109 4.9
7 Dave Bing 4822 757 6.4
8 Wilt Chamberlain 4643 1045 4.4
9 Hal Greer 4540 1122 4
10 Walt Frazier 4388 683 6.4
11 Richie Guerin 4211 848 5
12 Dick McGuire 4205 738 5.7
13 Bill Russell 4100 963 4.3
14 Gail Goodrich 3986 849 4.7
15 Norm Van Lier 3892 548 7.1
16 Elgin Baylor 3650 846 4.3
17 Mahdi Abdul-Rahman 3555 724 4.9
18 Tiny Archibald 3499 433 8.1
19 Archie Clark 3498 725 4.8
20 Andy Phillip 3366 609 5.5
21 Larry Costello 3215 706 4.6
22 Slater Martin 3160 745 4.2
23 Dolph Schayes 3072 996 3.1
24 Jeff Mullins 3023 804 3.8
25 Tom Gola 2962 698 4.2

FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE (minimum 350 games)

Rank Player FG% Games FGAs per Game
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 0.545 549 22.8
2 Wilt Chamberlain 0.54 1045 22.5
3 Walt Bellamy 0.516 1043 14.7
4 Clifford Ray 0.51 399 6.4
5 Terry Dischinger 0.506 652 10.5
6 Rudy Tomjanovich 0.503 476 14.3
7 Dale Schlueter 0.502 537 4.2
8 Wes Unseld 0.501 600 9.8
9 Jerry Lucas 0.499 829 13.8
10 Bob Lanier 0.497 464 18.1
Larry Steele 0.497 376 6.5
12 Johnny Green 0.493 1057 9.5
Dick Snyder 0.493 768 11.6
14 Walt Frazier 0.492 683 15.5
15 Bob Dandridge 0.491 537 16
16 Matt Guokas 0.489 735 5
Lou Hudson 0.489 672 18.7
Jon McGlocklin 0.489 792 10.3
19 Jim McMillian 0.486 460 13.5
Curtis Rowe 0.486 407 11.3
21 Oscar Robertson 0.485 1040 18.9
22 Butch Beard 0.483 449 7.9
23 Greg Smith 0.482 524 6.9
24 Calvin Murphy 0.481 482 14.3
25 Archie Clark 0.48 725 13.5
Jim Fox 0.48 672 7.5
Bailey Howell 0.48 950 14.3
Don Nelson 0.48 1053 8

FREE THROW PERCENTAGE (minimum 350 games)

Rank Player FT% Games FTAs per Game
1 Rick Barry 0.89 481 6.5
2 Bill Sharman 0.883 711 5
3 Calvin Murphy 0.875 482 4.7
4 Mike Newlin 0.858 401 4.3
5 Larry Siegfried 0.854 550 3.5
6 Flynn Robinson 0.849 494 3.8
Dolph Schayes 0.849 996 7.9
8 Fred Brown 0.846 351 2.8
9 Jon McGlocklin 0.845 792 1.7
10 Jack Marin 0.844 795 3.5
11 Bill Bradley 0.841 675 2.3
12 Larry Costello 0.841 706 4.1
13 Oscar Robertson 0.838 1040 8.8
14 Adrian Smith 0.836 719 3.8
15 Jim McMillian 0.833 460 3.3
Ron Rilliams 0.833 516 2.5
17 Fred Scolari 0.831 381 4.2
18 Howard Komives 0.83 742 2.6
19 Jimmy Walker 0.829 698 4.2
Bob Weiss 0.829 714 2.3
21 Tiny Archibald 0.826 433 8.4
Kenny Sears 0.826 529 5.6
Dick Schnittker 0.826 364 3.9
24 Cazzie Russell 0.825 699 3.1
25 Dave Gambee 0.823 748 3.7