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Playing the What If game in sports

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Playing the “What If” game in sports.

Playing the “What If” game in sports.

March 26, 2014

Given the nature of college basketball today with the “One year and done rule” (it is actually the “one semester and done” rule), playing the “What If” game in sports is always amusing.

As hard as it is for most young people of today to understand, there is a history of civilized man and sports before 1980.  Many kids today have a very difficult time comprehending that fact.  They can’t comprehend that fact because their two most important appendages, (i.e. their two iphone thumbs) are too busy tweeting about the useless gossip that comprises 99% of the Twitter universe.

Let’s say you took a poll of all the general managers of the thirty teams that comprise today’s National Basketball Association.  The question you ask them is simple.

If you were the general manager of N.B.A. team that was formed today:

And-

You have the option to choose any player in the history of basketball (college or pro) as the first player on your team to build around:

And-

You live in a time machine because you already know how that player’s pro career turned out

Who would you pick?

If any one of those thirty general managers didn’t pick either Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (in no particular order) as the first pick, even Jeannie Buss would probably fire them the next day.  Bill Russell was born in 1934.  Wilt Chamberlain was born in 1936.  Abdul-Jabbar is the youngest of that group and he was born in 1947.  So much for life starting in 1980.

Russell has more championships than fingers.  Abdul-Jabbar has a ton of them.  Even though he only won two N.B.A. championships, Wilt is still the most dominant player to ever play.  He was an excellent track and field man as well as volleyball player.  He not only had to battle Bill Russell for 150 plus games over his career, he had to battle all those other complimentary Celtics Red Auerbach put on his teams.  Chamberlain played with some great players in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles but never the concentrated quantity and quality for the extended period that Russell did.

Sorry Lebron and Jordan fans.  Lebron could not do it by himself in Cleveland for seven years.  The 1983-84 Jordan-less Bulls had 27 victories.  The 1984-85 rookie Jordan Bulls finished at 38-44.  The Bulls finished third, fourth, fifth, second, fifth, second in the Central Division in Jordan’s first six years going against Bird’s Celtics, Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers, and Chuck Daly’s Pistons.  It wasn’t until after those three teams phased out did Jordan start his run in the N.B.A.’s 1990’s down period.   

Abdul-Jabbar graduated from Power Memorial High School in New York in June 1965.

Suppose he had the option to enter the N.B.A. immediately out of high school.

1965 was the last year the N.B.A allowed territorial draft picks.  The Detroit Pistons took Michigan’s muscular center, Bill Buntin.  The Los Angeles Lakers took U.C.L.A.’s left handed shooting guard, Gail Goodrich.  The New York Knickerbockers picked Princeton and Crystal City, Missouri’s All-American boy, Bill Bradley.  

The first player taken in the draft was Davidson’ 6’8” forward Fred Hetzel who was selected by the then San Francisco Warriors.

One would think there would have been a possibility the New York Knickerbockers would have taken Abdul-Jabbar instead of Bill Bradley.  The Knickerbockers knew Bill Bradley was going to Europe for two years taking advantage of his Rhodes Scholarship and Bradley would not be eligible until the 1967-68 season.  Abdul-Jabbar would have joined N.B.A. 1964-65 Rookie of the Year, Willis Reed, on the Knickerbockers front line.

Today’s scenario probably would have been Abdul-Jabbar playing one year at U.C.L.A. (assuming that freshman could play varsity back then-which they could not), before entering the 1966 N.B.A. draft.  I say probably, because Abdul-Jabbar had/has a brilliant mind and thirst for knowledge and he may have chosen to graduate from U.C.L.A. before playing professional basketball.

The New York Knickerbockers and the Detroit Pistons had the two worst records in the N.B.A. in the 1965-66 season.  A coin flip determined which team would get the first pick.  The Knickerbockers won that coin flip and picked Michigan’s 6’5” All-American guard, Cazzie Russell.  The Pistons chose Dave Bing from Syracuse with the second pick.

Had Abdul-Jabbar been available, three things are certain.

The Knickerbockers would have chosen Abdul-Jabbar.

Local favorite Cazzie Russell would have been selected by the Pistons to team with former Michigan teammate Bill Buntin, Dave DeBusschere, Ray Scott, Tom VanArsdale, and potentially the 22nd overall pick taken by the Pistons, another fellow Michigan Wolverine, Oliver Darden.

Dave Bing would never have become mayor of Detroit.

These other things may have also occurred.

With a frontline of Abdul-Jabbar, Willis Reed, and Walt Bellamy as well as guard Dick Barnett, the Knickerbockers may have risen to championship level prior to 1970 and denied the Boston Celtics a couple of the Celtics late 1960’s championships.

Oscar Roberson would never have been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Abdul-Jabbar probably would not have been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers-thus no Pat Riley Showtime as we know it.

With the big hype surrounding the dozen or so freshman declaring for the N.B.A. draft every year, in forty years, articles are going to be written asking “What If” so and so had stayed in college all four years.

Next up-San Francisco Warrior Center, Nate Thurmond, was the father of Pat Riley’s 1980’s Showtime Lakers.

George Sarkisian

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