the “What If” game in sports.
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.
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
You have the option to choose any player in the history
basketball (college or pro) as the first player on your team to build around:
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
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
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.
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
Dave Bing would never have become
mayor of Detroit.
These other things may
have also occurred.
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
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,
father of Pat Riley’s 1980’s Showtime Lakers.