Monday, March 5, 2012

1974 NBA Finals, Game 6...a Classic

May 10, 1974.

Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Boston Celtics—John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White, Paul Silas, Don Cheney.

Milwaukee Bucks—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Jon McGlocklin, Bobby Dandridge, Cornell Warner.
Final Score: Bucks 102, Celtics 101 2 OT.

38 years later and on paper this still has the makings of a classic.
I’ve been thinking about this game a lot lately.

Ticket stubs to 1974 Finals
A few weeks ago I heard John Havlicek (all-time leading scorer in Celtics history and my dad’s favorite player—he watched him play while at Ohio State with John Lucas, Larry Siegfried, Mel Nowell, and backup Bobby Knight) on a radio show with Elliott Harris, a former editor of mine at the Chicago Sun-Times. Hondo said this was the best game he ever played in and his best performance. “We thought we won, then, we thought we lost…it was the ebb and flow of the game, more than any other game I played in.”
Here’s how it ended: Havlicek scored 9 of 11 of Boston’s points in the second overtime, including the rainbow jumper over Kareem with seven seconds left. Bucks called a timeout to set a play for McGlocklin, but he couldn’t get free. So, Kareem took the shot…with three seconds left…the shot that he made famous, the sky-hook, for the win.

The game is considered one of the top games in finals history. And, at this point I was hoping to tell you I was there. However, while the ticket stubs say Game 6, I was actually at Game 5, which was in Milwaukee. Funny, after all these years we just realized the Bucks made a mistake on the tickets!
I was at Game 5…with my brother, Tom, and cousin, Larry…when the Bucks lost 96-87, however Kareem still scored 37 points. And, yes, Larry, I still have your ticket stub after all these years! It was $4 to go to Game 6…err…5 of the NBA Finals. This was way before teams realized they could charge more and people would still come.

Our memories might be a bit fuzzy, but Tom remembers that most of the games were won on the road (5 out of the 7). So, when they talk about home-court advantage it really didn’t exist in this series, even considering they were playing in the Boston Garden.
I do remember that Larry tried to go down on the court. He was always trying to see who he could meet—broadcasters like Eddie Doucette (who was the Chris Berman pre-ESPN and who created the term sky hook for Kareem’s shot) or players.

And, more importantly, the reason I keep the ticket stubs, besides that this was the only Championship Series game I have ever been to, is that it reminds me that I have an amazing brother. Here I was the little sister—seven years younger than him and always tagging along. It never bothered him. He promised me that if the Bucks made it to the Finals he would take me to the game. He kept his word. And, to this day he still goes to games with me.
The Bucks were the dominant team that year and were the favorites to win. However, in Game 7 back in Milwaukee, the Celtics double-teamed Kareem (who still finished with 26 points) and Cowens had a big game. The Bucks would not pick up their second title.

And, there were a few other disappointments for Bucks fans that we did not foresee on that day when we were celebrating that great win in Game 6. This was the last time we would see Oscar Robertson play in a Bucks uniform as he retired after the Finals. Oscar, the Big O, was the linchpin to the Bucks’ success. Kareem needed Oscar to win. Kareem brought the Bucks to a second place finish in the division in his first season as a pro. With Oscar by his side in the very next season, the Bucks won 66 games en route to a championship. They repeated as division leaders four straight years.
It’s very hard even for a superstar to win an NBA championship on their own. They need someone else. Michael had Scottie Pippen, Kobe had Shaq, and Kobe had Pau Gasol.

The other major disappointment for Bucks fans was the trade in 1975. The trade that sent Kareem and Walt Wesley to the Lakers for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Dave Meyers, and Junior Bridgeman. While Kareem requested the trade, giving up one of the most dominant players in the game is almost unimaginable.
At the time, Kareem won three MVPs in five years, was Rookie of the Year, and the Finals MVP in 1971. He would go on to finish as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points), hold a record six regular season MVP awards, win 6 championships, play in 19 All-Star games, won Finals MVP twice…and on and on.

Kareem played for 20 years and was one of best players of all-time. How do you trade a Kareem, a Michael, a Magic, or a Kobe?
And, while seemingly, the Bucks got a lot for Kareem, they were never able to replace his leadership, his presence, his ability, or work ethic. Kareem was known for doing yoga and keeping fit, which helped him tremendously in the later part of his career during the Showtime Lakers.

On that day in 1975 when Kareem was traded to the Lakers, this little girl became a Lakers fan. This is the only time that I have followed a player and become a fan of his new team. I am a fan of the team first. And, this is typical of most fans. Players come and go these days, but fans stay loyal to their team.
However, in this case, when one of the greatest players in NBA history gets traded, this loyalty goes out the window. Although, I have stuck with the Lakers to this day, well past the Kareem era. I guess it doesn’t hurt that the Lakers do what it takes to win and are one of the NBA’s dynasties.