A few weeks ago, I re-read David Halberstram's The Breaks of the Game. In case you don't know, Halberstram followed the Portland Trailblazers during the entire 1979-80 season, and then wrote a book about his experiences. One of the main themes of the book was that just two years ago, Portland was on the verge of being the NBA's next dynasty. The Trailblazers won the 1976-77 NBA Championship, and started the next season 50-10 due to the talents of future Hall-of-Fame Center Bill Walton, bruising power forward Maurice Lucas, and a solid supporting cast, all under the skillful hand of coach Jack Ramsey, one of the most respected coaches in the history of Basketball. Of course, it all went downhill from there, as Walton's problematic feet finally gave out due to years of stress, putting him out for all but two games for the season, and for 14 games for the next four seasons. Walton would end up suing the Blazers medical staff, a charge which surprised many because, according to the book, the medical staff were the best friends Walton had on the team at the time. Walton became a free-agent, and signed with the then San Diego Clippers. Meanwhile, both Lucas and All-Star guard Lionel Hollins were eventually traded due to contract disputes, and key role players such as Larry Steele, Dave Twardzik, and Bobby Gross were either frequently injured or over the hill. In just two years, the Trailblazers went from a dynasty in the making into just another mediocre team trying to get into the playoffs, even with the intellect of Ramsay.
So, why did I watch this game? Simple, 1) it was on YouTube, and 2) it would be Bill Walton's last game as a Portland Trailblazer. The Trailblazers won the game against the Seattle Supersonics, 96-93, but , without the 1978 MVP, Walton, they would end up losing the series to the 'Sonics in six games. Here are a few observations.
- Before the game, Walton had a few painkillers shot into his foot, which was the first time he allowed the Blazers training staff to put needles in his feet. The problem was, the shots wore off quickly, and it turned out that Walton had a broken bone in his left foot (among other problems, Walton, according to the trainers, had the worst feet they had ever seen). That, of course, pissed Walton off, so he would sue the Blazers and eventually finagle his way off the Trailblazers. Watching the game, it seemed as if the shots wore off rather early, as within the first five minutes, Walton started to limp. When the shots worked, Walton played well, scoring a few points, grabbing key boards and the Trailblazers offense ran smoothly. He eventually had to come out, but would give it one more shot.
- Walton came back in the second quarter, and right away it was painfully obvious to everyone that there was no way he could help the Trailblazers win the game. On more than one occasion, Walton couldn't run down the court, leaving Portland at a disadvantage at the offensive end. Walton couldn't jump very high, or very often, which led to Gus Williams scoring an uncontested layup on Walton when normally, Walton would stuff that shot back in Gus's face. He did block one shot, but had to come out seconds afterward.
- Early in the game, it seemed as if the 'Blazers were lost without their M.V.P. But, to their credit, the Blazers rallied fierce defense and key shots from Lucas and point guard Johnny Davis. Tom Owens, Walton's replacement, did well, limiting Seattle's Marvin Webster on defense while adding 14 points. Davis was on fire in the third quarter, scoring 13 points that period and hitting damn near every shot he took, no matter the distance. As for Lucas, he scored 19, cleaned up on the boards, and hit the shot that would end up clinching the game for Portland.
- Walton was known for his bushy red hair and his wild beard, but what I found odd was that Portland guard Dave Twardzik looked as if he was trying to emulate Walton's look for whatever reason. His hair wasn't as red, but other than that, Twardzik looked like Bill Walton would if he were a foot shorter.
- Gus Williams, Seattle's shooting guard, was a fine player who many NBA fans today do not remember. He scored 31 points, including 15 in the first quarter, brought the ball up court for the majority of the game, and chased after every loose ball on the court. At one point late in the game, he took out about three rows of the Portland crowd diving for the ball. Heck, it looked like he was giving this woman an Owen Hart style spinning wheel kick. I'm sure that woman didn't enjoy it, but I did.
- Seattle's Fred Brown was Vinnie Johnson before anybody knew who Vinnie Johnson was. What I mean is that Brown would come off the bench and provide instant offense. If the NBA had a three-point line back then, Brown would be the NBA's best three-point shooter outside of Pete Maravich, and probably an All-Star. There's a reason he was called 'Downtown' Freddie Brown. Add Dennis Johnson to Brown and Williams, and Seattle may of had one of the top 10 backcourts in NBA history. No wonder they came withing a game of winning two straight NBA titles.
- Not to mention, Seattle had Jack Sikma (a player with Walton-like skills), Marvin Webster (a blocked-shot specialist who could score, basically, the 1978 equivalent of Dikembe Mutombo, only with better hands), and Paul Silas, a veteran rebounder who was regarded as the best locker-room guy in the NBA at the time. I must say, I'd forgotten how loaded the Sonics were during this time.
-Nobody really talks about him anymore, but Marvin Webster was one heck of a player. He blocked four shots early in the game, and altered the way the 'Blazers played the game, as they had to rely on more outside shooting. Webster should have never left the 'Sonics, as he signed with the Knicks, got hurt and then lost in the shuffle along with the other 48 big-name guys the Knicks had during the late 70s.
- One thing I am happy about today's NBA is that nobody wears hip-hugger shorts anymore. Thank goodness. Twardzik's shorts were some of the tightest I remember seeing, and I don't care to remember exactly how they looked. To his credit, Twardzik played a good defensive game and made Seattle's guards work for every shot.
One thing that I don't like about today's NBA is the idea that loud music must be played whenever possible. It was so relieving to see a timeout without "Rock and Roll Part 2" playing in the background. It was also nice that when the ball was brought up court, they did it without music in the background or some annoying announcer yelling "LETS MAKE SOME NOIZZEEEEE! DEEEEE-FENSE". Maybe it's just me, but that stuff tends to get annoying rather quickly.
- The announcers for this game were Brent Musberger and Rick Barry. I'm not their biggest fans, and I'm just going to leave it at that.
- Throughout the game, Musberger was promoting a CBS 3-on-3 event. I forget the first team, but the second team was Maurice Lucas, Celtic Hall of Fame guard Sam Jones, and TV's Robert Conrad, the star of the old CBS television show "The Wild Wild West". I wonder how they decided on that team, what an odd trio. I hope they played Kareem, George Mikan, and Ed Asner.
Well, I've run out of things to say. This was a rather interesting game to watch, and, since I wasn't aware of the outcome beforehand, I thought the 'Sonics would blow out Portland without Walton. But lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised. Clearly, the lesson is to never doubt Maurice Lucas, and it is a mistake I will not make again.