For 6 years, it was best to be underdog
SOM’s latest historic season was end of an uncommon era of NBA parity
By Glenn Guzzo
With the arrival of the 1978-79 National Basketball Association season for this fall, Strat-O-Matic Computer Basketball will have complete representation of a curious period of parity in NBA history:
In the nine-year period ending 1979, eight different franchises won the NBA title (only Boston won twice, in 1974 and 1976).
From 1974-79, none of the six champions had the best regular-season record in the NBA that year.
Five of the six champions actually won more games the year after they were champs.
Although four of them had the NBA’s best record the year following their titles, none of the five champions who improved in the next regular season repeated as champions.
The champs were mostly memorable teams with great players, starting with ’71 Milwaukee, starring Lew Alcindor (he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar later) and Oscar Robertson. The ’72 Lakers starred Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West.
The ’73 Knicks featured Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Willis Reed, while ’74 Boston had Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo-Jo White.
Rick Barry’s ’75 Golden State Warriors won only 48 regular-season games, and shocked most by sweeping 60-win Washington in the finals. The Warriors were an emphatic 11 games better the next season, but won only one playoff round before being bounced by Paul Westphal’s upstart Phoenix.
In ’76, Boston’s Cowens, Havlicek and White were joined by Charlie Scott. This was the one champ from 1974-79 that won the title without improving the next season.
The 49-win ’77 Portland TrailBlazers were the darlings of the league when Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas’ squad toppled Philadelphia in the finals. The Blazers were much better in ’78, when they won 58 – until they lost in the first round to Seattle.
Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld led Washington to the title over Seattle in ’78, after a 44-win regular season that was merely the NBA’s eight-best record. But a league-best 54 wins in ’79 didn’t translate into back-to-back championships, as Seattle won the rematch with a fine backcourt of Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams.
An even-better SuperSonics team lost the ’80 Western Conference final in five games to a Los Angeles team with Jabbar and rookie Magic Johnson.