Replaying the National League




1975-76 Ended in Spectacular Fashion for Both the NBA and the ABA


By Glenn Guzzo


            The most memorable playoff game in NBA history can come to life through Strat-O-Matic when the 1975-76 season debuts on computer disk this summer. That’s the year the Boston Celtics of John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Charlie Scott and Jo Jo White won a triple-overtime thriller in Game 5 of the finals against the Phoenix Suns of Paul Westphal, Gar Heard and Alvan Adams.


            The Celtics, the top team in the East with 54 wins, reached the finals after disposing of 46-win Buffalo (who had 31-point, 12-rebound Bob McAdoo, the NBA’s leading scorer), then a deep, 49-win Cleveland team with seven players who averaged in double figures (including Jim Chones, Bobby Smith, Campy Russell and Austin Carr).


            The 42-40 Suns were heavy underdogs against Boston, but so were they against 59-win Golden State, the defending champs who had 21-point scorer Rick Barry, 20-point scorer Phil Smith and 18-point man Jamaal Wilkes.


            The 18-team NBA had 15 men who averaged at least 20 points per game and 11 who averaged double figures in both scoring and rebounding.


            The best included Los Angeles’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (28 ppg, 17 rpg), Cowens (19 ppg, 16 rpg), New Orleans’ Pete Maravich (26 ppg, 5 apg, 5 rpg), Kansas City’s Nate “Tiny” Archibald (25 ppg, 8 apg), Detroit’s Bob Lanier (21 ppg, 12 rpg), Washington’s Elvin Hayes (20 ppg, 11 rpg), Portland’s young Bill Walton (16 ppg, 13 rpg), New York’s Walt Frazier (19 ppg, 7 rpg, 6 apg), Buffalo’s Randy Smith (22 ppg, 6 apg, 5 rpg), Houston’s Calvin Murphy (21 ppg, 7 apg) and two recent defectors from the American Basketball Association, Philadelphia’s George McGinnis (23 ppg, 12.6 rpg) and New York’s Spencer Haywood (20 ppg, 11 rpg).



1975-76 ABA


Showcasing the final, tumultuous season of the flamboyant ABA not only captures that part of basketball history, but previews the NBA in the post-ABA era.


            Ostensibly a 10-team league, the ABA lost one of its franchises before the season and two more after San Diego had played 11 games and Utah 16. That consolidated all the ABA talent into seven stronger teams (well, Virginia was a shuddering-awful 15-68).


            When the ‘75-76 champ Denver Nuggets, runner-up New York Nets, the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers were accepted into the NBA the following year, the NBA accepted only the most talent-rich teams. The NBA then drafted the best of the rest – stars like Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas and Artis Gilmore.


            The 1976-77 NBA finals featured a winner, Portland, which likely would not have been there without Lucas, and a runner-up, Philadelphia, whose entire starting frontcourt was former ABA stars Julius Erving, George McGinnis and Caldwell Jones. The New York Knicks (Spencer Haywood), Houston Rockets (Malone), Detroit Pistons (M.L. Carr), Chicago Bulls (Gilmore), Kansas City Kings (Ron Boone, Brian Taylor), Los Angeles Lakers (Don Chaney) and Seattle Supersonics (Mike Green) also started former ABA stars.


            On the court in its final season, the ABA featured six very talented teams.


            Denver won 60 games with rookie David Thompson (26 ppg), Dan Issel (23 ppg, 11 rpg), Bobby Jones (15 ppg) and Ralph Simpson (18 ppg).


            The Nets won 55 with league-leading scorer Erving (29.3 ppg, 11 rpg, 5 apg), who also dominated in the playoffs, plus a pair of 16-plus point guards, Brian Taylor and John Williamson.


            San Antonio won 50 with George Gervin (22 ppg), James Silas (24 ppg), Larry Kenon (18.7 ppg, 11 rpg) and Billy Paultz (16.5 ppg, 10 rpg).


            Kentucky won 46 with Gilmore (24.6 ppg, league-best 15.5 rpg), Lucas (15 ppg, 9 rpg) and guards Bird Averitt (18 ppg) and Louie Dampier (13 ppg).


            Indiana won 39 with Billy Knight (28 ppg, 10 rpg), Len Elmore (15 ppg, 11 rpb) and ABA assist leader Don Buse (8.2 apg).


            St. Louis won only 35 with an ever-shifting roster that at one time or another had 13 men who eventually played in the NBA, including Malone (14 ppg, 10 rpg), Lucas, Marvin Barnes (24 ppg, 11 rpg), Caldwell Jones (11 rpg), Carr, Boone (21 ppg) and Chaney.