CL Summer School 2017: Tragic heroes, irony and simple logic

It’s hardly a secret in basketball circles that Hall of Fame coach and executive Arnold “Red” Auerbach was a decidedly un-gracious winner – and an even worse loser. He was free with his annoyed bewilderment, for example, when a Wilt-led 76er squad was chosen as the best team of the NBA’s formative decades.

The autocratic Auerbach’s most vitriolic venom was reserved for an owner who dared to conduct basketball business unilaterally. To Red’s way of thinking, when it came to basketball matters the owner worked for him.

So, when the Kentucky Fried Chicken and future Governor Y. John Brown – at the behest of his wife, it was said – added the talented but injury-prone Bob McAdoo to the roster in exchange for a cache of choice draft picks similar to the treasure trove that’s had Celtic Nation salivating in recent times … well, Celtic Nation was no longer large enough for both men.

The wheeling-and-dealing that had “star-crossed” the two in the first place – certainly you’ve heard of the infamous franchise swap back in ’78 between Brown and the Hollywood mogul who then owned the C’s – had included some player movement not to Red’s liking, particularly the loss of Kermit Washington.

However, as tends to happen with most things in life, there were unanticipated consequences to this unprecedented scheme – one that had been conjured up and overseen by an ambitious young NBA attorney named Stern. Not only was Big Mac used to fleece Dick Vitale of the assets utilized to acquire Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

On hand when a certain Mr. Bird happened to arrive in the fall of ’79 was a rehabbed and rejuvenated Nate Archibald, the last of the three pawns (Marvin Barnes and Billy Knight were the others) of the franchise maneuvering.

The “Tiny” Dynamo who remains to this day the only NBA player ever to lead the league in scoring and assists during the same season (1972-73) no longer existed in 1979. But even though he lacked the speed and quickness to beat ANY player to ANY spot at ANY time, he had plenty enough handle, touch and – most importantly – court vision to move the defense and create advantages for his team.

Nate and Larry were “two peas in a pod” in that regard – DJ was cut from the same cloth.

My first glimpse -- he had me at "Hello"
Despite his diminutive moniker, the young Archibald was an iron man, and it started catching up with him during that most magical of seasons, only his third in the league. On a mid-February Saturday in Milwaukee (Game 66), he limped from the court with a gimpy knee after contributing 33 points and seven assists in the first 46:35 of a 111-104 loss. He gave it a go the following night, posting but five points and a single assist in a blow-out loss in Detroit before sitting out Tuesday’s game entirely.

Two nights later, though, Nate logged 53 minutes in another tough loss to the Bucks. He followed up that effort with four consecutive “full 48’s” – including three straight road victories. During that five-game stretch, the Hall of Famer-to-be rang up 181 points and 59 assists, accounting for 54 percent of the Kings’ point production for those outings.

Ironically, the final game of that phenomenal flurry, a 117-112 loss at Golden State on the first Friday of March, officially doused the Kings’ faint playoff hopes.

Tiny trudged on through the next seven games averaging 35 and not-quite-12. Finally, in the Kings’ final home game, Coach Bob Cousy pulled his Mighty Mite early, just after he’d eclipsed Guy Rodgers’s old league standard for assists. (Worthy of note is that this was a fourth game in as many nights, KC’s fourth such ordeal of 1972-73.)

Along with leading the league in scoring (34.0) and assists (11.4), Archibald topped the charts in Total Minutes (3681) and per-game minutes (46.0). In a 17-team league of “Tuff Guys,” only a dozen managed to play 40 minutes a night, including 31-year-old Nate Thurmond (43.3), 36-year-old Wilt Chamberlain (43.2) and 32-year-old John Havlicek (42.1).

The Cooz sat his meal ticket for the season ender in Detroit, but it was too little, too late. Nate skated in but 35 games in ’73-74, and was shelved with an Achilles issue from early January of 1977 until his Boston debut in October of ’78.

Tiny was hardly the only acclaimed backcourt man with a lofty and lengthy resume to don Celtic Green during the tough times of the late ‘70’s – the aforementioned Knight, Ernie D, Pistol Pete, Dave Bing all passed through North Station.

But it as Archibald who was positioned and prepared (physically, mentally, in every way) to mentor the adjustment to the NBA game of the extraordinary skill and vision of an all-time great, a job he performed expertly and for which he’s never received adequate recognition.

Likewise, Cedric Maxwell’s quirky, herky-jerky post-up game was an ideal model from which the no-less-quirky McHale could craft his villainous Torture Chamber.

It’s an Auerbachian principle the savvy Archibald recognized and bought into instinctively – a player is expected to groom his own replacement.

Damn, that sounds downright Belichickian, doesn’t it?

Unanticipated consequences indeed.

MVP Logic

It was 55 years ago that the Cincinnati Royals’ Oscar Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game. That was the same season that Philadelpha Warrior phenom Wilt Chamberlain notched 50.4 points (including 100 one infamous evening in Hershey) and led the league in rebounding (25.7).

Can you recall which of them was chosen Most Valuable Player that season? Neither one.

The MVP was a Boston Big Man.

During Tiny’s iconic and still unprecedented season, he was not recognized as the NBA’s most outstanding performer.

The MVP was a Boston Big Man.

This season, Oklahoma City whirlwind Russell Westbrook matched the Big O’s heretofore unequaled accomplishment … and the Rockets’ James Harden’s 4538 points produced running the D’Antoni Express missed by just one point Archibald’s long-standing record.

So who’s the 2016-17 MVP?

Syllogistic logic suggests a Boston Big Man.

Summer Reading

A couple of years ago, Game 1 of the NBA Finals featured a not-too-little something that hadn’t been witnessed in nearly four decades – the starting centers were two – diseased? – white dudes (Mosgov & Bogut). The last pale pair to so oppose were named Alvan Adams and the guy who’d beaten out Mr. Archibald for MVP three seasons prior – neither of whom was afflicted with that proverbial ailment.

Here’s an old Sports Illustrated piece featuring the Boston Big Man. The opening paragraph seems prescient.

Don’t overlook Big Red’s thoughts on the game while shaking your head at his eccentricities.

Here’s a sample:
"He adds a different dimension to Boston's game," says Chicago's Norm Van Lier. "He has great defensive range on a horizontal rather than on a vertical plane. He'll meet me at the top of the key, spread those long arms and make it almost impossible to pass off without him getting a finger on the ball."

Abacus Revelation for the Road

At this point in the NBA calendar, a news flash will often report that such-and-such a guy “has exercised his player option for the up-coming season.”

Now unless those words are merely some sort of “teaser” designed to maintain interest through a string of advertisements, what information is being communicated to us? The words seem to suggest simply that a decision has been reached – but what is that decision. Is he stayin’ or goin’?

Serious question: in today’s sports lingo, does the mere “exercise” imply either that he is staying in place or testing the waters?

Come on back by my little “classroom” here in about a week when I’ll try to convince you that the beloved old ABA was, in fact, an unconscionable atrocity.

n'paper excerpt: Chicago Tribune, Mar 29, 1970
images: upi;;;