CL Summer School 2017: “Tangled webs,” teammates and titlists

Ever heard the tale of the two players who were traded for each other on Tuesday, yet played together as teammates on Wednesday?

The pair contributed a combined 22 points to a 110-106 home victory over the defending champs, a team that featured a 24-year-old version of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Four seasons later, these two guys would be re-united as teammates and attain the brass ring themselves, clinching that championship on the very floor upon which they had first “partnered.”

The (New London, CT) Day, 3/14/72

An ironic twist to this little “transaction” – one that played a vital role in securing not one but two banners – is that it was consummated on the very day that Georgetown University announced the hiring of local high-school coach and former Boston Celtic John Thompson to head up its struggling basketball program. [JT-clone John Chaney would land his first college gig later that same year.]

Gettysburg (PA) Times, 3/10/72
If you were paying attention during our prior class session, it should come as no shock to find the American Basketball Association mixed up in such shenanigans. As Bob Ryan once put it, “The sports world was a simple, uncomplicated place until the ABA came along and screwed things up.”

On Thursday, March 9, 1972, coach Al Bianchi brought his prodigious young Virginia Squires north for a match-up with the New York Nets. In this homecoming-of-sorts, Charlie Scott posted a modest 24 points, but that was sufficient to establish a new ABA standard of 2,524 points for a season – with 13 games remaining, it should be noted. (Scott’s 34.6 per-game average would top the ABA for ’71-‘72.)

Six nights later, the guy Red Auerbach had gobbled up with the 106th selection in the 1970 NBA draft was suiting up alongside New York City schoolyard legend Connie Hawkins and the rest of the Phoenix Suns. Scott would average nearly 19 points over the team’s final six games – and about 25 a game over the next three seasons – for the Suns (who, in a quirk, were excluded from the ’72 post-season despite having posted the league’s sixth-best record, 49-33).

Rome (GA) News-Tribune, 3/16/72
Charlie Scott had been a known commodity in the hoops world for close to a decade by the time he took up residence in Arizona. Following his ninth-grade year, young Charles was invited to attend and play ball at the renowned Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, from whence he’d matriculated on to Chapel Hill as Dean Smith’s first African-American recruit. Scott made his varsity debut (as a sophomore, in those days) the same season the ABA was launched.

By Charlie’s senior season, the two pro leagues were waging a no-holds-barred Texas Death Math for talent – both established stars like a Rick Barry and Zelmo Beatty, as well as the very young, like a Spencer Haywood or Moses Malone. The upstart circuit had even lured away a handful of the league’s better game officials.

The ABA held a player draft in December of 1969, Scott’s rights going to Earl Foreman’s Washington Caps (soon-to-be Squires, nee Oakland Oaks). Charlie was signed, sealed and delivered prior to the NBA’s late March draft, which is the reason why his name wasn’t called until the seventh round.

Charlie Scott’s transition to the pro game was seamless – 1st Team All-ABA, co-Rookie of the Year (with Kentucky’s Dan Issel), a playoff trip to the Division Final.

And as a sophomore Squire, ol’ Mr. Charlie is said – in Pluto’s Tall Tales – to have been the go-between in Foreman’s recruitment and ultimate signing of fellow Tar Heel Bob McAdoo. (Buffalo Braves’ owner Paul Snyder would “settle” with Foreman and Big Mac’s ROY would be won in the senior circuit.) The story goes that Bob’s Squire contract was locked away in a bank security box – to which Charlie Scott still possessed one of only two keys at the time he jumped leagues.

The specifics of Charlie’s disaffection with his situation in Virginia are fuzzy – beyond the fact that it related to money. Most ABA contracts involved A LOT of deferred compensation; the take-home pay (even before Uncle Sam’s cut) was hardly comparable to what was being reported. Foreman’s request for an injunction against Scott and the Suns was shot down – apparently some condition of Charlie’s contract had indeed been breached.
(Earl Foreman and the Squires would fare better six months hence when the enemy launched an assault on yet another of his second-year players, a guy who would actually take the floor in a couple of pre-season NBA games. Fortuitously, the ABA won this legal tug-o-war over the services of one, Julius Erving.)

A controversial trade for teen-idol Paul Westphal directed Scott’s path to Boston for the 1975-76 season – ironically, the ABA’s final year of existence. Many wondered if a free-lancing gunner like Charlie would disrupt the chemistry of a championship-caliber unit. His mettle was most tested in that year’s Finals against Westy and his former team … the zebras managed to whistle 35 personal fouls on Scott in six games.

When Red reached the C’s locker room immediately after that series’ historic Triple-OT Game 5, a concerned Coach Tom Heinsohn asked the Boss to speak to a “ready to explode” Charlie, whose steady foul trouble had induced a woeful 24-for-71 (.338) shooting performance.

I’ll let Mr. Auerbach relate the rest, from his mid-80’s memoir On and Off the Court:
And he was. They’d given the kid six fouls and a technical, and he was so upset he was shaking.
I grabbed him by both arms. “Charlie,” I said softly. “You’ve had a great year. You’ve done everything we’ve asked you to do …. I want you to show me what you’re made of. I want you to grit your teeth, take a quick shower, then get the hell out of here without saying a word to anyone. Just dress and go. Quickly” ….
In the next game he scored 25 points [plus 11 rebounds and only five fouls], played fabulously and we won the championship. As soon as the final horn sounded he came running to me, tossed his arms around me and gave me a kiss ….
Charlie had handled himself like a man. He’d become a Celtic.

Curiously, the very next Proper Noun one reads on that page of the book is the name of that “traded for, but teammate anyway” guy, an eight-year vet who, before signing on officially in mid-September of 1972, had been openly skeptical of the notion of “Celtic Pride.”

In this player’s four seasons in Boston, the Heinsohn-led Celtics won two championships and in one of the others set franchise records that stand to this day for regular-season victories (68) and winning percentage (.829).

And in the cruelest irony of this whole convoluted, stranger-than-fiction fable, this True Celtic is likely to be most recalled in NBA lore as the head coach of the league’s absolute worst-ever team.

Tangled webs, indeed, with prickly thorns, unintended consequence – and an enduring legacy. 

Assigned (not just Suggested) Reading

Check out TB’s great WTHHT’s for Charlie Scott and Stephen Silas’s Pop.

[“Assigned, not Suggested” means expect a surprise quiz next time!!]

Abacus Revelation for the Road

The same season that Charlie Scott and Dan Issel shared the ABA’s “best newcomer” honors, the NBA’s rookie race also wound up in a dead heat between Portland’s Geoff Petrie and our own Dave Cowens.

Three of these guys would go on to win pro titles – and the fourth is one of three players from Ivy League schools selected in the first round of that season’s NBA draft.

The grossly under-appreciated Draft Class of 1970 produced 10 champions, six Hall of Famers and 21 guys in all who would play a minimum of 400 pro games (including two of the three “Ivy” first-rounders).

BTW, the Ivy League bust? He was drafted by the franchise that would become the Clippers.

Cliff’s Notes version:

Late in the 1971-72 NBA season, Jerry Colangelo and the Phoenix Suns signed Charlie Scott, a second-year ABA star who’d unexpectedly gotten himself onto the open market. Red Auerbach owned Scott’s NBA rights by virtue of a 1970 late-round draft pick.

At the time, the Celtics were closing in on their first division championship since 1965 – really!! – and first playoff appearance in three years. A good young backcourt of Jo Jo White and Don Chaney made the addition of Scott extraneous, so Red temporarily accepted “future considerations” as compensation.

Colangelo wanted to pay for a seventh-round pick; Red wanted to be paid for the ABA’s leading scorer and had his eye on power forward Paul Silas from the start. Guess who won that wrangling!

When Don Chaney jumped to the ABA's wild and wacky Spirits of St. Louis in the summer of 1975, Red boldly traded Paul Westphal for Scott, thus reuniting Scott and Silas.

Ryan quote, background: Pluto, Loose Balls
Auerbach excerpt, background: Auerbach, Fitzgerald, Red Auerbach: On and Off the Court
Lead image: