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1974 NBA Season – Transitions in Television and Top Teams

May 10, 2013

1974 Mil-Bos 2

TV action of Game 6 of the 1974 NBA Finals with the new CBS scoreboard graphic *photo courtesy of JW Parrott

The summer of 1973 was when the NBA transitioned in a not-so-smooth manner from ABC to CBS.  The center of the not-so-smoothness was Roone Arledge, the ABC executive producer that created the Wide World of Sports and Monday Night Football as well as brought the NBA to television audiences.  The following is a 2-page excerpt from David Halberstam’s book ‘The Breaks of the Game‘ about Arledge’s power in the balance of NBA watchers on Network Television as well as what supposedly happened.

ABC followed its first five-year contract, which had ended in 1969, with another one for four years.  Again the money was still relatively small by pro football standards, some $6 million for the last year.  During the course of the second contract the ratings continued to be good, all 9’s until the final year when it reached 10.  But the sport had grown too quickly for its own good.  Where there had been nine teams at the start of the first ABC contract (in 1965), there were now seventeen.  What was more, instead of being delighted with the good fortune their contract with ABC had produced, the owners were restive.  Many of them were new.  Few remembered the days just ten years earlier when no other network wanted the sport at all.  They seemed to be aware of nothing but the greater price being paid for football.  It was all ABC’s fault, they were sure.  In 1973 the time came for a new contract.  ABC had an option for renewal and a handshake deal with (commissioner) Walter Kennedy.  Everything seemed settled.  But suddenly it was clear that several powerful owners, led by Jack Kent Cooke, wanted to switch to CBS.  In meeting after meeting new owner demands were met by ABC, leaving the owners with no legal basis for reneging.  At this point, the key owners on the television committee went out for drinks with Barry Frank, one an Arledge associate, now an agent for the league.  “Let’s think of all the ways we can to f*ck ABC,” suggested Alan Rothenberg, then Cooke’s attorney, according to Frank’s later testimony in court.  (When Rothenberg himself testified, he denied saying it.)  Frank, knowing ABC, knowing Arledge, had the ideal proposal: demand that both CBS and ABC program the games in October and November between 1 and 2 p.m. on Saturdays.  That was a revolver to Arledge’s head; Saturday afternoon in the autumn, with college football, was the jewel of his sports programming.  There was no way ABC would replace Ohio State-Michigan with a professional basketball game.  The NBA switched to CBS.  Arledge charged conspiracy and contested the case in court and lost.  One voice in the NBA warned against the switch – Celtics coach Red Auerbach, who could spot a fellow pirate when he saw one.  He also thought ABC was doing quite well with the game and he was worried about what would happen if Arledge turned against them.  “You don’t really think a man like Roone Arledge is going to take this lying down, do you?” he asked.  No one listened and the NBA switched.

Arledge, of course, was furious.  He had lost a valuable property which he had personally nurtured to success and he felt betrayed, not by CBS, that was part of the network game, but by the NBA.  The first thing he did was destroy pro basketball on Saturday afternoons.  Never had ABC promoted its college games as it did that fall, as Arledge set out to show Madison Avenue what was a real part of the American sporting scene and what was a vulnerable one.  It was like a mugging; by the next year CBS and the NBA had gratefully retreated to Sunday afternoon.  But that was not enough.  He wanted, friends thought, vengeance, and he also had a lot of open tome on Sunday afternoons.  In the past Arledge had been successful because he knew how to focus on the special beauty and rhythm of a given sport and, through the magic of his cameras, virtually invent a national constituency for it.  Now, going against CBS, he set out to test television’s true power, to show that television was so rich and powerful that it did not need reality.  He became the founding father of a new genre in television sports, known forever after in the immortal phrase of Bill Leggett of Sports Illustrated as TrashSports.  It was a program called Superstars.  The idea had been around the network world for a long time – superb athletes from different sports competing in various events against each other.  Others had turned it down.  Now Arledge wanted it.  Everyone around him told him it was a terrible idea, that it was hokey and would not work.  Arledge thought otherwise.  “If I were a fan I’d like to see these guys compete against each other,” he said.  So it was born, Roone’s own decathlon.  He could select superb athletes who were also attractive and verbal; he could, if he chose, control the racial mix, and if there long dull parts, he could leave them on the cutting-room floor.  So what if it was hokey? People, he told friends, liked it, and wanted to watch it.  That was good enough.  So what if it was sports without the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat? It worked.  He also took Wide World of Sports, his Saturday show, and added a Sunday version.  This new Sunday afternoon was a staggering success.  The ratings hovered around 12.  From the start it virtually killed network hockey and left Madison Avenue with a sour feeling about professional basketball.  Soon NBC had the college basketball game and the college game was increasingly exciting.  In part as an obeisance to television, colleges now allowed freshmen to play, and though the college game had rarely been played before on Sunday, when NBC asked for Sunday games and offered huge sums of money, even suggesting which teams should play, and where and at what time, the colleges agreed.  The college game began to draw better than the pro game.  In the first year of the CBS contract the ratings plummeted from a 10 to an 8.1; soon the decline became steady and very serious.  Along Madison Avenue it was known as Roone’s Revenge.

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*photo courtesy of Sports Video

For the 1974 season, the Boston Celtics were out for vengeance.  They came out with a 33-9 start but finished 56-26, still first in the East by 7 games but behind Milwaukee by 3 games.  Boston had a surprisingly tough time with the young 4th place Buffalo Braves.  The Braves were led by Bob McAdoo, the big man with a soft touch and good outside shot, as well as guards Randy Smith and Ernie DiGregorio.  The Braves had also acquired Jim McMillian from the Lakers.  In the first game at Boston Garden, Buffalo led 81-69 after three quarters.  But the Celtics outscored them 38-16 in the 4th to survive as Cowens put up 20 points.  The teams split the next two games before Buffalo took Game 4 at home.  The Celtics had a 10-point lead with 9 minutes left in Game 4 but the Braves came back and won 104-102 on a Jim McMillian tip-in.  The Celtics won Game 5, 100-97 and then Game 6 106-104 to survive and advance.  Game 6 was won when Jo Jo White hit two free throws with no time left.  Boston then had an easy time with the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals.  The Knicks had beaten the Bullets in a tough 7-game series and were injured.  Willis Reed only played in 4 games (not starting) and scored 9 points in the series while Jerry Lucas had only one field goal and no free throws in the series.  Dave DeBusschere was injured as well and was replaced in the starting lineup for Game 3.  Game 3 was the only Knicks victory as Walt Frazier scored 38 points and Earl Monroe added 23.  Frazier was the only consistent Knick as the Celtics won the series 4-1 to advance to their first NBA Finals without Bill Russell.

The Celtics would play the Milwaukee Bucks.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had won his 3rd MVP with a 27 ppg average.  Bob Dandridge and Lucius Allen had followed by averaging 18.9 and 17.6 ppg respectively.  Oscar Robertson’s average had dipped to 12.7.  The Bucks though would be missing Allen for the playoffs as he had torn knee ligaments in practice near the end of the season.  This would be a factor against the Celtics’ press and long-armed defender Don Chaney.  They breezed through the first two rounds though.  The Lakers had acquired Elmore Smith for McMillian to replace Chamberlain.  But he could not contain Kareem who averaged 29.6 ppg in the series.  The Lakers only win was in Game 3 when the injured Jerry West made a surprising appearance.  West scored 4 points in what would turn out to be his last NBA appearance.  He sat out Games 4 and 5, easy Milwaukee wins, and retired after 14 seasons.  The Chicago Bulls had beaten Detroit in 7 games in the Semifinals, but both Jerry Sloan and Tom Boerwinkle were injured and out of the lineup.  They offered token resistance to Milwaukee, getting swept.

The Finals turned out to be a home court disadvantage.  Boston won Game 1 in Milwaukee as the press tired out Robertson and shook the confidence of backup point guard Ron ‘Fritz’ Williams.  Milwaukee won Game 2 in overtime and Boston won Game 3 at the Garden.  That would be the last home victory of the series as Milwaukee won Game 4 in Boston and Boston won Game 5 in Milwaukee.  Game 6 would provide one of the greatest games in NBA history.  A game that I only have the last 2 minutes of regulation and the overtimes, but that is more than enough.

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Kareem against Cowens in the 1974 Finals *photo courtesy of NBA.com

May 10, 1974 – NBA Finals, Game 6: Milwaukee Bucks 102 @Boston Celtics 101 (2ot)

Milwaukee took the early advantage in this one and had it to as many as 12.  The Bucks led by 8 after the first, 7 at halftime, and 6 at the end of the third.  Boston had cut it to 84-80 with 2:00 left when the action picked up.  Don Chaney made two free throws and it was a two-point game but then Chaney, the key to Boston’s press, committed a backcourt foul against Robertson.  Oscar nailed two free throws.  Havlicek hit a jumper off an inbounds pass and after a Dandridge miss, Cowens hit a corner shot on a kick-out from White and the game was tied at 86.  Then on the next Milwaukee possession, Cowens made perhaps the most memorable play of his career.  With three seconds left on the shot clock, Cowens knocked the ball away from Robertson and it was rolling along the floor at half court.  Cowens dove after it and recovered it.  It didn’t help the Celtics score though as Cowens missed a running hook at 8 seconds.  Then after a Bucks timeout, Jon McGlocklin who was playing on a sprained ankle missed a corner jumper at the buzzer.  Overtime.

The first overtime started off slow as it took almost two minutes for someone to score.  That score happened on a Chaney jumper after an offensive rebound.  The Celtics then had a chance to go up by four, but Paul Silas’ shot from the middle of the lane rolled around the rim three times before spilling out.  Then Oscar hit a tough shot in the middle of the lane against Chaney to tie it and Milwaukee took the lead on the next possession on a Curtis Perry putback.  The last minute was chaos.  Havlicek missed a jumper but Cowens forced a jump ball against Abdul-Jabbar on the rebound (the Bucks were screaming at the fact that it wasn’t a foul – which would have been Cowens’ 6th).  Milwaukee controlled the jump ball but were in scramble mode trying to run out the clock.  Dandridge lost control of a cross-court pass for a second and tried to save it from going out-of-bounds to teammate Mickey Davis.  But Chaney intercepted the ball and got it ahead to Havlicek.  At around 10 seconds, Havlicek missed short on a pull-up jumper but followed it up to tie the game.  Oscar tried to race the ball back the other way, but lost track of time and didn’t get a shot off before the clock expired.

The second overtime was pure back-and-forth.  The Celtics took a 93-92 lead on a Havlicek three-point play.  Without the three-point line at the time, the odd point would decide the game as nobody grabbed more than a one-point lead for the rest of the game.  Kareem hit a hook over Cowens for his 32nd point.  Then Hondo Havlicek hit a baseline jumper.  Oscar followed with a baseline jumper of his own.  White hit a jumper off an inbounds pass.  Oscar hit a running shot at the end of the shot clock which was quickly followed by a Havlicek jumper 4 seconds later.  Did you get all that?  That all happened in consecutive possessions and the Celtics had a 99-98 lead at that point with 1:26 left.  Milwaukee then stopped the string of possessions resulting in points when they committed a 24-second violation, despite Cowens fouling out in that possession.  However, the Bucks got a break at 44 seconds when Havlicek dribbled off his foot.  With 24 seconds left, Dandridge threw a high lob pass to Davis on the baseline.  Mickey hit the clutch jumper for a one-point Milwaukee lead.  Boston didn’t call a timeout and got it to Havlicek on the baseline.  Hondo hit a high-arcing baseline shot over Kareem with 7 seconds left for his 36th point and a Celtics lead as the crowd almost came onto the court.  A Milwaukee timeout called for the inbounds pass to come to Kareem near the high post and he was to hit a cutter.  But as Kareem got the pass, nobody was open.  So Abdul-Jabbar drove to the baseline against Cowens’ backup, Henry Finkel.  Don Chaney came from behind Kareem and was going for the steal but just before he got there, Kareem went up with a sky hook.  Swish!  Milwaukee survived when White missed a prayer at the buzzer and seemed to have momentum.

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Bob Dandridge (20) – Small Forward

Cornell Warner (5) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (34) – Center

Oscar Robertson (18) – Point Guard

Mickey Davis (12) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Jon McGlocklin (5)

Curtis Perry (6)

Ron Williams (2)

Milwaukee Coach: Larry Costello

Boston starters (points scored)

John Havlicek (36) – Small Forward

Don Nelson (6) – Power Forward

Dave Cowens (13) – Center

Jo Jo White (18) – Point Guard

Don Chaney (12) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Paul Silas (5)

Paul Westphal (6)

Hank Finkel (5)

Boston Coach: Tom Heinsohn

eddiedoucette moments_16_kareem_74finals_g6_grab

Bucks broadcaster Eddie Doucette coined the phrase ‘sky-hook’ and Kareem made it famous with his winning sky-hook in Game 6 of the 1974 Finals *photos courtesy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar website and NBA.com

May 12, 1974 – NBA Finals, Game 7: Boston Celtics 102 @Milwaukee Bucks 87

One would think the Celtics would be absolutely crushed after being 7 seconds away from winning the championship at home in Game 6.  But this Celtics team showed some resolve.  I only have most of the fourth quarter of this game too.  But the Celtics broke the game open in the 2nd quarter when their new strategy against Kareem (double-teaming him without the ball – it was legal then) held him scoreless in the 2nd and most of the 3rd quarter.  The Celtics led 53-40 at halftime.  But Milwaukee made a run toward the end of the third to cut Boston’s lead to 71-66 at the break.

The Celtics were still up 75-68 when the action picked up with a jump ball in front of the Milwaukee basket.  Cowens out-jumped Abdul-Jabbar and controlled it to Havlicek who threw a long pass downcourt that was intercepted by Perry for a few seconds.  But Perry lost it and it went right to Havlicek’s original intended target, Paul Westphal, for a layup.  Perry then goaltended a Silas attempt and the lead was back to 11.  Milwaukee would cut it back to 83-76 on a Davis three-point play.  But then Westphal hit a big corner jumper and White finished a three-on-one break.  A Kareem hook (his last points of the game) cut it to 87-79 but then the final run came from Boston.  Havlicek drove the lane, made a tough layup, got fouled, and completed the three-point play.  Then Cowens back-to-back baskets along with another Havlicek three-point play put the game away and both team brought out the third team.  This was Oscar Robertson’s final NBA game.  Next he would be broadcasting for CBS along with newly hired Brent Musburger.  Speaking of which, this would also be the final trace I have of Pat Summerall doing play-by-play for basketball.  It wouldn’t be the last trace of his partner Rick Barry though.

Boston starters (points scored)

John Havlicek (16) – Small Forward

Don Nelson (6) – Power Forward

Dave Cowens (28) – Center

Jo Jo White (16) – Point Guard

Don Chaney (6) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Paul Silas (14)

Paul Westphal (12)

Steve Kuberski (0)

Phil Hankinson (2)

Art Williams (2)

Hank Finkel (0)

Boston Coach: Tom Heinsohn

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Bob Dandridge (14) – Small Forward

Cornell Warner (1) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (26) – Center

Oscar Robertson (6) – Point Guard

Mickey Davis (15) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Jon McGlocklin (13)

Curtis Perry (6)

Ron Williams (4)

Terry Driscoll (2)

Russell Lee (0)

Dick Garrett (0)

Milwaukee Coach: Larry Costello

1974 g7 tommy-heinsohn Coach

While Kareem and Cowens battled each other to a standstill, it was Havlicek who got the Finals MVP and got to douse Coach Heinsohn with champaign as the Celtics survived *photos courtesy of Getty Images and Celtics Green blog

From → NBA

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