As we sit back and watch both New York professional basketball teams in the NBA playoffs (Knicks-Celtics and Nets-Bulls) for some strange reason I thought back to the 1975-76 season.
The Nets defeated the Denver Nuggets that year 4-2 to win the ABA championship, their second ring in the past three years. The Nuggets, coached by Larry Brown had the best record in the league and were led by David Thompson, Dan Issel and Bobby Jones. But Julius Erving was too much for them in the finals; Doc averaged 37.7 PPG in the finals. Over in the NBA, the Celtics had captured the title beating the Phoenix Suns 4-2. It was the Celtics 13th ring.
75-76 was the ABA’s last season.
Their “swan song.”
The red white and ball was no more.
Four teams (Nets, Pacers, Nuggets and Spurs) joined the NBA on June 17th, 1976.
Or like my friend Glenn Thomas likes to say, “Suspended operations.”
There was talk of a possible game between the Nets and Celtics to determine the real champion.
No such luck, it never happened.
I would have loved to been in the schoolyard hanging out with guys like John Corrar and Tom Brady talking about who would win? The banter would have been memorable like most conversations/arguments in the yard.
While researching for this entry, I found this piece of information from http://www.remembertheaba.com/abastatistics/abanbaexhibitions.html
After the 1974-75 regular season, the ABA Champion Kentucky Colonels formally challenged the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to a “World Series of Basketball,” with the winner to take a $1 Million purse (to come from anticipated TV revenues). The NBA and the Warriors refused the challenge. Again, after the 1975-76 season, the ABA Champion New York Nets offered to play the NBA Champion Boston Celtics in a winner-take-all game, with the proceeds going to benefit the 1976 United States Olympic team. Predictably, the Celtics declined to participate.
In the boys schoolyard there was always compelling basketball talk. I recall guys arguing over “who was better?”
We had Celtics fans, Nets fans and Knicks fans in the neighborhood. My guy Jack Kelly from 7th avenue is one of the biggest Celtics fans around so I’m sure after he reads this entry, he’ll have something to say about the meeting that never took place. My good friend Kevin Molloy was a Celtics fan too. It was not hard to root for them. They played the game the right way.
The Celtics were fundamentally sound with guys like Dave Cowens, Paul Silas and John Havlicek up front for the Celtics would be a load for the Nets. Hondo was 36 at the time and nursing a sore foot.
The Nets, coached by Kevin Loughery played a run and gun style led by the “Big 3” in Julius Erving, Brian Taylor and John Williamson. People tend to forget that Larry Kenon and Billy Paultz were NOT on this Nets team. They were traded the year before in two transactions to the San Antonio Spurs involving Swen Nater, Chuck Terry, Kim Hughes, and Rich Jones. Mike Gale also left New York for San Antonio.
Doc was incredible. He was the leading scorer that year and had captured his third straight league MVP.
When the merger took place Red Auerbach said that we’re going to see one of the greatest forwards to ever play this game. He was talking about Julie.
Debates were common, especially when it came to sports. Didn’t matter where you were. In the yard, on the corner or in Farrell’s.
The Nuggets beat the Celtics in an exhibition game back in October. Nets beat the Nuggets in the finals so you never know.
The backcourt of Jo-Jo White and Charlie Scott vs Taylor and Williamson would have been sweet. Boston had three players (Cowens, Hondo and Silas) make 1st team all-defense.
Overall for the ABA, their players and teams did well in the NBA after the merger.
“The ABA was like the wild west, and Julius Erving, George Gervin, James Silas and all the other ABA stars were gunfighters. They are men of legend known to millions, but whose actual deeds were seen by few,” Bob Costas said in Terry Pluto’s fantastic book about the ABA.
The following season after the merger, the Portland Trailblazers won the NBA championship (thanks to Maurice Lucas). Their opponent in the finals was the 76ers (thanks to Doc), the Nuggets won the Midwest and the Spurs led the league in scoring. The Nets on the other hand were a mess. They had the worst record in the league at 22-60 but they did do something to make the NBA history books. In February they became the first NBA team ever to have an all-left-handed lineup: Tim Bassett, Al Skinner, Bubbles Hawkins, Dave Wohl and Kim Hughes.
That Nets-Celtics in 1976 championship game would have been special.
So, who wins, Nets or Celtics?