Fights, drugs, racial tensions: ’70s spelling troubles for the NBA

Even the biggest matches are delayed. Anyone who has sat through what NBA had to dedicate in the 1970s could see this as a tournament grappling with the limelight.

If there was a decade when the NBA, which turned 75 this season, almost fell apart due to its own problems, the 1970s were that decade. It’s an operation full of fighting and drug addiction that has made Black players such an integral part of the show, it’s only left to wonder if those players are driving away fans. .

It has a nasty brand of basketball that looks even worse when compared to the game being played by upstarts ABA – a freestyle, 3-point shooting festival that takes place without the above that uses trump card contract deals to weed out some of the sport’s most promising talents.

The NBA’s 17 teams at the start of the decade are primarily in the biggest US markets and most are well-funded, which gives the league the assets and strength to continue operating despite the growing crowds. descending and a product that more or less no one wants to see .

In an era where the NFL was evolving and the Major League still gripped the imaginations of American sports fans, portions of the NBA knockouts and finals were omitted from the broadcasts. delayed late into the night – a sure sign of trouble, and a reminder to us now that the league’s bright future in the 1980s and beyond was anything but successful. estimate.

In the early 70s, attendance averaged around 8,000 fans a game. The NBA Finals received a 7.2 rating in 1979, a time when three lives and 20.0 were good only for a 30th place in the Nielsen ratings.

Spencer Haywood, who won a milestone said: “The fan base is like, ‘Ehhh, I don’t know if I’m going to like this. Supreme Court The 1971 ruling opened the door for players to enter the league before completing college.

“There’s been a lot of talk about it becoming a Negro league,” said Haywood. “And our black players weren’t helping. We weren’t subtle. It was like, big fur coats, big fur hats. It’s like Superfly in the NBA.”

The league also has its share of fighters and drug abusers.

Haywood himself used cocaine while playing for the Lakers in the late ’70s – a period that ended not so well when he was kicked off the team after dozing off during practice in the final against the 76ers.

John Lucas. David Thompson. Bernard King. Michael Ray Richardson. Walter Davis. These are just a few of the players who had drug problems at a tournament where the Los Angeles Times estimates 75% used cocaine and 1 in 10 smoked, or were addicted to, drugs.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Haywood said he got addicted at a party in Hollywood when someone took him into the kitchen where they were heating cocaine for free.

“I headed that ball around 10:30 that night,” he said. “Next thing I knew, I was leaving at 4:30 to go home and practice. It was holding me back like that.”

In a way, the rise of drugs, coupled with union integration, has reflected changes taking place across American society. Not all can be labeled as progress.

In 1979, the New York Knicks became the first team to have an all-Black roster — an achievement celebrated in some corners but also one that caused racists to spoil the team’s full name.

“It’s not a New York attitude too much, but the fans around the league tell you how they feel about you as a competitor and also as a black person,” Knicks star Earl Monroe says Newsday in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, the league has taken a violent turn. Haywood said the wars had essentially broken out “nightly apart, and for no real reason”.

If there’s ever a defining moment, it was during the Rockets vs Lakers game in 1977, when Rudy Tomjanovich ran down the field to intervene in a scuffle. Kermit Washington turned around and estranged Rudy T, pinning him to the floor and breaking his skull, cheekbones, and nose.

But it was hardly the first outbreak of violence in an NBA game, and some of the ugliest incidents occurred when the lights were at their brightest, during the finals.

– In 1975, Warriors coach Al Attles, not an easy man even after his game days, burst onto the field and messed with Wes Unseld when Attles tried to protect Rick Barry after Barry was punched by Mike Riordan of the Washington Bullets. .

– In 1976, a fight broke through Game 3 of the Suns-Celtics series, after which a fan assaulted referee Richie Powers, who had previously blasted a likely deciding call, as part of the wild ending to the three-round horror film in Game 5.

– In 1977, Maurice Lucas and Darrell Dawkins fought each other in a dynamic battle between the Sixers and the Blazers that also brought everyone from the stands to the field.

“To say I didn’t get a huge response from potential sponsors would be the best way to shape it,” former NBA executive Rick Welts said in the ESPN documentary “Basketball: A Love Story” “. “If I could get an appointment, that’s about 15 minutes of ‘Why would anyone in their mind want to associate with your alliance?'”

Among those questioning that was CBS, which in the late ’70s began airing many post-season games, including some finals, in ice-later mode, as a way to keep the details going. fun and unimpeded branch on sweep week, back when the finals start in May.. (People prefer watching “Dallas” to LA or Philly.)

The NBA TV deal was so unimportant in the ’70s that the league barely flinched when owner Ozzie Silna asked to forego a one-time payment in exchange for a slice of the NBA’s future TV rights. as an outright purchase to make the Spirits of St Louis disappear when the NBA attracted four of the ABA’s strongest teams in 1976.

“We saw room for growth there, and by that time he had become a millionaire hundreds of times,” Silna said in a 2006 interview with the AP. “We didn’t know it would grow to this extent.”

Hardly anyone did in those days, but for anyone willing to look closely enough, there are glimmers of hope.

In NBA offices, a relatively unknown lawyer named David Stern who helped the federation in the Supreme Court to no avail in its fight against Haywood, is moving up the corporate ladder and is starting to come up with the idea that the federation needs a cleaning and rebranding job .

Haywood said of Stern, who became a trustee in 1984. “We needed someone to come in and put things in order in 1984.” We got to a point where you had to do some work to get things straight. Get the drugs out, and get on with it. ”

As for the epic 1979-1980 NBA Finals game between LA and Philly that most of the country watched late or missed altogether: It featured a rookie named Magic Johnson. Playing center in place of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson picked up 42 points and 15 rebounds to eliminate the 76ers.

Across the country, rookie striker Larry Bird was in the audience. Although Bird was on 22 points a game, the Celtics had lost in the conference finals to Philly and Doctor J. Just a year earlier, Bird and Magic had met in the NCAA title game between Indiana State and Michigan State. It was just an all-star game that the struggling NBA also desperately needs to be able to perform, if it is to regain its footing.


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