Live from Phoenix, it’s Saturday Night (Basketball)!
Game five of the NBA Finals was played last night in Phoenix. Milwaukee won 123-119. More on that in the next post.
Oddly, it was the first NBA championship series game contested on a Saturday since game three in 1981, when the finals were known as the world championship series. Hard to believe 40 years passed between Saturday games, considering MLB and the NHL consistently hold games in their championship series on Saturdays.
In 1979-80 and 1980-81, the NBA started its season three weeks earlier than usual and ended on the last Sunday of March. Since only 12 teams made the playoffs in those seasons, and the first round was a best-of-three, the playoffs were shorter.
In 1980, only one series in the conference semifinals and finals went longer than five games, Seattle’s seven-game triumph over Milwaukee in the western semifinals. Both conference finals lasted five, with the Lakers blowing away the reigning champion SuperSonics and the 76ers steamrolling the Celtics in the first of three consecutive eastern finals between the ancient rivals.
This allowed the NBA to schedule the first two games of the finals in Inglewood for Sunday, May 4 and Wednesday, May 7, very reasonable. The first game was televised live coast-to-coast, but the second, which started at 8:30 Pacific (11:30 Eastern) was tape-delayed in the Mountain and Pacific time zones in order to not pre-empt CBS’ primetime schedule.
Following two days off, the series moved to Philadelphia. CBS gave the NBA an ultimatum with two bad choices: (a) play the third and fourth games Saturday and Sunday of Mother’s Day weekend, and we’ll televise both live, or (b) play Saturday/Sunday and Monday/Tuesday, and the weekday game will be tape-delayed everywhere except Philly, LA and any western market (i.e. NBA cities in those time zones) that will televise it live.
CBS chose a, so for the first time in 12 years, a game in the NBA’s final round was played on a Saturday.
The decisive sixth game, the one where Magic Johnson went off for 42 points while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sat injured back in LA, was only televised live in Philly, LA, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, and oddly enough, Atlanta, where an independent station picked it up after the CBS affiliate, WAGA, refused to show it, even on tape-delay.
The same situation happened in 1981, with a more compressed schedule.
Since Boston needed the full seven games to oust Philadelphia in what has been considered by many the greatest playoff series in NBA history, the Rockets had to cool their jets in Houston. This pushed the first game back to Tuesday, May 5, with the second game only 48 hours after that.
For the third and fourth games at Houston, the NBA was faced with the same ultimatum from CBS, and again picked the back-to-back on Mother’s Day weekend for two live games, the only live games outside of Boston and Houston The other four were on tape-delay. The series took a mere ten days to complete, with the Celtics prevailing in six.
It could have been worse. In 1967, the 76ers and Warriors played a Sunday afternoon game in Philly, then flew across the country for a game the next night in San Francisco.
NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien, legal counsel David Stern and NBA owners were fed up after the 1981 debacle. They sat down with CBS and figured out how to get all NBA championship games back on live television, moving the season back to its traditional late October start date, meaning the final series would begin after the primetime shows had wrapped their seasons.
By 1987, CBS was televising conference finals games in primetime, and they became a staple of late May/early June programming on CBS, NBC and ABC until all weeknight NBA playoff games except the finals moved to ESPN and TNT in the mid-2000s.
The NBA’s Memorex Moment
Forty years ago tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers were in Philadelphia, looking to defeat the 76ers in the sixth game of the NBA World Championship Series and bring the Walter Brown Trophy back to southern California.
If the Lakers wanted to avoid a seventh game at ingelwood less than 48 hours later, they would have to do so without the 1979-80 Most Valuable Player.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won his record sixth MVP as the Lakers went 60-22, one game behind the Celtics for the NBA’s best record, suffered a high ankle sprain on his left ankle during the third quarter of the Lakers’ 108-103 victory two nights prior.
Abdul-Jabbar played the fourth quarter on the injured ankle and scored 14 points in the stanza, giving him 40 for the night. The 76ers’ woefully weak center combination of Darryl Dawkins and Caldwell Jones helped Kareem’s cause. When Philadelphia finally upgraded its center situation three years later, the results were much different. I’ll get to that later.
On the advice of Lakers team doctor Robert Kerlan and trainer Jack Curran, coach Paul Westhead and the rest of the Lakers, including 20-year old rookie Earvin Johnson, made the cross-country flight to Philadelphia without the 33-year old legend, who was seeking his second NBA championship, but first since winning it all with Milwaukee in 1971.
Philadelphia was quite fortunate to be in a game six to be honest. They nearly blew a 23-point lead at Ingelwood in game two, and it took a late flurry in game four, highlighted by spectacular baseline up-and-under by Julius Erving, to pull out a three-point win. The Lakers won easily in games one and three, then won a tight game five.
Most national pundits believed Philadelphia would exploit Los Angeles’ hole in the midlde and sent the series back to California. The simplest option would be to move Jim Chones, the former Cavaliers All-Star, to center and insert Mark Landsberger at power forward.
However, Landsberger had been overpowered by Dawkins and Jones when giving Abdul-Jabbar a rest earlier in the series, and he forever became a highlight film staple after Dr. J drove around him in the fourth game.
Westhead and assistant coach Pat Riley made a bold move.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson wold start at center, allowing defensive ace and long-range shooting specialist Michael Cooper into the backcourt with Norm Nixon.
Magic was only 14 months removed from leading Michigan State to a 75-64 victory over Indiana State and its superstar, Larry Bird, in the NCAA championship game at Salt Lake City, the highest rated college basketball game ever, a distinction it still holds 41 years later.
Though not old enough to consume alcohol in most jurisdictions, Magic played well beyond his years the evening of 16 May 1980.
Johnson turned in the greatest individual performance in an NBA championship game, before or after, with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists as the Lakers routed the 76ers 123-107 in front of 17,000 shocked patrons at The Spectrum. The game was tied 60-60 at halftime, but after Los Angeles scored the first 14 points of the third quarter, Kareem could celebrate at home, and mayor Tom Bradley could announce the exact date and time for the first victory parade in the City of Angels in eight years.
Too bad most of the United States could not watch Magic’s scintillating performance in real time.
CBS, which televised the NBA from 1973 through 1990, inexplicably chose to air game six of the 1980 championship series on tape delay.
The NBA’s television ratings were in the toilet, and CBS did not want to preempt prime time programming for a basketball game which might draw a third to a quarter of the ratings of one of its primetime powerhouses.
When games were played in the Pacific Time Zone, CBS aired them live at 23:30 Eastern/22:30 Central after the late news. The Mountain Time Zone was delayed by an hour, but the Pacific zone was delayed by three hours unless the local affiliate preempted the prime time schedule and showed the game live.
Los Angeles obviously aired the games live. So did Portland and Seattle, where enthusiasm for the NBA was unbridled. The Trail Blazers were Oregon’s first major professional sports team, and remained that way until the Timbers joined Major League Soccer. The Super Sonics were THE thing in Seattle, even with the Seahawks and Mariners both starting play in the late 1970s.
The other market in the west to air all games live? Las Vegas, for obvious reasons.
Games two and five started at 20:30 Pacific. Yes, they were live in Philadelphia, but how many people stayed up until 01:45 the next morning to watch them to conclusion?
Meanwhile, weeknight games in the other three time zones were tape delayed to air at 23:30 Eastern and Pacific/22:30 Central and Mountain. CBS pulled the stunt during game two of the 1979 championship series from Washington, but it DID air game five live nationwide.
In the 1980 championship series, games three and four in Philadelphia were played Mother’s Day weekend, Saturday at 15:30 Eastern and Sunday at 13:00 Eastern. CBS would not be as fortunate for game six.
On the surface, CBS’ choice was logical. Do not preempt two of your highest rated shows, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas, the latter ranking number one for all television shows in 1979-80.
There was one flaw in CBS’ logic the evening of 16 May 1980.
Dukes and Dallas were already airing reruns.
J.R. Ewing was shot on 21 March 1980, seven weeks before Earvin Johnson became truly Magic.
All three networks ended their 1979-80 seasons in late March or early April, fearing the Screen Actors Guild would go on strike in the spring or early summer. That came to pass in June, and it delayed the opening of the 1980-81 season until November (America didn’t find out Kristin Shepard shot J.R. until 21 November, two months later than CBS had hoped), December, or even January (NBC did not air the first episode of Hill Street Blues until 15 January, 10 days before it broadcast Super Bowl XV).
With reruns already airing, it would have hurt nothing to air the game from Philadelphia live at 21:00, but CBS figured old episodes were better than new basketball.
Again, if you were living in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Las Vegas, you were in luck.
The other place to air the game live? Atlanta, where the CBS affiliate refused to show NBA games not involving the Hawks. However, an independent station figured the sports fans of north Georgia needed something other to watch than the pitiful Braves on WTBS, so it aired game six live.
Therefore, large markets like New York, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Francisco, Washington, Baltimore, Phoenix and Miami were all out of luck. San Francisco and Phoenix, of course, could have aired the game live and only would have had to adjust the regular Friday night programming back at most 30 minutes for game overrun.
It was well past bedtime for myself and my brother. Then again, I doubt there were very many NBA fans in New Orleans in the spring of 1980, since the 1979-80 season was the first for the Jazz in Utah after five seasons in the Crescent City. Utah probably should have let the new team in New Orleans reacquire the Jazz nickname when they moved in 2002, but that’s too confusing to go into right now.
There were a lot of negative articles written about CBS tape delaying the deciding game of the NBA championship series, but it didn’t change anything, at least in the short term.
The 1981 championship series featured the Celtics for the first time since 1976, and the Rockets for the first time ever. Houston won the Western Conference at 40-42, defeating the 40-42 Kansas City Kings in the conference finals.
With a team from the Eastern Time Zone taking on a team from the Central Time Zone, it meant tape delay at least twice, and possibly four times if the series reached a game six.
The first two games in Boston tipped at 19:35 Eastern, meaning a four hour for those not in Boston or Houston. Games three and four from Houston were live on Mother’s Day weekend. Game three was the last Saturday game in an NBA championship series, and game four started at 12:05 Central so CBS could televise golf afterwards.
Game five tipped at 21:00 Eastern and aired at the standard 23:35 Eastern/22:35 Central.
The sixth and deciding game started at 21:05 Central, the latest start to an NBA championship game in the Central Time Zone. Boston won in six, the first of their three championships with Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
Philadelphia and Los Angeles met again for the NBA championship with one major difference: all games were televised live on CBS.
The NBA agreed to start its regular season later beginning in 1981-82, allowing the championship series to be played after the network prime time seasons ended in mid-May. There were four weeknight games, including the clinching game six on 8 June, where the Lakers prevailed and left the 76ers as the NBA’s bridesmaids for the third time in six seasons.
The 76ers finally realized they needed a big change at center in order to stymie Kareem. Billy Cunningham made the biggest change he could by acquiring Moses Malone from the Rockets, and on 31 May 1983, Philadelphia had its first NBA championship in 16 years, sweeping Los Angeles.
The NFL and Major League Baseball would never dare to air any playoff game, let alone a championship contest, on tape delay. The NHL has aired just about every Stanley Cup Finals game live in Canada since the 1950s, but in America, its coverage has been far worse. Many cities had no NHL on television from 1976-79, and from 1989-92, most couldn’t see any NHL games because of an asinine deal with SportsChannel America, which thankfully no longer exists.
The German Bundesliga returned today, albeit without fans. But it’s LIVE SPORTS. NASCAR races tomorrow at Darlington.
Let’s hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel, although the alarmists hope we’re sitting at home twiddling our thumbs without anything to watch until 2021 or later.
One day, two tales in the Big Apple
Fifty years ago yesterday, two notable events occurred in New York City within hours of each other. (Yes, it’s still 8 May for a few more minutes in Kansas, but it’s 9 May in NYC, so yesterday is appropriate).
One, the Hard Had Riot, was one of many regrettable episodes in the more than 400 years of the city once known as New Amsterdam (“Even Old New York was once New Amsterdam”, a famous line from the famous They Might Be Giants song, “Istanbul not Constantinople). Occurring four days after Sandy Scheuer, William Schroeder, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause lost their lives at Kent State, 200 construction workers mobilized by the New York State AFL-CIO attacked more than 1,000 students protesting the war and mourning the Kent State four.
Apologies to Ms. Scheuer’s family and friends for misspelling her name with an extra “R” in previous posts.
It began at 07:30 with a memorial for Scheuer, Schroeder, Miller and Krause at Federal Hall. Four hours later, construction workers broke past a pathetic police line and started beating the protesters, especially those men with long hair, with their hard hats, steel-toed shoes, and anything else they could find.
Four policemen and 70 others were injured. Fortunately, nobody was killed.
This was not the case in January 1976 when union members murdered a non-union worker at a chemical plant in Lake Charles in the midst of Louisiana’s push to become the last southern state to pass right-to-work legislation.
Six months later, after right-to-work cleared both chambers of the Louisiana legislature, the leader of the right-to-work campaign, Shreveport advertising executive Jim Leslie, was murdered in Baton Rouge by a sniper acting on orders of Shreveport police commissioner George D’Artois, who attempted to use city funds to pay for his election campaign. Leslie flatly refused D’Artois’ bribe, and paid for it with his life. Rat bastard D’Artois dropped dead in June 1977 before he could be brought to justice. It would have been lovely to see the S.O.B. rot in Angola.
Back to 8 May 1970 in the Big Apple.
Nine hours after the construction workers attacked innocent protesters who had the nerve to exercise their First Amendment rights, the Knickerbockers met the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden for the championship of the National Basketball Association.
Hours after the Kent State shootings, the Knicks won Game 5 107-100 at MSG to take a 3-2 series lead despite losing the NBA’s 1969-70 Most Valuable Player, Louisiana native and Grambling alum Willis Reed, to a serious leg injury in the first quarter. Los Angeles led 51-35 at halftime, but committed 19 turnovers in the final 24 minutes, leading Lakers fans to believe their franchise was cursed, if they didn’t already.
Two nights later, with Reed back in New York, the Lakers destroyed the short-handed Knicks at The Forum 135-113 behind 45 points and 27 rebounds from Wilt Chamberlain.
The teams flew commercial from LAX to JFK the next morning, leaving them approximately 30 hours to rest for the winner-take-all game.
Charter flights were not the norm in the NBA or NHL until the late 1980s, which means the likes of Chamberlain, Reed, Jerry West, Bill Bradley, Walt (Clyde) Frazier, John Havlicek, Bill Russell, Dave Cowens and Oscar Robertson flew charters very rarely, and Kareem didn’t fly them for the majority of his career. Same for Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Rod Gilbert, Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Jean Beliveau, although Les Habitants (the Canadiens) may have been flying charter before the American teams.
The Lakers were planning a glorious return to LAX Saturday morning, then a parade similar to the ones enjoyed by the Dodgers following World Series wins in 1959, ’63, and ’65.
The Knicks wanted to be honored with New York’s third ticker tape parade for a championship sports team in 17 months, following the Jets in Super Bowl III and the Mets after the ’69 World Series. In between the Jets and Mets, Neill Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were honored with their own parade for Apollo 11.
Sadly for most of the 19,500 who passed through MSG’s turnstiles that Friday evening, the Knicks’ chances appeared dim without Reed.
Then, the NBA’s version of Moses parting the Red Sea occurred.
ABC announcers Chris Schenkel and Jack Twyman lamented the Knicks’ fate without their MVP, but as they went on, Twyman excitedly noticed Reed coming out from the tunnel.
Reed took the court with Bradley, Frazier, Dave DeBuesschere and Dick Barnett for the opening tip.
Eighteen seconds later, Reed, who could barely walk, took a jump shot from 20 feet.
A minute later, Reed scored again to make it 5-2.
Willis Reed did not score another point.
He didn’t need to.
His defense against Chamberlain spooked The Big Dipper, who was limited to 21 points, although he led all players with 24 rebounds.
Frazier picked up the offensive slack with 36 points and 19 assists, and New York rolled to a 113-99 victory in a game which wasn’t that close.
The Knicks were NBA champions for the first time. New York had its third championship team in 17 months. Prior to that, the Big Apple went six-plus years without a title after the Yankees won the 1962 World Series. The Giants were in the midst of 29 seasons without a title, with Super Bowl XXI a little less than 17 years off. The Rangers’ Stanley Cup drought stood at 30 years in 1970 and would last 24 more. The Islanders and Devils (Kansas City Scouts/Colorado Rockies) didn’t exist, and the Nets were an afterthought until they signed Julius Erving.
The Knicks won the title again three years later by defeating the Lakers in five games, one year after Los Angeles got the monkey off of its back by ousting New York in five.
Since 1973, the Knicks have been to the championship series twice, losing to the Rockets in 1994 and the Spurs in 1999. The Lakers have had slightly more success, winning five championships in the 1980s and five more in the 21st century.
Today’s Knicks are an outright disgrace to Red Holzman’s championship teams. Thankfully, the surviving members of the 1969-70 Knicks didn’t have to put up with having to watch the 2019-20 Knicks at a 50th anniversary reunion; it was cancelled due to COVID-19. Owner James Dolan is a douchebag who continues to anger fans with his outright stupidity and callousness. Isaiah Thomas is a sexual harasser who should be in prison, but Dolan loves him, so he still has a high-paying job with the Knicks.
That’s more NBA than I care to discuss, so I’m signing off.
Super Bowl, Kobe, impeachment…blah blah blah
Thank God the Super Bowl kicks off in 23 hours and 30 minutes, give or take. Enough talk about Patrick Mahomes. Enough talk about the Chiefs looking for their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years. Enough asking Len Dawson about Patrick Mahomes. If you live in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and parts of Iowa, Arkansas and Oklahoma, you may not realize the 49ers are in the Super Bowl as well.
The Chiefs have been the sole focus of every media outlet in Kansas and western Missouri. If you thought coverage of the Royals during their 2014 and 2015 World Series appearances was excessive, it pales in comparison to the adulation the Chiefs have received. It’s quite the opposite from the other end of Missouri, where the Rams were always a distant third to the Cardinals and Blues during their 21 seasons in St. Louis.
The 49ers are still getting less air time in San Francisco than Nancy Pelosi. People in the Bay Area have witnessed six championships since 2010, three by the Giants and three by the Warriors. Add in the success the Sharks have enjoyed despite the lack of a Stanley Cup, and the 49ers have been an afterthought most of the time since Steve Young’s retirement 20 years ago. There was the trip to Super Bowl XLVII and the crushing loss to the Seahawks in the NFC championship game the next season, but until this year, the 49ers went through their longest downturn since suffering through seven losing seasons out of eight from 1973-80.
If Kansas City wins tomorrow, people in this part of the United States will be hearing about it non-stop until the Chiefs go to training camp in July. Kansas basketball and the Royals will register, but it won’t eclipse the Chiefs.
Andy Reid might retire if the Chiefs win. I would not doubt it. It would allow Kansas City to promote Eric Bienemy and not have to worry about other teams attempting to poach him next January.
If San Francisco wins, we’ll hear about it for a few days, but it will fade. The sports fans of the Bay Area need something good this year, because the Warriors have been reduced to a D-League (sorry, G-LEAGUE) team without Steph Curry, the Sharks are stinking it up, and the Raiders have officially traded Oakland for Las Vegas.
The hype for Super Bowl LIV has been muted. That would normally be a good thing, but not this time.
It’s because almost every sports show, even some on NFL Network, have to mention Kobe.
Yes, Kobe perished last Sunday with his 13-year old daughter, six other passengers, and the foolish pilot who had no business flying a helicopter in thick fog. Sad. Very sad.
However, it happens all the time, and 99.5% of the time, the names of the people on board aren’t mentioned, and it gets all of 20 seconds on the evening news, if that.
I read on the Internet there is a petition circulating to change the NBA logo silhouette to that of Kobe, instead of Jerry West, whose silhouette has been the logo for almost 50 years.
Do those who want to make the change realize who brought Kobe to the Lakers? JERRY WEST. Does anyone know of another NBA figure who was as great an executive as he was a player? Hello…hello…
Magic Johnson and James Worthy were both drafted #1 overall by the Lakers, thanks to shrewd trades by West to acquire the picks which helped land them.He took a chance on an unproven assistant named Pat Riley in late 1981 after firing Paul Westhead. He made the trade for Kobe and signed Shaq during the summer of 1996, and three years later convinced Phil Jackson to coach his latest collection of talent.
All 12 Lakers championships in Los Angeles were influenced by Jerry West. Now why should he be taken off the logo in favor of Kobe? Give me a good reason.
Twenty-four second shot clock violations and eight-second backcourt violations have become cool since Kobe’s death, since 24 and 8 were his jersey numbers with the Lakers. To me, that’s making a mockery of the game. Honor him, yes, but don’t do it by disrupting the normal flow of a game.
Golfers have become Kobe worshippers this weekend. Justin Thomas and Tony Finau wore Kobe jerseys during the Phoenix Open. Phil Mickelson, a legend in Phoenix thanks to winning an NCAA championship at Arizona State, smartly skipped out on the Phoenix Open and is playing in Saudi Arabia. Tiger is not playing golf this weekend, choosing to attend the Super Bowl; after all, it’s in his backyard (he lives in Florida, which doesn’t have a state income tax, while his native California has astronomical taxes, especially for rich athletes).
The third and only other thing in the news right now is the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump. No comment.
Inglewood, sports paradise
The National Football League is returning to Los Angeles.
Earlier this evening, NFL owners voted 30-2 (I would love to know who the two were) to approve Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s stadium proposal in Inglewood, located in Los Angeles County a few miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles.
The Rams, played in St. Louis from 1995 through 2015, will play in the Los Angeles Coliseum for the next three seasons while the stadium in Inglewood is built.
The Rams will not be the first professional sports franchise to call Inglewood home.
Inglewood is the home of The Forum, which was the home of the NBA’s Lakers and the NHL’s Kings from 1967 through 1999, when both teams moved to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. The Clippers, who previously played at the Los Angeles Sports Arena from 1984-99, also moved into Staples Center.
The Forum was built by Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the Lakers and was awarded an NHL expansion franchise which became the Kings. Cooke was tired of the Lakers having to share the L.A. Sports Arena with USC and other events, and thus built his own facility for his teams.
The Lakers enjoyed their glory days in the Forum. Led by Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, Los Angeles won 33 consecutive games during the 1971-72 season en route to the franchise’s first championship in California. The Lakers won five titles when they were in Minneapolis, led by George Mikan, but had come up short time and again in L.A., losing in the championship series five times between 1962 and 1970.
Cooke traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975, and in 1979, drafted Earvin “Magic” Johnson out of Michigan State, and Showtime was born. The Lakers won titles in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988, abut more importantly, the Forum was the place to see and be seen. Jack Nicholson, Dyan Cannon and numerous other stars were regulars at Laker games.
The Kings were an afterthought during their first 20 seasons. They were mostly terrible, more often than not residing at or near the bottom of the NHL standings. Los Angeles often had to struggle to reach the playoffs, and that took some serious doing during the 1980s, when the Kings routinely battled with two other bottom feeders, the Winnipeg Jets (the team which is now the Arizona Coyotes) and the Vancouver Canucks, for to playoff spots.
Hockey became cool all of a sudden on August 9, 1988.
That Tuesday afternoon, just a few hours before the Cubs played their first official night game at Wrigley Field vs. the Mets, Wayne Gretzky was traded by the Edmonton Oilers, who won four Stanley Cups in five seasons with The Great One leading the way, to the Kings.
All of a sudden, the Kings were no longer the poor stepchild of Inglewood. Although the Kings never won the Cup with Gretzky–they lost in the ’93 finals to Montreal–the Kings’ success allowed the NHL to (regrettably, in my opinion) expand further into California and other southern locations.
When the Lakers and Kings left Inglewood, nobody could have dreamed the town would ever host a professional sports franchise again. Yet come 2019, the Rams will call Inglewood home.
The sad thing in all this is the Rams should have never left in the first place. I’ll get into that in this blog very shortly.