The NBA Time Machine: 1973

Published May 15, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:

Relocating Royalty

Moving west

Since 1968, Cincinnati Royals personnel had been eyeing game opportunities in Omaha, Nebraska. They had played plenty of “home” matches in the city over the past half a decade, ranging from twelve to forty-two in a season.

This was the year the franchise permanently committed, dubbing themselves the Kansas City-Omaha Kings and splitting their home schedule between the two cities. They adopted the “Kings” surname to avoid confusion with the Kansas City Royals MLB team.

Due to this relocation, there were divisional re-assignments:

  • The Kansas City-Omaha Kings were moved from the Central Division to the Midwest Division, also placing them in the Western Conference.
  • The Houston Rockets were moved from the Pacific Division to the Central Division, also placing them in the Eastern Conference.
  • The Phoenix Suns were moved from the Midwest Division to the Pacific Division.

In other good news for the squad, they improved by six games and saw starting guard Tiny Archibald receive his first All-Star Game invitation.


During the off-season, Philadelphia 76ers superstar Billy Cunningham jumped ship to the ABA. This was already seen as a catastrophic loss for the team, who were coming off an underwhelming thirty-win run – to make matters worse, coach Jack Ramsay departed to coach the Buffalo Braves. This left the 76ers’ locker room in disrepair, hinting towards an inevitably messy year.

After starting the season 0-15, the pitiful club finally managed a narrow two-point win against the Houston Rockets in early November. They won a couple of contests on occasion, but were largely amidst pathetic losing streaks. They lost fourteen straight from December to early January, and then completed a separate spell of twenty consecutive defeats from January to February.

While the roster was already awful, coach Roy Rubin was also heavily criticized for his lack of aptitude, being deemed fraudulent. He lacked insight and failed to encourage players during practice, which instilled bad habits in them. Rubin was replaced with 76ers guard Kevin Loughery, who neglected his playing duties to coach instead. They managed a grand five wins in February under his lead, but finished the season with the worst winning percentage of all-time.

E For “Exit”

A shocking trade during the off-season sent Houston Rockets star Elvin Hayes to the Baltimore Bullets in exchange for Jack Marin. Statistically speaking, this swap was incredibly lop-sided. Hayes was an absolute two-way behemoth, anchoring elite defenses while ranking sixth all-time in points per game. Marin was a talented forward coming off of his first All-Star selection, but the gap in talent was clear.

This generated skepticism regarding Hayes’ place in Houston culture. It was known that he frequently argued with coach Tex Winter, which was perhaps a breaking point for the front office – they were not interested in tantrums from a superstar, and opted to build around somebody else. Funnily enough, Winter was fired by the team seven months later.

The Bullets ultimately benefitted from the newfound acquirement, improving by fourteen games and finishing with a top five defense. Hayes’ impact on the glass was also profound, as Baltimore improved to the fifth spot league-wide in rebounds per game.

Barry’s Back!

During the summer of 1972, ABA star Rick Barry was prohibited by law from playing for any team besides the Golden State Warriors once his current contract ended. This was a byproduct of the various disputes the forward had with the franchise when he initially left them in 1967.

Upon his return, Barry posted a noticeably different style in comparison to his two first seasons. He was far less geared towards scoring, now adopting an unfamiliar “point forward” role in which he would often orchestrate his team’s offense. He led Golden State in assists, and his average of 4.9 was the highest of his NBA career.

Despite the return of their former superstar, the Warriors seemed to decline slightly. It’s hard to deduce whether this is his wrongdoing – their overall defense took a slight dip, and star Cazzie Russell had a down year.

Almost There

On their fifth game of the season, the Boston Celtics faced the Buffalo Braves. They had a field day dominating their divisional rival, leading by a thick forty-three points by the fourth quarter.

Buffalo shocked the Massachusetts audience in the fourth, scoring a record-breaking fifty-eight points to attempt a comeback. This was well over twice the amount scored by Boston, who truly only won because of the enormous cushion they built prior. The Braves’ sophomore guard Randy Smith was the star of the show, with an efficient twenty-nine points anchoring the failed comeback.

Standout Players

Dave Cowens

In light of the Celtics having their best season in franchise history, Cowens became Boston’s first M.V.P. winner since Bill Russell. He showed up in every game, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists on the way.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Despite Cowens’ marvelous run, Abdul-Jabbar was still the league’s best player. His scoring declined slightly, but he still finished top two in points average despite that. His career high mark of five assists is perhaps the most notable breakthrough, establishing him among the best playmaking bigs in the NBA.

Tiny Archibald

Archibald made history by becoming the first player to lead the league in both points and assists in the same season – Oscar Robertson had done so prior with averages, but the league identified leaders off of totals at the time. Tiny’s acrobatics catapulted the Kings to the top ranked league offense.

Wilt Chamberlain

At the age of thirty-six, Chamberlain remained a force. While he saw a career low in scoring – only supplying a little over ten points a game – his defensive impact was still near-untouchable. Once again, he played every night and averaged over forty minutes en route to another sixty-win Lakers campaign.

Pete Maravich

The Hawks returned to the win column thanks to Pistol Pete’s best year-long performance yet. He averaged career highs in all three major categories, also putting together four forty-point games.

John Havlicek

Hondo’s eleventh season was yet another great one. Cowens got a lot of media attention and favoritism for the M.V.P. award – and rightfully so – but Havlicek was arguably just as vital to the Celtics’ success. He was the team’s offensive engine, leading them in both points and assists.

Around the League

Team Standings

An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.

Eastern Conference
Atlantic DivisionWLCentral DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*6814Baltimore Bullets*5230
New York Knicks*5725Atlanta Hawks*4636
Buffalo Braves2161Houston Rockets3349
Philadelphia 76ers973Cleveland Cavaliers3250
Western Conference
Midwest DivisionWLPacific DivisionWL
Milwaukee Bucks*6022Los Angeles Lakers*6022
Chicago Bulls*5131Golden State Warriors*4735
Detroit Pistons4042Phoenix Suns3844
Kansas City-Omaha Kings3646Seattle SuperSonics2656
Portland Trail Blazers2161

Fun Facts

  • Yet another headline-worthy campaign was completed by the Boston Celtics, who won a colossal sixty-eight games.
    • This winning percentage was good for the third-best in NBA history, and the highest of the franchise to date.
    • The gritty identity they claimed in their last couple seasons finally reached its maximum potential, with them ranking first in defense league-wide.
  • The Philadelphia 76ers finished with the lowest win total and worst winning percentage professional basketball had seen to date.
  • For the first time since its conception, the new divisional system seemed balanced – all eight teams in the win column made the playoffs, and all nine with a losing record missed it.
  • While the Kansas City-Omaha Kings managed to boast the number-one-ranked offense, they settled with a pathetic seventeenth-place finish on the other end of the ball – good for last in the league.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks ended the year in the top five for both offense and defense – this was their third consecutive year of doing such.

Notable Movement


The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season.
Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with a plus (+) opted to play in another league instead of the NBA this season.

p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists

Top Draft Picks

Portland Trail Blazers
Buffalo Braves
Cleveland Cavaliers
Phoenix Suns
Philadelphia 76ers
Milwaukee Bucks
Seattle SuperSonics

New York Knicks
Detroit Pistons
Boston Celtics
LaRue Martin
Bob McAdoo
Dwight Davis
Corky Calhoun
Freddie Boyd
Russ Lee
Bud Stallworth

Tom Riker
Bob Nash
Paul Westphal


June 23, 1972Elvin HayesHouston RocketsTradedBaltimore Bullets(25.2p/14.6r/3.3a)
June 23, 1972Jack MarinBaltimore BulletsTradedHouston Rockets(22.3p/6.8r/2.2a)
July 1, 1972Rick BarryNew York Americans (ABA)SignedGolden State Warriors(31.5p/7.5r/4.1a)
August 1, 1972Jimmy WalkerDetroit PistonsTradedHouston Rockets(21.3/4r/3a)
August 2, 1972John BriskerPittsburgh Condors (ABA)SignedSeattle SuperSonics(28.9p/9.1r/4.1a)
August 23, 1972Butch BeardCleveland CavaliersTradedSeattle SuperSonics(15.4p/4.1r/6.7a)
August 23, 1972Lenny WilkensSeattle SuperSonicsTradedCleveland Cavaliers(18p/4.2r/9.6a)
January 26, 1973Tom Van ArsdaleKansas City-Ohama KingsTradedPhiladelphia 76ers(12.4p/3.5r/1.8a)
January 26, 1973John BlockPhiladelphia 76ersTradedKansas City-Ohama Kings(17.9p/9.2r/2a)

Other Personnel

June 15, 1972Coach Roy RubinPhiladelphia 76ersHiredRecord: n/a
January 10, 1973Coach Tom NissalkeSeattle SuperSonicsFiredRecord: 13-32
January 10, 1973Coach Bucky BuckwalterSeattle SuperSonicsAppointed (Interim)Record: 13-24
January 21, 1973Coach Tex WinterHouston RocketsFiredRecord: 17-30
January 21, 1973Coach Johnny EganHouston RocketsHiredRecord: 16-19
January 23, 1973Coach Roy RubinPhiladelphia 76ersFiredRecord: 4-47
January 23, 1973Coach Kevin LougheryPhiladelphia 76ersAppointed (Interim)Record: 5-26
March 30, 1973Coach John MacLeodPhoenix SunsHiredRecord: n/a


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Elgin BaylorLos Angeles Lakers10x All-NBA
11x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP
1959 Rookie of the Year
Billy Cunningham
(jumped to ABA)
Philadelphia 76ers1x Champion
4x All-NBA
4x All-Star
1966 All-Rookie Team

League Leaders

If a stat is not listed, it was not recorded at the time. As time goes on, this section will begin to include steals per game, blocks per game, etc.


PPG – points per game
RPG – rebounds per game
APG – assists per game
FG% – field goal percentage (percentage of shots that hit)
FT% – free throw percentage (percentage of foul shots that hit)

PPGTiny Archibald (34)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (30.2)
Spencer Haywood (29.2)
Lou Hudson (27.1)
Pete Maravich (26.1)
RPGWilt Chamberlain (18.6)
Nate Thurmond (17.1)
Dave Cowens (16.2)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (16.1)
Wes Unseld (15.9)
APGTiny Archibald (11.4)
Lenny Wilkens (8.4)
Dave Bing (7.8)
Oscar Robertson (7.5)
Norm Van Lier (7.1)
FG%Wilt Chamberlain (72%)
Matt Guokas (57%)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (55%)
Curtis Rowe (51%)
Jim Fox (51%)
FT%Rick Barry (90%)
Calvin Murphy (88%)
Mike Newlin (88%)
Jimmy Walker (88%)
Bill Bradley (87%)



East / Boston Celtics beat Atlanta Hawks, 4-2
Boston and Atlanta were slated for their second straight first round matchup. The Hawks went home in six last time, and entered the Boston Garden seeking a different outcome.

John Havlicek immediately made a statement, powering the Celtics with fifty-four points in Game 1 – the fourth-highest single scoring game in playoffs history. Both this and the succeeding Game 2 were blowout wins for the home team, who had hopes to extend their lead back down south.

The Hawks protected their turf, winning two hard-fought matches under Lou Hudson and Pete Maravich’s lead. Matters were now up to the final three games, which Boston dominated – two shooting clinics from Jo Jo White sealed the deal, while M.V.P. Dave Cowens owned the glass.

New year, same old outcome.
East / New York Knicks beat Baltimore Bullets, 4-1
At this point, the Knicks-Bullets duel was disturbingly guaranteed – this was their FIFTH straight head-to-head in the post-season. Historically speaking, New York had the upper edge, with three of the last four rounds won.

While the Bullets’ roster seemed better than in previous years – largely thanks to having two of the game’s best big men – they immediately fell into a 3-0 deficit. They had no reliable perimeter defense, struggling to contain the Knicks’ new backcourt of Walt Frazier and former Bullet Earl Monroe. They finally managed a Game 4 win at home, holding their foes to only eighty-nine points – Elvin Hayes also put together his second-straight thirty-point outing.

However, a statement closing from the Knicks was inevitable – three of their starters exceeded twenty points to ensure their fifth consecutive Conference Finals appearance.
West / Golden State Warriors beat Milwaukee Bucks, 4-2
The Bucks and Warriors now met for the third year in a row, establishing yet another tense inter-conference rivalry. Golden State had never beaten Milwaukee, but were looking to change tides with the re-acquisition of Rick Barry.

Surprisingly, the two clubs split victories in Milwaukee Arena. Game 1 was a landslide win from the home team, but stiff defense left the series tied. What makes Golden State’s feat even more impressive was that Rick Barry went out two minutes into the first quarter – Cazzie Russell responded with a twenty-five point heater off the bench.

Milwaukee won in yet another blowout behind thirty-four points from Oscar Robertson, but an overwhelming takeover game from Rick Barry resulted in yet another series tie. Golden State shockingly took a road win afterwards – Nate Thurmond was instrumental in their success, limiting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to nineteen points on terrible efficiency. The two-time M.V.P. also shot three-for-ten at the foul line, a blunder that cost them the game.

With momentum on their side, the Warriors handled business at home with a blowout victory. This was their first time beating the Bucks in a playoff series, and the franchise’s first Conference Finals trip since 1968.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Chicago Bulls, 4-3
As per usual, repeated first round matchups were this post-season’s narrative. The Lakers and Bulls were scheduled for their third straight first-round series, of which Chicago had never emerged triumphant.

The pedigree of the defending champions was on full display during their 2-0 series lead, of which Gail Goodrich was the clear leader. Surprisingly, Chicago responded head-on with two wins of their own, citing big games from Chet Walker and Bob Love for their resilience.

After a dominant Lakers Game 5 victory – in which Chamberlain had a 21/29/4 stat-line – it seemed easy for the Californian club to advance. However, Chicago simply refused to let down their fans – yet another home victory followed the Bulls, who were determined to upset their rivals. They nearly achieved such in the tiebreaker, which they only lost by three – Wilt Chamberlain was an unstoppable force, totaling over twenty points and rebounds again.

The Bulls had fallen short once more, still unable to advance past the first round. Fans at least had Norm Van Lier to be excited for, though – the 6’1″ guard was truly sensational, with twenty-eight points and fourteen (!) rebounds in the deflating loss.

Conference Finals

East / New York Knicks beat Boston Celtics, 4-3
The Eastern Conference playoffs were a direct mirror of last year thus far, with yet another Atlantic Division clash. New York got the best of Boston last time, but the sixty-eight-win Celtics looked like a different beast. This was especially true after winning by twenty-six points in the opener, with Jo Jo White and John Havlicek compiling masterclasses.

Simply put, that sort of defeat enraged the Knicks. They proceeded to win the next three matches in convincing fashion, including a fierce double overtime in Game 4. A lot of New York’s victories were balanced efforts, but Walt Frazier’s thirty-seven points defined that night.

On the brink of elimination, the Celtics managed to take Game 5 by a single point. The M.V.P. solidified his selection in a must-win moment, with thirty-two points and sixteen rebounds. Boston proceeded to force Game 7 two nights later, putting their foes under immense pressure to deliver.

A hard-fought, defensively-inclined final contest was controlled by the Knicks, who had five double-digit scorers. Frazier continued to assert himself, being only three assists short of a triple-double. The defending Eastern Conference Champions had now upset one of the best regular season teams ever, avoiding the scrutiny tied to blowing a 3-1 lead.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Golden State Warriors, 4-1
Any sense of reason would lead everybody to overwhelmingly favor Los Angeles in this Western Conference Finals. Still, it would be unwise to doubt a hungry Golden State team that just eliminated a perennial powerhouse in Milwaukee.

The depth of the Lakers was truly baffling. In their three consecutive wins to open the series, somebody different dominated each game. First it was Jim McMillian, then Jerry West – scoring was more balanced in Game 3, but McMillian continued to assert himself.

The Warriors refused to go out sad, at least avoiding the sweep in the fourth meet. Rick Barry continued to have a very disappointing series, but Cazzie Russell delivered a thirty-three-point bomb off the bench that secured a somewhat narrow win.

Did it truly matter, though? Gail Goodrich thought not. The star delivered forty-four points and eight assists to dismantle his inter-state rivals, earning the Lakers their fourth Finals appearance in the last five seasons.


New York Knicks beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1
Twice had this matchup defined the final stage, and now was the third instance of it occurring. New York and Los Angeles had both won a championship in these cases, and now would be the true decisive tiebreaker.

The Lakers won the first match behind a big Gail Goodrich scoring performance, with the Knicks narrowly taking Game 2 to head home tied. The two matches in New York were both Knicks wins by slight amounts – Willis Reed delivered some quality efforts, and Dave DeBusschere showed up big in Game 4. This 3-1 lead was their biggest during any of the three Finals versus Los Angeles.

Halfway through the fifth meet, the game was relatively even – however, a massive third quarter from New York practically guaranteed a championship. The defense on Jerry West had been good all series, and it especially stood out here – his efficiency was awful, and a vintage Wilt Chamberlain performance could not save him.

In a reverse of last year, the Los Angeles Lakers were gentleman’s swept at the highest level. New York became the first team to win multiple championships in the 70’s, and looked prepared to be the next great dynasty.
The New York Knicks win the 1973 NBA championship!
Willis Reed was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.


Name(s) under the “All-Stars” section with an asterisk (*) were listed as the MVP of the All-Star Game that year. Those with “(IR)” next to their name were chosen to replace an injured star.

Major Awards

Rookie of the YearMVPFinals MVPCoach of the Year
Bob McAdooDave CowensWillis ReedTom Heinsohn


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Tiny Archibald
Jerry West
John Havlicek
Spencer Haywood
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Walt Frazier
Pete Maravich
Rick Barry
Elvin Hayes
Dave Cowens


All-Defensive First TeamAll-Defensive Second Team
Walt Frazier
Jerry West
John Havlicek
Dave DeBusschere
Wilt Chamberlain
Norm Van Lier
Don Chaney
Mike Riordan
Paul Silas
Nate Thurmond


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
John Block
Bill Bradley
Dave Cowens*
Dave DeBusschere
Walt Frazier
John Havlicek
Lou Hudson
Bob Kauffman
Pete Maravich
Jack Marin
Wes Unseld
Jo Jo White
Lenny Wilkens
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Tiny Archibald
Rick Barry
Dave Bing
Wilt Chamberlain

Bob Dandridge
Gail Goodrich
Connie Hawkins (IR)
Spencer Haywood
Bob Lanier
Bob Love
Charlie Scott
Nate Thurmond
Chet Walker
Jerry West
Sidney Wicks
East beats West, 104-84


All-Rookie Team
Freddie Boyd
Dwight Davis
Bob McAdoo
Lloyd Neal
Jim Price

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

The Baltimore Bullets (1947-1954) won the championship in 1948, but are defunct. As a result, they are not listed.

Celtics111957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962, 1963
1964, 1965
1966, 1967
Lakers61949, 1950
1952, 1953
1954, 1972
Warriors21947, 1956
76ers21955, 1967
Knicks21970, 1973

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