The NBA Time Machine: 1977

Published June 8, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:

Bigger Ambitions

The NBA-ABA Merger

Why Did It Happen?

The American Basketball Association had been posing a threat to the NBA since 1967. Applying a clever marketing scheme that encouraged flashy play and colorful aesthetics, its presence nationwide in small markets earned it a cult following that eventually reached unforeseen heights. Because of its willingness to pay star players large contracts, it disrupted the financial appeal of its older rival. Players such as Rick Barry adamantly wanted to be in the ABA, and even coaches (i.e., Alex Hannum) eagerly switched sides.

This means of financial and social pressure exhibited by the league was eventually repurposed with the end goal of forcing a merger. Bringing ABA teams to the NBA was a way for franchise owners to essentially double their profit, and seeing the success of the AFL-NFL merger in football only intensified their motivation.

There were consistent attempts to fuse the leagues as early as 1970, but the antitrust lawsuit Robertson v. National Basketball Ass’n – which was filed with the independency of players in mind – blocked the chance of it happening. It was therefore delayed until 1976.

New Teams

By the ABA’s final season, it was down to only seven franchises. Two of its nine heading into the calendar folded, and it was clear that the financial composure of these organizations was mediocre at best. As a result, the NBA wanted to take on teams that were not only stable, but profitable. Its ultimate choices were the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and New York Nets.

The Nets and Nuggets were no-brainers given their long-term success and marketable players. Meanwhile, San Antonio was favored because of its impressively dedicated fanbase. The admission of Indiana was perhaps the least clear-cut – the Chicago Bulls were concerned with losing another facet of their mid-west fanbase. However, they knew that Indiana residents would despise them had word broke out of their influence in the Pacers’ future. Therefore, they chose reason and encouraged the inclusion of Indiana over the Kentucky Colonels.

Such a decision paid off, given they ended up receiving Kentucky’s superstar center Artis Gilmore.

Before entering the league, a number of requirements were emphasized by the NBA:

  • The addition of these teams was treated no differently than an expansion. As a result, they had to pay an expansion fee and would not have any ABA records officially recognized.
  • They would receive no leverage in the league’s power dynamic – they could not vote on financial matters or the league’s structure for their first two seasons. They were also prohibited from receiving television money for their first three.
  • The two teams not admitted into the NBA – that being the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis – would have their players made available via dispersal draft.
  • None of the four merging franchises could participate in the league’s 1976 draft, but could still receive personnel through the dispersal.

The Nets were also required to pay $4.8 million to the New York Knicks for directly contesting their location. The Nets attempted to avoid this fee through offering ABA phenomenon Julius Erving – however, the Knicks declined, which forced the Nets to react in financial desperation. They sent Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million, losing any chance at serious contention for the price of remaining in the new league.

Playoffs Expansion

Due to the influx of new teams, the playoffs were expanded from ten participants to twelve. The winner of each Division would now receive a bye in the first round, similarly to the format used before the mid-60’s.

Blazer Mania

An under-the-radar shift in the league’s power dynamic was owed to the Portland Trail Blazers, who had finally managed to fuel their desire to win. This begun with the hiring of Jack Ramsay. Jumping ship from the Buffalo Braves, little was proven by him as a coach – there was only one season above fifty wins to his name, and only one playoff series was won in his career. Regardless, his passion and positive relationship with players made him an ideal – and eventually, worthwhile – hire.

Also instrumental in Portland’s growth was the presence of a healthy Bill Walton. The 1974 first overall pick had yet to play over fifty-one games in a season, even missing two-thirds of his rookie year. It was borderline impossible for the Blazers to properly click without him on the floor consistently.

His sixty-five games played this time around was good enough for the franchise’s first winning record and playoff berth. Walton finished second in M.V.P. voting while building a strong defensive reputation.

The addition of Maurice Lucas – who became the team’s leading scorer after joining through the ABA dispersal draft – also gave the Blazers two versatile scoring options.

Standout Players

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Behind the coaching of former Lakers great Jerry West, Abdul-Jabbar led Los Angeles to their first fifty-win season in four years. He finished top three in scoring, rebounding, and blocks while also having the most efficient shooting year of his peers.

Bill Walton

Walton’s breakout was surely one to be documented. Now healthy enough to play nearly eighty-percent of Blazers games, he established himself as the best defender in the league. The rebounding and block titles were his to claim.

Elvin Hayes

“The Big E” bounced back following a quiet down year, practically carrying Washington’s defense. The club finished with an identical forty-eight victories to last year, making this their fifth straight winning season.

Bob Lanier

Lanier had a legitimate case for M.V.P., but missing most of March hurt his momentum. It highlighted his impact, though – Detroit was a pitiful 5-10 over that stretch, absolutely missing the center’s great scoring.

Julius Erving

The Doctor had become the NBA’s greatest attraction overnight, fresh off three consecutive M.V.P. selections in the rival ABA. He had an enormous statistical regression from his outings in that league – largely because he did not want to be too demanding on a new team – but the 76ers still finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Pete Maravich

While Maravich’s Jazz struggled yet again, he was phenomenal individually. The Pistol’s case for being the best offensive talent in basketball was more valid than ever, becoming the first shooting guard in NBA history to win a scoring title.

Around the League

Team Standings

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

Eastern Conference
Atlantic DivisionWLCentral DivisionWL
Philadelphia 76ers*5032Houston Rockets*4933
Boston Celtics*4438Washington Bullets*4834
New York Knicks4042San Antonio Spurs*4438
Buffalo Braves3052Cleveland Cavaliers*4339
New York Nets2260New Orleans Jazz3547
Atlanta Hawks3151
Western Conference
Midwest DivisionWLPacific DivisionWL
Denver Nuggets*5032Los Angeles Lakers*5329
Detroit Pistons*4438Portland Trail Blazers*4933
Chicago Bulls*4438Golden State Warriors*4636
Kansas City Kings4042Seattle SuperSonics4042
Indiana Pacers3646Phoenix Suns3448
Milwaukee Bucks3052

Fun Facts

  • The Portland Trail Blazers’ forty-nine wins was the highest in franchise history, earning them their first winning record.
  • For the first time since 1972, the Los Angeles Lakers finished with the most wins league-wide.
  • Since the divisional system’s debut season, this is the first instance of the Boston Celtics finishing below first in the Atlantic Division.
  • After just being in the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns deflated to a thirty-four-win year and the worst record in the Pacific Division.
    • Interestingly enough, they were also a top three defensive team – a strange identity change considering their offense-oriented identity historically.
  • The inclusion of ABA players seemed to bolster team scoring.
    • The top three offenses in the league – the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, and San Antonio Spurs – were all either merger franchises or had a major rotational player captured from the dispersal draft.

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
s – steals
b – blocks

Top Draft Picks

Houston Rockets
Chicago Bulls
Kansas City Kings
Detroit Pistons
Portland Trail Blazers

Buffalo Braves
Milwaukee Bucks
Golden State Warriors
Atlanta Hawks
Phoenix Suns
John Lucas
Scott May
Richard Washington
Leon Douglas
Wally Walker

Adrian Dantley
Quinn Buckner
Robert Parish
Armond Hill
Ron Lee


September 10, 1976Tiny ArchibaldKansas City KingsTradedNew York Nets(24.8p/2.7r/7.9a)
December 9, 1976Bob McAdooBuffalo BravesTradedNew York Knicks(23.7p/13.2r/3.3a)

Other Personnel

June 30, 1976Coach Doug MoeSan Antonio SpursHiredRecord: 44-38
July 13, 1976Coach Bill SharmanLos Angeles LakersReassignedRecord: n/a
July 17, 1976Coach Hubie BrownAtlanta HawksHiredRecord: 31-51
July 13, 1976Coach Jerry WestLos Angeles LakersHiredRecord: 53-29
May 28, 1976Coach Ed BadgerChicago BullsHiredRecord: 44-38
August 28, 1976Coach Larry CostelloMilwaukee BucksResignedRecord: 3-15
August 28, 1976Coach Don NelsonMilwaukee BucksHiredRecord: 27-37
December 14, 1976Coach Butch Van Breda KolffNew Orleans JazzFiredRecord: 14-12
December 16, 1976Coach Elgin BaylorNew Orleans JazzHiredRecord: 21-35
January 25, 1977Coach Tates LockeBuffalo BravesFiredRecord: 16-30
January 25, 1977Coach Bob MacKinnonBuffalo BravesAppointed (Interim)Record: 3-4
February 16, 1977Coach Joe MullaneyBuffalo BravesAppointed (Interim)Record: 11-18
March 9, 1977Coach Willis ReedNew York KnicksHiredRecord: n/a
May 4, 1977Coach Bill RussellSeattle SupersonicsResignedRecord: 40-42
May 13, 1977Coach Bob HopkinsSeattle SupersonicsHiredRecord: n/a


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Archie ClarkLos Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia 76ers
Capital Bullets
Seattle SuperSonics
Detroit Pistons
2x All-NBA
1x All-Star
Billy CunninghamPhiladelphia 76ers1x Champion
4x All-NBA
4x All-Star
1966 All-Rookie Team
Connie HawkinsPhoenix Suns
Los Angeles Lakers

Atlanta Hawks
1x All-NBA
4x All-Star
Jeff MullinsSt. Louis Hawks
Golden State Warriors
1x Champion
3x All-Star
Geoff PetriePortland Trail Blazers2x All-Star
1971 Rookie of the Year
1971 All-Rookie Team
Jerry SloanBaltimore Bullets
Chicago Bulls
2x All-Star
6x All-Defensive
Jimmy WalkerDetroit Pistons
Houston Rockets
Kansas City Kings
2x All-Star

League Leaders


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

PPGPete Maravich (31.1)
Billy Knight (26.6)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (26.2)
David Thompson (25.9)
Bob McAdoo (25.8)
RPGBill Walton (14.4)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (13.3)
Moses Malone (13.1)
Artis Gilmore (13)
Bob McAdoo (12.9)
APGDon Buse (8.5)
Slick Watts (8)
Norm Van Lier (7.8)
Kevin Porter (7.3)
Tom Henderson (6.9)
SPGDon Buse (3.5)
Brian Taylor (2.8)
Slick Watts (2.7)
Quinn Buckner (2.4)
Mike Gale (2.3)
BPGBill Walton (3.2)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.2)
Elvin Hayes (2.7)
Artis Gilmore (2.5)
Caldwell Jones (2.4)
FG%Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (57%)
Mitch Kupchak (57%)
Bobby Jones (57%)
George Gervin (54%)
Bob Lanier (53%)
FT%Ernie DiGregorio (94%)
Rick Barry (91%)
Calvin Murphy (88%)
Mike Newlin (88%)
Fred Brown (88%)


First Round

East / Boston Celtics beat San Antonio Spurs, 2-0
Facing off were the defending champions and a new face in the league. The Celtics’ experience was a large advantage, but they had an underwhelming year – forty-four wins was all they could muster, an even total to San Antonio.

Ultimately, Boston’s depth won the matchup. George Gervin’s heavy-lifting for the Spurs came in the form of inefficient volume scoring, something Jo Jo White of the Celtics could muster with respectable shooting splits. The guard averaged a career high thirty-one points per game in this round.
East / Washington Bullets beat Cleveland Cavaliers, 2-1
A year after being upset at the hands of the infamous “Miracle at Richfield” team, Washington returned with a vengeance. There was a refusal to let former mistakes haunt their current aspirations.

Phil Chenier scored a statement thirty-eight points in the victorious home opener, only for Cleveland to respond with a series-tying win of their own. The Bullets’ hero in Game 3 was the young guard Tom Henderson – his thirty-one points was good enough for a nail-biting win.
West / Golden State Warriors beat Detroit Pistons, 2-1
Golden State and Detroit had just faced off in the previous postseason, but it occurred even sooner this time. With superstar Bob Lanier back from injury, the Pistons’ chances were very much tangible – his worth was expressed through a twenty-eight point, seventeen rebound performance in Game 1 that granted Detroit a lead.

The Warriors were now required to respond on the road, and eventually forced a tiebreaker thanks to a big Phil Smith showing. In Game 3, a fight between the Pistons’ Eric Money and Warriors’ Charles Dudley created a long-lasting brawl between coaches and fans, but Dudley won in the end. His Warriors avoided elimination after a big outing from Rick Barry – his thirty-five points slightly edged out Lanier’s thirty-three, which was the primary force behind such a comeback victory.
West / Portland Trail Blazers beat Chicago Bulls, 2-1
Now under the lead of former ABA superstar Artis Gilmore, the Bulls yearned for some success against a young – but hungry – Blazers squad. Now a couple years removed from their days of Conference Finals appearances, it was a position they wanted to return to. A scorching hot fourteen-of-seventeen shooting night from Portland’s Maurice Lucas made that aspiration all the more difficult.

A combined eighty-two points from Gilmore, Mickey Johnson, and Wilbur Holland was the key to a narrow Bulls win in Game 2. An injury to Holland in the early stages of Game 3 hurt Chicago’s morale, which influenced a loss. Everyone in Portland’s starting lineup also scored in double digits, which was too overpowering for their opponent.


East / Houston Rockets beat Washington Bullets, 4-2
The battle of these Central Division clubs was, for once, not in Washington’s favor. Houston had proven to be the slightly more composed team throughout the season, even beating the Bullets in three of their four regular season matchups.

After losing Game 1, the Rockets found a new breakthrough in the second match. The twenty-one year old Moses Malone, who was acquired via the ABA dispersal draft, dropped thirty-one points and grabbed twenty-six rebounds in an overtime victory. Coach of the Year Tom Nissalke then made a conscious effort to involve him in the offense more – he averaged eighteen points over the remaining four games.

Alongside Rudy Tomjanovich and Calvin Murphy, the promising center led the Rockets to three straight wins to close out the series.
East / Philadelphia 76ers beat Boston Celtics, 4-3
This historic rivalry was being pumped with new life, now revitalized with the introduction of Julius Erving to Philadelphia. The last time the 76ers and Celtics met in the playoffs, it was Billy Cunningham and Hal Greer going to war with John Havlicek and Bill Russell – now, it was Havlicek with Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White.

In Game 1, White hit a buzzer beater to give the Celtics a much-appreciated victory. However, Boston’s perimeter defenders had no answer for Julius Erving. Alongside the likes of Doug Collins and Steve Mix, the 76ers coasted to a 3-2 lead. White saved Boston’s season on the Garden homecourt, dropping forty points to overshadow Collins’ thirty-two.

This gave the green team a fighting chance, but they could not capitalize. An ugly Game 7 – where the only scorer above seventeen points was an inefficient World B. Free – ultimately finished in Philly’s favor.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Golden State Warriors, 4-3
This inter-state duel was all about Los Angeles. The Warriors seemed ill-equipped to contain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and their depth wasn’t necessarily superior in this situation either. That wasn’t a deterrent to their play at home, though – the series was split 2-2 after four games, with not a single road victory acquired on both sides. Rick Barry and Abdul-Jabbar were going to war, averaging thirty and thirty-four points per game over this stretch, respectively.

Despite Abdul-Jabbar scoring over forty in the next two matches, the Warriors still managed to take their home game to schedule Game 7. The five-time M.V.P. handled business in the comforts of L.A. with a ridiculous 36/26/4 stat-line, accompanying five steals as well. With Golden State’s two best players in Barry and Phil Smith struggling, their chances at success flattened. The Lakers were now slated for their first Conference Finals since the Jerry West-Wilt Chamberlain era.
West / Portland Trail Blazers beat Denver Nuggets, 4-2
The head-to-head encounter between these two northwestern teams was a perfect example of how far the league had come nationally. Two smaller markets, who had both compiled great records, had to battle with hopes of eventually winning their first NBA championship.

Portland’s shocking one-point win in Denver was a big advantage moving forward, as they ultimately settled with a 3-1 lead. Their defensive aptitude was on full display, often forcing either David Thompson or Dan Issel to perform without the other’s production. The Nuggets duo managed to collectively deliver in Game 5, but it was too late.

Denver’s offense was putrid in the crucial sixth match – nobody scored over seventeen points and the ball movement was asinine. This was news to the ears of Portland’s roster, who dismantled their foe en route to another success story.

Conference Finals

East / Philadelphia 76ers beat Houston Rockets, 4-2
Two of the league’s most explosive groups met in the Eastern Conference Finals, which was huge for pull and ratings. It was also expected to be competitive, given their similar records.

A nice aspect of Houston’s offense is that they had multiple players ready to explode on any given night. The issue, however, was that the 76ers prevented them from doing so in tandem – if Moses Malone put in work, it was Calvin Murphy that was nowhere to be found. And perhaps Rudy Tomjanovich could contribute, but not without a pathetic five-point outing from Malone.

These inconsistencies led Philadelphia to a 3-1 result, although they could not complete the gentleman’s sweep in Game 5. During the sixth contest, John Lucas of the Rockets delivered a game-tying goal. It looked possible for his Houston club to survive, but his play was ruled a charging foul. It was a call met with some controversy, but decisions had been made – the 76ers were going back to the Finals for the first time in a decade.
West / Portland Trail Blazers beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0
The Trail Blazers were heavy underdogs going into the Western Conference Finals. Los Angeles was perceived as a more talented and well-constructed team with the superior superstar, which was a fair argument – Portland couldn’t care less about such narratives, though.

Their motto of “team over player” ensured success, as balanced scoring performances consistently outplayed the Lakers’ strategy of feeding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at all costs. The Los Angeles superstar performed well, but still saw his team drop two consecutive games at home in jaw-dropping fashion. They were now headed north with their backs against the wall, forced to respond in enemy territory.

Bill Walton and Abdul-Jabbar had a battle for the ages in Game 3. The latter put together a 21/20/7 stat-line with a whopping eight blocks, and the former was one assist short of a triple-double. Portland’s inevitable success was perhaps summarized by one play this game – a vicious dunk on Abdul-Jabbar by the young Walton, which was more than enough to energize an electrifying crowd that could not sit down.

In Game 4, the Lakers’ production was unsatisfactory – double-digit scoring from every Trail Blazers starter was the nail in the coffin for a series sweep that not one person expected.


Portland Trail Blazers beat Philadelphia 76ers, 4-2
The merger truly changed the league’s dynamic. Now at the biggest stage was a franchise reaching the Finals in its first playoff run, hoping to achieve the unexpected. On the other end was a fiery 76ers team that wanted to deliver their city its first championship since 1967, following the lead of media favorite Julius Erving.

Philadelphia looked incredibly confident in their first two home games, picking up a quick 2-0 lead behind the play of Erving and Doug Collins. During the second match, Maurice Lucas fought Darryl Dawkins of the 76ers, only enraging Portland more. They were trapped in the worst situation possible, a factor that Bill Walton saw as motivation.

He dropped a near triple-double in Game 3 to characterize a big victory, and his Blazers won another a couple nights later – this time by thirty-two points. Philadelphia’s biggest weakness was slowly being exposed – their lack of consistent outside shooting, which Portland exploited with greater defensive intensity around the rim.

Despite a huge thirty-seven point performance from Erving in Game 5, the 76ers lost at home and got handed their first series deficit since the start of the Semifinals. It was now imperative that they show out on the road.

Yet another superstar-level showing from Erving was meaningless in the sixth match, where the Blazers delivered their signature yet again – double-digit scoring from every starter. They managed to win by a narrow two points, earning the city of Portland its first major sports title.

This Trail Blazers team was the first since the 1969 Boston Celtics to win a Finals series after being down 2-0.
The Portland Trail Blazers win the 1977 NBA championship!
Bill Walton 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
Adrian DantleyKareem Abdul-JabbarBill WaltonTom Nissalke


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Paul Westphal
Pete Maravich

David Thompson
Elvin Hayes
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Jo Jo White
George Gervin
Julius Erving
George McGinnis

Bill Walton


All-Defensive First TeamAll-Defensive Second Team
Norm Van Lier
Don Buse
E.C. Coleman
Bobby Jones
Bill Walton
Brian Taylor
Don Chaney
Jamaal Wilkes

Jim Brewer
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Phil Chenier (IR)
Doug Collins
Dave Cowens

Julius Erving*
George Gervin

John Havlicek
Elvin Hayes
Pete Maravich
Bob McAdoo

George McGinnis
Earl Monroe
Rudy Tomjanovich
Jo Jo White
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Rick Barry
Don Buse
Dan Issel
Bobby Jones
Billy Knight
Bob Lanier
Maurice Lucas
Phil Smith
David Thompson
Norm Van Lier
Bill Walton
Paul Westphal
West beats East, 125-124


All-Rookie Team
Adrian Dantley
Ron Lee
John Lucas
Mitch Kupchak
Scott May

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

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

Celtics131957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962, 1963
1964, 1965
1966, 1967
1969, 1974

Lakers61949, 1950
1952, 1953
1954, 1972
Warriors31947, 1956
76ers21955, 1967
Knicks21970, 1973
Trail Blazers11977

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