Published May 6, 2023
The NBA Time Machine:
West Coast Wonder
Shortly after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first title, reigning M.V.P. Lew Alcindor announced his intentions to undergo a name change. Moving forward, he claimed the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – this about translated to “noble one, servant of the Almighty”. Abdul-Jabbar was the first player to publicly embrace Islamic beliefs in the NBA landscape.
No Loss In Los Angeles
After an underwhelming ’71 campaign, the Los Angeles Lakers needed to react promptly. Their two superstars were nearing their mid-thirties in age, and the rest of the core wasn’t exactly young either. The front office started by firing Joe Mullaney, who amassed a 94-70 record and Finals appearance with the team.
Los Angeles directed their interest towards former player-turned-coach Bill Sharman, who was active in the ABA. Sharman had seen three Finals appearances in his coaching career – one with the San Francisco Warriors in 1967, and two with the rival league’s Utah Stars in the past two years. The latter of those resulted in a championship, his first as a coach.
The Lakers offered a contract to Sharman that was eventually accepted, much to the dismay of the Stars. The franchise’s owner brought suit against him, and he nearly had to pay over two-hundred-thousand dollars due to contract breaching – however, Sharman escaped the legal warfare unscathed.
His coaching techniques immediately bolstered L.A.’s culture – his “shootaround” sessions, designed to get players warmed up and calm, rendered the team as the most disciplined in the NBA. Under Sharman’s lead, the Lakers won sixty-nine total games, experienced a thirty-three game winning streak, and finished as the best offense league-wide.
The only sour spot of this historic season was the retirement of Elgin Baylor – the multiple-time All-Star felt as if he was not physically capable of helping the team any longer. Such a decision was unfortunately the right one, as a dominant stretch of victories begun immediately after his leave.
Much to the surprise of basketball fans, the San Diego Rockets announced a move to Houston after being sold. There was a strong sense of doubt regarding the decision – given the Texas hotspot had no former reputation as a basketball-oriented city – but the decision to settle was still pursued, despite them having to jump between multiple arenas for home games.
They also hired a new coach in Tex Winter, who notoriously clashed with star Elvin Hayes. Winter’s offensive philosophy was undesirable to the center, and there was a noticeable decline in the team’s performance.
In other news, the San Francisco Warriors permanently moved to Oakland and changed their moniker to the Golden State Warriors. A handful of matches were hosted in San Diego, but they did not again play in their origin of San Francisco.
Get Well Soon, Cap…
Ongoing tendonitis issues in his knee limited Willis Reed’s play this year. He was sidelined for two weeks, and shortly attempted a comeback that ended in failure. He only managed to appear in eleven games total, all at the start of the season – this also rendered him unavailable for the playoffs.
Starting this year, the NBA adopted a new red-and-blue logo. It incorporated a silhouette of Jerry West. It was largely influenced by the MLB’s logo.
Fresh off a Finals M.V.P., Abdul-Jabbar looked to continue dominating. Career highs in all three major statistical categories – plus anchoring the top-ranked defense – made this his best season to date.
West was the first option on the greatest team the league had seen, leading all players in assists and influencing sixty-nine wins. A big part of this was availability – his seventy-seven games played was the most in his career since the ’66 season.
Wilt’s dedication to protecting the rim had never been stronger. He won his tenth career rebounding title while shooting a ridiculous sixty-four-percent from the field. Los Angeles benefited greatly from his presence – their top-two ranked defense would not have been possible without his physical sacrifices.
The Celtics finished with over fifty wins for the first time since Bill Russell and Sam Jones’ retirement. Why? The answer to that would be John Havlicek. He asserted himself as the best forward in the NBA, finishing top five in both scoring and assists.
Clark had been nothing more than a one-time All-Star and solid starting player up to this point, but this was a shocking breakout year. Following a trade to Baltimore early into the season, the point guard finished top four in assists and led the Bullets in scoring.
While Thurmond had more dominant statistical seasons in the past, this was by far his greatest effort to date. Under his lead, Golden State finished top four in defense and managed the first fifty-win season in the franchise’s history.
The Royals sophomore took an enormous leap, joining Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West as the only players to finish top three in scoring and assists in the same season. Archibald helped Cincinnati finish in the top half of league offenses despite his dull supporting cast.
Around the League
An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.