Published May 15, 2023
The NBA Time Machine:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.