Okay so this may not be as electrifying an example of sports writing at its finest, however I’m picking this selection for selfish reasons. Why is that? I happen to think this upcoming Dallas/Miami Finals is the evolutionary version of the 1977 NBA Finals where the Portland Trailblazers defeated the mighty Philadelphia 76ers behind the superb play of Bill Walton and all of the fundamentals of team basketball at its finest. Take a look at some of the parallels:
-both Dallas and Portland are/were lead by revolutionary big men in Dirk (first seven footer to consistently spread the floor and knock down long jump shots) and Walton (considered perhaps the greatest passing center ever, analysts swear there was no one better at starting the fast break than the big red head).
-It was considered a miracle that Portland was able to achieve what it did and most especially how it did it. Blazers head coach Jack Ramsey was praised the rest of his career for the “miracle” of getting modern athletes to play within his rigid system and buy into his strict discipline. Coaches now speak of the ’77 Blazers season as if it were some myth that might never come true again. Portland didn’t have all the talent of some it’s counterparts in the NBA but everyone bought into the system and, most importantly, they had Walton. Dallas is doing the exact same thing: playing within the system, executing flawlessly, overcoming huge odds for the most improbable of NBA Finals runs, and, most importantly, they have Dirk.
-Both Miami and Philadelphia are/were considered juggernauts of athletic talent, the likes of which have never been seen. LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh speak for themselves, and by the same token you had that Philadelphia team with Dr. J (basically the patriarch to the style of basketball LeBron thrives on), Doug Collins (perhaps the best shooting guard in the league at the time, much like D-Wade), George McGinnis (a tremendous big man known for his scoring and rebounding, McGinnis famously choked severely in the ’77 Finals. Chris Bosh anyone??) and others like Lloyd “World B.” Free, Henry Bibby (Mike Bibby’s dad) and Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant (Kobe’s dad).
Go back in time and read why exactly the Blazers were able to overcome an initial 2-0 series deficit and come back to trounce the Sixers over the next four games to win the NBA title. Pay particular attention to the comments by Dr. J and his overall attitude toward the game/series. It’s scary how much he sounds like LeBron. Also take notes on Walton’s comments and how much his approach to the game is similar to Dirk’s.
What this all says about the upcoming finals and whether Miami is really the spiritual descendant of this Sixers team though, well, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions. From Sports Illustrated:
But with eight seconds remaining, the Doctor shot from straightaway behind the foul line and missed. (“As a rebounder and defender I assume everybody’s going to miss,” said Walton.)
With five seconds to go, Free shot from the baseline, but he was sandwiched between Hollins and Gross. His shot didn’t go in either and Gross knocked the ball out of bounds.
With one second left, McGinnis, driving to the right, pushed up one final funny shotput jumper, but this one bounced off also. After Walton leaped to knock the ball away and secure the NBAchampionship for Portland, he whirled, ripped off his shirt and heaved it in the general direction of where he’d been swatting the Sixers’ shots for a whole week: right into the heart of Blazermania.
“If I had caught the shirt, I would have eaten it,” said Lucas. “Bill’s my hero.”
Not to mention the hero of everyone who has ever set foot on the Oregon Trail. “Did I plan the shirt?” Walton laughed at the question as people tried to shower his red hair and beard with champagne, beer and other wicked libations. “I only planned on winning,” he said.
“Dr. J is incredibly tough,” he added, “but we are not into stardom here. The 76ers played with their guts and their pride today and they didn’t try to star. That’s why both teams played close. But once we learn how to beat a team, we can do it and keep doing it.”
Then Walton asked, “Where’s my fruit juice?”
Happy Friday everyone. Enjoy the long weekend.