All these years later, Jack Ramsay and Bob McAdoo still laugh about it when they cross paths during the NBA season. Dr. Jack, as he’s known to the ESPN generation, has been working as an analyst for the past 25 years. McAdoo, his former star player, has been an assistant coach with the Heat for 18 seasons.
Invariably, they’ll talk about their days together with the Buffalo Braves in the 1970s, when Ramsay was coaching and McAdoo was their leading scorer. Ramsay celebrated his 88th birthday last month. He proudly and accurately noted Tuesday that his 1974-75 Braves won 49 games, which was more than any Clippers team did.
“That was a fun team, a very unique team,” Ramsay said by telephone from his home in Naples, Fla. “We could really score. I still see Bob McAdoo fairly often. He still says to me, ‘Coach, these teams think they run. They don’t know what running is. We would run these teams right off the floor.’ ”
It’s difficult to imagine, but the comparison is worth considering after watching the Heat win 23 straight games for the second-longest streak in NBA history. Miami, after storming back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Boston on the road Monday night, appears to have a smooth path to 27 straight victories.
For years, the Lakers’ 33-game winning streak during the 1971-72 season looked like a record that wasn’t made to be broken, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. The Bulls won a record 72 games during the 1995-96 season, but their longest winning streak was 17 games.
Heat President Pat Riley was a 26-year-old reserve on that legendary Lakers team that had Chamberlain, Jerry West and for a very brief time Elgin Baylor. All three were Hall of Fame players on one of the most dominant franchises in history.
Their closest margin of victory during the streak was four points in the first of 33 straight wins under coach Bill Sharman.
Los Angeles won more than half if its games (17 of 33) by 15 points or more during the streak, eight games by 20 or more and four games by 40 or more. The Lakers won by an average of 16.3 points between Nov. 5, 1971, and Jan. 7, 1972. They scored 120 points or more 22 times during the 33-game stretch, including nine straight.
By today’s standards, that’s incredible.
Miami has a similar makeup that revolves around two stars in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and a capable big man in Chris Bosh. Chamberlain was a great player but was nearing the end of his career when the Lakers had their run. He averaged 14 points and 19 rebounds that season. West and Gail Goodrich were their scorers.
“They’re both incredible stretches,” said Ramsay, who in 1971-72 was coaching in Philadelphia. “Playing on the road is very tough in the NBA. The Heat has had a lot of games against lesser teams that they’ve just eked out. James and Wade are some combination. The Heat has a chance, but it’s going to be very hard for them.”
Miami has won 18 games during its streak by 15 points or less, with an average victory margin of 10.8 points. They scored 120 points once and needed double overtime to get there. Miami has been held to less than 100 points eight times, which is seven more times than the Lakers failed to break 100 points during the entire 1971-72 season.
The Heat’s biggest test will be March 31 at San Antonio.
It has become fashionable to say the Heat have an easier time playing in the Eastern Conference, and perhaps that’s true. Miami’s next four opponents – Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando – had a combined 78-192 record entering Tuesday’s games. If the Heat win tonight, 12 of their 24 victories will be against teams with losing records.
The Lakers won 15 of their 33 straight against teams that finished with losing records, including 11 victories over teams that had 30 wins or fewer.
Miami has held its opponents to less than 100 points 16 times during their 23-game run season. Los Angeles held its opponents to less than 100 points only 14 times over 82 games in 1971-72.
Who would win today?
“It’s very difficult to compare teams from one era to another,” Ramsay said. “Sharman was a great coach. Jerry West would be a great player today. The overall defense is better and more sophisticated today. Miami is very good. I don’t think you’ve seen two guys on the same team like James and Wade.
“But I thought you were going to ask me about our old Braves and the Clippers.”
Dumervil case familiar
Speaking of old times, Elvis Dumervil’s contract fiasco with the Broncos brings back memories of one of many Sabres snafus.
Dumervil restructured his deal with the idea he would take a $4 million pay cut from $12 million for this season and save Denver money under the salary cap. Both sides agreed to the deal before running into a glitch: The paperwork wasn’t filed with the NFL via fax machine until six minutes after the deadline.
The Broncos can bring back Dumervil under his previous deal, but they’re not interested in having him count for $12 million against the cap. He fired his agent. His new agents filed an appeal that the NFL rejected. Now, he’s fielding offers from other teams with the Ravens apparently showing the most interest.
In 2001, the Sabres reached a contract agreement with prospect Michael Zigomanis only to have the paperwork get stuck in a fax machine. They missed the deadline by a few minutes. Zigomanis signed with Carolina and played 197 NHL games. He’s currently playing for the AHL Toronto Marlies.
Laettner was a believer
Twenty-one years later, former Duke star Christian Laettner is still asked about making one of the biggest shots in NCAA history. The Angola native said last week on the – cheap plug alert! – “Bucky & Sully Show” that he believed Duke would overcome long odds and beat Kentucky in the final moments.
“The funniest part about that was that Grant Hill and some other guys on the team were like, ‘Coach, you’re crazy, man. There’s no way we’re going to win.’ I guess I was the only sucker who believed him. That was a good thing, I guess.”
Laettner had complete faith in the play Coach Mike Krzyzewski designed for him and was fully confident he would make the shot if given the opportunity.
The question was whether Grant Hill would be able to throw an accurate pass nearly three-quarters of the court into his hands.
“We practiced it. We worked on it,” Laettner said. “Three weeks before the Kentucky game, we lost to Wake Forest. We tried to run that play, the Home Run play, and Grant threw a curveball. I wasn’t able to get the shot off in the Wake Forest game. We went home and practiced it for three weeks. Lo and behold, in the Kentucky game, we need it, and Grant throws a perfect pass. And the rest is history, as they say, I guess.”
Laettner recently was voted the ninth-best player in NCAA tournament history by Seth Davis and Colin Becht of Sports Illustrated. Longtime SI hoops writers Jack McCallum and Alexander Wolff had him fourth behind Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill Walton and Bill Russell. Some would argue Laettner was the best ever.
Laettner, who now runs a basketball academy near his home in Ponte Vedra, Fla., is holding a four-day camp ($225) for girls and boys ages 6-18 from July 8-11 at Nichols School, his alma mater, in the gymnasium named after him. For more information on the summer camp, call 404-428-6447 or email laettnerbball.com.
“I’ve been running my basketball academy for three years,” Laettner said. “I love it. It’s going really well. I’m able to coach and teach a lot of kids across the country, especially the kids in Jacksonville. It was time to go up to Buffalo, my hometown. Nichols was very accommodating. We’re going to have a blast.”
Astros ready to fizzle
The Houston Astros’ move to the American League this season has been met mostly with yawns, mainly because they’re not spending more money to help a team that has lost 100 games in each of the last two seasons. In fact, they’ve cut their payroll by more than half since shelling out about $60 million last season.
Houston is overhauling its entire organization while investing money in its farm system and reducing payroll to about $25 million. It’s about $188 million less than the Dodgers will spend on their team. Three players – Alex Rodriguez, Johan Santana and Cliff Lee – will have a base salary of $25 million or higher with their teams.
The idea is to get younger, and cheaper, with hopes of building a stronger team that will be better in a few years. Fans are enduring the growing pains.
“It doesn’t bother me that people want us to spend more money,” owner Jim Crane told The Wall Street Journal in a story published last week. “But it’s not their money. This is a private company, even though it’s got a public flair to it. If they want to write a check for 10 million bucks, they can give me a call.”
• 1 – Players who celebrated their 1,000th game on their birthday, as 38-year-old Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen did Monday.
• 12 – Consecutive PGA Tour events won by Americans to start the season, after Kevin Streelman won last week at Innisbrook, their longest streak in 23 years.
• 200 - Career goals in 354 games for Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who at 23 years, 41 days became the fourth-youngest to reach the milestone behind Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk.
• The PGA Tour should consider a rule allowing tournament officials to eject fans screaming obnoxious comments every time anyone hits a shot. “You Da Man” grew old a long time ago, but now we’re hearing “ham and cheese” and “potato soup”?
• It was good to hear retired NFL players received a $42 million settlement for use of their names without consent, but it seems like loose change in a multibillion league. Look for the NFL to make up the money by charging video-game manufacturers considerably more. It will trickle down to younger fans — and their parents.
• Unranked North Carolina could surprise people in the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels’ only losses since Jan. 26 came against ACC powerhouses Duke and Miami. However, only two teams seeded lower than fourth have won it all since 1985. Villanova was the eighth seed that year. The other was sixth-seeded Kansas in 1988.