When I was a kid, we had to do book reports for school; read a book, then write a report on it, to prove we read it, I guess. This is my first book report since 8th grade.
My birthday is right around Christmas; when I was 12, my dad gave me a book, The Open Man, written by the Knicks’ Dave DeBusschere, a diary of the Knicks’ 1969-70 championship season, when they won their first NBA title.
This was the first real book I ever read; it grabbed my attention and I basically ignored the rest of the week until I finished the book. The nucleus of the Knicks was still mostly intact, so this was good stuff, and I devoured every word. A lot of my enthusiasm for basketball got its start from reading this book.
Now it is 2020, our current life is at a standstill, so this weekend I re-read The Open Man; brought back lot of memories, but boy, a million things have changed since 1970. Maybe more than a million.
— The current Madison Square Garden opened in 1968; DeBusschere scored the first basket there, but he was playing for Detroit then. Knicks traded for him during the ’68-’69 season; he was the missing link, a solid defender, a glue guy who made the Knicks a championship contender, the hottest ticket in town.
— DeBusschere was player/coach of the Pistons when he was 24; he also pitched for the White Sox, when being a two-sport athlete was possible. He is pretty honest in this book; he makes fun of his wife’s cooking a lot, pokes fun at Bill Bradley (his roommate on the road), and explains how draining it is to be a starter in the NBA.
— Back then, players roomed two-to a-room on the road; now? Not so much.
— In 1963, the White Sox had to decide whether to protect DeBusschere in a waiver draft, or another pitcher named Denny McLain- they let McLain walk.
McLain won 31 games in 1967, 24 more in ’68 for the Detroit Tigers, and DeBusschere quit baseball, which helps explain why the White Sox have sucked for a long time. Of course, McLain later wound up in prison because of off-field issues, so there’s that.
— Keep in mind, the NBA then wasn’t like it is now; light years different
a) Back then, the minimum salary was $13,500; now, it is $898,310
b) Teams didn’t have their own airplanes, and they often played three nights in a row, in three different cities.
c) These days, Steph Curry makes $500,000 a game; lot of stars don’t play the second night of a back/back, even of they’re not hurt. There was no load management in 1970.
— This season, the Lakers have seven assistant coaches, two video coordinators; in 1970, the Knicks had a head coach (Red Holzman), a scout (Dick McGuire) who wasn’t with the team much- their trainer (Danny Whelan) did a lot of game management-type stuff. They practiced in a cold, cruddy old gym called Lost Battalion, which DeBusschere complains about constantly in the book. Teams have their own practice facilities now; they’re really nice.
— The book is a running diary of the season; the starters played a lot during preseason games; that doesn’t happen anymore.
— One preseason game in Bangor, Maine was sponsored by Celtics’ player Don Nelson, who put up the money to hold the game, and pocketed whatever profits there were. Nelson went on to be a very good head coach in the NBA, with the Bucks/Warriors.
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a rookie that season; he got the Bucks to the Eastern Conference finals in his first season, which was the second season in Bucks’ history. Interesting to read how DeBusschere describes him as the season goes on.
In a November 1st regular season game, Kareen played the whole 48:00; don’t think anything like that would happen these days, or else……..
— There was no 3-point line back then; getting shots close to the basket was the premium, so big guys had much bigger rebound totals than they do now. Missed 3-pointers give out longer rebounds, so these days big guys get fewer rebounds.
— The ABA was going on at this time, so lot of prominent players didn’t cross paths with the Knicks that year. When his playing days were over, DeBusschere became commissioner of the ABA, before it folded and four of its teams joined the NBA.
— In 1970, if you got fouled while shooting, and the other team was over the limit, you got three free throws to make two, a terrible rule.
— Oscar Robertson played for the Cincinnati Royals that year, coached by Hall of Famer Bob Cousy; weird thing is, after the Bucks lost to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference final, they traded for Oscar, before the Knicks-Lakers series even started.
— DeBusschere wasn’t that glowing when talking about Baltimore Bullets’ star Earl Monroe, who was a great scorer; he criticized his passing/defense, which must’ve been awkward a couple years later, when the Knicks acquired Monroe. Earl the Pearl helped the Knicks win their 2nd (and last) title, in 1973.
— Bullets, by the way, became the Washington Bullets, and eventually Washington Wizards years later.
— There were no NBA teams in Portland, Cleveland, Dallas, Sacramento; there were almost no international players; DeBusschere complains that the Knicks went 4-9 on national TV that year, even when they won the title. Nowadays, every freakin’ game in available nation-wide.
— Playing for a winning team in New York back then had its advantages; celebrities like Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford sat behind the Knicks bench, much like Spike Lee sits across from he bench now.
DeBusschere tells the story of playing the Phoenix Suns in Utah, before the Jazz existed; after the game, he and Bill Bradley go to Redford’s home in the snowy hills, making the last couple miles of the trip on snowmobiles.
Cocktail parties with rich and famous people were the norm, and still are, especially when you’re winning.
— His persoanl matchups with stars like Elgin Baylor, Gus Johnson, Connie Hawkins were fun to read about. Teams played against each other more, so the players knew each other’s tendencies much better. Lot of physical play.
— Reading this book was fun, brought back lot of memories, and now that the NBA may be starting up in Orlando next month, motivated me to get my NBA notebook ready. Pretty soon there will be live basketball on TV again, and that is a good thing.