It Was Crazy Like a Box
Posted Mar 8 2008 7:34PM
On Dec. 19, 2007 the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat played a game that was on for the record books. Er, scratch that. It was one for the history books. Because of a scoring table mistake which erroneously had Miami's Shaquille O'Neal fouling out. As a result NBA Commissioner David Stern negated the Hawks' 117-111 win and order the final 51.9 seconds be replayed on March 8.
As you know, Shaq is no longer with the Heat as each of the rosters have undergone changes since the game in question. However each team will be able to play with all the players on their current roster.
While the entire situation is virtually unheard of in the NBA, there was a similar maybe even slightly more bizarre scenario, when the Nets and 76ers engaged in a partial redo. As a result of a trade between the two teams the boxscore featured several players on both teams' rosters.
With the 2008 Hawks-Heat rematch approaching, this 2004 article by the New York Daily News' Flip Bondy provides a blast from past, explaining how the 1979 mini-doubleheader set a precedent for today's unusual occurrence.
This is back in the day, some 25 years and probably 50,000 technical fouls ago. This is pre-lobster-rolls-on-charter-flights, pre-salary-cap-exception, pre-"Sorry, I don't talk before games," pre-Phil Jackson-looking-like-an-underwriter-for-T.D. Waterhouse. This is when the primordial NBA is still so raw, still so much fun, that it is practically tripping over itself trying to get somebody to notice the party.
This is Mar. 23, 1979, and you are about to read about the weirdest box score ever forged by a professional sport, a Twilight Zone episode in agate type. Look once. Look twice. Three players - Eric Money, Ralph Simpson and Harvey Catchings - are listed as playing and accumulating stats for both teams. Six officials are refereeing. Jackson, a non-playing coach for most of the game, becomes a player for the last 14 minutes.
There is more.
There is stuff about this game that is not even visible in the box score: Eleven technicals are called, three apiece on a coach and a player. A referee gets suspended and fined. A protest is upheld. The game itself is really two games, and it is part of a doubleheader, between the same two basketball teams.
And the Nets, being the lovable, hapless Nets back then, lose everything to Philadelphia. They lose the first two games, which are really one game. They lose the third game that is the second game of the double-header. They lose all of them, a quarter of a century ago.
"I've been in a lot of strange games, but that was obviously the most bizarre," says Kevin Loughery, the former Net coach and now part-time TV commentator in Atlanta, without whose famous tantrums none of this would be possi-ble. "All those technicals. ... It's the one thing I regret. I'm highly competitive and in most cases I didn't have a very good team. You start to get paranoid. You got to lay off the officials."
Lay off the officials? How could he? Back on Nov. 8, 1978, four months before The Box Score, the Nets are battling in Philadelphia against their nemesis, the 76ers, the team that has stolen beloved Julius Erving from Loughery. The lead is flip-flopping late in the third quarter when Bernard King, the Nets' best player, jostles with Steve Mix, the barrel-chested Philly enforcer. On the next play downcourt, as he's shooting, King bumps into Mix and is called for an offensive foul.
That is how it starts, the way that a flea bite starts World War I - or might have, if Loughery and Richie Powers had been involved.King screams at referee Roger McCann and is assessed a technical, his second of the game. Loughery leaps from the sideline onto the court and begins to collect his own technicals. One... two... King, ejected and furious now, storms off the court and kicks a chair. Powers, a legendary referee and control freak who would die in 1998, assesses King a third technical, then gives Loughery a third technical.
Funny thing about that. There is no such thing as a third technical foul in a basketball game - even for Loughery, who had collected 43 of them the previous season. There never has been a third technical. Maybe never will be.
"Kevin is giving him a hard time," remembers Catchings, a role player for Philadelphia at the time, who is now working with the NBA's career education program out of Houston. "And I'm sitting on the bench thinking, 'I thought you can only get two technicals. But maybe this is a precedent. Maybe, if you're really abusive, you can get three.'"
No, you can't. Charlie Theokas, the Net general manager, knows that. He dashes out of the stands, onto the court, and continues the protest. The scene boils over, then cools. The Nets are down to a bare minimum of players, because Bob Elliot has already injured himself earlier in the game by ramming into teammate Eddie Jordan. Phil Jack-son, an assistant coach/TV analyst, takes over for Loughery. This is the first NBA game Jackson will ever coach, and in some ways it is great preparation for the chaos that would be Bulls-Knicks.
The game meanders into overtime, then double overtime, and the 76ers finally win it, 137-133. Money scores 37 points for the Nets. Or thinks he does.
"It could have been the greatest win in our three years in the NBA," says Jan van Breda Kolff, then a Net for-ward. "And instead it turns around to be so disheartening."
Or is it? Loughery protests the game. Loughery protests a lot of games, and even wins a couple. Like we said, this is a different time. There is that case back in the ABA when Loughery protests a game because a Virginia Squire player says he's hurt, and then another, taller Squire takes the jump ball, and then the original player, Willie Wise, 6-6, comes back into the game just fine. Loughery wins that protest.
And then, he wins this one, too. The NBA decides that Powers has gone way over the top with the three techni-cals on King and Loughery. The commissioner, Larry O'Brien, suspends Powers for five games without pay, about $2,500, "for failure to comply with league procedure." O'Brien orders the game resumed at the time of the meltdown, with 5:50 left in the third quarter. He orders the teams to finish the game on March 23, before another regularly sched-uled game at the Spectrum.
So it is a doubleheader, of sorts, with a whole new officiating crew. Only there is this other problem.
On Feb. 7, 1979, the Nets trade Money and Al Skinner to Philadelphia for Catchings, Simpson and Cash. Again, the league ruminates, then decides to let all the players participate in the suspended game, for their new teams. Skinner doesn't play, but the other three appear on both sides of The Box Score. Jackson has been activated and plays center. The Nets lose the suspended game, 123-117.
"The intensity was there, because of the hype for the doubleheader," says Money, a paralegal in San Pedro, Calif., who volunteers part-time with kids in Compton. "I lost some points (his 37 became 23, plus four), but I'll take the win."
Catchings wants the trade, then wants this game even more.
"Darryl Dawkins and Caldwell Jones were getting the bulk of playing time in Philadelphia, and I remember thinking, 'If I stay here, I'm going to die.'" Catchings says. "Then we go back to Philly, and I really, really wanted to win."
It doesn't happen, and then there is a short break in the locker room for both teams before the second game. The players change jerseys. A few shower.
"There wasn't much to say," Loughery says. "The way I looked at it, at least we knew what each team would do. It's not like you needed any scouting reports for the second game."
The Sixers win the nightcap, 110-98, before a solid crowd of 16,271 fans who get two games for the price of one, who know a novelty when they see one. The Nets skid badly, dropping 11-of-16 down the stretch and losing to Philly, again, in the playoffs.
A dozen trivia questions are born from this one game, none of them as perplexing as: Name three players who played for both teams in an NBA game.
In the quarter century that follows, the players and coaches involved in The Box Score will forget many details. Loughery can't remember that it is Powers who calls the technicals. The coach has had many wars with many refs, and a traditional tormentor, Ed Middleton, is among the crew that first night. A couple of players will think the first game takes place in Piscataway. Wrong again. You can excuse them. This is 1979, and it is not the NBA Finals. There are no tapes, no highlight reels, to keep replaying in their heads.
"All of us knew each other so well," says Simpson, a community and church activist in Denver. "We all go back to the ABA. I grew up with Eric in Detroit. And suddenly, we're looking at each other, and we're playing on differ-ent teams again, or the same team, and it's very confusing. I still tell Dr. J., 'If you didn't trade me, we would have been champions.'"
Instead, Simpson is traded, and he is on both sides of The Box Score. He plays 13 minutes for the Sixers, two minutes for the Nets.
And one time, much later, he is sitting with a group of friends when some quizmaster poses a sports riddle on the TV.
"It's one of those trivia questions, and I instantly know who it was," Simpson says. "I say, 'One of those three is me.'"